Friday, December 10, 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode 6 (TS-19)

Spoiler Warning! This post contains spoilers for episode 6 of The Walking Dead.

Episode Synopsis: The group finds shelter in the CDC, and celebrates a rare moment of relief. But the CDC boasts only one survivor, few answers, and even less hope. Tension erupts anew when it becomes clear that they won't be sticking around for long.

Discussion: Please welcome my friend Scott, who is joining me for a discussion of the episode.

Q: What were some of the highlights of the episode, in your opinion?

zharth: The whole CDC plot didn't turn out the way I imagined it might, but I liked the way it did turn out. I'm sad to see Dr. Jenner go so quickly, but the "decontamination" of the facility was terribly exciting, and a great device to use as a season finale. Emotions ran high, and I was torn between accepting the easy fate for the group, yet wanting them to fight on, even against impossible odds. When that grenade came out of the bag, I cheered. I knew it would have some important use the moment Rick picked it up episodes ago. Talk about fate. Or good luck.

It was also interesting to see the digital data for TS-19, and how the zombie transformation occurs, from a clinical perspective. I wished there were more answers, but I knew there wouldn't be.

Also, it was really touching when Dale stayed behind with Andrea, ultimately convincing her to escape. I could tell all through the episode that she was ready to quit, so it didn't surprise me at all when she stayed behind. But I really didn't want Dale to die. I know it's a cliche for the older character, but he seems the wisest of the group, and I really want him to stick around. I'm glad that his bond with Andrea was enough to keep them both alive. I just hope something doesn't happen to Andrea in the future causing Dale to lose it. On the other hand, this is a horror show, so that would make for some good programming, as morbid as that is...

Scott: A huge thing for me was finally seeing what happened with Shane and Rick in the hospital, and why Shane said Rick was dead. It's hard to blame Shane in that situation; he was trying to save Rick, after all.

When Shane thought Rick was dead, I sort of understood why, since he tried to check Rick's heartbeat and apparently couldn't find one. At the same time, though, it felt like he thought Rick was still alive since he barricaded the door against the zombies. Maybe that was just him not wanting Rick's body to be desecrated, though -- it's hard to tell, especially judging from Shane's behavior in the present. A part of me wants to believe that deep down, he really is a good guy... but I end up second-guessing him because the show seems to be about showing how flawed humans react under pressure.

It certainly didn't help that he tried to rape Lori.

When Rick gets into bed with Lori, he says "We don't have to be afraid anymore." It's a terribly tragic line...

As a side note, I wondered if Rick's repeated question about "28 minutes" was a tribute to 28 Days Later.

zharth: Heh, I didn't even catch that. Thanks for bringing up that flashback scene, I almost forgot about it. I agree, it seems like Shane wants to be this sympathetic character, but it's really hard to sympathize with him on account of the impulsive actions he keeps engaging in. I mean, you can only give a person the benefit of the doubt so many times, and if he keeps stepping out of line, then no matter how sincere he is about wanting to be a good person, if he proves himself unable to control his actions, you've got to do something about that.

Granted, he was (as well as most of the rest of them) shit-faced drunk at the time he tried to assault Lori. Normally, I wouldn't consider that a valid excuse (he's responsible for getting himself into that drunken state), but because of the trauma they've all been through, I understand their wanting to totally let loose and relax for like the first time ever, having made it to a safe place with food and drink and beds and warm showers and all. So I almost still want to forgive him, but you just know it's only going to get worse...

Q: Is a quick, painless death better than the uncertainty of survival and the gruesome inevitability that awaits among the zombies? Would you have stayed in the building and died, or ran out in search of hope?

zharth: Another tough question. Compared to death by zombie, the death that the CDC offered did seem much easier and more humane. However, the difference is hope. The CDC represented certain death. With the zombies, there is an uncertainty about your fate. There may be a 99% chance that you end up like all the rest, but there's that 1% of not knowing. So it becomes a gamble. An easy, certain death; or the slightest chance of hope with the risk of prolonged suffering?

I have to admit, I'd be really really tempted to avoid the suffering. But I think ultimately I would choose hope. I'm just too optimistic when it really comes down to it. But that probably depends on what my experience out among the zombies had been like before I got to the CDC. If I was like Rick, relatively fresh, reunited with my family who is still alive, I'd be more inclined to seek out hope. In a different case, however, if I had just lost my sister, like Andrea did, or I had seen too much suffering by then and too little hope, I might choose to end the fight.

Scott: I would have liked to pick something in the middle; stay in the building and wait until a good time to run out "in search of hope." As long as you're living and trying, there's still something left.

In their case, though, with the countdown, that obviously wasn't an option. It would definitely be tempting, especially since Jenner said "no pain," but I would still want to move on. Maybe try to find a way to get to France and see what happened there.

Other climates may be interesting, too -- perhaps there are places where the zombies or the infection couldn't survive.

Q: Do you think Dr. Jenner was fully committed to his death? Or was there some doubt in his mind, despite what he preached to the group?

zharth: I was disappointed to find out in this episode that the doc was resigned to total failure. After having come so far, and worked for so long - even without any answers - I thought he would have the kind of determination to keep going indefinitely. Yet he was already "checked out" by the time the group arrived at the CDC. Now I see why he wasn't so eager to open the doors for them. His survival was only a promise to his wife, who sacrificed her life for their research.

Yet, I felt there might have been a sliver of hope there, hidden underneath all the despair. When Rick started talking about hope, and getting outside, Dr. Jenner was convinced it wasn't possible, but I feel like he wanted to be able to believe. I'm probably just projecting my own wishful feelings onto him, but when he saw on the monitor that the rest of the group had gotten out, I felt like maybe he changed his mind. Yet it was clear at that point that there was not enough time for him to follow through on that. How depressing would that be? Realizing at the very last moment, once it's already too late, that you didn't want to die after all...

