The Story: Rich, Michonne & Carl go on a “run” and find an old friend.
The Review (with SPOILERS):
1. Bottle episodes are the best sometimes. – This episode made me question some of my basic assumptions about TWD. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a “bottle episode,” it basically means an episode that is limited in scope, shot on limited sets and with a severely restricted cast. As such, a bottle episode is often used to save money; which AMC is pathologically doing with TWD in order to preserve money for the intense creative costs of Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
If I had been forewarned that this would be a bottle episode, I would have been concerned about the limited cast. I mean, there are not many trios of characters on this show I’d like to focus on. Imagine: The Governor, Andrea and Milton working on __________. Ugh! That would be awful! Imagine: Hostile, crazy-man Rick, glowering Michonne and awkward Carl on a “run?” Sounds horrible, right? It’s like being told that beef liver is for dinner.
However, it all turned out pretty daman good. This show always struggles to show us anything other than zombies getting their heads splattered. Perhaps the trick is to do the dramatic, human-element parts of the story in more tightly controlled bottle episodes? One amazing discovery is how good Rick and Michonne were together. They were both more enjoyable to watch, with them being a little humorous and light-hearted. Carl is still a lost cause, but I could see a future for the Rick/Michonne pair if the show’s creators aren’t too dense to notice. Let Michonne be Rick’s confidant (or whatever) and give them a few scenes alone where they can relax and I bet it’ll turn out well. I wouldn’t count on seeing more Rick/Michonne this season even if the creators noticed their chemistry. I’d bet dollars to donuts that this episode was shot out of sequence with everything else we’ve seen in Season 3.
It was also nice to get the characters out of the horrid Prison/Woodbury environments. Sometimes it is just nice to know that there is somewhere else to go in this world.
2. Welcome back Morgan, we hardly knew you. – Everyone who has read the comics knew that Morgan would eventually return. If I had a major beef with the episode, it was how telegraphed the reveal of Morgan was when Rick pulls off the guy’s helmet. I mean, as soon as we learned that Rick & Co. were in Rick’s hometown, you kinda knew they’d run into Morgan. I really enjoyed seeing Morgan again. The show also did a great job of showing how the lives of two men that started in the same place took two completely different directions. I guess the question is, “which man is better off?” Obviously, Morgan is fucking nuts- with all his booby-traps and wall-scribblings. But, Rick is seeing visions of his dead wife and talking to dead people on the telephone, so he isn’t any better off. Perhaps you could say that Morgan is less socially adjusted because he attacks people who wander through town, but Rick is now letting harmless looking hitchhikers get gobbled by zombies. So I’m not sure if Rick is any better off on that front either.
The big highlight of the episode was the acting performance by the man playing Morgan. This series has a lot of acting problems from both its main cast and also extras like the townies in Woodbury, but they’ve consistently brought in guest stars for single episodes who just kill it. Remember how Merle was basically a single-episode guest star in the Pilot and again in the Darryl bottle episode in Season 2? Then we had Michael-Raymond James as one of the “guys from Philly” in Season 2. Now we’ve got Lennie James as Morgan. James just smashed his performance as an insane man who is holding on by clearing the zombies off his traps. The only problem is that poor Andrew Lincoln (Rick) got steamrolled again.
One funny note: the “kill Rick” concept has gained some considerable traction online. There’s even a decent Twitter hashtag for it. Seeing Rick get stabbed by Morgan reminded me of how the writers trolled us a few times with possible Lori deaths in the weeks leading up to her demise. Remember when she did CPR on a dying Herschel? Same thing in this scene with Rick.
3. Michonne is much more likable. – Not much to say here, but it’s easy to be more likable when the writers don’t make you scowl all the time. Heck, Michonne was even good with Carl! When’s the last time an actor was paired up with Carl and had it be a good scene for them? Mark this down too. Carl needs someone to be around who makes him less annoying.
4. So many annoyances were absent. – Wasn’t it nice to have zero Governor, Andrea, Glenn yelling about crap, Maggie acting moody, Milton, braying Woodbury townies, Michone and Rick being pissy, visions of Lori, Martinez, Beth singing, etc.? It’s funny how an episode like this reminds us that keeping it simple is sometimes the best approach. There is WAY too much going on right now in TWD for a 45 minute show.
5. Comic timeline… – I find it interesting that this TV show has already taken several of the post-Prison storylines in the telephone and now this journey of Rick to go see Morgan. It makes me curious about where we’ll begin next season. By using up these storylines, they’ve kinda already burned up a lot of the characters’ time “on the road.” The next comic story would be the Hunters, but I can’t imagine getting an entire season out of that. Plus, it would be jumping immediately from Rick & Co. under siege by the Governor to Rick & Co. under siege by The Hunters. I also can’t imagine them jumping all the way ahead to the Arlington storyline that began around issue #70, because that is again: Rick & Co. finding a place of refuge.
6. Still good zombie bits. – I might say it every week, but this show does a wonderful job with the zombie set-pieces. Consider the first scene where our trusty Hyundai gets stuck in the mud and is surrounded by zombies. I worried that we’d have an episode of Rick/Michonne/Carl trapped in the car and THAT would have been an awful dirge of an episode with Rick telling people to drink their own urine if they were thirsty. But no, they just blast their way through with no trouble. The zombies-in-the-bar scene was also excellent. I love the lurking zombie bartender and the great, “oh crap!” moment when the little rat darted around the corner.
7. Annoyances. – I feel I have to list them because otherwise people will wonder why this episode didn’t get a higher grade. Why is Rick suddenly not crazy anymore? Is there nowhere closer to the Prison to find guns? Why do they need so many guns for 5-6 people to attack Woodbury? Horrible payoff of the “one bullet” that Michonne found for Rick? Why did Morgan stay unconscious for SO long? How did a dude who has survived for MONTHS in the zombie wasteland decide it’s a good idea to backpack right down the middle of the road without any attempt to be stealthy? I can understand that Hyundai is paying them to feature that silly SVU-lite, but why don’t they mod it for zombieland? Add some serious tires and a cow-catcher to the grill! Why is Rick giving Carl serious advice on getting cars out of the mud when cars will become a thing of the past very soon? Why does gasoline still work so well? How did Carl become such an ace headshot master?
Conclusion: Bottle episodes are often very good and this was no exception, even it was mostly addition via subtraction. If the TV storyline follows the comics at all, this is a glimpse of a future TWD with a much smaller cast. Still too many silly annoyances for this to be an “A” quality episode though.
– Dean Stell