Carl – We Have An Eye Donor For You

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It didn’t take long for the inter-webs to begin flooding with outcry after the latest gruesome death in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” but this outcry is a little different than usual. Most of the time, the audience is saddened by the unexpected loss, or horrified when pivotal characters are presumed dead – let us not forget the miserable weeks when Glenn’s fate was left completely up in the air. While several plot-lines have been changed in order, presumably, to keep the narrative fresh for fans – and to prevent comic book enthusiasts like myself from spoiling upcoming events – Mr. Abraham Ford was spared the eyeball-skewering he was destined for.

Abraham Death

The problem? His replacement on the post-apocalyptic chopping block was Doctor Denise, one of the series’ only gay characters. If fact, it was only two episodes ago that Denise told her girlfriend Tara before an extended supply run that she can’t go. “I need to be here,” she said. “I’m the only doctor now. I can’t. But I want to.” This week, Denise admits that she could have gone, that she could have confessed her love to Tara, but was unable to because she was afraid. The moment she appears to arrive at romantic clarity – and the humorous macguffin of the orange soda is satisfied – Denise is killed.

The macho alpha-male is spared his scripted death, replaced by one of the only gay characters on the show. Given the nature of the show, one likely has nothing to do with the other, but that doesn’t prevent message boards and conspiracy theorists from beating their chests about what this may possibly imply.

The show has gone off-script in a variety of ways, in a calculated and creative attempt to make the content as surprising and narratively strong as possible. In this instance, the turn of events may be as easily explained as the availability of an actor on set. Tara (played by Alanna Masterson) is off for the foreseeably near-future because of a pregnancy, preventing any resolution with the Tara/Denise subplot by the end of the current season.

It ought also be noted that Denise doesn’t survive the comic book, either. She makes it much further on the written page, sure, but she is no more immune than any other beloved character. Additionally, the Denise character is straight in the graphic novel, not gay. But a little bird tells me these tidbits likely won’t quell the current outrage.

I can’t speak for the writers, producers, show-runners, or anybody else on “The Walking Dead,” but I’m guessing that the current insult was unintentional. Besides, there’s still that lingering speculation that Daryl is gay, so we may yet be able to reexamine this topic as the story continues to unfold. And what’s that, I hear? Jesus – you know, that devilishly handsome blue-eyed little thing – might be gay? Time will tell, I suppose…

For the time being, let’s raise a glass while we mourn the loss of yet another undeserving victim. The loss is always hardest to accept when the character is so intrinsically good. Let’s hope she is avenged. It couldn’t happen soon enough.

Cheers.

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The Walking Dead – “Twice As Far”

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READ LAST WEEK’S REVIEW HERE

With only two episodes left in the season, I think it’s safe to assume that the terror that is Negan won’t be revealed until the season finale – probably during the final act of the episode. This defied expectations that the “All-Out War” narrative from the comic books would consume the back-end of this season. This is not wholly disappointing – it shows that the producers and writers are deliberately building tension and plan on spending more than half a season on the group’s confrontation with Negan and The Saviors. Chances are, “All Out War” will take up the full-run of season seven.

This week’s episode, titled “Twice As Far,” has revealed that the writers have completely flipped the script, leaning further and further away from the source material in a deliberate (and successful) attempt to keep the story engaging. After last week’s encounter with The Saviors, the episode opens with a ‘clockwork’ montage, showing the guards at their posts, doing rounds, keeping watch on inventories, and exchanging knowing glances with one another. Alexandria is keeping watch on the walls, and things take on a slightly tense, ‘business as usual’ tone.

Morgan has built a jail cell in his downtime, an obvious attempt to inject some civilization into the violence of Alexandria’s leadership. In a brief exchange, Rick looks around at the cinder-block cell and asks Morgan why he built it. “It’ll give us some choices next time,” Morgan responds. We’re reminded what happened with the Alpha Wold that Morgan captured, the division it created, and the danger it presented when the Wold absconded with Doctor Denise.

