Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Walking Dead Season 3 Recap, Episode 15 "This sorrowful life"

If you didn't know what "suspension of disbelief" is, just watch the first twenty-some minutes of this episode. You will witness Rick, Daryl and Hershel in all earnesty deciding to hand Michonne over to the Governor, because hell, that guy seems trustworthy and the decision really makes sense, morally and intellectually. But once you grasp that all this is just a setup, forcing the characters in certain positions just to get Merle on the scene, you understand what the writers were going for, and Michael Rooker nails it in this episode, for sure. Too bad he dies at the end of it. Oops, spoiler. 

You'll be missed.

Rick's congenial idea is to take Hershel, Daryl and Merle (because when you trust the Governor, you may as well trust Merle) and round up Michonne to deliver her to Mr. Evil. Merle, being the bright guy that he is, figures that Rick will not go through with it. Figuring also that he is the bad guy, he decides to lift the burden of Rick's shoulders and to hand Michonne over himself. The focus in this episode is so clearly on Merle that the rest of the characters become a pure supporting cast, which is both good and bad. Good because they wrote some real great lines of dialogue for Merle, and Rooker delivers them with grace. Bad because they felt the need to build up some really contrived situations to get there.
"Let's do something completely at odds with our character development!" - "Cool, bro!"
This writing allows us some soul searching by the main characters, especially Rick and Hershel (Daryl is pretty much at peace with where he currently is, pointing that fact out to Merle in yet another attempt to show just how Merle isn't), who are swayed by yet another vision of Lori (and hopefully the last) and a prayer, respectively. Of course, they are too late, because Merle already knocked Michonne out and brought her out of the prison. The show's creators conveniently dodge the question how he pulled that off, given that Glenn has guard duty, but that's ok.

In such moments, a herd could pass by unnoticed.
We then enjoy Merle and Michonne on a little road trip. It's a great character setup, and obviously the whole episode built towards it. Michonne displays her usual badassery, but with the great empathic insight she had shown in "Clear", constantly exploring Merle, together with Merle. There were two other really good scenes in the prison before, where Rick asked Merle whether he knows why he does what he does (he doesn't) and with Carol, who showed Merle just how much one can grow and become another person, a goal that Merle rejects. He can't get over his old persona, not really.

Loves to be bad.
But the real cracking comes on the road with Michonne, who poses exactly the right questions. Merle tries to shut her up, snapping that she should stop with her "freshmen year psychology", but that's exactly what Michonne isn't doing. The development of this lengthy dialogue in the car really is a masterpiece, especially compared to the usual quality of dialogue in the series. Michonne probes different approaches, turning to another one whenever she hits a wall until she finally finds the right tone. In his heart, Merle may be an asshole and love to be one (implicitly admitting that drugs made him like this), but he is not a monster. When he snarls that he killed 16 people, Michonne asks two pointed questions: did you kill someone before all of this? And did you kill someone before Woodbury? Both are denied.

And we both know why.
This is a great move. Not only does Merle let Michonne go now, but we also get a line back to the Governor, again. Finally we get a reason why he is worse than Rick. If the Governor singlehandedly can shape someone like Merle into something he wasn't before and didn't really want to be, than he has to be evil. Great buildup for the inevitable finale to get some stakes up. The point is driven home when Merle embarks on his suicide mission, kills several henchmen and finally falls in battle against the Governor, who of course has to show that he can best Merle in single combat, because that's what evil lords do. He even bites off two of Merle's fingers and executes him with a breast shot, to ensure he's coming back.

Man, that was emotional payoff.
The downside of all this is just how constructed it all was. Why did Merle even go on with this rat-ass plan of delivering Michonne? Rick didn't know the Governor, really, and clearly he hasn't been in the best shape, but Merle knows exactly what kind of a person the man is. Hell, in the last two episodes, he kept pointing it out! Why does he even think anything good can come out of this? His suicide mission is in line with character again, but the whole Michonne-gig before was totally unnecessary for that. It seems the like the writers didn't know how to stage the dialogue between him and Michonne other than on the forced roadtrip, with her hands bound. It is a very potent situation, of course, and pays off in many ways, but the whole setup remains just utterly stupid.

But at least leading to this.
It seems odd that the show creators finally decided for some real human drama, which they apparantly are capable of pulling off. But why have they to go such contrived ways? My suspicion is that they normally simply don't pay enough attention to coherent character development. Characters simply do what is convenient for the writers in any given situation. So in an attempt to create more human drama, Merle's end is intercut with Glenn's proposal to Maggie. The ring for it he broke off a walker's finger, but seriously, where else would he get one? The final product seems a bit awkward, although that might be bad editing.

Proposing amid the zombie apocalypse requires some sacrifices in the romance department.
Despite all these coherency problems, the episode is one of the strongest of season 3. It concludes Merle's storyline pretty well, especially taking Norman Reedus' exceptional performance into account when he finds his zombified brother and his face mirrors all the conflicting emotions he has about him. And then, of course, we have the official end of the Ricktatorship. Rick declares that he can't make decisions like turning over Michonne alone, and that they need to vote. His speech is taken in faithful silence, and after he ended it, he walks away immediately for added drama, but that is just hilarious. "I, Rick I., tell you to vote." And then leaves, before someone can do as much as opening his mouth. Oh boy, let's hope that the focus shifts back to the characters and gives them a more coherent development in season 4.


  1. Nice review. You have some nice points here. Keep up the great work.