The Walking Dead 7.10 – New Best Friends

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Inexplicable “hell-raiser” walkers. There’s no sense or reason to most of this episode, and it is painfully disappointing.

This episode, titled “New Best Friends,” is a clear example of the best and worst qualities of The Walking Dead. The small character piece between Daryl and Carol after their long-awaited reunion demonstrates a tendency toward emotional and arresting tension, depth of character, and attention to human detail. On the opposite side of the coin is the introduction of the garbage pickers, a collective of horrendously one-dimensional personalities in an already crowded cast. In these scenes, Rick – one of the only, if not the only, immortal characters – is the one pushed into danger. We already know he’s going to survive, so we don’t care when he’s fighting the most inexplicable and improbable of creatures. Meanwhile, we have characters like Rosita, a small scar on her face, now reduced to a character who is solely defined by her anger.

Roughly half of the episode concerned itself with this new community, who have set up their civilization in a garbage dump. Few details are introduced as to how this community functions – unlike The Hilltop, The Kingdom, and The Sanctuary – and there is little rhyme or reason as to how their leader, a woefully underwritten character, has ascended to a leadership position among them. The stilted language of these people, the icing on the cake, makes the explanation of their survival in the zombie apocalypse even more confusing than their terrible choice of locale.

That’s the bad part. The show hasn’t completely lost its way, and there is a great deal of solid source material – the comic book series – that the television show has to draw from.

Carol’s character is one of the show’s most complex creations, with one of the most engaging character arcs, and actress Melissa McBride has delivered consistently powerful performances. There was a palpable emotional pay-off when she and Daryl are finally reunited, after having been separated for the space of an entire season. Chemistry is real – Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl) have it.

The show is setting up, as it often does, all of the chess pieces in preparation for a grand finale. It will likely be a satisfying spectacle, and there’s nothing wrong with moments of levity. It’s just that the show has a tendency to stretch the narrative beyond it’s audience’s patience. As things stand now, not only is the narrative being drawn out, but ridiculous and improbable scenarios are cluttering up the story.

No community is going to risk its safety pouring melted pewter over a walker’s head to create some kind of “super walker” pin-head confection, only to give it up as a sacrificial lamb. Additionally, there is no sense in a community committing itself to war against total strangers (The Saviors) when other strangers (The Alexandrians) arrive and show that they have the gumption to kill their pin-head walker. This isn’t how trust is established, and this isn’t how war is waged. Period.

Rick and the Alexandrians need lots of guns, eh? Well shucks, I guess that’s why Oceanside (equally as underdeveloped as the garbage heap survivors) was introduced during the front-end of the season. Whatever will Tara do? Will she eventually tell Rick? You betcha, she will.

Yes. We all know. She’s going to betray Oceanside’s trust, and they’re probably going to join the fray against The Saviors, too. Because? Plot. Transparent, predictable, underwhelming plot.

I think we all know that Carol is eventually going to learn the truth about her fallen brothers and sisters, too. Daryl might have had her best interests at heart, but the truth will out, creating dramatic tension between these two soul-mates, and it’ll draw Carol into the conflict we all know is coming. There’s nothing wrong with foreshadowing, and there will always be predictable arcs in a serialized drama, but The Walking Dead is going too far. The surprises are never major plot points, but only involved with “which beloved character is going to die next?”

It feels lazy. It feels like the show is disrespecting its audience’s intellect.

Why does it feel like that? Because it absolutely, one-hundred-percent is doing just that.

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January 17 – The Good Book

01-17 Bibliophile post

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
~Mark Twain

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I have a massive collection of books. A massive collection.

Like many of my ilk, I’ve looked back and realized that I have always been a collector. My younger self collected a wide variety of useless things, from wall posters and semiprecious stones (every family vacation had me on the lookout for rock shops) to previously-viewed VHS tapes and pogs (when  those were in fashion – yeesh, how embarrassing). I continue to collect music, but the most obvious thing I collect, quite naturally, are photographs.

Thinking on it, I collected baseball cards even though I was never, ever a sports fan. Things went pretty sideways once I discovered that trading cards existed for comic books. Heck, my obsession even took me down the path of outright criminality; I got caught stealing Marvel Ultra trading cards at the local supermarket when I was probably twelve or thirteen. I was absolutely terrified by that experience, and painfully ashamed. I also survived and would you believe it, I didn’t steal cards any longer. Instead, I started collecting actual comic books.

The early 1990s were a wonderful time to get into comic books and, for twenty years, I’ve been waiting for those lovely creative people in Hollywood to tell some of those stories on the silver screen. The first major series I got into was an X-Men story-line called “Legion Quest,” in which Professor Charles Xavier’s son travels back in time to execute Magneto, thus preventing all of the damage Magneto has done in his lifetime. It’s another iteration of the “if you could go back in time and kill Hitler” thought experiment. I have always loved this about the X-Men stories. They’re thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Initially, the X-Men were a vehicle through which the authors discussed American prejudice, mirroring the experiences of ethnic minorities. Today, stories of exclusion and oppression also reflect the marriage equality movement. The world is always so quick to point at a group and shout “freaks!” And the X-Men, in these stories, are the freaks. It takes the anguish of real-life problems and de-contextualizes them, allowing us to think about these issues from a fresh perspective. It’s brilliant.

Hero stories are all morality plays in the end, and they’re infinitely more sophisticated than they might appear to be on the surface. It has been fun watching media like graphic novels and video games achieve the mantle of high art and experience legitimacy in the eyes of the wider public. Once upon a time, comic books were for kids and video games were nothing more than a waste of time (and yes, they still can be, so don’t get me wrong). The video game industry has now surpassed Hollywood in generated revenue, and graphic novels are now being made into feature length films.

Progress, ladies and gentlemen. The nerds have won, world. Deal with it.

The “Legion Quest” story-line was jam-packed with the what-if’s of time travel tales, and it laid the foundation for an even larger and monumentally engaging story: “The Age of Apocalypse.” I’m venturing to guess that this is what the next movie, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” will be presenting. It’s an exciting time to be a fan-boy, indeed!

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Needless to say, graphic novels also led to plain-old books. Large-print illustration books, art history books, some first-edition Steinbeck novels, throwaway Vampire Chronicles and Stephen King tomes, and hallowed American classics from the greats like Conrad, Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Every move, from dorm room to apartment, apartment to house, city to city, has seen me lugging impossibly heavy twenty-eight gallon Rubbermaid containers stacked with books. I can’t seem to let them go, and I often will pluck a book off the shelf and thumb through it for inspiration. Hell, I rarely even sold my textbooks back in college.

The picture above is a studio photograph of a pocket bible. On the University of Arizona campus, probably my sophomore year, there was a day when a group of missionaries stood on damn-near every street corner, every intersection, and every entrance to the student union handing these things out. Green vinyl covers and tissue-thin pages. I took every single one that was offered to me as I crisscrossed the campus on my way to class – until there wasn’t any room left in my backpack. I probably made off with about thirty copies. I went immediately to task making art projects out of them, and a series of photographs like the one here. In retrospect, it was probably a little scandalous that I collected all of those books, but I don’t think the world is in short supply of King James Bibles.

I guess the jury’s out, but I’m banking on the Good Lord being as forgiving as they say.

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