Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Walking Dead Season 4 review, episodes 1-5

Since the third season was such a major disappointment for me, I initally decided to forego the fourth season entirely and add it to the "series I stopped watching"-post, but my wife insisted on us watching, so I'm currently keeping up with it. I decided against the big recaps of season 3, however, since it didn't seemed meaty enough to me. So instead of recapping, I'd review them in thematic batches. For this post, I'll review "30 days without an accident", "Infected", "Isolation", "Indifference" and "Internment" (I notice a pattern in the titles). 
Destroyed fences are harbingers of doom.

The series made a time jump from season 3 to season 4, which I expected, to be honest. They introduced a whole lot of extra people in the closing shots of season 3, with Woodbury joining the prison, and the show never was big on their budget for many new characters with acting chops (compared to "The Wire" or "Game of Thrones" especially). So, we get the new people as already established, and the specific way they make the show makes clear which ones are important: Bob, the medic (Hooray, D'Angelo's there!), the two children whose names I forgot, and the Indish doctor I also don't remember being named. The rest is dead meat, and sure enough, the beginning plot starts to eat away at anyone who hasn't been introduced in the earlier season.

The core cast. If you don't belong, you'll die.
Not only does a supply run go horribly wrong because Bob fucks it up, there's an infection spreading in "Cell Block D", where the new people lived (conveniently to not endanger the regular cast), and soon enough, the prison is infested with zombies. After the incredible death toll (lucky they had taken in so many extras prior) and the cast down to a managable size, the prison is held down by a plague that takes the life of many remaining extras and also endangers people with names, which can spread partly because they have no antibiotics, so more supply runs are needed. 
I wait for him to explain chess.
These are actually crafted in a pretty skillfull way: not only do we see new versions of known characters (the new Carol, Tyreese and Michonne are way better than their cardboard personas before), but they face new challenges (zombies in hedges!) and really well done setpieces. The show excels in these "Zombie danger" environments, and it continues to deliver. The plague is more of a letdown in my eyes, centering too much on a sick Glenn (who doesn't do anything besides suffering for the good cause) and Hershel, whose holier-than-thou-attitude really starts to wear on me.
He even plants trees or whatever!
Another problem remains the same as always, a problem that Alan Sepinwall in his recaps calls the "lack of urgency". Many problems really demand solving, but instead, characters are content to stand around, talk and apparently do nothing between cuts. Prime examples for this is the water-supply-problem ("Hey, let's fix it tomorrow, because, you know, YOLO", says Rick. "No, let's do something totally reckless and stupid instead", answers Carol) and the fence problem. This is really the most ridiculous thing the series pulled off in a while, and in a series that pulls off stupid shit as regular mode, that says something. 
Reaction shot after reading the screenplay.
Really, the zombies push against the fence so hard that it falls down...after several days? Seriously? We see the people stabbing zombie brains through the fence several times in season 3, AND they do it repeatedly in season 4 whenever the threat becomes too much to bear. Guys...you have a prison full of people that have shit to do, and stabbing zombies through a fence might be a chore, but could you please assign rotating shifts in zombie stabbing? The greatest threat to the prison WOULDN'T BE ONE if they fucking got their act together and acted like sentient human beings! 
Seriously, an hour of stabbing and it's done.
Then we have Tyreese totally deciding to die in a zombie herde for no reason before suddenly deciding that to take the horde on with a hammer, Oldboy-style, is preferrable. He even survives without even a scratch! I totally appreciate the writer's approach to try to show that people are affected mentally by all of that (most noticable and succesful with Carol), but the dissonance in tone and the general inconsistence of character development destroys all these well-intentioned attempts at character building. 
When was their relationship demoted to buddy-status, by the way?

Stuff like that happens all the time. At the one moment, we get a real sense of danger, a difficult situation arising and the people rising up to the task. And then, they do total horseshit just to create an artificial new danger because the writers couldn't come up with something clever. I mean, the whole plague-plot reekes of stupidity already - the people almost surely die, but yet, they are quaranteened not in closed cells but in opened ones...? Why? The could simply close the doors, they wouldn't even need to lock them. Then the threat of a new zombie infestation would be reduced from "virtually unavoidable" to "virtually impossible" within a few door clanks.
Murdering the plot, one line at a time.
This plot is what keeps most of episode 5 occupied. Unsurprisingly, dead people turn to zombies, killing more people, who turn into zombies. One simple door, Hershel. It gets even dumber by the fact that the Indish doctor guy, knowing that he's dying, tells him to close the fucking door, which Hershel does, and wow - Indish doctor guy zombie doesn't escape. Plus, it feels like the whole plot had a sign "last chance to kill tertiary characters" sign on it, because the cast is practically stripped down to the usual size. Guys, you were about four times the number of people only three episodes ago! This fact goes disturbingly unremarked, because the characters obviously didn't know their names, either. 
To the glorious dead! Now, let's continue the plot.
That's a shame, because the episode also contains some of the best pieces of character development yet. I mean the blonde girl (who hopefully will grow a rememberable name soon), who takes on the sucidial and brave act of luring a zombie away from Glenn instead of falling into random horror movie stereotype behavior. And I mean Carl, who managed to come back from his psychopath trip surprisingly well and fast and generally did sage things like listening to his dad and doing what he says. How the two of them work together when the fence breaks (finally) is great, and I want more quiet scenes of character development like the look Rick gives Carl when the latter charges the zombies with the automatic assault rifle.
A quiet moment for father and son.

The show, however, continues to suck when it comes to dialogue and character development most of the times. Although some actors (Tyreese, Rick, Carl and Carol, mostly) do the best with the shit they're getting, the dialogues are awful most of the time. My unfavorite is Daryll stating that he's "tired of watching people die" when asked how he feels after someone died. Michonne still just looks angry all the time, and character arcs are pursued only randomly, seemingly dependend on who got his fingers on the screenplay any given day. 
The "Don't dead open inside"-days are gone.
That being said, season 4 feels much like season 3 in the beginning - both got off to a surprisingly strong start, considering the pain in the ass the end of their previous seasons were. Season 3 degraded more and more, and we will have to wait for season 4 to do the same or avoid its fate. But they mentioned the Governor way too often, and his plotline was such a steaming pile of shit at the end of season 3 that I fear he carries some of the stink into the current season. Well, let's see.