The Walking Dead episode 6

Episode 6: “TS-19”

The CDC isn’t a fire burning time bomb. Also, just ducking when a building blows up doesn’t really do anything, especially when the bomb is a pseudo-nuclear weapon. Am I willing to suspend my disbelief and go for an entertaining ride? Yes. However, I don’t enjoy visual media blurring the line while demanding empathy, riding melodrama into cheap sentimentality. The season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead did just that. That doesn’t mean there weren’t great moments or that I didn’t enjoy the episode, but I understand why writers were fired.

The final episode, TS-19, really jumped the shark. It overplayed trite dramatics; it traversed into territory generally reserved for mainstream shows, where lowest common denominator reigns. Where earlier episodes adhered to the source material’s sentiments, this episode erases that; stirring that horrible feeling when something you really like goes askew. Remember the disappointment following the Star Wars prequels? It’s similar to that. At least The Walking Dead isn’t a generation’s formative text. This doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the series (especially with new writers forthcoming), but I’m having severe reservations. Some moments this episode were embarrassing; overtly sentimental nonsense fishing for cheap compassion. It’s trying too hard to win over an audience instead of just being honest. Up until this episode I felt it was trying but now I’m not so sure.

This episode begins with the group entering the CDC and confronting Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich). Alone in an underground compound, Jenner’s been searching for a cure and seemingly diagnosed with cabin fever. He allows the group showers and feeds them (they haven’t eaten in six day). Afterwards Jenner divulges information, a resource the group’s lacking. He reveals the process of demise, showing a brain scan on an infected person dying and then the resurrection. Apparently the disease is like meningitis, spreading through the brain and causing death. Rebirth only occurs in the brain stem, sending off minor impulses and animating the body. Then a bullet goes through the test subject’s head on the screen, jarring the group.

Jenner’s speech about the brain, about how a zombie’s frontal lobe is dead and so forth is sappy. Jenner’s monologue, starting with, “somewhere in all that organic wiring, all those ripples of light…is you,” continues into mediocre writing and acting, discussing the process of life and death until finally he concludes with, “the human part that doesn’t come back…the you.” My thoughts on Joe’s situation from last week’s episode materialize this episode. Instead of symbolic implications, Jenner’s speech becomes maudlin, revealing what the audience must feel.  The product’s gone Hollywood, putting on a fresh face for the millions watching at home. Why shouldn’t it?

The answer, at least in my opinion, comes from an earlier assertion: the episode’s trying too hard. The first few episodes really played off the uncertainty of their situation. This horrific natural phenomenon drives each characters actions – no explanations, no news, nothing. What keeps the comic’s fresh is navigating this alternate reality where all the social constructions we believe in are dead, symbols of a world that’s never coming back. By incorporating this explanation into the series it negates that tension keeping the struggle so fascinating. Will they ever find out? Will we ever find out? It’s like sexual tension, which can kill a story once it’s broken.

Jenner’s sociopolitical commentary about fossil fuels isn’t invalid but its insertion seems preachy and heavy handed. The group’s living conditions are proof enough the industrialized world is completely dependent on structure, paralyzed without the wheels constantly moving. At the same time, I appreciate a television series addressing these issues; it’s not very often television is philosophical, even if wrapped in schmultz. However, it’s not just this issue that damaged the season finale’s credibility. Instead a barrage of mawkish scenes does the job.

For instance, the group’s showers, complete with hot water (a trope from the first episode), reveal the characters’ emotional status. Andrea’s holding herself and crying, Lori and Rick couple, Shane’s drinking and angry, etc: this much is evident from previous episodes and again tells the audience too much. This much symbolic exposition isn’t necessary – we’re not five years old. The episode’s climax, where Jenner tells everybody the CDC will “decontaminate” when the power runs out, uses a blatantly overdramatic score for added emphasis, mimicking mediocre action films and television drama. The music keeps building, becoming louder with Jenner (and his ridiculous female computer companion, which I’ll discuss in a moment) explaining the situation. The plea for life, for the chance at survival, isn’t good. Actually, it’s pretty awful writing, once again explaining why Darabont fired the writing staff. They took a great comic book and reduced it to mediocrity.

