Saturday, August 10, 2013

Season Two - Episode Two: Bloodletting

Dale and T-Dog discussing how ironic it is to die of a blood infection
The theme of the randomness of the universe is explored in "Bloodletting," and how in a second one's whole world can change course; and suddenly the direction of the day is so drastically altered, a person feels like they can't function.  There are many little phrases that are said that illuminate this theme.  My personal favorite is when T-Dog is talking to Dale about a wound he sustained the day before when the herd came through and he says, "World gone to hell and I die of an infection."  Showing us that it is also silly for Carl to die in a hunting accident in a world were that situation is the least of anyone's real worries.  What makes this situation humorous, in spite of everyone's hardship, is when Daryl reconnects with T-Dog and Dale, he hands over a bag of painkillers and antibiotics and tells T-Dog, that he can thank Merle for getting "the clap" from time to time; because the randomness of Merle having unprotected sex would eventually save T-Dog's life.
Rick running with Carl to Hershel's farm

Meanwhile, Rick, Shane, Otis- the man who accidentally shot Carl, and Carl are all running to Hershel's house to see if Carl can be saved.  When Rick has a moment alone, he keeps repeating to himself, "Girl goes missing, you look for her..." over and over again.  He is trying to understand how this situation could have gone so wrong in an instant and now both children are in danger.  In the back of my head when I watched this episode, I couldn't help but think of the saying, "no good deed goes unpunished."

When Otis and Shane depart to go pick up more medical supplies, they have an awkward moment with the shotgun that wounded Carl and Otis remarks, "It's turning into a strange day." and Shane replies, "Isn't it though?"  driving home the point about how random the world can be sometimes.

Otis and Shane on Medical Mission
After Maggie brings Lori back to the farm and she reconnects with Rick, she forbids him to accompany Shane and Otis on their mission.  She adamantly reminds him that his place is here, with his family and sometimes passively sitting, waiting, and donating blood is the best way to save a person's life.  It is contrary to Rick's hero complex.  He thinks he must be physically working toward something (going out on a mission and moving manically around to obtain medical supplies) when really we are reminded that someone like Rick can be a hero in other ways.  Like providing company to his wife in this hard time, and staying with Carl for encouragement.

Perhaps the sign from God that Rick was looking for the day before was that the deer slowed down the bullet when it hit Carl.  But also the obvious point is that it brought the group to this very nice farm where they will be fed and sheltered for a little while.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Season Two - Episode One: What Lies Ahead

Lori and Carol hide under a car to avoid a herd of Walkers
Shortly after the group leaves the CDC they run into many cars stopped and blocking the road.  While they are deciding what to do, the group begins to rummage through the cars for food and supplies and it doesn't take long for a herd of Walkers to descend upon the group.  Everyone hides and survives, but Sophia, the young girl, is forced to run off and is chased by two Walkers.  Rick leaps at the opportunity to help and when he catches up with Sophia, he hides her by instructing her to stay where she is while
he takes care of the danger.

Before not too long, she is pronounced missing, even though all the danger has been cleared.  The group arranges search parties for her and tensions are high between many members of the group.  Andrea is upset with Dale, because from her perspective, her choice to commit suicide was taken from her.  Shane and Dale are at odds because Shane knows Dale thinks he is untrustworthy.  Carol is angry with Rick because she thinks it is his fault her child is missing; and of course Shane and Lori are undergoing much unrest.

Rick looks for a place to hide Sophia
Sophia's disappearance creates three distinct purposes.  The first is that Daryl is able to take charge and step up because tracking is something he excels in.  It gives his life purpose in a world where people ha
ve all lost their identities, because their jobs do not translate into this world.  Daryl's happens to.  Rednecks hunting down animals (or little girls as the case may be, hahaha) is an important skill to have so the group rallies behind Daryl and his optimism and enthusiasm to find her is infectious to the
audience even if it is lost to the characters.

