Review: The Walking Dead S2E12 “Better Angels”


“No more kids stuff.” — Rick Grimes

[some spoilers]

Fans of the comic book that The Walking Dead is based on have either been excited or up in arms about the major changes and deviations the show has taken from the source material. It’s a major point of contention that probably has lost some of the hardcore fans of the comic book. I can understand why they would bail on the show. They love the comic book with such a passion that any changes made from pages-to-screen is seen as a betrayal for their hard-earned loyalty through almost a decade of reading the series. On the other side of the equation I do believe that the changes have been a good thing for the tv series. It’s kept things unpredictable to the point that long-time readers cannot predict what will happen as the show moves forward. It’s this know knowing aspect of the tv series over the comic book source material that should keep things fresh for everyone.

“Better Angels” is the penultimate episode for season 2 and it’s another good step towards rewarding the show’s fans for sticking with the show despite a first half to the season that’s been called very slow. It’s cold opening was a nice balance of the quieter moments that the first half had been mostly about as Rick and the group buries Dale and the rest of their dead. Balancing this is a montage of Shane leading a hunting party driving around the outskirts of the farm to destroy those zombies who are too close for comfort to the farm. It’s an opening that will lead the two men the cold opening focused on to finally hash out their differences by episode’s end.

Glen Mazzara (the show’s new showrunner after the firing of Frank Darabont halfway this season) co-wrote this episode with Evan Reilly and it’s going to go down as one of the best episode of this season, if not one of the best in this series’ short history, so far. The first half of the episode shows how some have been dealing with Dale’s death in the previous episode. We get Carl feeling more than just a bit guilty about his role in getting the group’s moral compass killed to Glenn and Andrea exchanging some fond memories of the old coot as they try to fix and start Dale’s old RV. Even Daryl looks to have been affected by Dale’s death as he becomes much more helpful in this episode as if he understands that the group may be broken, but it won’t be because of what he didn’t provide.

If there was ever a reason to believe that this show has turned a corner in terms of storytelling since Darabont left the show then this episode just strengthened this second half as an almost reboot to the season. It closed off one major story arc as the showdown between Rick and Shane finally came to a head in the last ten minutes of the episode, but it also went a long way into finally answering just what exactly Dr. Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the CDC at the end of the last season. It puts a whole new set of problems for these survivors and also adds a new level of anxiety to the series. The fact that just dying even when not bit by a zombie will cause a recently dead person to come back to life adds to the hopelessness echoed by Jenner at last season’s finale.

With just the season finale left the series has quite a bit of storylines to deal with. The episode ends with Rick and his son Carl over the body of the former’s best friend and the latter’s surrogate father and as the camera pans into a wide shot we see that just beyond the crest and unknown to father and son was a herd of zombies emerging from the nearby woods. We also have the lingering danger of the dangerous group of survivors that may be camped just a few miles from the farm who may pose a much bigger danger to the group than the zombies themselves. No matter how the season ends it looks like the group’s time at the farm may be coming to an end and that’s as welcome a turn as the speed by which Mazzara and his writers have changed the pacing of the story.