For those who haven’t read the comic I’m probably spoiling this, but I feel it’s necessary. A few graphic novels in the group find an abandoned prison, clearing it out and making it home. They live without power and very carefully, meticulously combing the facility for zombies for a long time. There’s a generator, but limited fuel keeps it off most of the time. The CDC facilities are state of the art. The duration of their stay isn’t relevant, it’s the scope of the set that is. There’s a talking computer, reminiscent of HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, that’s pretty insipid and the state of the art complex is a bit overdone, inserting absurdity into the episode. Of course a zombie apocalypse is nonsensical to begin with, but adding a self terminating government lab elevates it into silliness.

If you think I’ve forgotten the attempted rape scene, don’t worry – I’m at that point now. Shane, drunk and properly showered, confronts Lori about their former relationship and leaving Rick behind. Since the episode starts with Shane at Rick’s hospital room during society’s downfall, this sympathetic scene, where Shane fights for survival against a belligerent military and a horde of zombies, explains why Rick survived all the turmoil. Trying to escape himself, Shane places a stretch in front of Rick’s room and blocks the entrance. Shane argues he believed Rick dead, but his actions speak otherwise. Given the circumstances, I can’t fault Shane’s decisions. Lori does, convinced Shane acted inappropriately. Shane’s feelings of rejection and his drunken stupor lead to an attempted rape. He forces himself on Lori, clutching her and imposing himself on her. Lori escapes by scratching his face, leaving hideous marks. The scene was well crafted, with Lori’s emotions seeming genuine. I’ve never been privy to a rape before, but I bought her performance.

My former assertions that Shane and Rick will clash eventually seems even more relevant.

This episode, once again, relies heavily on character development and dialogue, but there are some excellent action scenes. When the group leaves the CDC they fight four zombies – all of which are brutally slaughtered. The head shots in this scene are quite graphic and there’s even a decapitation. Unfortunately this brief encounter doesn’t overshadow the 45 minutes of middling television. The explosion was derisory, derived somewhat from Cyberdine’s in James Cameron’s Terminator II. I felt like I was watching a highly forgettable summer blockbuster that’s only good on an airplane or when it’s 100 degrees out and the movie theater is an air conditioned oasis. It defies everything enjoyable about the comic, instead appearing common and banal. Thankfully the comic is still good and comes out every month.

This move into mainstream Hollywood tactics is also apparent in the actor’s appearances. Covered in dirt and grime for most of the earlier episodes, TS-19 features the characters looking like stars. Andrea’s unnatural blonde hair would have roots now; they would be weak and gaunt after a six day fast; their haircuts are too excellent for post-apocalyptic conditions; they’re wearing make-up. In the comic the characters look haggard, reflecting the conditions they live in. The amenities of society are gone, but the characters on the show all look good – some are sexy and others just look well put together. I find this insulting, especially from a series so insistent on authentic emotion. Once again, pursuing high ratings after already receiving them has damaged the show’s authenticity; its quest for the lowest common denominator impairs its realism.

It’s probably a year until season two begins and I’m not waiting with baited breath. Of course I’ll tune in and I’m curious if the new writers will pan out, but I’m unsure whether it’ll repair the damage done this episode. All the potential the season had went out the window tonight, resulting in cliché storytelling implementing overly sentimental and prosaic devices. Watching some of the actors deliver these poor lines, I felt embarrassed for them. Much of the dialogue was just awful, uninspired dribble conforming to mainstream standards akin to network drama. It makes me wish the show was on HBO instead.

Also, the episode ends like Lost in Translation, with Jenner whispering something into Rick’s ear – presumably about Shane almost raping his wife. Although the two spend a moment together earlier on, discussing the world they now inhabit, I didn’t think their relationship warranted such a contrived display. Plus, this device works better when followed by The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey, not an exploding government building.