The world is getting bigger, and it dawns on us that a holding cell, an interrogation room, even a permanent prisoner residence may eventually become necessary. Summary execution is a quick solution, but the world has gotten bigger. The exchange between Morgan and Rick transitions back to Carol, fingering her crucifix, smoking cigarettes on the porch swing, clearly conflicted after slaughtering the small holdout of Saviors in the previous episode.

There’s a lot of heavy-lifting with the narrative of “The Walking Dead,” but the show transitions between Eugene and Abraham over to Rosita and Daryl, escorting Doctor Denise on a pharmacy run, with ease. With so many characters getting screen time this week, we’re reminded of how securely the fates of the Alexandrians are tethered together. Father Gabriel with his rifle, Sasha at her guard tower, Morgan practicing his martial arts in the grass, Eugene thinking much more ‘big picture’ with his plan to manufacture bullets, the newly-erected jail cell – this episode, despite some spoiler-heavy action, is largely quiet, representing the planing stages, the quiet before the storm.

Dwight knows where Alexandria is, we discover during a tragic encounter on the train-tracks outside of town. If Dwight knows where Alexandria is, Negan won’t be too far behind.

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So Long, Carol – It’s Been Fun

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Well, somehow the lion-hearted warrior woman we’ve come to know and love has left us. Only a few episodes earlier, she was the one to strike fear into the hearts of children, travel incognito through a swarm of Wolves with a bloody ‘w’ on her forehead, and even come to blows with Morgan over his peacenik philosophy.

Carol is an enigmatic character, a wonderful dramatic foil to Daryl. In many ways, the two of them were abused, tamped-down by their life’s circumstance. Daryl was abused by absentee parents and a bully older brother, Carol by a husband’s fist. The characters have evolved organically, and are unique to “The Walking Dead” television series. Neither character exists in the comic book, so there’s no source material they need to adhere to. I think this is one of the reasons why they stand out, and why there’s been such a pronounced outcry from fans that the two develop a romantic arc. But those aren’t who these characters really are. They are more open and vulnerable with one another than anybody else in the community, and their intimacy doesn’t hinge on bedroom antics – there’s something more concrete and serious about how they relate to one another.

I think we all know we’ll be seeing Carol again. She won’t be dismissed this unceremoniously. I’m guessing she gets herself kidnapped by The Saviors, hastening a confrontation between communities. The incident on the railroad tracks will require a response from Negan and his people, and it’ll be swift and bloody. But hey, maybe they’ll like her cooking.

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Better Call Saul 2.05 – Rebecca

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The female characters in the works of Vince Gilligan often come to represent family, responsibility, order, and process. The audience inherently regards the Skylar White character from “Breaking Bad” with disdain, not because she is morally wrong, but because a hijinx-appreciative audience wants to watch Walter White continue on his destructive trajectory. The women who would reign in these corrupt figures are intuitively the “bad” guys.

That’s the conundrum of Kim Wexler. In many regards, we haven’t been provided the appropriate opportunity to sympathize with her, even if we recognize her as the voice of reason, perpetually trying to talk Jimmy away from bending and breaking the rules. We have seen moments of quiet intimacy between Kim and Jimmy, and we even got to watch her execute a confidence scheme in a hotel bar alongside her wayward friend. This is what elevates her from the status of Skylar White; we know that Kim is drawn to shenanigans, even has an appreciation for how artfully Jimmy is able to find his angle, but she also occupies a moral realm. She can taste the fruit, but life goes back to normal in the morning.

This week’s episode, titled “Rebecca,” gives us an opportunity to walk in Kim’s shoes for a bit, and we understand how she has come to occupy the “nagging wife” archetype. Jimmy himself is experiencing his own form of house arrest, with a new babysitter named Erin, hired specifically to shadow slippin’ Jimmy and make sure he plays by the rules. Kim’s in the dog house and Jimmy’s on a leash, and we watch as they both attempt to adapt to their new circumstance.

