So much has been happening behind the scenes of ‘The Walking Dead’, the smash hit television series based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book, that it has almost eclipsed what’s been going on in the show (namely a group of survivors, some quite comely, narrowly escaping the undead hordes). It seems that creators Kirkman and Frank Darabont have fired the entire writing staff (save for Kirkman) and are planning to just wing it next season. That sounds crazy. But it’s still not as crazy as the first season finale.
Last week’s episode, directed by the great Ernest Dickerson, injected the series with some (pardon the pun) fresh blood. In the finale, titled ‘TS-19’, we’re back to the uneasy collection of hurt feelings and flesh-craving madmen, but with a few surprises. The episode is set largely inside the high-tech CDC lab that we glimpsed at the end of the prior episode (the one with the ‘Dr. Strangelove’ lighting scheme).
I noted last week that I got a kind of ‘Lost’-ian hatch-type vibe from the scenario. Sure enough, that’s true again this week – complete with a ticking clock that, instead of creating a giant electromagnetic something-or-other, will unleash a small arsenal of missiles to “ignite the air.” Scary!
While the very-literal ticking time bomb stuff happens toward the end of the episode, the first part has more interesting material. Almost all of the main characters get good and stinking drunk, and sometimes make unwanted sexual advances (keep it in your pants, Shane) or open their hearts to complete strangers in white lab coats. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Grimes.)
For the finale to a pretty much stellar first season (which was really more like a miniseries than anything else), this episode (co-written by Darabont) has too many apocalyptic clichés and not enough of that painful, soul-tearing emotional stuff that has made the series so special. Instead, it’s almost all action movie theatrics – running away from the computer-generated fireball and all that.
That said, there are still some interesting twists. After a painful expository video which describes the zombie plague without actually delivering any new information, we’re left with a big question mark of what the doctor (played by Noah Emmerich) finds in the survivors’ blood. If you’ve read the comic book long enough, you know what that probably is. Then again, the show has already veered away from the source material, so that could very well be changed. The ramifications of Shane’s near-rape of Rick’s wife will probably be felt long into the second season, if the series can get its act together long enough to shoot it. Hopefully, that’ll up the emotional pain right out of the gate.
And yes, we did lose another cast member: the unnamed black woman who I thought for a long time was having an affair with the guy from last week’s episode who was turning into a zombie. (While structurally similar to ‘Lost’, the show is not as strong with immediately identifiable characters.)
Before we say adieu to ‘The Walking Dead’ for at least another ten months, let’s talk about the episode’s best scene, which is also its first scene. (Unfortunately, I missed part of it. Thanks a lot, ‘Boardwalk Empire’!) We’re treated to a rare flashback, and it’s maybe the most important moment of the show thus far, at least in terms of defining the characters’ relationships to each other. In it, we see that the plague has broken out while poor Rick Grimes is still hooked up to a dozen wires in his hospital bed that his partner Shane doesn’t know what to do with. In desperation, and in advance of a military unit content to wipe out humans and zombies alike, Shane leaves Rick in his bed, barricading the door. It’s scary and real, and feels jolted with immediacy the way the rest of the episode doesn’t. Here’s hoping for more like that next season.