Monday, November 30, 2015

So Let's Talk About The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead finished its midseason finale, "Start to Finish," and predictably, the Internet is full of a variety of colorful complaints. I've only really been watching this show for a year, but I've read all kinds of criticisms about it dating back to season 2 or so, and I think it's time to just sit down and talk candidly about this show. Can we do that? Let's give it a shot.

First, the midseason finale. SPOILERS if you haven't seen it, so don't read any further if that's not your bag.

The finale was mostly fine. It wasn't terrible or anything. Parts of it were quite blood pumping good - several cool action sequences and some solid tension between Carol and Morgan being the highlights for me. It moved along at a fairly brisk pace. But then it just kinda ended, way earlier than I thought it would. Maybe I was expecting a 90 minute episode or something - but even at the usual 45, they still could have resolved a few more of these plotlines. As is, it felt a bit like they just cut short before we got to a really climactic moment for any of the various storylines.

Like, really, we couldn't have had a cool climactic end to the situation between Carol, Morgan and the tied-up Wolf guy kidnapping Dr. Denise? We had to end Rick's story this year with him and the others just wandering out into the crowd of zombies? We know their deaths won't come from these things because that would have been the big emotional payoff, and that would have happened this year in this episode. The show obviously has something else planned. So what's the deal? It just feels like this was a placeholder, a stop-gap to move the show from one point to the next, utilitarian-style. Which is not a good way to do a show. The Carol and Morgan fight should have felt huge, and Rick getting to the armory should have been the climax of the episode, not some cliffhanger cut off in the middle.

Surely - predictably - they want to open up next February with a real bang in some new way. But why does the show have to sacrifice the midseason finale for that?

The show's real problem is inherently intertwined with its very nature. The show's intent isn't really to build toward some great epic climax or to have some big earth-shattering discovery for one character - it's to show the endless, droning life of a zombie apocalypse. That premise combined with the 'ooh, let's get a cliffhanger' nature of network TV inevitably leads to a lot of dead space in the show and a lot of diminished payoffs. I like the huge cast, but the number of characters inevitably leads to the show only developing them right when they're about to die in the same episode. That gets predictable fast.

Maybe it would have been better if it was an Orange is the New Black or House of Cards style show where every season is just released at once. Maybe a more out of the ordinary structure would have helped, one where all the episodes could focus on being self-contained and good, rather than several of them ending on dumb cliffhangers that end up taking weeks to resolve. The show often feels protracted to a fault, and while I like a lot of things about it, it seems like they could probably put more effort into some of the filler stuff in between 'big moments.'

Too much of the time now, The Walking Dead teases you with good build-ups and strong character acting, but then fails to deliver the real punchy moment, the zinger so to speak, until weeks later, when the moment is supposed to happen for the best ratings or some other evil reason. It'd be a better show if we could just get the good stuff quicker and keep the show rolling without losing the sense of pacing and build-up. The way it is, too many scenes and episodes feel like they came off a conveyor belt, as similar as they are to ones we've already seen before.

I do remember this show taking more risks in its earlier seasons. Things felt more dramatic, and there was a lot more blood pumping energetic action going on. The characters were livelier and showed more personality - though the show's way of showing how they adapt to the zombie apocalypse makes it fitting for them to seem so much grayer and quieter as the years go on. I don't mind the quiet moments in the show and I never have, though the dialogue could sometimes stand to be a bit more substantial and less hollow platitudes in the real sad moments. There have been a lot of critiques on dialogue in the show tending to mull incessantly over how life has changed in the apocalypse. I don't mind that aspect too much myself, as it's not like they can talk about fucking Gray's Anatomy or the newest issue of Sports Illustrated to pass the time. What do people expect?

But I get it. Is that really going to make for compelling TV season after season? Not if they don't introduce more interesting new characters. The show has had a lack of them for a while now. A few good ones here and there, but there are so many characters overall that they get lost in the shuffle, and none of them are really properly developed. And there hasn't been an awesome villain since The Governor died. But then, I hear this Negan character will be good. Here's hoping. This, I think, could really fix the show's problems.

In the end it's still a fine show for what it is. I like a lot of the main characters and there are enough good, dramatic moments going on for me to want to see what happens. But at this point, I just wonder if the show really has it in it to deliver something drastically more exciting and better. Can it really be better than it has been lately? I guess we'll see.