The cold open is a also an interesting and revealing glimpse into the past, a dinner with Jimmy and Chuck immediately following Jimmy’s move out west to begin his new career in the mail room at HHM. Chuck’s mental illness hasn’t gripped him yet. Polished utensils, chandeliers, jazz music on the hi-fi stereo adorn the scene. And we’re introduced to a new character: Rebecca, Chuck’s wife, a celebrated violinist and a personal acquaintance of Yo-Yo Ma. The scene is underplayed and deceptively simple, but what it reveals is Chuck’s refined bourgeois lifestyle being disrupted by his brother’s beer-swilling and artless boorishness.

Rebecca is taken with Jimmy’s charm, laughing at his jokes and smiling while Chuck is left aside to scowl. There is resentment, here. Jimmy has an ease and charm about himself that Chuck cannot comprehend, and certainly doesn’t appreciate. At the end of the flashback, Chuck tries telling a joke to Rebecca, hoping for a similar laughing response – but he fails. This undercurrent of anger and resentment colors the entire dynamic between the brothers, and we become much more aware of the Biblical ‘Cain and Abel’ dynamic at play.

The brothers are engaging in silent war. The book-end of the McGill conflict occurs at the end of the episode, with Chuck telling a story about his father to Kim. We learn that Chuck blames Jimmy for their father’s death, and his story is an obvious attempt to poison Kim against her friend and sometimes lover. Simultaneously, he insist that he will talk to Hamlin and try to get her out of the doc-prep dog house and back into an office. At the beginning of his sermon, he points out how destructive and self-interested Jimmy is. He ends his sermon by demonstrating that he is the only McGill that’s willing to go to bat for her. It will be some time before we see how she responds to the brothers, each yanking her in different directions.

The most interesting aspect of the episode is in it’s title, which doesn’t only refer to the introduction of Chuck’s absent wife. A.R. Magalli of CutPrintFilm astutely observes:

“‘Rebecca,’ the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, is the story of a woman caught between fighting in the present over the wrongs of the past, largely the death of the titular Rebecca. The novel’s protagonist is used as a pawn when those devoted to the deceased try for revenge on who they feel is responsible. Here we see another Rebecca disappeared, and the man once devoted to her, Chuck, using another woman as a weapon against the man he may feel is responsible for her death or disappearance, Jimmy.”

There is little chance in the Gilligan-verse for this to be a coincidence. Painterly sweeps of light, the color palette of the offices of HHM, the connective-tissue of the narrative – all are carefully mapped-out, infusing “Better Call Saul” with a tension and an identity that sets it apart from anything else on television. This is among one of the most literate programs ever produced, asking more questions than it answers and peeling away at the layers of each individual character with slow deliberation.

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Better Call Saul 2.04 – Gloves Off

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The ‘continuity game’ with Better Call Saul is insurmountable, and this week’s episode has ratcheted-up the intrigue in new and significant ways. It also contains additional easter-eggs and call-backs to Breaking Bad (see below) to keep super-fans plugged in and on-point.

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Following their late-night meeting, we find Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) laying out his plan across the street from the El Michoacano, the Mexican restaurant where drug lord Tuco Salemanca (Raymond Cruz) holds his drop-meets. With Tuco using crystal and acting erratically, Nacho needs him eliminated before Tuco learns about his side business. As we would expect, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) opts to discard Nacho’s ‘up-close and ugly’ assassination plot for something more surgical.

It’s quite possible that Mike Ehrmantraut is the most interesting character in the Vince Gilligan universe. Like many others, his is a character with a dark history, having tumbled from potential greatness. He once failed to appreciate what he had, and tragedy knocked him down from his morally bankrupt ambition. The story of his life has been coming out in little drips, but in a uniquely satisfying way. The slow pacing of the series has helped with the tricky task of keeping the story mysterious and engaging; it doesn’t show all of its cards all at once.

In Breaking Bad we see Mike as a calm, calculated fixer in the employ of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Because of this, we can reflect back and realize that he had, at some point in his past, become connected to the Salemanca drug cartel. Could this episode reveal how Mike was first acquainted? Not exactly, but the pieces are beginning to fall into place.