The second purpose Sophia's disappearance creates is the constant reminder that Dale is the superego, or for lack of Freudian garbage jargon, he's the group's ever nagging conscious.  He admits to Tdog (who had to stay behind because he sustained a wound during the herd scene) that he had already fixed the radiator but was lying to the group about it to stave off the possible conversation about "the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few."  Dale is not about to allow a Utilitarian argument get in the way of saving Sophia's life, so he continues to give an excuse for why they are unable to leave.
Rick distracts Walker away from Sophia

And finally, Sophia's disappearance leads the group to church to question God.  The group must confront God in his own way.  Rick admits he's not much of a church goer as he faces the alter and even questions God's existence from time to time, but he begs God for a sign.  Some sign of hope, or direction, about Sophia but also about the broader situation.

And through the randomness of existence, Carl, Rick and Shane see a beautiful deer in the woods, and as Carl reaches out to touch it, the deer is shot through the torso, and the bullet passes straight through Carl as well.  Leaving us all with the question of was the sign from God the beautiful deer or was the sign from God Carl's shooting?  Are the two connected or disconnected events?  And how bizarre and twisted is it to die in this world by a random accident instead of by a Walker?

Watch the full episode here:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Season One - Episode Six: TS-19

The characters in The Walking Dead are always confronted with various ethical dilemmas.  In episode "TS-19," they all have to answer Albert Camus' philosophical question: the choice to live and rebel or commit suicide.

Dr. Jenner is the man who let them into the CDC and they learn quickly that there is no hope for a cure but they are thankful for the food and shelter.  They learn, through a video from Test Subject 19, that a part of the infected brain will awaken before someone turns, but it doesn't have any of the same soul or mind that the person had prior to his death.  After they learn what they already suspected, they notice a clock counting down and inquire about it.
Dr. Jenner

Dr. Jenner tells them that when the clock gets to zero, the place will blow up to decontaminate all of the horrible diseases it contains and will also blow everyone up who is in the building.  He also tells them that they cannot leave and effectively locks them in the building to die with him.  We could interpret this as the government deciding what is "best" for its people, which it does entirely too often-and usually to everyone's detriment.

The group is broken into two groups of people: The group who wants to live and the group who sees this as the way to take a more dignified death.

Andrea, under the strain of watching her sister turn, decides to stay.  She also decides to stay because her role in society isn't useful anymore.  The guy who didn't get an education (Daryl) is able to protect the group and hunt; the two police officers are good shots, etc., but Andrea's previous life as a Civil Rights Lawyer leaves her whole role in this world completely useless.  She's lost her family and her identity and she decides she'd rather die.

Test Subject 19
Dale is very upset by this choice and begs Andrea to reconsider.  When she says no, he tells her that he will stay and die with her.  Before we meet either of them, apparently Andrea and Amy helped to create a friendship with Dale that gave him the will to live.  And if Andrea leaves, Dale cannot see the point of continuing.  It is also possible, that Dale is bluffing, knowing that what is best for Andrea is to force her hand out of guilt and make her rebel against suicide and embrace her "rock," like in Camus' essay "The Myth of Sisyphus."

Rick pleads with Dr. Jenner and tells him that he can't be so heartless as to kill everyone along with him and that he should give people the free will to decide if they want to stay or not.  Dr. Jenner finally decides to let them out, although they have to figure out how to exit the front of the building.  The only person who remains is Jacqui, who was the only survivor in her own family.  She and Dr. Jenner decide to die together.  Andrea is very resentful toward Dale, but ultimately she decides she doesn't want Dale's blood on her hands, even in death, and they leave too.

The group safely makes it on their way on down the road, to the tune of Bob Dylan's, "Tomorrow is a Long Time."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Season One - Episode Five: Wildfire

There are two themes that are worth discussing in this episode, even though it is not as deep as the others because it acts as a transitional episode.  The characters are going to get on the road and go to the CDC to see if a cure is being developed for the Walking Dead plague.

