14
Nov
2010
The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 3
Tell it to the Frogs
Jordan
After the definite step down that was last week's "Guts," The Walking Dead really needed to hit one out of the park. This first season is only 6 episodes long, and if the show is going to be successful, it needs to minimize the first season missteps. Any show will stumble a bit out of the gate, but this is more allowable when a series is tossing out 22 or so episodes in that inaugural run. When you only have 6 episodes, you can't really afford to throw out too many off-episodes. Fortunately, "Tell it to the Frogs" is the best episode the show has done so far, and gives a good indication of where the series may be headed in the remainder of this season, and in subsequent ones (AMC recently renewed it for a second season, which will likely be longer).

The show starts with a bang, showing Merle going just a little bit crazy chained to that pipe on the roof, babbling to himself as if he doesn't even remember where he is, then going through a moment of clarity when some zombies start trying to get onto the roof. This was a definite step in the right direction for the character after the atrocious stereotype he was last week, and watching him desperately fight for his life, and make a dire decision for survival, was a visceral, moving cold open.

After three episodes, I can say pretty surely that The Walking Dead is at its best when it is dealing with raw, powerful emotions, a skill that will serve it well seeing as it is set during a zombie apocalypse, when emotions run high. Case in point is the scene in which Rick arrives at the camp to see his wife and child are still alive. The reunion is pretty much pitch perfect, and filled with genuine, earned emotion. Rick has already been through a lot to get to his family, and you can see the weight of his journey hitting him as he holds his wife and child in his arms again. Lori's reaction is also handled perfectly, from her initial shock that Rick is alive, to the creeping realization of what that means for her life. Rick and Lori may be reunited, but their marriage was in trouble before the dead started walking, and his simply being alive isn't going to fix the long term problems they were having. Add to that Shane's relationship with Lori and Carl, which clearly means a lot to him, and Lori's cold insistence that he is no longer a part of her life and there are enough emotional conflicts just within this core family unit to sustain the series for a long time to come. Each of the characters involved in this conflict is incredible well drawn and fully realized. Rick is so glad to be back that he is blinded to Lori's regret and apology, Lori wants to be faithful to her husband, but is not sure if she's even happy at his return, and Shane wants to step back graciously but truly loves Lori and has bonded with Carl. Because all of this is believable, each character is immediately relatable. They may be making mistakes, but their actions are understandable.

The tensions at the camp are also palpable and well drawn, with one exception. Ed, the misogynistic wife beater feels pretty much as stereotypical as Merle did last episode, though I hope the show will give him more depth in the remaining weeks of the season. The survivors are barely keeping things together though, and Shane's near despotic rule is already not sitting well with the rest of the group. Small incidents like the size of a fire and the borrowing of tools engender resentment, and the show makes it pretty clear that just because all of these people have survived and ended up in the same place does not mean they trust each other, or even like each other. This is made abundantly clear in a scene near the episode's end, when a poorly drawn conversation about sexual roles (that felt a bit too Sex and the City for my taste) quickly descends into a revelation of the guilt and fear that drives this little commune, and how quickly those strong emotions can lead to strong outbursts. When Ed beats his wife for not following orders, Shane steps in and nearly beats Ed to death, partially to protect his wife, and partially to exert control, but also because of the latent anger that has been simmering since Rick's return. There is no law in this post-apocalyptic world, and so violence has become the only way to establish order. If people are afraid of you, they are more likely to listen to orders and therefore, less likely to screw up. This is a tough, ugly fact about the realities of life once society has disappeared, and The Walking Dead is doing an excellent job of exploring that fact.

Another thing the show is getting better at is exploring the moral quandaries that arise in this world, and the importance of this development cannot be undersold. If The Walking Dead is to attain greatness, it will be partially because of its ability to explore ethical questions in-depth, and tonight the question of whether to rescue Merle is a good example of how the show can do this well. The introduction of Daryl, Merle's brother, is well handled. Daryl is clearly an asshole, but he seems to be less overtly aggressive than his brother. He doesn't like anyone anymore than Merle does, but he directs his anti-social behavior into hunting and mostly seems to internalize his rage where his brother takes it out on those around him. Its obvious from the beginning that an expedition to rescue Merle will be mounted (this is television, after all, and while the show is willing to be dark, it is only willing to go so far into the darkness at this early stage), yet watching Rick convince the family he just found that he needs to go is interesting, and it was refreshing to hear doubt expressed that a miserable human being like Merle is worth risking four lives to save. That Rick brings his decision back to the debt he owes Morgan is excellent and perfectly within his character. None of the men who were in Atlanta feels good about the fact that they left Merle, and the realization that he is almost definitely still alive makes their lapse all the more terrible. Rick refuses to let a man die in a world where the only real line is between the living and the dead, but he also feels deeply indebted to Morgan, who literally saved his life and got him started on his journey. Watching the group reach the roof only to find Merle's hand is a wonderful ending to a very good episode of The Walking Dead.

"Tell it to the Frogs" convinced me that the show is more ambitious than it indicated in "Guts," and that makes me excited for where it will go from here on out. It gave added depth to the characters, began filling in the complex details of their relationships, and gave the actors plenty of room to fully realize their performances, in both the little moments and the explosive conflicts. The episode isn't perfect. The dialogue is getting better, but is still spotty at best, and it still relies on stereotypes more often than I'm comfortable with, but tonight was evidence that given time, the show will fix both of those problems. Half way through the show's first season, I am very excited for what's to come.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-I intended to give this episode an A, but as I wrote this review, I realized that there was a little too much clumsiness and a few too many missteps for it to attain a perfect grade.

-"Words can be meager things. Sometimes they fall short."

-"Why would you risk your life for a douchebag like Merle Dixon?" "Hey! Choose your words more carefully!" "No, douchebag is what I meant."

-"Tell her that." "She knows." Clearly the communication issues in Rick and Lori's relationship still linger.

-I didn't mention Short Round tonight, but I enjoyed how upset he was at the dismantling of the car.
Tags: The Walking Dead
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