In season one of Better Call Saul we learn about Mike’s previous life as a police officer, that he was a corrupt cop in a corrupt precinct, and that he’s the father of a murdered son. We learn how he truly lost his soul, drawing his own son into the department’s corruption and possibly contributing, albeit in a tertiary way, to the murder.

In season two of Better Call Saul we learn just a little bit more. While shopping for the proper sniper rifle to assassinate Tuco Salemanca, it’s revealed that Mike was most likely deployed in Vietnam. In the cheap motel room, surveying military-issue hardware, we see Mike stop short after clapping eyes on a rifle he clearly has a history with. He turns to the arms dealer – a familiar face who helped equip Walter White in Breaking Bad – and says he’s changed his mind.

Jonathan Banks’ portrayal of Mike Ehrmantraut is an achievement in acting. To play such a stern and expressionless character with such exquisite finesse requires great skill. The ocean of sadness beneath Mike’s wooden veneer was revealed last season, and the audience remembers that it’s there – hidden, but there. The flash of hesitation speaks volumes of his character, and we watch as Mike chooses to take a ruthless beating – instigating a fistfight with Tuco, essentially framing him – instead of killing. It’s an emotionally complex decision for a character to make. He could have just walked away and not taken the money, but he needs that money for his daughter-in-law (and, more importantly, his granddaughter). “Gloves Off,” plain and simple, is an amazing piece of storytelling.

To quote A.R. Magalli from ‘Cut Print Film’: “How did a surly, taciturn, ruthlessly efficient, hangdog old man get to be the most tragic character in the series? If there’s a truly sympathetic character in the Gilligan-verse, it’s the man with the blood on his hands.”

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EASTER EGGS:
1. Nacho tells Mike about when Tuco became erratic and paranoid while using “crank” and shot their supplier “Dawg” Paulson, leaving a piece of Dawg’s skull in Nacho. In “Breaking Bad” season two, episode two, Hank Schrader presents a profile on Tuco, mentioning that Tuco is “Reputed to have whacked one ‘Dawg’ Paulson.”

2. Mike keeps Tuco’s boxing gloves necklace as a souvenir after ensuring that he’ll spend a good five or so years in jail. The necklace is no late-addition; it can be seen back in season one.
Boxing Gloves
The gem-studded gloves may also signify that Tuco was a former competitor in the National Silver Gloves Tournament, an annual championship for young pugilists. I’m willing to bet Uncle Hector made sure Tuco knew how to fight.

3. In “Breaking Bad” we learn that Tuco’s time in jail was spent with Skinny Pete, which later leads to Jesse and Walt’s involvement with him.

4. Tuco deals with a nervous young man wearing a Tampico Furniture shirt, eventually dismissing him, saying “See you, Domingo.”

Domingo was first introduced to us in the pilot episode of “Breaking Bad,” but we knew him by a different moniker: Krazy-8. Tampico Furniture is owned by Domingo’s father, and we learn that Walt may have bought a baby crib from him when Walt, Jr. was born. If memory serves, Krazy-8 is the first person Walter White kills in the whole “Breaking Bad” series. Pretty wild, eh?

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The Walking Dead – “Not Tomorrow Yet”

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The most recent episode of “The Walking Dead” once again establishes a sense of peaceful domesticity for the citizens of Alexandria, this time focusing on Carol. It opens with her going through the food pantry, plucking cans from the rack, and gathering acorns in the forested area outside the town walls. The pleasant jaunty folk music doesn’t pause when Carol has to…to machete a walker who interrupts her errand. She sighs at the blood spray on her white blouse in a manner one might expect from tracking mud into the house; there’s a nonchalance, a sense of normality, a sense of frustrated routine.

What the episode establishes here, with it’s folk music & baking montage, is still relatively new. It’s contrasting Carol’s struggle with adapting to living a real life (as opposed to the life she and the group have been forced to live, trying to survive on the road). From the third-person omnipotence of our living-rooms, we already know that Rick and the group are on their way back to the community from The Hilltop. We know that the people of Alexandria are going to have to prepare for war. We know that Carol is going to have to put down the cookies. It’s going to be time to kill people – again.