Before they leave though, there is much work to be done with burning the Walkers who attacked the camp and burying those among their group who were killed in the attack from the last episode.

The characters are once again faced with being forced to define what is human and what is not human; they distinguish between the two in this episode by whether or not the body is burned or buried and when is the appropriate time to kill or abandon one of their own. This is the primary theme that runs throughout the show: what are qualities that we want humans to continue to have for the sake of the human race?  And what are qualities we do not want?  Time and again, the characters will be forced to kill off others for the sake of preserving and honoring those characteristics and the ideas that made that person human.

Andrea is a perfect example of this because she waits for Amy to turn before she kills her.  Although Amy has already died, Andrea won't pull the trigger on her until she has turned into a Walker.  This makes the group uncomfortable and Shane and Daryl want to put a bullet in Amy's head before Amy becomes a danger to anyone, but Andrea won't let that happen.  She threatens anyone who comes near her with the intention of taking her sister away prematurely with a gun.  She wants to preserve Amy's humanity as long as she can.

Glenn has a similar breakdown when he sees Morales and Daryl drag the body of one of their group to the burn pile.  He yells at them and says, "We don't burn them!  We bury them!" And although it is hard work, they obey the plea to keep this boundary line officially sacred.

The second theme I must address is the reoccurring theme of Blame and Guilt which occurs twice in this episode and throughout the next two seasons.  At what point is someone allowed to feel guilt for a decision that has been made and who is to blame for its outcome?

For example, Jim has been bitten and when that is finally addressed, the group must figure out what to do with him.  Daryl wants to kill him immediately before he becomes a threat to the group, but in the interest of mentioning the first theme addressed in this post (about "what is human?") Rick nips that idea in the bud with a draw of his gun and says, "We don't kill the living." (Daryl is sharp enough to point out the irony while he has a gun pointed at his head).  Anyway, they decide to care for Jim and take him along to the CDC and maybe he can be the first person cured of this illness.  He is more or less quarantined in the RV.

Along the way though, he becomes more and more delirious and he asks Rick to pull over and leave him there.  Rick tries to convince him that he won't do that because then he will have Jim's blood on his hands.  Jim has to tell him that it is his decision, there isn't any guilt or blame on Rick and none of this is his failure.  It's on me, Jim insists.  They do as they are told and everyone gives their goodbye to Jim.

When they show up at the CDC, they bang on the doors and at first it appears that nobody will respond to their cries for help.  But Rick looks right at the camera and exclaims, "If you don't let us in, you're killing us!"  To which, the guilt and blame would be on Dr. Jenner.  He has the power (in this episode and the next) to keep these people alive or to kill them.

It's important to point out that Jim takes complete control over his life and his situation so that nobody can feel guilty for his death.  He doesn't want anyone to feel blame for his situation.  Had he remained on the RV and even made it all the way to the CDC before turning, he would have known there was no hope and he probably would not have been let in to the building.  Rick would have carried that guilt with him forever.  Jim was too good of a person to allow this.  At the same time, Rick pulls that card on the man in the CDC because they are totally powerless and at his mercy.  He puts his life and the guilt in Dr. Jenner's hands.  He has no choice.  It shows that we are all connected by these invisible lines of balancing out blame and sharing guilt in crisis situations.  Dr. Jenner opens the door for them.

It further emphasizes that they all must help each other and show compassion and carry those traits into the next generations.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Season One - Episode Four - Vatos

The moment Dale (very poorly) paraphrased William Faulker's opening paragraph to the Quentin Compson section of The Sound and the Fury, I knew he had uttered his death sentence.  Interestingly enough, in later episodes, he is not a character to choose suicide, as Quentin did (to escape time, more or less).  It is also apt that they made such an emphasis on sisters in this specific episode (Andrea and Amy), but that was probably more of a coincidence, because although Dale has complicated feelings for Andrea, she ain't his sister, like Caddy was to Quentin (for those of you who haven't read it).  And..I can't really blame Dale for slaughtering Faulkner, under the circumstances, but a true Faulknerian like myself would probably have grabbed this novel for the end of the world (good choice).  

