Walking Dead Report: Better Angels (3/11/2012)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-03-12 03:55

The Walking Dead - "Better Angels" (3/11/12)
Written by: Evan T. Reilly & Glen Mazzara
Directed by: Guy Ferland

Reviewed by: Brett G.

The Walking Dead report will is a weekly series that recaps the show's most recent episode; spoilers and speculation will follow.

In light of last week’s events, I expected this week to be another glorified funeral procession, full of weepiness and ponderous mediations on the point of life in this world. However, outside of a nice, succinct eulogy from Rick (which was oddly inter-cut with a walker massacre by some of the group) and a genuinely subtle moment with Glenn, Andrea, and the RV, the show largely didn’t dwell on Dale’s death. Considering how often the show has trudged through these beats, this was the right move, and I liked the forward momentum we got right from that pre-credits sequence; there was a sense of loss, but also a sense that these characters have learned to move on, plus Dale being set up as a sort of martyr whose death might bring them back together works a little bit in a thematic sense.

All of this was even teased out for most of the episode, first with the conversation between Lori and Shane, then the latter interaction between Rick and his former deputy. Hershel finally decided to let everyone move into his house, and the writers even remembered that T-Dog exists by giving him a funny line. I almost couldn’t believe how light this episode was for half of the running-time; even more surprising was how well it worked. Maybe it was just refreshing to see everyone acting like somewhat normal human beings again, as if Dale’s death had jolted everyone that much.

But then, of course, Shane was Shane, and everything built up by the first half of this episode was razed by the second half in big, show-changing fashion. True to form, Shane remained compelling to the end--there were once again moments in this episode where you could really see where he was coming from. Bernthal’s performance during both his scenes with Lori and Rick were fantastically human; Shane has teetered on the edge of being that true heel for a while now, but moments like these reminded us that he was still an extremely conflicted individual who often had some good points.

Then he went all Sling Blade crazy in the barn and finally cooked up his elaborate plot to take out Rick and return to that fantasy world--the one where he, Lori, and Carl are happily riding out the zombie apocalypse--before he was snuffed out. Reservations about all of this aside (and we’ll get to those), the climactic Rick and Shane showdown was some wonderfully shot Old West shit, only it was high midnight instead of high noon and silhouetted against a giant moon. Speaking of pure aesthetics, I think this scene is everything you could have wanted it to be--intense, dramatic, and perfectly performed. Andrew Lincoln’s anguish was especially palatable, and, all told, “Better Angels” might have featured the best acting the series has had to offer so far.

Shane’s brief return and subsequent death at the hands of Carl, however, is probably a little less weightless than it could or should have been. Really, it seems to only be lip service towards the comics, where something similar happened, only Shane was still very much alive instead of undead. I suppose it works okay here in terms of solidifying Carl’s place in a world that’s required him to grow up so quickly. The fallout from this could be interesting, I suppose, if there’s even time to worry about it.

Given that there’s a horde of walkers headed directly to the farm might put that in doubt; it also means that the next couple of episodes are in real danger of becoming a Night of the Living Dead retread, with the group boarded up and fending off zombies. If so, I think it’ll be a poor placebo that’ll just try to cover up how the events of “Better Angels” have effectively deflated the show. Shane wasn’t just compelling--he was the most compelling character this show had to offer, and that central tension between he and Rick has largely defined it. The show will likely miss that yin-yang aspect; I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve seen way too many zombie movies where the human characters spend time fussing and fighting amongst themselves, but The Walking Dead presented a finely tuned, measured take on it; it was never easy to come down on one side or the other, so it’s kind of disappointing that the writers forced our hands and made it a little too black and white.

Or maybe it’d be more apt to say the writers had their own hands forced; the behind-the-scenes drama on this show has threatened to outdo any of the drama on the screen, with the two being sort of irrecoverably tied together either way. We know that some of the actors weren’t happy with Frank Darabont’s departure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Jeffrey DeMunn, Bernthal walked because of it (and the fact that he’s been rumored to join Darabont on L.A. Noir lends credence to this). If so, this means we’ve had two major deaths in the past two episodes simply because they had to happen and not necessarily because they were meant to unravel in this way. That’s frustrating and is sometimes the nature of television shows, but it might be a death knell for The Walking Dead, a show that’s lost both its conscience and its antagonism in two weeks. At this point, the glimmer of hope rests in the walkers, who will hopefully tear the farm to shreds and force what's left of the cast back onto the road, where things can keep rolling.
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