With the introduction of Jenner from the Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) on last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, it’s difficult not to be reminded of our first encounter with Desmond Hume in the first episode of the second season of Lost. The mysterious hatch has now been supplemented by the mysterious C.D.C.—which, inside, has some definite hatch qualities. Sure, Desmond’s first appearance was pretty out of the blue to begin a new season, but not that much less surprising than Jenner’s video-recorded-diaries debut last night. And, for those of you who watched Lost, the hatch shot a blinding beam of light into the island’s night sky, not unlike the glow the remaining survivors were greeted with as the gates opened and this episode, “Wildfire,” came to a close. The Lost hatch wound up being destroyed in a magnetic explosion by that season’s end, a fate that I’m sure Rick Grimes and company would not want to see duplicated. The reason that I bring up this comparison is because, with Lost, the inside of the hatch was used as a story arc that lasted, sometimes painfully, over a 24 episodes. The Walking Dead is introducing a pivotal new plotline that is beginning with only one episode left in the season. (Hold this thought.)
Dr. Jenner is, we presume, the last survivor at the Center for Disease Control. Even though the man has given up all hope—at one point talking openly about his lackadaisical attitude toward suicide—he’s still working to find a cure. He’s sloppy, spilling some walker samples (that even in cell form, under a microscope, are still somehow terrifying) that then had to be “decontaminated” (burned to a crisp). But he’s still chugging away even though he thinks there are no survivors yet.
But there are survivors, and now they’re at Dr. Jenner’s front door. And considering a zombie apocalypse has occurred, this is a group that comes with a lot of baggage. Shane is still in love with Rick’s wife, Lori; so much so that Shane almost stages a “hunting accident” to get Rick out of the picture. Andrea is still emotionally comatose after losing her sister Amy in a Walker attack in last’s week’s episode. Andrea even went as far to let Amy come back to life as a walker so that she could say a proper goodbye—before putting a bullet in her now zombified sister. Look, I’m not a grief counselor, and we all have different ways of dealing with the passing (and zombie rebirth) of a loved one, but I’m going to go on record saying that Andrea’s reaction was probably not 100 percent healthy. An example of a healthier approach: Carol absolutely mutilating the body of her abusive (and now dead) husband Ed, with an ax. There is a person with a lot of built-up rage to unleash.
Oh, also, there’s Daryl: Yeah, he’s still mad about the whole leaving-his brother-Merle-to-die business, which seems to come in inconsistent waves. Especially now that we know Merle is very much alive, sans hand … somewhere. Norman Reedus, in five episodes as Daryl Dixon, has already set the record for the most hold-me-back-or-I-may-kill-someone scenes in the history of one television show (note: this may or may not actually be true).
And then there’s poor Jim: the plot aspect I’ve been dreading, because it was just a matter of time before it happened to one of them. During the walker attack on the camp in last week’s episode Jim was bitten, which creates the unfortunate fate of seeming healthy even though Jim’s future fate as a walker is sealed. Grimes is having none of it. This is where his plan to relocate to the C.D.C. is formulated—if there is a cure for Jim, the C.D.C. will have it. Grimes even attempts to radio his old friend Morgan to share the new plan, who we haven’t seen since the first episode (say what you will about Rick Grimes, the man has a flare for the dramatic statement—when warning Morgan to not enter Atlanta he grimly announces, “it belongs to the dead”). Unfortunately, the C.D.C. does not have the cure; not that it would have mattered considering that Jim never made it that far anyway, deciding instead to live out his last moments alone on the side of the road, no longer a burden to the group.
When The Walking Dead focuses on character development, as it did this week, the show thrives. In the end, this is still just another show about zombies. There’s no getting around that fact. Before The Walking Dead premiered, I had some far-fetched idea that the show would completely upend the zombie genre and do something completely different with their version of the undead. This isn’t the case: unless the genre wants to dip into satire—which The Walking Dead does not—a zombie is pretty much a zombie. A zombie from The Walking Dead looks the same as a zombie from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, only with less awesome dance moves. When The Walking Dead takes its time and focuses on its characters, like last night—taking us through the torment of a man sentenced to die by infection—is when it becomes something special. I just hope that the show can sustain its horrifying intimacy as it enters a brand new setting for the last episode and doesn’t get too enamored with its new setting, as Lost did. Also: don’t forget the characters, please.
Sadley tthere is only one eppi left......