Can I get a Shane = Jason Compson comparison, Faulkner fans in the house? what, what?

I decided to type, verbatim (he misspells Reductio ad Absurdum on purpose, mind you) the brilliance on page 76 of the vintage international paper back version of The Sound and the Fury.

"June Second, 1910

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch.  It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it's rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's.  I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.  Because no battle is ever won he said.  They are not even fought.  The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools."

Now, having properly given the quote its due, let us use it to frame the entire episode.  The group argues to Dale that it is silly he should wind his watch daily when time for them no longer matters.  Dale poorly paraphrases the above quote as a rebuttal which is dismissed because he's a weird old man with odd ideas.  The point of winding the watch is so that Dale can have a daily reminder that he is STILL mortal in a world of walking dead.  And life is what happens to us when we forget that we are stuck to this social idea of "time."  The reminder of time is so that he can enjoy moments "out of time" when he forgets about the watch.  

Time is one of the basic symbols of civilization.  To become "unstuck in time" or "outside of time" for Quentin Compson would be to b
e asleep/unconscious/or dead, as the first sentence of the quote implies that Quentin was just waking up and was "in time again."  Time is important to Dale because it shows him that he is given this whole day to make the best of it.  In this environment, it's to keep watch over everyone and keep them safe. Quentin is a bit neurotic and obsessed by the ticking clock, but we won't go there to much.  Dale thinks he's just got a habit.  

The second part of the quote is extremely apt, and although Dale omitted it, I believe the writers implied its use in this episode because clearly they read The Sound and the Fury if they wanted the wisest member of the group to paraphrase one of the most interesting passages from it (it would have been funnier if he started bellowing some Benjy speak, but whatever).  It begins with "Because no battle is ever won (scroll up and reread)" In this episode, our group has their first run-in with another group from society, which reveals to both sides their own folly and despair; and shows immediately that victory is indeed an illusion through the enormity of the mistakes they both would have committed had they opened fire on each other.

On their way back to Atlanta to rescue Merle, recover the bag of guns, and pick up an RV part for Dale, they inadvertently start a fight with a group of Vatos over possession of the bag of guns.  It results in each group kidnapping one member of the other group.  Glenn was the one kidnapped from our group.

They decide to exchange hostages and each side plans on killing all of the men over the bag of guns.  It is quickly revealed when a little grandmother walks out in front of all the armed men and tells "G," the leader of the Vatos, that someone needs help.  Both sides discover that neither are real criminals, and in fact, "G" is taking care of lots of old people who were abandoned in a nursing home after the zombie take-over.  

Rick asks G what his position was before the outbreak and G tells him that he was the custodian.  I thought the word choice was interesting, because it literally means care-taker.  He could have said janitor and meant the same thing, but it showed that his role was so much more powerful.  Rick decides that a good man like G should get half of the guns.  They exchange prisoners and share the weapons and return to camp without Merle or parts for the RV.

So, you put the rest together: "They are not even fought.  The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools."

But this episode does not have a happy ending.  By the time they get back to camp with half of the guns, the camp is being attacked by Walkers.  There are multiple deaths, including Amy (which really sucks because I would have paid so much money for Andrea to have died instead) and the group is further divided.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Season One - Episode Three: Tell it to the Frogs

Rick, Lori, and Carl are reunited
We begin to have a basic understanding of the heroic archetypes of the central characters in this episode.  We can tell by the end of "Tell it to the Frogs" who are the emerging honorable heros and who is a dishonorable hero (anti-hero, if I could be so bold to redefine a word for lack of a better one).