Carol has her moment with Tobin, we see her smile for the first time in what seems like an eternity, but then the RV pulls up. Her peaceful moment comes to a halt. And these are the rhythms of “The Walking Dead.” As director Greg Nicotero explains: “It becomes ‘Die Hard’ from here on out.”

And he isn’t joking when he says that.

Rick rallies the troops and they plan their attack on Negan’s outpost. A lot happens in this episode, but we still get the feeling that the writers and show-runners are still just setting up all the chess pieces. Glenn loses his innocence by killing his first living human, an action that coincides with plot-points in the comic book. Does this loss of innocence put a target on Glenn’s head, or will the television series diverge from the events of the (already-published) graphic novels in order to keep the audience guessing and the narrative fresh? If so, this certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

And what of Abraham? Since the beginning of the season he’s been showing greater and greater signs of caving into survival stress. He appears unable to adapt to his environment, has private emotional fits, and struggles to understand how or why Glenn & Maggie would actually elect to have a child in this brave new world. There have been moments of drunkenness, abandon, and pathos, as well as moments of unnecessary risk-taking. There was also the PTSD fever-dream on the rooftop with the RPG-strapped walker (an encounter which ultimately saved his life during the encounter with Negan’s foot soldiers on the highway). The show reintroduced Abraham’s problems in last weeks’ episode, and we now see him turning his back on Rosita in a brutal, heartbreaking fashion. He’s a fighter, there’s no doubt, and certainly not a bad man. But the show has gone to great lengths to illustrate that he is a man slowly coming undone. My prediction is that we had all better start saying our goodbyes; he isn’t getting out of the season alive.

If you think I’m wrong, feel free to let me know what you think is going to happen in the comment section below.

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Better Call Saul 2.03 – Amarillo

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“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. McGill.”

The third episode of season two, “Amarillo,” begins with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) at his smarmiest, charm-inflicting self. Swaddled in pristine white cowboy gear, he positions himself on a street corner, looking beyond conspicuous. We already know he’s up to something – it’s just a question what, exactly, his scheme is. In this case, it’s sweet-talking the elderly – something he’s incredibly good at – in order to collect additional clients for his class-action suit. He accomplishes this by doing what he does best – twisting the rules to fit his own needs. From a plausibly deniable position, he breaks the bar association’s guidelines for client solicitation by ambushing a busload of retirement community residents.

Jimmy’s ploy is successful, and the annihilating glow of fresh new clients is enough for everybody in the conference room. That is, everybody except Chuck (Michael McKean), who knows what kind of a smooth operator his brother is. Naturally, Chuck throws a wrench in Jimmy’s machinations, forcing him to find new ways of securing clients.

Enter: local low-production commercials.

In an entertaining callback to Breaking Bad, we bear witness to a wonderful distillation of Jimmy’s core gifts: intelligence, creativity, intimate knowledge of his clients, and a knack for showmanship. It’s actually quite a treat to see how the future Mr. Saul Goodman cut his teeth in the advertising game. The commercials he makes may be grating, poorly edited, clichéd, even predictable – but Jimmy knows how predictable people can be, and he knows how to stack the deck in his favor. Knowing his production would never pass muster with his firm’s focus-group atmosphere, he does the next best thing: he goes rogue.

While wrestling with the decision as to whether or not he should run the ad without authorization, we get another subtle callback to Breaking Bad in the form of a music queue. Ominous digital drones creep into the scene, illustrating his internal struggle; this is highly reminiscent of the mood-setting tones in Breaking Bad. This isn’t an indication of moral ambiguity, but rather an indication of outright rebellion against the order of things. And we know there are going to be consequences.