Here’s the trailer for this episode

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8 responses to “The Walking Dead episode 6

  1. Encrazed Crafts

    Ouch. I liked the sharp wit, but ouch! No wonder they were fired? That’s cold, baby! Ice cold! I really think (if they should have been canned at all) they should have for Episode 2 and various sloppy writings before this, as I actually liked this episode a fair amount. Not my favorite ep, but probably second best, maybe second best-tie if I really sit down and weigh pros versus cons. Anyhoo, I think some of the stuff CDC dude said wasn’t like gospel or anything, most of it was just him talking, extended character development, as this is the only ep. we’ll really get to know him. (Unless his vids resurface in another setting. Kinda odd to be making a vid of yourself as you will die in less than 30 minutes at that point. Suspiciously odd…)

    I’ll give you that “this. Is *you*.” was a bit melodramatic, but the blatant shower scenes bothered me more. This is more a gut feeling for me, like when you just like something or don’t, etc. But if I had to give reasons for it, I’d say he gave that quasi-speech because he was not talking about them, or anyone else that was infected. He was staring at his now deceased, genius, loving wife. Live documentation of her demise, ‘return’, and then final departure by his own hand. Pulling the trigger on his wife was probably not his happiest moment. Heck, this guy was a day away from suicide…though that would contradict him just waiting to blow up some twenty hours later.

    I think they really should have focused more on Mr. CDC’s anguish about his lost wife, actually. It was hinted at more than anything, even when he admitted she *was* TS-19, it’s brief. I felt more for him than I did Andrea with Amy, even though his wife is never really seen. For them to gloss over the heartache he has gone through almost completely alone and surrounded by a lifeless AI is really surprising, for a show based on human emotion and all. At least they didn’t go the completely psychotic scientist route. I am curious as to what he said to Rick, though. Gonna imitate Winne the Pooh now about that for a year. “Ponder, ponder, ponder…”

    I’ll also admit the shower scene was redundant. (I commented that on my review as well. ‘Great minds,’ amirite?) The rape attempt was more of a drunken stupor than anything, but I’m glad Lori won. It would have gone from a good scene to really uncomfortable very fast if Shane won out (and really, with those muscles he should have. Maybe scratching him snapped him out of being drunk? Wuddevs.). Speaking of Shane, when he was listening to Rick’s chest I couldn’t hear a heartbeat, but the heat just went on by me so it might have muffled it out. Either way, I believed Shane was telling the truth. I don’t think he was so much looking for Rick’s leadership, but more literally a sign as he mentioned. He’s no doctor, so if he takes him off the machines he’ll die. Then the power goes out. He does not hear a heartbeat. Sign ‘revealed.’ (Convenient as it was) But, like T-dog, he does not leave his friend completely hopeless. Heck, T-dog left a man he knew was alive, Shane went out of his way to safe the corpse/memory of his now dead friend. (Again, not that Shane’s a great guy, but just sayin’.)

    The fossil fuel remark was said by a man who knew he was going to die in less than an hour. What better time to be frank? He is surrounded by state of the art tech and yet burning gasses and coal is what is keeping this super fortress afloat. I don’t it was preaching, just ironic and a little dark. Also them not eating for six days? Really? When they went back to Atlanta that they *jogged back from* in less than a few hours? That was out of left field… And finally, to end this random ending I’ve got going, I think Ricks’s “there’s always hope!” was more preachy than anything Mr. CDC said. I’m surprised only one other person ended up staying behind based on their knowledge at this point. Instant boom, or zombie chew toy. Options…options…

  2. You may be right about Dr. Jenner and his rhetoric. I spend a good deal of my time reading about the nonsense he was discussing (fossil fuel dependency, realism vs. anti-realism, etc.) that I sometimes forget not everybody else does. I’m sure when I graduate I’ll read this stuff less.
    I felt Rick’s whole heartfelt speech at the episode’s climax was heavy handed. The “plea for humanity” was hackneyed, even for a show about the human struggle against a world of brute force, where death surrounds them. The shower scene was obnoxious and insulting – we’re old enough to remember previous episodes and infer things for ourselves. Spelling it out like that was cheap sentimentality, lowering the standards the show achieved earlier on in the season.