The major ethical dilemma the characters face is to go back to Atlanta and save Merle, an unreasonable racist redneck prick, or leave him to die.  The decision is complicated further because Merle is not a favorable character and only his younger brother Daryl will be affected by his death.  It begs the question, would the characters still consider his abandonment if this person were a child?  What if he

were Mother Teresa?  Furthermore, it begs the question of a major theme we will continue to discuss throughout this blog: if the purpose of this plague is to prune the human race, and with every person who dies we are weeding out that person's traits from the human gene pool; from this point of view, would it be permissible to leave him for dead?  Seeing as how an unpredictable and violent man who doesn't seem to care about anyone but himself would not be a person we would like to keep and allow him to pass on those qualities to future generations...

Ironically though, those who advocate for his life are going to be put in severe danger, and we want to keep the heroic trait, compassion, and a healthy level of guilt in the gene pool; but if they opt not to go, then they do not possess the aforementioned traits that help make up the decent folk in humanity.  Conundrum.

Meanwhile, back at the camp:

Andrea reminds the group that Merle was out of control, dangerous, and would have gotten everyone killed had Shane not handcuffed him to the roof.

Amy suggests that they lie to Daryl about what happened to Merle on the roof.  Ef her, she dies soon.

Glenn, Rick, T-Dog, and Daryl discover Merle is gone
Shane enlightens Rick by telling him that Merle wouldn't give someone water if he were dying of thirst.

Rick tells Shane that what a man would or wouldn't do doesn't interest him.

And so, the characters have played their cards and it is clear that Rick, Daryl, and Glenn will fall into various hero categories (it does help that I've seen all three seasons to make such a claim) but they do all want to go and save Merle for various reasons.  Rick mostly for guilt and his feeling of responsibility for Merle's condition.  T-Dog feels the guilt too.  Daryl because he's related to Merle.  Glenn because he is always willing to help and he also thinks he can aid in the mission.

Shane takes a very Utilitarian stance.  It is not good for the herd to lose this many men to sacrifice themselves for one person; especially someone nobody liked anyway.  I firmly believe that Shane would have left a child and Mother Teresa (at the same time!) for the Walkers too.  He is unaffected by feelings of guilt (another example of this is his lie to Lori about Rick's death so he could have a romantic relationship with her).  He is only focused on protecting the group.  Which brings about his archetype of the anti-hero because it is not heroic to leave a soldier behind; even if that soldier really sucks.  What Would Harry Potter Do?  Totally go back into the burning room of requirement to save Draco Malfoy.  period.    But I do believe Shane earnestly wants to protect the group; not for altruistic reasons, mind you.  Shane probably feels empowered by being in charge of these people and telling them what to do and when to be quiet.
Shane beats Carol's husband for spousal abuse

Shane's true nature comes out toward the end of the episode when he catches Carol's husband hit her in the face.  He grabs him and tells him never to punch his wife or daughter again and beats him to a bloody mess by punching him nineteen times in the face repeatedly.  He saves the day, but he really doesn't.  You see what I mean about anti-hero?

The episode ends in a cliffhanger.  We see the guys make it back to the roof only to find good evidence that Merle was forced to saw off his hand before escaping.  We don't know if he is dead or alive.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Season One - Episode Two: Guts

New Authority in Town: Those Rules Don't Apply Anymore

When Rick decides that he is going to drive (ride horseback) to Atlanta to see if he can find his wife and son, he puts on his Deputy Sheriff's uniform.  He had the opportunity to wear any of the clothes in his house, but he chose this uniform even though he wouldn't be paid any longer to be a cop because it
Rick entering Atlanta
is so ingrained in his identity.  What is not addressed though, is the unconscious understanding of how people behave around and follow those who appear to have authority; which will be used to Rick's advantage (and it is important to note that Rick is a very good man with honorable values; I cannot commit in good faith to the idea that he is using the uniform for manipulation).

