Monday, November 14, 2016

Denial of Service

Three weeks.

I said last month, of the season premiere of The Walking Dead, that I thought the series had actually served up a good episode again. Though I'd been thinking of quitting, the premiere earned enough goodwill for me to continue watching for a while.

That lasted three weeks. In the subsequent three episodes, The Walking Dead was carried on the backs of a few incredibly skilled actors. The show itself, I thought, hadn't really gotten better after all.

First we had the boring episode in the Kingdom. Melissa McBride can elevate any material they throw at her, so we got some fun moments from Carol. And Khary Payton was key to anything interesting about King Ezekiel, not the CG tiger.

Then we got the monotonous "torture Daryl" episode. The format, chosen to try to make the audience understand Daryl's plight, was just as much a "torture the audience" episode with its dull repetition. In Negan's few minutes on screen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan provided the only interesting moments of the episode.

Then came this weekend's episode, "Service," the latest in The Walking Dead's unfortunate tradition of making 90-minute episodes out of material that really can't sustain more than the standard 60 minutes. Once again, the major reason to watch was to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan chew the scenery with relish. But the story lacked any real turns; it simply took 50% longer to get to its end that it otherwise would have. And in that time, you could see how -- fun as Jeffrey Dean Morgan's performance is -- that it's simply not going to be enough in the long run.

The entire premise is impossible to buy at this point. The premiere did a good job of breaking down Rick and placing him in a place of total despair. I can't say it did the same for any of the other characters. Indeed, the episode showed you how Carl, Michonne, and Rosita in particular are all still wound up for a fight. What it failed to justify is why all of them would choose to go along with Rick's "plan" here. It's simply hard to believe the story is continuing in this way. The far more believable outcome (though one not conducive to a weekly TV series) is that everyone would elect to go down in a hopeless blaze of glory. Negan overruns Alexandria. The end.

Equally hard to understand is why Negan would actually allow any of our heroes to stick around. Sure, he has to send the message that those who oppose him will be crushed. Breaking the strongest group ever to stand against him, making them work for him, is one way to do that. But so would just burning their city to the ground and pissing on the ashes. And after what Rick and company did to Negan's outpost, that's exactly how Negan ought to plausibly respond. But here again, not conducive to a weekly TV series.

It certainly didn't help that Westworld served up its best episode yet on the same night.

Good actors can only do carry an audience along with badly written characters. For me, it appears to have been about three more weeks. I'm pretty sure I'm out.

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