    Unfortunately I have to disagree with you on Shane’s actions. Rape is rape, regardless of alcohol. I know I hold a pretty hard line stance regarding this, but I just can’t see rape as forgivable in any way – even attempted rape. It’s something animals do, in addition to how it damages the victim. I’ve been iffy on Shane for a few episodes now (which is probably influenced by the comics) but his actions voided any respect I had left for him.

    Sorry my post was so cold, but I really felt ripped off by the season finale. The first few episodes really held to the sentiments from the comics but this last episode really jettisoned away from the original material. I’m fine with plotlines deviating if the original feeling remains; I don’t think this episode held to the ideas in Kirkman’s comics at all. I wasn’t sure why Darabont fired his writing staff when I heard about it a week or so ago but now I think I know why. The characters aren’t reflecting their environment and all seem so polished after living in a zombie apocalypse. Hopefully the next season will be better and I’m so happy there’s still a new issue every month.

    Also, where were the zombies? I saw four (five if you count TS-19), which was very upsetting considering episode five was all hype. An hour of exposition, leading to an anti-climatic season finale is annoying. I know the explosion was supposed to be a big finale, but it’s a show about zombies, not high-tech government buildings blowing up. I noticed you didn’t approve of the AI in the CDC and neither did I. I understand its implications – adhering to energy dependent technologies is hollow, where human communication is lasting and real – but I thought it was cheesy, not insightful. Some of the performances were good (especially Lori and Shane in the rape scene) but I felt embarrassed at times. Some of the dialogue was puerile; a sure sign of lazy writing that avoids intelligent contemplation of where they are. Instead it’s pandering and abhorrent.

    Once again, sorry for being so venomous about the episode, but I was really disappointed. =(

    • Encrazed Crafts

      Haha, no man what you typed was great. Just reading it was “ooo, that’s smarts!” for the people involved. It was funny and accurate, but man would it sting if I was on that team…

      Yeah, I responded to your Shane comment on muh’ review (I try to type out mine before reading everyone else’s, had a bit of a back-log to make up since the net was down for like a day for me, bleh >.<). Wasn't saying he was in the right, or that Lori was asking for it, etc., etc. Just that it was very easy to spot on the horizon once they zoomed in on Shane chugging wine straight from the bottle for like ten seconds in the shower. Really is a sad thing, though. They could have easily, easily changed him into a misunderstood dude, but nope. Now he's drawn the Short Straw. I find it more depressing than contrived, but it bothers me how this, to me, was one of those "turn around! He's right behind you!" or "get out the door! it is RIGHT THERE!" sort of things the audience screams at the screen, but doesn't happen because the end result has been ironed out way before this scene even happens.

      I disliked Shane since the first episode. I greatly disliked him the second episode. They went out of their way to make him a great guy at the start and middle of three, solid and stable in four, random ape-crap crazy in five, and now he's right back under the bus. You don't do that unless it is the main character and you have some sort of idea or moral to portray. If they planned on just killing him off, why did they even bother dragging it out longer than they did in the comics (from what I've heard). Why not just kill him off when he was an ass and end it there, instead of plodding along, making him almost a 'down on his luck' guy?

      I don't get it. Was he on Prozac and his meds just run out, or something?

      The series in that regard is sending some awfully mixed signals. Bad, bad, great, crazy and out of character, then back to bad? Do they even know what they have planned? As I said in the other comment, might have been on my blog though, Kirkman mentioned they plan on having him die off anyway, 'because he's a bad guy.' The rape scene, while terrible in real life, did not really convey that here. He was drunk and lonely, then got mad that his life got screwed up with Rick's reappearance, a guy he tried saving but thought was dead. Probably got a mix of guilt and self-hate going on, etc. Lori scratching him snapped him out of it. If he really wanted to…well you know, he still could have. Hell, how many times in movies/shows does a woman doing that only make the guy even more pissed off? In that one scene they made it seem like 'oh, crap. This is wrong, why am I even…? I have to go now…' was his mind frame. But every scene after that he is suddenly right back to crazy bad guy. Which is it? Make up your mind, writers! If he was bad and irredeemable as you are attempting (attempting!) to pen him, then he would have continued 'pursing' Lori in that scene until his end result was achieved. He would not have bowed out ungracefully and *then* snap back into crazy mode a day later. It is one or the other, and they are attempting to have it both ways.