Scott: I feel like he was committed to his death; perhaps so committed that a part of him refused to believe that Rick's group was really real. I think that if he had been interested, he would have been more interested in his new guests and learning about the world, exploring the possibilities opened by having a larger group. Instead, he didn't eat with them and he lied about the self-destruct sequence and then wandered away. That doesn't indicate any kind of investment in life to me.

Even worse, if he hadn't been committed to his death, I think he would have interpreted his promise to his wife differently; he would have kept on living past the facility to try to do what he could. Having a doctor would have been a great help to the group.

zharth: Good points. Also, there was that time that someone (I don't remember who) said to just look in his eyes - there's no hope there. I probably was just reading my own desires into him.

Q: What do you think Dr. Jenner whispered to Rick just before the group escaped?

Scott: I feel like it had to be some kind of breadcrumb; a secret facility, or a weapons dump, or anything. Some kind of refuge shelter that they can raid for supplies, some kind of small hope for the future that he didn't have the courage to try to find for himself.

zharth: I feel like this is cheating, though I didn't do it intentionally, but I overheard someone else speculating about this, and their idea is really convincing. The doc could have told Rick that Lori is pregnant. What else would he have to say to Rick that he would want to keep private? And he did take blood tests of the entire group, so presumably that's something he could know. And, narratively speaking, it would make for a great plot point to exacerbate the growing discord between Rick and Shane and the whole messy love triangle.

Scott: That's a very interesting idea and it appeals to me for the same reason. On the other hand, Rick is the de facto leader of the group now; perhaps Jenner was whispering to him in his leader capacity rather than as a husband. That was my first thought when I saw him grab Rick for the whisper scene.

Story-wise, it seems to make sense, too -- I feel like there needs to be something to propel the group in the next season. There has to be some kind of hope, or some kind of goal.

Q: Do you think there's hope out there? Can the group, or humanity in general, somehow, someday, beat the zombie apocalypse, or is it all over for us?

Scott: I definitely do. I think it's a zero-tolerance environment when it comes to mistakes, but I definitely think it's possible to make a refuge, to start small, then expand it bit by bit, and fortify it, and create a sanctuary where it's possible to live safely.

Like I mentioned before, I think that other climates may hold hope in terms of stemming the wave of zombies or the infection vector.

zharth: I have to maintain hope. As bleak as it looks, the zombies can't win every fight. There's got to be somebody, somewhere, who's figured out a way to survive confidently. There have to be places where the zombies are sparser, maybe even places the zombies can't go. Places where it's also possible to sustain life. If the group keeps searching, they have to find something. The CDC wasn't it, but that doesn't mean nothing is. Of course they could very well die before they ever find it, but I think there's hope out there, somewhere. Not much of it, but enough.

Q: What did you think about Jenner's revelation that zombies do not have any thoughts or memories, that they're just shells driven by instinct?

Scott: I was a bit annoyed. One of the interesting things about zombies as a threat is that they look like humans -- they look like people you knew. You have to contend with not knowing whether those people -- your friends and loved ones -- are still alive in there somewhere, if there's any hope of bringing them back from the brink.

What Jenner did completely destroyed that.

zharth: I guess it was kind of a relief, because I had been thinking of the zombies basically as such, so I would feel guilty to learn that they were more human than I was giving them credit for. Maybe this means Rick won't have to be so courteous towards them. Still, I think it's humane to respect the memory of the living, so I wouldn't condone the kind of overkill that occurred at camp that one time.

Actually, that's interesting. I felt like there were no real answers given by Dr. Jenner's research, but I guess there was. Even if it's confirmation of what I suspected, it's still helpful to have scientific proof. I do think the mechanism is interesting, that whatever is the cause (virus, bacteria, act of god, etc.), it awakens the part of the brain that controls motor functions, but not the parts that control thoughts and memories and, basically, what makes a person more than a walking bag of flesh, which is really what the zombies are.

If humans ever do get over this zombie apocalypse, I bet the research into zombism will be immensely helpful for furthering our understanding of how the brain works, and what makes people people, finding the seat of the "soul", neurologically speaking, and so on. I bet that would be endlessly fascinating. Let's just hope they get the chance (although if they do beat the zombies, that'll probably be the end of the series...).

Q: The run to the CDC was depicted as a one-way trip since the cars were running out of gas; knowing that, what do you expect that the second season holds in store for the group?

zharth: Heh, I wonder if the writers knew on the way out that the CDC wouldn't be a long stop. Gas continues to be a problem. I saw an apocalypse scenario show on television where the mock survivors produced fuel from animal fat. I wonder if it would work by condensing incapacitated zombies. If they're close enough to water, you have to consider that you can drift down a river, or even out to sea, without any fuel. But of course, as long as you keep moving, transportation is going to be a problem. Ideally they would find a relatively safe place to stay, which is what I thought the CDC might turn out to be. But they've got to survive long enough to find it.

Scott: I feel like they'll head out of the city as far as they can, since the city is obviously a death trap... and then they'll have to restart, on foot. I'm a bit confused about why they don't just hunker down and start erecting dirt-and-log fortifications, honestly... so I would like to see one of them have that idea and start doing that in the future.

At some point, they'll have to have encounters with other survivors to increase the tension; our group is sane and borderline stable, but what about other groups? Single people? How will they have dealt with the zombies? This is an important theme for the show: people under unbelievable strain.

I'm looking forward to the next season!

zharth: As am I, but I'm sure you'll have me reading the comics before then. :p

Conclusion: Thanks for joining me, Scott! And thank you for joining us in watching season one of The Walking Dead. Only time will tell what the continuation of the series has in store!

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