Notes

  • Just have to say that tonight’s episode had some great scenes from the wide shot of Rick and Shane at the top of a crest with a very large looking moon back-lighting the pair.
  • Interesting how Rick voices the one thing many people have been complaining about Dale’s character during his eulogy over his grave. Yes, Dale got under the skin of not just fans of the show, but it would seem the others characters in the show itself.
  • The cold opening of the group giving Dale and the others the group has lost (both Sophia and the friends and family of the Greene’s in the barn) was paralleled by Shane, Andrea, T-Dog and Daryl driving around the farm’s perimeter destroying the zombies they come across. This was something that was long overdue and it was great to see just well this group destroyed the zombies when they had the upper hand and weren’t outnumbered. This is a major point of topic for zombie lore fans who know that when it small numbers zombies are pretty easy to avoid and/or fight when one keeps a cool-head.
  • That final zombie before it got the top of it’s head smashed open by a shovel strike from Shane got a very cathartic beatdown from everyone. It’s as if these four were taking out their frustrations on this last zombie.
  • It looks like Hershel and his family have finally seen the light and allowing Rick’s group
  • Great scene (brief as it was) between Rick and Daryl early in the episode. We’re seeing just how much Rick appreciates Daryl for doing what needed to be done with Dale at the end of the last episode. Even Daryl is starting to figure out how much of the “heavy-lifting” Rick has been doing since he joined the group. No matter what Shane fans may think about him being the only one who made the hard decisions I think Daryl would think differently as he sees Rick as the one who was the true leader even if he didn’t agree with everything Rick said or do.
  • Speaking of Shane, it looks like Dale’s death may have finally pushed him over the edge. Seeing the one person who was all about keeping the group from losing their humanity die not because of the group’s descent into amorality but because of the very danger that has no use for high principles and moral high grounds. Shane finally sees that he’s been right all along and it doesn’t help that Lori looks to be trying to make amends with him.
  • We see that Lori as a character continuing her turn as the Lady MacBeth of the series as she continues to try and manipulate the situation between Rick and Shane to her advantage. Whether she prefers Rick or Shane becomes even more cloudy.
  • In this episode we’re seeing Rick beginning to lose more and more of his need to hold onto the world before he woke up in this zombie apocalypse. The quiet scene between him and Carl in the hayloft was a good example of this. Rick knows that Carl will not be able to grow up in a world where children have a chance to act like kids. Him handing Daryl’s gun back to Carl is the first step in Carl finally losing that youthful innocence. Whether Chandler Riggs can pull off a Carl that’s becoming more and more adult at such a young age would be determined in the coming episodes and seasons.
  • We finally get the Randall story-arc ended as he becomes the excuse for Shane to get Rick alone with him and solve the problem his best friend poses.
  • The revelation that just dying without being bit or scratched by a zombie has now changed everything for the worst for the group. Even the escape of non-zombie death doesn’t stop one from coming back and joining the innumerable legions already roaming the countryside. It’s another acknowledgement that The Walking Dead has been following the zombie lore rules set down by the grandfather of the subgenre, George A. Romero himself.
  • With Shane and Dale both gone it will be interesting to see just who will replace their roles in the new season. I can see The Governor (David Morrissey cast in the role) taking on the villanous role that Shane occupied this season, but Dale’s voice of reason may just be a much harder one to replace.
  • T-Dog actually got more than just a cursory cameo appearance in this episode real early in the episode. He also got more than just one line. He was actually part of a real conversation. Maybe there’s hope for him yet (doubt it).

Hottie of the Day: Lynn Collins


I’ll admit that I’m not very experienced in writing about The Hottie of the Day. The things that move me about women may not be what moves everyone else. Along with that, you have to find something really cool and interesting to say about the subject, when in fact, you’re taking the phrase “Wow, she’s hot.” and expanding on that. Maybe if I get better, I’ll do more.

This may be a tough one, though.

My last entry in this part of the Shattered Lens was Olive Oyl. On seeing John Carter this past Friday, though, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Lynn Collins on the scenes she was in. Playing a princess with a warriors spirit (and an awesome tan), Collins quit smoking and went through a bit of training for the fight sequences. For this, and a number of other example, she becomes the Shattered Lens’ Hottie of the Day for March 11, 2012.

If she looks at all familiar, it’s probably because she’s had a number of films under her belt. Although she had a small part in Joel Schumacher’s “The Number 23” some years ago, Collins may be remembered best as Wolverine’s former love in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In that film, she played Kayla Silverfox, a mutant with the ability to sway people’s minds via touch. She was later featured in Alan Ball’s Towelhead, as the girlfriend of the protagonist’s father. Ball would later go on to feature Collins in the first few episodes of HBO’s True Blood as Dawn, one of the barmaids at Merlotte’s who had a tryst with Jason Stackhouse. Though her character didn’t last through too many episodes, she made her short stay a memorable one.

Lynn has been in a number of independent films, such as Numb with Matthew Perry, where she had to deal with Perry’s penchant for Kleptomania. She also starred in Uncertainty with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Collins, a mix of Irish and Native American backgrounds, is married to fellow actor Steven Strait, who was in The Covenant (also with John Carter’s Taylor Kitsch) and Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C.

Here’s hoping that we see a lot more of Collins in the years to come.

On a side note, I wouldn’t mind if it’s her face behind Tali’Zorah’s Quarian mask in Mass Effect 3. That’s just me. 🙂

Quick Review: John Carter (dir. by Andrew Stanton)


John CarterThe First Impression:

John Carter is a cute Disney film that you may enjoy more than you’d thought you would. It’s lively like The Rocketeer was and really has some great moments and interesting characters. Both the leads carry their roles well, and are eye candy for the audience. It’s worthy of all of the love it should get, but obvious comparisons to movies that came before it (even though the story predates those films), along with a shockingly forgettable score by Michael Giacchino may actually hurt it. If you’re expecting blood and guts, not so much. It’s a Disney film. The kids should love it, though the pace of the film in the beginning may seem a little slow for younger audiences. Skip the 3D version and go for the 2D instead.

The Longer Version:

It’s really sad when you see a movie that deserves all the love in the world, but for some reason just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Part of that is due to the way this was marketed. It really didn’t feel to me that Disney was putting their all behind this. When you look at how heavily marketed Tron: Legacy was, this seemed like a “Hey, we made it, just give us money.” kind of push.