      "She'll scratch him, and he'll leave."
      "Why?"
      "Well if he doesn't leave then he'd rape her."
      "That's bad?"
      "Yeah, that's terrible."
      "But isn't Shane a terrible guy?"
      "Yes, but not *that* bad."
      "And we still want him aiming a deadly weapon at our main character as he rolls the pros and cons around in his mind a bit, before Dale decides for him by interrupting his thoughts, then?"
      "Yes."
      /facepalm

      It is interesting that you cite lack of zombies, as this was one of my issues with the fifth episode. I only say that, though, as the rest of the episode failed to entertain me enough, so I threw that into the mix as well. For me this was entertaining, so the lack of zombies didn't bother me, though it certainly did last episode (and I think, technically, there were more in that one than this). There was a lot of sappy/'Lifetime'-friendly speeches in this one, but something kept it going for me. Certainly was not the nade only breaking a window, or the over-done explosion, or the near-rhetoric of CDC and Rick, or the blatant shower scene and equally obnoxious "HEY THIS STUFF BLOWS UP" signs everywhere underground. I think, for me, this episode delivered better character interaction than the last, and this is what kept this episode flowing fairly well. Maybe I was just happy seeing the group be happy for once. A slight break from the nasty that is 'out there' only to have that shattered a day later. I read some where that if CDC whispered to Rick about Lori this would put them right back on track with the comic series, if that makes you feel any better 😀

      As a side note: I will admit they are a bit glamorous for being supposedly without any sort of pampering, as you said. And why did it take 6 days to get there? They made it seem like at most an hour trip in episode 5. Was that only thrown in to make Andrea get sick, which then was only written so the editors could swing that she might be infected? Was it all just for advertising a show that blew their records week after week? No one could have tweaked that preview over the course of a month or two after they knew it was a hit? It was the last episode of the season, pretty sure people would know that they should tune in at least to see that *one* episode.

  3. Shane probably tested well in screenings, which is why he’s still around. The same thing happened with True Blood; Lafayette dies in the first book (so I’ve heard) but he’s still alive on the show. He’s my favorite character on the series, saying a great deal about True Blood’s mediocrity. I enjoy that show, but I’m fully aware of how trashy it is. It’s like vampire Jerry Springer, where everybody’s problems are ironed out in public. Plus, the dialogue is generally corny.

    I see your point regarding Shane’s transgression: he could’ve continued easily, overpowering Lori quickly. Her defense snapped him out of his stupidity, but the damage is already done. I felt bad for Shane until that scene and now I’m done with him. I think keeping him around is good for conflict, but he’s a broken person. He lost his world and sexual partner, leaving him with very little amidst a zombie apocalypse. I never said his root neuroses’ weren’t understandable, but I can’t help holding him to a set of standards in conflict with their reality. Doing that’s a little shortsighted, but the only perspective I have is my current one. I can’t hold him to another set of standards which I can’t even really comprehend.

    One thing I know about film and television is that meticulous work goes into a single product – both internal and external. Movies and shows go through a barrage of audience testing before they’re rolled out; something this is good, other times it’s bad. It’s possible even a show like The Walking Dead is audience tested until a day or so before airtime, where every scene is combed finely and analyzed. How do people respond to Shane, or Rick, or Andrea, or Dale? If audiences love Shane it’s possible he’ll stay around, regardless of the source material. It really takes the art out of the piece, but it’s not called an industry for nothing. I’ve always believed film and television is a business first and an artistic medium second. There are some instances where art trumps capitalism, but usually these pieces serve another consumer function (Oscar bait, contract issues, etc.) or are obscured by commercially viable products. I think The Walking Dead’s becoming just another product.

