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.