Jimmy knows he’s taking a risk, just like Walter White (Bryan Cranston) knew he was taking risks. Naturally Jimmy bets on himself, and this is precisely what makes him such an appealing character. With so many forces against him – a complicated personal/professional relationship with Kim (Rhea Seehorn), a brotherly feud of biblical proportions, a fraudulent corporation, and a dangerously ambivalent attitude toward legal ethics – we want to bet on Jimmy, too. Everybody loves an underdog, even if we know that he is flat-out wrong.

When he struggles and succeeds, we smile along with him.

In a beautifully acted, wordless sequence, we watch Jimmy squirming in his office chair, staring at the silent telephone, wondering if his bet is going to pay off. He already knows his flagrant disregard of protocol can only be forgiven if the phones start ringing. Minutes pass. The scene drags out. Then the phone bank starts to fill, miraculously, and we exhale a sigh of relief. A shiny smile of self-satisfaction washes over his face.

And we smile along with him.

At the end of the episode, wreathed in calm domesticity, Jimmy and Kim snuggle on the couch to watch “Ice Station Zebra” and unwind from the day. “Anything blow up yet?” Jimmy asks, plopping onto the couch in front of the flickering television.

Not yet, but it’s safe to say something will soon.

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Better Call Saul – Jimmy’s Painting

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We’re only two episodes into the second season, but we can already feel how close Jimmy McGill is to leaping off the ledge. Episode two, “Cobbler,” also shows the seed of discord being sown in his relationship with Kim. Until this point, they have leaned on one another and loved one another. With Jimmy falsifying evidence to knock the police off the trail of a fumbling drug dealer, a line has been crossed.

But I want to rewind for a moment to the end of episode one. The painting in Jimmy’s office – a not too terribly subtle image of a figure tumbling backward – is a representation of Jimmy McGill standing on the precipice of moral ambiguity. More on-the-nose, it also definitely pays homage to Jimmy’s con artist days when he was “Slippin’ Jimmy” back in Cicero, taking dives on ice and banking from frivolous liability lawsuits.

The image above is a quick digital sketch I made from screen shots from the show; I couldn’t find any clear representations online to link to. The image above isn’t for sale because it’s just a replica I made of somebody else’s artwork.

The painting, titled “Geometric Abductions,” is actually made by a twenty-six year old local Santa Fe artist named Miles Toland. He’s currently directing the artist residency program and gallery at Vaayu Vision Collective in Goa, India, which is where you might scope out the impressive mural.

Geometric AbductionsToland’s art merges naturalistic human forms with transcendental designs, often incorporating elements of sacred geometry. In “Geometric Abductions,” the tumbling human form is subsumed by geometric patterns – these overlapping circles are known in transcendental literature as the “flower of life.”

This image is perfect for Jimmy McGill’s law office. In the same office is also an image of a vacant boxcar, hinting at the symbolism of standing at a crossroads. Show creator Vince Gilligan is relentlessly detail-oriented. The color palette, costume design, even books on bookshelves in the background – these details have been meticulously thought out, weaving a rich tapestry of character and back-story. Even though most of these details escape us while we’re watching, it’s this intense interest in authenticity that made “Breaking Bad” such a success, and why “Better Call Saul” has captured our imaginations.

Better Call Saul 2.02 – Cobbler

Saul Is Born post“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I have to tell you this. But it’s probably a bad idea that you willingly talk to the police, being a criminal and all. ”

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) doesn’t disappoint as season two inches forward. Last week, he explained his perspective clearly enough, explaining to Kim (Rhea Seehorn) that the reason he liked being a lawyer was because he likes to sell people, persuade them into believing him. He also put it bluntly, after pulling a con on a loathsome businessman at a hotel bar, that “I don’t have to be a lawyer to do that.”

But he still takes the job offer in Santa Fe, eventually. We’re left with the impression that he’s more curious than passionate about the position, but it’ll serve his interests for the time being. Company car, salary, and his own office – including an almost too ‘on-the-nose’ painting of a man slipping on ice.