    With the comics, Kirkman contains full creative license over the series. There’s no sponsor or executive interference; if he wants to kill a character he does. Mass appeal takes a back seat to artistic credibility. With over five million viewers for the pilot and another million for the second episode, The Walking Dead is commercially viable and is probably scrutinized to keep it that way. It’s sad, since the premise is so interesting and such great things can be done with it. Hopefully Darabont’s decision reflects the shoddy continuity this season (not visually of course, since many minor points reoccur) and next season the show really finds its legs, transforming into a dynamic and highly provocative series.

    • Encrazed Crafts

      Ah! Now I see why you worry about the next season. I still liked this episode, but I can understand your qualms quite well. If Shane tests well he can continue, and will continue, to be a pain in the ass for all involved. Because that flawed character we dislike is popular to the masses. And this is a problem because it is true, and that popularity will lead to a lot of problems for all if it is left unchecked, as the CEOS will be thinking “if they like him causing little problems in season 1, they will *love* him causing him big problems in season 2!”

      This first season held it’s own, but it was tied to a stable work of comics. If Shane is allowed to do whatever because the fans like that, it will completely rip the story from it’s roots and take on a new life of it’s own.

      That’s…kinda creepy.

  4. I know its cynical but reducing quality stories to the lowest common denominator irritates me. Yes these shows are made for profit but condensing them into 5th grade dribble is irritating. The audience isn’t comprised of children and so many things about episode 5 and 6 were condescending – they’re pandering to the audience, assuming we’re all stupid. Not everybody’s as clever as you or I (just kidding) but once upon a time television was intelligent, not just mindless entertainment in-between commercials. Ok, maybe television shows have always been something in-between commercials, but they were smarter. Shows like Leave it to Beaver weren’t, but this is also the same medium responsible for Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

    Since The Walking Dead’s now over you need to read the comic books. I know it’s not a thrifty task, but it’s worth it. I’m sure they’re available for cheap online somewhere (possibly even free if you torrent them). I like having the hard copy and I’m willing to part with my cash for them. It’s one of the better purchases I’ve made in a while. Its comic book crack.

  5. We got this a little later in the UK, but I think most of whom viewed it felt the same. Great series, but lacking in the final episode. The destruction of the CDC was truly ridiculous. Not only did the effects look relatively shoddy in my opinion, but ducking in the cockpit of your camper van will not prevent your disintegration.

    I had previous read that Darabont had fired the writing staff, and intended to utilise freelance writers for the next series, however later I read a quote from an apparent inside source who completely denied this. Whichever it is, if the next series follows the first in terms of quality, I’ll happily continue to watch. Though I think the show works best when it’s quiet, isolation and fear seems to generate more visceral emotions from me than all-out action sequences.

    To be honest I’d probably watch a spin-off which consisted of the Dixon brothers trying to make it on there own, with nothing but three hands and a crossbow between them. That would be great.

  6. “Not only did the effects look relatively shoddy in my opinion, but ducking in the cockpit of your camper van will not prevent your disintegration.”

    Thank you for saying that and I feel the same way. The first few episodes were excellent. They strayed from the comic’s storyline but I didn’t mind because it captured the essence of the source material. Unfortunately the last two episodes went straight to shit, insulting the audience with asinine scenes (shower scene, only four zombies in the season finale) and becoming formulaic. The great thing about Kirkman’s comic is the unpredictability; a character can die at any moment for a variety of reasons. The show doesn’t demonstrate this ability, keeping characters alive because focus groups think they’re cute. If a network wants to make a quality show that doesn’t offend the audience’s intelligence let the series creators have control over the content. HBO does this and they gave us The Sopranos, Big Love, The Wire, and a litany of other quality shows.

    I would watch a Merle and Darryl spin-off too. Those two rednecks are awesome and I’ve liked Michael Rooker ever since I saw Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer years ago. He’s a much underrated talent.

    Thanks for reading man =)

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