Original air date: February 23, 2014

The Review (with SPOILERS): Not bad…  This wasn’t a great episode by any stretch, but with TWD, it’s nice to see mere competence rather than this weird oscillation between good and terrible.

Once again, we didn’t get to see all of our characters this week with the action being split between Rick/Carl/Michonne and Glen/Tara/New People.  At some point, the storytelling technique needs to stop because they have too many storylines going on at once.  I say they have one more week to see how Darryl/Beth and Tyreese/Carol/Girls are doing, and then they need to tighten things up a little bit.

  • Third wheel: big problem for TWD writers is how horribly Rick and Carl interact.  They have NO chemistry.  It’s almost like when they read for the roles, they picked an 8 year old and then stuck with him.  Obviously, for people who follow TWD lore, the Rick/Carl dynamic is pretty important, so a TV-solution must be found.  They can’t just keep flinging Carl and Rick into these two-hander scenes and expect the results to improve.  Enter Michonne.  She proved last season in “Clear” that she could fix this troublesome dynamic and she fills that same role here.  Part of the problem with Carl is that he just sounds like a stupid kid when he’s talking about anything important.  So, why not play him off Michonne and her whole “missing her son” thing?  You have to love children to be interested in their stories of barfing when their friend brought soy milk to school, because honestly, it’s kind of a crummy story.  If you love the little kid, you sit there and humor them and know that telling stupid stories is part of growing up.  If you don’t love that child,  you have to be very kind to listen to the story, much less make the television viewers watch it instead of switching channels to whatever Darryl is doing.  Putting Michonne in the same room with Carl allows us to see him more as kid and less of this proto-MAN that the show has been obsessing over.
  • Michonne’s family: So, she had a little kid named Andre.  I can’t say that I’m too affected by this because I’m not that interested in the pasts of these characters.  The cool thing about apocalypse fiction– and probably why we love it so much, is that amidst all the horror and carnage, you get a chance to be someone new.  It’s like a reset button for everyone.  So, past = boring.  But, if Michonne’s lost son is the motivation to keeping her around Carl, then Bravo! Carl isn’t going anywhere, so we need him to be as tolerable as possible and that only happens when Michonne is in the room.
  • Rednecks: I wonder if there will be more to the story of the rednecks who came to the house while Carl and Michonne were away.  It was a weird scene and I’m partially tempted to think it was all a hallucination on Rick’s part.  I fear that could be the case because one of the themes of this phase in the comic books was Rick losing his mind with the telephone.  But, since the TV show already ate that sandwich, they have to come up with something else.  So, we get home-invader rednecks.  Think about it, there was just too much weirdness and coincidence.  They appear shortly after Michonne and Carl leave.  They pick that one house out of all of the homes in town.  They don’t notice or hear the guy Rick killed in the bathroom.  The dead guy on the floor doesn’t reanimate.  The rednecks are distracted just as Michonne and Carl come home so Rick can scamper out and shoo them away…  The good thing about this scene is that it led to some nice cat-and-mouse between Rick and the Rednecks.  This is the sort of stuff that Andrew Lincoln is pretty good at. Monologues are not his thing, but this physical stuff works out pretty well.  The bad thing is that this foreshadows some future episode where we’ll have to see dramatic Rick yammering about home invader rednecks and losing his mind.  Not looking forward to THAT…
  • Don’t raid an artist’s home: Everyone knows that artists are weirdos and would do things like paint pictures of their dead family members during the apocalypse.  But seriously, I love how this show can turn on the tension in an instant.  That scene of Carl and Michonne was going along just fine with the whole Question Game, and then Michonne unwraps that creepy picture and suddenly it’s scary and intense. Where’s Carl?  What precisely was on that picture that we didn’t really get to see clearly?  What is behind the door?  Are they zombies or just dead people?  Nicely done…
  • New guys: I’ll confess to being a little disappointed with the characters of Abraham, Eugene and Rosita.  The acting performances seem fine, but why do they have to look so much like the comic characters? I mean, Rosita even has big hoop earrings.  Abraham has a handlebar mustache.  Eugene has a mullet.  Those are important things in a comic series because most comic artists can’t draw an infinite number of human faces, so  you need little visual cues to tell the characters apart.  That’s not necessary on TV and it makes the characters look like they’re going to a Halloween party.
  • Glen on a mission: I guess it’s nice to see that Maggie and Glen are so determined to get back to each other.  These are important characters for The Walking Dead because they represent a ray of hope. Even though the world is crappy and filled with zombies, young people still are attracted to each other, sneak off to find places to screw where Farmer Herschel can’t see them and fall in love.  The TV show just needs to be careful to not overdo this story.  Remember, underselling works best.
  • Abraham/Eugene mission: At first blush, this Mission to Washington seems ripped straight from the pages of the comics too, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.  On one hand, I really did enjoy that storyline from the comics.  On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to see it acted out on TV.  For me, the best parts of that storyline were the aftermath and what it meant for the various types of characters.  I’m intentionally being vague here because I don’t want to SPOIL comic events that “haven’t happened yet,” but let’s just say that the payoff of this storyline– if they stay true to the comics, isn’t something this show has been very adept at.  I think Abraham might be able to pull off his piece, but I’m not sure Eugene and Rosita can do their parts yet.  However, if you haven’t been a reader of the comic, this Mission to Washington is a nice forward plot development.  TWD should always be about exploring and what’s over that next hill.
  • New sanctuary?: This is weird.  I have no idea what to make of it.  I like the idea of discovering new things though.  One of the fun bits of apocalypse fiction is seeing all the new forms that human society could take.  Since everything is short-term in the apocalypse, these societies don’t even have to be stable.  They’re just interesting windows into the possible.  I have a small concern about sending the gang back to another safe haven so soon after the prison and Woodbury and the Farm, but the writers probably aren’t so dense that they won’t anticipate this concern and have some novel wrinkles for us.  Maybe this place is some whack-a-doo religious salvation cult?  Maybe it is run by a bunch of hippies as a pseudo-communist workers’ utopia?  Maybe it is an army encampment?  Maybe it is cannibals trying to lure in all these survivors wandering around rural Georgia?

All in all, it was a perfectly acceptable hour of TV.  It nudged the plot forward a little, it found a band-aid to put on the oozing sore that is the Rick and Carl dynamic, it had some decent creepy parts (zombies from the cornfield because cornfields are creepy).  I didn’t love a lot of the Carl stuff, but that was mostly over after 15 minutes.  I also rolled my eyes at the Rick scene where he was rattling around in the kitchen and Michonne willingly walks in to talk to him.  I mean, if you were in a house with Rick, you’d go to the other side of the house asap.  Still, it was at the beginning of the episode and was overshadowed by better stuff.  In short, the show still has a Rick and Carl problem, but perhaps they are finding ways to mitigate and let the stronger elements shine through.

Conclusion: Not great, but perfectly serviceable.  It’s nice to have an episode that isn’t oscillating between horrid elements and great elements.

Grade: B

-Dean Stell