This week, we see one of our first concrete glimpses into the Saul Goodman we known from “Breaking Bad.” Jimmy spins an intricately detailed fiction and sells it to the police to disrupt an investigation into his client’s extra-curricular drug dealing. How does he do it? Easy as pie – or cobbler. He invents a tale that plays into the jaded worldview police detectives: people are stupid and sick and anything, no matter how ridiculous or depraved, is possible.

Jimmy reserves the right to break all the rules, and his lies have migrated from hotel bar and into his profession. This is the first crack in the facade, and temptation is no doubt going to continue chiseling away at his already-flimsy sense of morality.

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The Walking Dead – “No Way Out”

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“The Walking Dead” returned on Sunday from the mid-season break and, in the show’s well-established style, nobody is safe. Alexandria’s wall has been breached and we watched while various citizens were predictably devoured by the walking dead. This might actually be what’s most problematic about the series; despite interesting turns and high-tension moments, the show’s rhythms and repetitions are overwhelmingly obvious. Previous seasons have routinely established a pattern in which the core characters appear to find long-term safety, only to be pushed out by larger and larger herds of walkers or competing survivor groups. The countryside of Atlanta, Hershel’s Farm, the State Penitentiary, Terminus, and Alexandria have all fallen in a predictable series of missteps and misfortune. Corrupt and despotic leaders have also become a common element, from The Governor to the cannibals of Terminus to the still-mysterious (but soon-to-be-revealed) Negan.

If “The Walking Dead” has common themes of corruption, perennially unsafe shelters, and the promise of “unkillable” characters being killed, then the shocking moments become less shocking. We still care, but we see the writing on the wall. We oscillate between moments of sadness and moments of relief, but with less and less impact. In an attempt to ratchet-up the stress, the show has begun playing unfairly to our emotions. The incident with Glenn and the dumpster is our best example. It was a relief to see the show’s most loved character pull through, but it was an unnecessarily manipulative cheap shot. The story should be able to achieve these levels of emotional impact by itself, not through slights of hand.

The show still has tremendous momentum and consistently delivers strong performances, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need something to change in order to disrupt these increasingly played-out patterns. This may have already begun to happen, of course, as we consider how the early episodes of season six began to fragment the timeline. The architecture of the narrative has changed dramatically as the story has been compressed, telescoped, and as the moments of decisive action have begun to occur with greater frequency. Where in the beginning a season would take place over several weeks or months, the whole of season six has (at least thus far) taken place over only a couple of days. We also have one unique 90 minute episode that looks backwards in time, showing us how Morgan transformed after a chance encounter with a kind loner. It is truly a magnificent episode that could just as easily have been a stand-alone film.

The best “zombie” features actually focus little on the zombies themselves. Rather, the best zombie stories are preoccupied with exploring humanity. “The Walking Dead” is no different. Most of the story is about a group of people struggling to reason and fight their way through an extraordinary situation. This is a survival story, in which disparate personalities collide, pecking orders are established, and drama unfolds. Everybody in the zombie apocalypse wants the same thing: to live to see another day. But everybody has their own idea how to accomplish that goal. Others have the opportunity to seize control, become leaders, ascend the dictator’s throne, or become sacrificial and selfless. That’s what is so darn good about “The Walking Dead.” We all watch these characters, study their struggle, and we all have an idea of what it is we would do if placed in that situation.

George A. Romero’s original zombie masterpiece, “Night of the Living Dead,” set the stage. It’s a brilliant thought experiment as we watch a half dozen strangers, marooned in a  farmhouse, arguing about the best course of action. Zombies occupy less than five minutes of screen time and most of the violence is implied. The script was written like a brilliant one-act play, and the moral questions are so compelling that we barely realize there’s hardly any action driving the plot forward, just words.

“The Walking Dead” could be a compelling television show even after the last walker collapses in dry-rot and melts back into the earth; the world is still a wasteland, filled with roving bands of survivors, scavengers, and highwaymen. Civilization still has to be rebuilt, infrastructure established, townships reclaimed. If the show can find a way to break out of it’s rinse-repeat cycle, it could be around for a long time to come.

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