After Glenn has saved Rick, he is introduced to a group of people stuck in a building in Atlanta.  Merle stands out as the only dangerous and unreasonable character in the bunch because he says things like, "It's common sense to be polite to a man with a gun," he punches T-Dog repeatedly in the face.  He also makes misogynistic comments to Andrea about her "sugar tits" and "bumping uglies."  He's your basic redneck creep.

Merle handcuffed to roof
After Rick pulls Merle off of T-Dog, in the interest of everyone's safety, he handcuffs Merle to a pipe on the roof and leaves T-Dog in charge of watching him.  Nobody objects to his decision to do this, and arguably, other than killing him, something like this had to be done.  After this moment, the dynamic of the group changes.  They all look to Rick as the Alpha after he uses his authority
(handcuffs) to control the situation.  But they also respect him when he begins to ask Jackie, who used to work in the city zoning office, and Glenn, who delivered pizzas for a living, for advice on devising a plan to get out of the building.  Rick asks Glenn how he wants to check out the emergency flooding
system.  Glenn assigns everyone a task, under Rick's authority, and it is up to Rick and Andrea to stay upstairs in case they have to fire weapons against Walkers.

While Rick and Andrea are inside, Andrea eyes a mermaid necklace and begins to talk about how much she wants to give this to her sister when they get back to camp.  Rick asks her why she doesn't just take it and Andrea says, "because a cop is standing behind me." Rick says, "I don't think those rules apply anymore."  Obviously, they don't.  But this symbolizes so much more than just the degradation of the economy.  The truth is, Andrea would have bought the necklace if she could.  But there was nobody to pay for it, and money doesn't have value anymore.  So, nobody would be harmed or cheated in this situation.  But what is interesting to consider is the point to which she was conditioned to wait for the ethical decision, from the cop, for the go-ahead to take the necklace.  So, ironically, the rules still do apply because she is still giving a police officer authority, even though he is no longer paid by a system that no longer exists.  People only have authority when you give it to them.
Wayne Dunlap, organ donor

The plan in the sewer falls through, so the group (minus Merle) decides to hack up a dead Walker and cover Rick and Glenn in guts to create a diversion to steal a truck to get everyone out of the city.  Because Rick is now established as the Alpha in the group, he's the one who is going to chop up the body.  He lifts that axe and at first fails to cut him open.  He puts the axe down and takes out the Walker's wallet.  He begins to talk a little bit about Mr. Wayne Dunlap.  How he died with 28.00$ in his pocket and has a picture of a beautiful woman.  Glenn sardonically adds that he's an organ donor.  Rick felt the need to point out that this body used to be a man and a human like the rest of them.  And that using him to help save their lives is an important role that should be honored and respected.  He needs to be seen as the human he was, and not just a body.  Rick is still trying to preserve humanity by showing values like respect and honor and hoping that those in his group don't lose sight of that.
Rick covered in Guts

T-Dog asks Rick what they should do about Merle, in case Rick and Glenn don't make it back.  Rick tosses him the key and leaves the ethical decision up to him.

T-Dog dropping the key
When Rick and Glenn come back for the group, they are really pressed for time.  T-Dog at first turns to leave Merle on the building but Merle is screaming and begging for his life.  At the last minute, T-Dog turns to give Merle the key, but trips and drops it down a pipe.  He scrambles to his feet and leaves Merle on the roof of the building.  He chains and bolts the door on his way out.  The audience believes Merle will die of starvation or by Walkers.  This begs the question, does it matter that T-Dog's intentions were to save Merle even if he failed to come through?  What makes someone a moral person, actions or intentions?  Merle is a destructive person and not someone you would want in your last men standing party.  But it's unclear whether or not he deserved death, even in this harsh world.  It is very clear that Rick is upset that Merle was unable to make it to the truck.  The group justifies it by saying, nobody but Merle's brother is going to be upset that he didn't make it back; but it certainly wasn't the right thing to do.  It wasn't the human thing to do; and the group, try as they might, feels the repercussion of this thought and the guilt.