Perhaps had we not had three fantastic episodes in a row to open season five, Beth’s Adventures in Slabtown may not have felt as dull and dragged out as it did last night. I can’t remember the last time I spent watching the clock more than the actual show, but, man, those minutes were ticking in cement, like quicksand through an hourglass. I do feel bad that the first episode I choose to start my (hopefully) weekly Walking Dead review series on happened to be one I struggle to find even a handful of redeeming qualities about; however, reflecting on the negative aspects of one of everyone’s (myself included) favorite show may be beneficial. We know this team can pump out engaging stories and phenomenal filmwork, but what happens when they slip? Did they become complacent in hoping the success of the previous three episodes would carry the show over episode four’s stumble? And what about the framework for the foreseeable future?
(Do not expect this to be a recap of the episodes. If you watch the series then you already know what happened. My job is open the conversation for analysis and overall thoughts/concerns.)
Let’s start with some of the positives.
Hands down, the best performance goes to Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) for his role as Noah. I’ve yet to see his most recent movie Dear White People, but after his stellar job here, I now know I have to. In an episode full of characters I just can’t seem to care about, Williams was my shining beacon. I was able to grip onto his character’s back story and motives instantly. He may have single-handedly saved this episode for me. “They think I’m scrawny, they think I’m weak; they don’t know shit about what I am, about what you are.”
The overall theme of doing what you have to do in order to make it until tomorrow. Bruce Springsteen sings in Devils & Dust, “What if what you do to survive/Kills the things you love/Fear’s a powerful thing/It can turn your heart black you can trust,” addressing the same theme. The doctor purposely tells Beth the wrong medicine to give one of the new patients (another doctor), which results in the man’s death, all because he feared a lose in his irreplaceable status within the hospital fortress. This has, of course, been THE main theme throughout the series, but seeing someone as seemingly gentle as the doctor (hey, he did share that guinea pig!) revert to a murderous coward from fear’s grip drove home the point as well as the show has ever done.
And now the negatives.
The rest of the cast. They grouped together some of the least talented bunch of actors for this episode. Through the entire hour, it didn’t even feel like The Walking Dead. I kept expecting to see a SyFy logo to pop up in the bottom corner of the screen. Dawn, rapey cop, and doctor (I care so little, I didn’t even pay attention to all the names…) were not only poorly portrayed, they were poorly written, one-dimensional characters. How much of the bad acting was due to the bad writing is up for debate. AMC has risen our expectations for the past five years, and now they can’t afford these blunders. Luckily, after five years I know that this is nothing more than a blunder on the path to something greater.
Film direction. WOW…I can’t remember the last time I was actually pulled out of something I was watching specifically because of the horrendous camera work. These long, drawn out shots just made the experience all the more frustrating. The one that I keep thinking back to is when Dawn brings Beth some food and they sit down to talk. For some reason we are watching from across the room and under the table. Now that is not a bad shot in and of itself, but for some reason we stick there almost the entire scene! It was a slow conversation made even slower by the camera angles.
Framework. Now, I was actually a fan of those two episodes last season where we took time off from the rest of the cast to focus on The Governor’s story. I loved Rick’s last encounter with Morgan. I even stuck by when the second half of season four bounced from group to group as the survivors trudged toward Terminus because I knew everyone would meet back up by the end. But what does the show do as soon as they regroup? They pull the same shit by splitting everyone up and focusing each episode on yet again a different group. What the hell is the point? At least if they pulled a Game of Thrones and showed more than one story per episode, the pacing would not feel as if we were plodding through a swamp.
Next week we’ve got Abraham, Maggie, and company as they fight their way to DC. It’s perfectly clear how the next few episodes will run. Let’s just hope the writers can tap into an engaging story for each of the factions until the time comes to, once again, get the band back together.