As far as John Carter is concerned, maybe it’s better to look at it like this. We tend to compare things to make sense of them:

This object reminds me of that object.

All of James Cameron’s Avatar reminds me of Ferngully.

Remember, Short Controlled Bursts. What movie comes to mind when I say that?

This is ultimately the problem with Andrew Stanton’s John Carter. In watching it, you’ll end up making comparisons to so many other films that came before it. However, knowing that it was based on the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it’s a lot like seeing Lord of the Rings for the first time when all you know of Elves and Dwarves comes from Dungeons & Dragons, The Elder Scrolls games or World or Warcraft. Burroughs’ material predates just about everything it showcases, from a pop culture standpoint. Hell, for all I know, John Carter was probably the original inspiration for the Kwisatz Haderach in Frank Herbert’s Dune (though that’s just my speculation). The problem is, with comparisons being what they are, audiences may view John Carter as a copycat of all the movies that were probably influenced by it.

I didn’t walk into John Carter with a lot of expectations. Andrew Stanton, for me, has the track record of being Pixar’s Dark Horse. This is the same guy that killed off a mother and a hundred of her babies in the opening moments of Finding Nemo. A man who gave a bleak, dirty and desolate future in Wall-E. Yet, both of those films had a theme of love and of heroes that rose to the occasion, so seeing the previews for John Carter told me enough.

John Carter is the story of a man in search of a cave full of gold. He wants no part of anyone’s battles and when he’s asked to join a faction, he does his best to avoid it. This leads him to a situation where he’s transported to another world. Just as it was with Earth, he encounters a number of different factions (all of which seem to feel he could aid them), but he simply wishes to return home. When he meets a fierce female fighter (who also happens to be a scientist), they work on figuring out how he arrived on Barsoom and how to get back.

The beautiful thing about John Carter is that it really feels like one of those old serials, or to make a more modern comparison, like an adventure film on the Indiana Jones level of things. There are a number of scenes where I found myself genuinely laughing at what was on screen. The visuals could be better in some places, but it’s nothing that’s groundbreaking. I look at John Carter as a pop culture lesson. You can see where other stories have used elements in the Burroughs tale. In that, it worked for me. The action scenes were really enjoyable for me, but some of the scenes between that could have been tighter. When you find out the reasoning behind Carters arrival, you may end up wondering why more wasn’t done with it with that story arc (on a technical level, anyway). As I’m unfamiliar with the original John Carter stories, I watched a few interviews of the cast and Taylor Kitsch noted that in the books themselves, Carter was pretty much the same person through every one. Stanton added a bit of character depth to him, with a little help from Spider-Man 2 scribe Michael Chabon. Chabon’s also responsible for the great Wonder Boys and The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which I still haven’t finished as of this writing. Carter is a conflicted individual for Disney purposes, but you shouldn’t expect Oscar performances here. It’s far better then Immortals was, in that sense.

Both Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins do well with their roles. Having worked together for about a hiccup in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, they have a good chemistry together. Kitsch is gruff with his mannerisms, and I can almost forgive him for playing Gambit. Collins is beautiful, statuesque even, and her character really does a lot of damage, fight wise. She’s very strong in some areas, though later on in the film, it felt like they may have eased that down a bit. Willem Dafoe has an inspired role in the leader of one of the alien groups that find Carter first when he arrives in Barsoom. Of course, no film would be complete without a villain and John Carter features two in Dominic West (Zack Snyder’s “300”) and Mark Strong (who’s almost always a go to bad guy). West’s character is more of the take action baddie, while Strong’s character is more of a calculating, behind the scenes one. Of note are Samantha Morton (“Minority Report”) as Sola and a little creature called Woola, that really reminded me a lot of Dug from Disney / Pixar’s Up. I wouldn’t mind having a few of those around the house.

The music for this film worked when the scenes were slow. However, when it called for action, I really didn’t feel anything special about it. I stayed to watch the credits only to find that it was Michael Giacchino’s work, who’s normally really good. I don’t know, this one seemed like it was phoned in for the action scenes. It’s okay, but I didn’t have that urge to buy the soundtrack afterward (which I have done for more memorable scores after leaving the theatre).

Overall, John Carter was a fun film in the vein of Disney’s earlier movies, but it’s not anything you absolutely have to run out to the theatre for. I’d love to see it do well and hope that there’s a sequel on the way, but when you’re paying a good $15 dollars for a 3D movie ticket ($20 for an IMAX 3D showing), the visual return on investment isn’t all that great. The story was enjoyable and didn’t slow down too much, but you may find yourself thinking that you’ve seen this film before in the way that so many other movies reference Burrough’s tale.

As a bonus, Disney released 10 minutes of the film. Enjoy: