Film Review: My Friend Dahmer (dir by Marc Meyers)


The 2017 film, My Friend Dahmer, opens in a suburban high school in the 1970s.  It’s a school like any other, with the usual collection of jocks, nerds, geeks, and outcasts.  Jeff (Ross Lynch) is the token weird kid.  Every school has one.  He’s obviously intelligent but there’s something off about him.  He shuffles around the school with his eyes down.  When he speaks, he rarely shows any emotion, leaving you to wonder if he’s just shy or if he’s lost in a world of his own.  There are rumors, of course, about all the strange things that Jeff has done.  Some people say that they’ve seen him collecting dead animals.  Jeff has told people that he has a shack where he uses acid to dissolve carcasses.  Jeff frequently comes to school drunk, reeking of alcohol.  And then there’s his parents!  His father (Dallas Roberts) tries to be strict but usually just comes across as befuddled.  Meanwhile, his mother (Anne Heche) alternates between doting on her oldest son and making paranoid accusations.

His father demands that Jeffrey make some friends.  That’s why Jeff ends up in such unlikely places as both the school band and the school’s tennis team.  Still feeling out-of-place, Jeff starts to act out in school.  Walking through the hallway, he’ll suddenly start shouting and twitching.  Jeff becomes known as the kid who will do anything.  One his classmates, an artist named John “Derf” Backderf (Alex Wolff), even starts to draw pictures based on Jeffrey’s antics.  Derf and his friends describe themselves as being Jeffrey’s fan club.  For the rest of the school year, they encourage Jeff to act stranger and stranger.  It would be incorrect to say that Derf and Jeff are really friends.  In fact, towards the end of the school year, Derf starts to realize that he’s basically been exploiting Jeff for his own amusement.  And yet, Derf and his friends provide perhaps the closest thing to “normal” human interaction that Jeff will ever experience.

As you’ve probably already guessed from the film’s title, Jeff is Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous Milwaukee-based serial killer and cannibal who is estimated to have killed 17 young men before he was arrested in 1991.  (In 1994, Dahmer was murdered in prison by an inmate who claimed to have been motivated by Dahmer’s lack of remorse.)  Dahmer committed his first murder when he was 18, a fact alluded to towards the end of the film when we see Dahmer picking up a hitchhiker.  (Disturbingly, the only time in the film in which Dahmer smiles and sounds like a “normal” person is when he’s trying to convince that hitchhiker to get in his car.)  With the exception of that one scene, My Friend Dahmer deals with the year before Dahmer started his killing spree, when Dahmer was just the token weird kid.

The fact that we know what Jeffrey Dahmer is ultimately going to becomes add an ominous subtext to every scene in the film.  Throughout, there are signs that something is wrong with Dahmer and yet neither his classmates nor his teachers ever seem to take those signs seriously.  When Dahmer brutally cuts open a fish because he wants to see what’s inside of it, his friends are disgusted but they assume that’s just Dahmer being weird again.  When he shows up drunk for class and his grades start to go downhill, his teachers just ignore him.  No matter what he says (and he does say some truly disturbing things), everyone just shrugs it off.  Their attitude is that Jeff’s the weird kid so, of course, he’s going to say weird things.

To its credit, My Friend Dahmer resists the temptation to sensationalize or make excuses for the monster that Jeffrey Dahmer became.  Ross Lynch plays Dahmer as a hulking, inarticulate time bomb.  It’s not so much that Dahmer can’t control his dark thoughts as he really has no desire to do so.  The film contrasts Dahmer’s darkness with the light-hearted and, quite frankly, dorky guys who briefly became his clique.  (Again, despite the film’s title, it would probably be a bit of a stretch to say that Dahmer had any real friends.)  One practical joke, in which Derf sneaks Dahmer into every club’s yearbook picture, is so likable in its dorkiness that you almost forget that Derf’s scheme centers around a guy who will grow up to murder 17 people.  In the end, both Dahmer’s crimes and his fate feels as inevitable as the fact that Derf will ultimately write and draw graphic novel about their relationship.

By any stretch of the imagination, it’s not a happy or pleasant film.  I watched the film last night and I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.  And yet, it’s an effective film, one that left me wondering what happened to some of the “weird kids” that I went to school with.  Do we ever really know what’s going on inside someone’s head?  Ross Lynch turns Dahmer into a disturbingly familiar monster while Alex Wolff is sympathetic in the role of Derf.  Anne Heche goes a bit overboard as Dahmer’s unstable mother but Dallas Roberts has a few good scenes as the father who can only watch helplessly as his son grows more and more disturbed.  The film is a disturbing trip into the heart of darkness, one that will haunt you after it ends.

 

Review: The Walking Dead S3E16 “Welcome to the Tombs”


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“In this life now you kill or you die…or you die and you kill.” — Philip “The Governor” Blake

[some spoilers within]

We’ve finally made it to the finale of season 3 of The Walking Dead.

There’s something about tonight’s episode that was both good and bad. It had the hallmarks of this season’s showrunner, Glen Mazzara, who wanted the series to get back down to basics after a season 2 where there had been too much philosophizing and existential angst. Mazzara delivered on bringing more action to the show. The first couple episodes of this season and the mid-season finale episode showed just how action-packed the show could be and fans responded enthusiastically about this change in the show’s narrative.

Yet, with a 16-episode season there was bound to be some break in the action and it’s here that Mazzara still fell in the same trap that got Darabont removed as the showrunner and what I think got Mazzara removed from the position as well. While Mazzara’s leadership of the show’s writers weren’t as bad when it came to the more slower and introspective part of the season he still couldn’t get rid of the meandering and wheel-spinning in some of the less-action episodes. It didn’t help that while most of the characters in the show had made some great strides in characterization the one main lead who remained an enigma and a problem: Andrea.

“Welcome to the Tombs” was suppose to be the main battle that would determine who would come up as winner between Team Prison and Team Woodbury. The assault on the prison by the Governor’s larger force was fast and loud. It was sort of a “shock and awe” tactic that was meant to disorient and put the fear of God in Rick and his people. We see from the episode’s cold opening that the group looked to have voted to leave the prison before the attack and the empty cellblocks seemed to reinforce this point. It sure didn’t make for a battle that was meant to give Mazzara a climactic sendoff as showrunner this season. yet, when things were about to get real disappointing with the empty prison and the Governor and his people entering an even more silent and empty Tombs we finally saw that things were not as they appear to be.

It was a nice change that the prison group decided to stay and fight as a group even when given the chance to vote on their fate. The fact that they knew there were going to be outnumbered and outgunned also forced their hand to be more creative and sneaky in how they would counter the attack on their hard-earned home. It’s a fine and noisy welcome the Governor and his people get while in the Tombs and showed just how amateurish his army really is (with small exceptions to his small cadre of minions) when stacked up against the more veteran and hardened smaller prison group. It’s not a wonder that this supposed battle between the two groups felt more anticlimactic than explosive.

The episode itself was more character-driven than action when one got down to its basic. We learn more of the Governor, Carl and Tyreese than see explosions, gore and action during the episode’s running time. For some this was made for a so-so finale while others probably saw it as a good finale that finished off the troubled character arc for one of the show’s most hated and difficult characters to work with: Andrea.

It was her episode in the end as we finally see the reasoning for some of the ridiculously maddening decisions she’s made this season. While it’s still not easy to forgive the character (or even the actor in the role) we do get a definite answer to the question of why is Andrea so stupid (in the extreme) or naive (when one is more forgiving) in a world that eats up such sentimentality. We saw how Rick had had to adjust his personality and decision making to not allow sentiments to rule his every act and decision and we saw how successful the group became, but also distanced him from everyone else. Andrea was almost an attempt to balance out the craziness that was both Rick and the Governor, but Mazzara and his writers were never able to pull off that job. In the end, she remained a lost chance to creating a very complex character that one could sympathize instead of hating even when her actions were well-meaning and logical.

“Welcome to the Tombs” saw the ending of a third season that went a long way into fixing the show’s problems under Darabont’s guidance, but the added episodes from 13 to 16 also meant that Mazzara’s vision for the show began to run out of steam by the finale thus the more subdued (despite an explosive opening) and pensive finale. While the show’s slogging towards the finale can’t be fully laid at Mazzara’s feet as showrunner one cannot just say that his legacy was righting the troubled ship that was The Walking Dead, but also failing to finally find the right balance between zombie mayhem and action with the drama that comes with people trying to survive in a world irrevocably changed for the worst.

The Mazzara Era of The Walking Dead has come to an end. The show has become even more popular under his guidance, but it has also remained a show which remained quite uneven in how it told it’s story and wrote it’s characters. Mazzara’s leadership went a long way into fixing most of it, but time ran out for him and his vision and tonight’s finale showed that attempts to do stand-alone and more character-driven episodes during the season as a way to fill-up a 16-episode schedule should’ve been set aside for doing a finale that went just one episode. Mazzara had the right idea, but in the end he ran out of things to do to pull it off. Now it’s up to incoming showrunner Scott Gimple to continue the improvements done under Mazzara and see about fixing the rest of the problems the show has with him in charge. Maybe fourth time is the charm.

Yet, despite all this I have a feeling The Walking Dead will remain the most popular thing on TV and will continue to do so whether Gimple succeeds or not. Such is the power of the zombie genre over the imagination of people everywhere.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “Welcome to the Tombs”, was directed by series veteran Ernest Dickerson and written by season showrunner Glen Mazzara.
  • Well, it looks like we didn’t have to wait too long to find out if the Governor will confront Milton about being the traitor. The same goes as to whether Daryl was going to make it back to the prison after the vents of last week’s episode.
  • The Woodbury attack on the prison was quite an operation that pretty much forgoes any sort of siege that played out in the comics. Instead the writers decided to go for a more aggressive tactic.
  • Nice to see Ma Deuce in action and where the hell did Martinez get his hands on a Milkor 40mm MGL. Weapon laws in Georgia must be much more lax in Georgia than everyone else. It’s either that or he came across a group of dead Marines.
  • We finally get to the meaning of the season finale title as the Woodbury group moves deep inside the prison and into the less than secured area that Rick and his people have begun calling the Tombs.
  • Some nice trickery from Team Prison to scare and rout Team Woodbury once they were inside the Tombs.
  • Once again, it looks like Team Prison needs a lesson in how to kill living people as opposed to zombies. I don’t think they killed anyone from Team Woodbury, except for Carl, once they were running for their lives in the prison yard.
  • Governor has gone bye-bye and even his two most loyal mions in Martinez and Bowman could see it with his work on the Woodbury Army.
  • Carl has definitely turned into a badass. Quite the boss move (or dick move depending on your stance on Lil Grimes) on the Woodbury teen trying to trick Carl into grabbing the shotgun.
  • Tense moments between Milton and Andrea back at Woodbury and the pay off was something that should please Andrea-haters.
  • Carl looks to be channeling his inner-Shane or Governor with the little speech about doing what needs to be done to his own father. It should make for an interesting season 4 now that Carl looks to be heading towards amoral territory.
  • Love how there’s now a growing rift forming between Carl and Rick. It’s something that was explored in the comic book, but never to a degree that really went anywhere. Here’s to hoping incoming showrunner Scott Gimple does a better job in exploring the father-son relationship in season 4.
  • With Andrea’s passing The Walking Dead now has just one member left from the Darabont acting troupe and that’s Melissa McBride.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: Too much to count.

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: “Made to Suffer”
  9. Episode 9: “The Suicide King”
  10. Episode 10: “Home”
  11. Episode 11: “I Ain’t a Judas”
  12. Episode 12: “Clear”
  13. Episode 13: “Arrow on the Doorpost”
  14. Episode 14: “Prey”
  15. Episode 15: “This Sorrowful Life”

Review: The Walking Dead S3E14 “Prey”


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“Killing the Governor doesn’t save your friends.” — Milton Mamet

[some spoilers within]

Last week we saw what would amount as a sort of UN Summit between two warring parties in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Just like other peace summits the two parties involve would agree on something then turn around and do the opposite once they were away from each other. It neatly set-sup the last three remaining episodes this season to finally getting this war between Rick’s group and the Governor’s into full gear.

Yet, three whole episodes of just the two groups shooting it out might sound exciting but could quickly become repetitive. I mean there’s only so many people on both sides to kill and that’s only in one full episode of nonstop battle. No, what we get with the first of the final three is an episode wholly dedicated to the Governor and Woodbury preparing for what they think will be their first and only strike necessary to deal with Rick and the prison group. It’s an episode that looks to be a throwaway that literally ends right where it began.

“Prey” is probably going to be an episode that many will not look too kindly at. For one thing, it’s an Andrea-centric episode and it’s been a worst kept secret that many fans of the show have no love for the Andrea character. Yet, this episode goes a long way in helping re-establish the character as the badass that she was originally created as in the comic book. There’s no hesitation in the character to finally make the decision to abandon Woodbury and try and make her way back to the prison. She does this while alone and armed with only the small pocket knife she carries at all times. It’s a situation that most characters on the show would find daunting yet Andrea proceeds anyway if just to warn Rick and the others in the prison what the Governor has planned for them.

Of all the episodes in this series, so far, this one really relied heavily on the horror tropes of the zombie genre. Yes, the episodes actually included a lot of zombies to really heighten the danger Andrea finds herself in as she treks her way back through the Georgia wilderness alone. Yet, it’s not the zombies themselves who really make this episode a truly horror and tension-filled one. It’s the appearance of the Governor who has found out about Andrea’s plans to warn Rick and must now hunt her down to prevent this from happening. It’s what gives the episode it’s title.

The cat-and-mouse game between Andrea and the Governor had some very nice moments when the two maneuvered their way through the abandoned warehouse which was chosen as the location of their one-on-one face-off. We get to see more of the Governor’s growing sociopathic tendencies (something the show has begun to ramp up in the last couple episodes). There’s a great moment when we think Andrea has finally run out of luck and cornered between a stairwell full of zombies in one end and the Governor on the other end when she turns the tables on her pursuer. It’s a move that we might see from Rick, Daryl or, even, Glenn, but something that most fans of the show couldn’t imagine this hated character in pulling off.

The episode did well for Andrea, but overall it did have it’s drawbacks. By concentrating so much on the Governor and Andrea and very little on the growing discontent from one of the Governor’s most trusted lieutenants back in Woodbury we don’t get too excited over the apparent sabotage of the pit zombies being gathered for the next meeting with Rick. The suprise gotcha moment when Andrea was almost home was another bit of storytelling that looked to be more lazy than shocking. It detracted from the strength showed by Andrea in outwitting the Governor, but also made the latter seem like he was some sort of unkillable slasher villain who has the many lives of a cat.

It’s not surprising to see that the episode had two writers in showrunner Glen Mazzara and Evan Reilly. Most of the show’s episodes tend to stick to one writer and let them run with that particular episode’s narrative. By having two writers in this time around could be a clue in the behind-the-scenes issues producers of the show had with Mazzara to the point that he was replaced for the upcoming season. The episode had both the good and bad that has saddled the series since it’s inception. The good being more zombie action and less standing around and just talking. It had the worst things as well with letting a story lead to nowhere which this one seems to have in a narrative sense though in terms of fleshing out certain characters it did it quite well.

The final two episodes this season will tell if season 3 was an unqualified success or still a series that had flaws to work out. So far, reactions to this season is leaning to the former, but if Mazzara had lost control of the story he wanted to tell this season then the climax of the season may be more of a fizzle than a sizzle.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Evan Reilly and season 3’s showrunner Glen Mazzara w/ series newcomer Stefan Schwartz directing.
  • From the sound of it the backstory of Michonne’s pet zombies in the series looks to be very different from the comic book. It definitely adds to some subtle hints during the season that Michonne doesn’t like to be touched in an aggressive manner by men.
  • Another change we see in this episode’s cold opening is the Governor prepping the chains he must have made specifically for Michonne. In the comic book series the set-up was already there and hinted at being used by the Governor.
  • Milton looks to be regretting the fact more and more that he has attached himself to someone who has gone over the deep end and never returning.
  • Yet, he still seems willing to protect the Governor despite all of it.
  • Tyrese may be a beast with the clawhammer but he’s awful with a firearm.
  • Andrea could easily have convinced Tyrese better if she just described what the Governor has done and plans to do instead of being all cryptic.
  • Tyrese is just too damn reasonable. I guess not spending an extended amount of time with Rick hasn’t made him cynical.
  • Wow, Allen is such a douche. I repeat, Allen is such a douche.
  • Hate the character or not, Andrea looks to h ave become very self-sufficient and a badass in her own right since the end of season 2.
  • There’s the Tyrese fans of the comic book should remember and love.
  • Andrea definitely did a lot to help repair whatever character-flaws she had that made fans of the show hate her so much. It wasn’t a full recovery but it was in the right step.
  • It was a nice homage scene with the zombies in the stairs that Andrea lets in to a scene in the original Dawn of the Dead in the tenement building where zombies in the basement breakthrough to attack the National Guardsmen and police. One can see it at the 4:57 mark
  • Seems Andrea has taken the place in the torture room that had been reserved for Michonne in the comic books.
  • Another great work by KNB EFX with the zombie make-up and kill gags. Special mention goes to the burned zombies in the pit who were still animated but looking like some very well-smoked brisket ready to be sliced and served.
  • Milton really has no skill whatsoever of being a good liar, at all.
  • Tonight might have been one of the more horror-centric episodes of the series. This is surprising considering it’s suppose to be a horror tv series. From the slasher-like way the sequence between the Governor and Andrea in the abandoned warehouse to the final gotcha moment before Andrea could make it into the safety of the prison this was an episode that worked all your typical horror genre tropes to the hilt.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 25 or more seen (another 20+ off-screen). Tonight definitely had a huge kill count.

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King
  10. Episode 10: Home
  11. Episode 11: I Ain’t a Judas
  12. Episode 12: Clear
  13. Episode 13: Arrow on the Doorpost

Review: The Walking Dead S3E13 “Arrow on the Doorpost”


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“If we choose to destroy everything we fought for over the past year.” — Philip “The Governor” Blake

Tonight’s episode, simply titled “Arrow on the Doorpost”, looks to be the final calm before the storm that’s been brewing since the start of this third season for AMC’s The Walking Dead. It’s not a very action-oriented entry in what has been a season full of action, but it really looks to set the tone for what should be an explosive final stretch run that should see the two armed camps in the Prison and Woodbury fighting a war that everyone knows no one really comes out a winner.

We begin the episode with Rick, Daryl and Hershel (one leg and all) arriving at a secluded spot in what turns out to be a sort of zombie apocalypse UN Summit where Rick and the Governor can sit down and talk about things which looks to be leading them both into a violent confrontation. It’s interesting to note how the very person who planned and organized this summit would be none other than Andrea who has become Lori’s replacement as “most hated” character on the show. Even when she’s trying to be a productive character on the show the way she has been written and protrayed just ends up making her seem naive and overly cocksure of her situation when in reality she’s clueless.

It showed during the early parts of this episode when Andrea tries to mediate between the smug Governor and the barely constrained Rick and both men dismiss and ask her to leave the meeting. It’s almost darkly comical how two men who have a vested interest in killing the other would find such common ground and it’s the one character who continues to elude the show’s writers.

As for the meeting itself, for a set-up episode it’s certainly one that I’d consider one of the better ones. What the episode lacked in action (though it did have it’s small share involving a male-bonding sequence between Daryl and the Governor’s henchman Martinez) it made up for in some very tense back and forth between Rick and the Governor. This was the moment that could easily break the season if the meeting between these two alpha males didn’t come off well. The writing was quite good as we see the two men quietly manuever the meeting to their advantage. The Governor poking at Rick with secrets learned from Andrea about his relationship with Shane to Rick sitting there taking it all in and knowing that the Governor was trying his utmost to snow him and failing.

Daryl and Martinez got it right during their bonding session outside that the meeting was pointless. The two leaders would talk and make propositions and counters, but in the end both sides will send out word to their respective people that war was the only thing to do. It’s not idle speculation on Daryl’s and Martinez’s part either. Once the two sides part ways to make their decisions it’s not a huge surprise that the Governor would plan to ambush Rick and his people for a future meet he thinks Rick has agreed to while Rick has plainly lied to his people that the Governor just wants to take what they have and kill everyone. The offer to leave the group alone as long as Rick gives up Michonne doesn’t even get mentioned which just goes to show how much the katana-wielding lonewolf has suddenly become a part of the Rick Grimes Clan.

Some would consider “Arrow on the Doorpost” as one of the weakest episode of the season because it was too talky and lacked the action that the season has been known for, but it did serve a purpose. It finally introduced the two men whose decisions will put the two groups at war with each other. It showed the differences between the two leaders and the similarities between the people who followed them. In fact, the show did more than subtly hint that if the Governor wasn’t such a sociopath and Rick wasn’t such an emotional and psychological mess the Prison group and the people of Woodbury could easily pool resources and skills together to make a better life for everyone. But that’s not the case in this zombie apocalypse world where suspicion, megalomania and broken psyches rule the land.

There’s just three ore episodes left in season 3 and it looks like it’s nothing but action, blood, brains and sorrow left for the survivors of The Walking Dead.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “Arrow on the Doorstop”, was written and directed by two newcomers to the series, Ryan C. Coleman and David Boyd respectively.
  • I think I might not have been the only one who thought that Rick should’ve just shot the Governor the moment he appeared for the meeting and end the problem between the two groups right then and there.
  • Andrea was much better as a character in this episode, but only just (I do believe that if the current producers of the show had to recast the show again I think Laurie Holden would be replaced by someone else).
  • Glenn back in prison is channeling his inner Ricktator and it’s not coming off well. he sounds more like a scared kid playing at being leader especially when it came to dealing with the rabble-rousing Merle Dixon. It’s a relief that Glenn later pulls his head out of his ass by apologizing to Maggie for how he’s been acting.
  • Which led to a surprisingly steamy sex scene between the two love birds that one would see as common on HBO but not on basic cable. The Walking Dead has definitely pushed the boundaries of whats to be expected and accepted when it came to violence and, now, sex on basic cable.
  • I did think that something bad was going to happen during or after that sex scene, but the writers seem to genuinely want to give these two lovebirds a chance at some normalcy and not fuck it up by having a zombie interrupt them.
  • Merle Dixon may not be an ideal member of the Rick Grimes group, but he does seem like he’s picked the role of redneck Devil’s advocate whose more than willing to air out the bad news and possibilities to the group clinging to a semblance of hope that they have a chance of winning the coming war.
  • Hershel looks to have found a kindred spirit in Milton (who looks like he’s realizing that he may be backing the wrong horse in the Governor).
  • I think everyone would agree that a spin-off show starring Daryl Dixon and Martinez as the Odd Couple of the zombie apocalypse would be an instant hit.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 5.

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King
  10. Episode 10: Home
  11. Episode 11: I Ain’t a Judas
  12. Episode 12: Clear

Review: The Walking Dead S3E12 “Clear”


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“The good people, like you, die. The bad people too. But weak people, like me, we have inherited the Earth.” — Morgan Jones

Tonight’s episode marks the halfway point of this second half of this third season. This second half has been all about setting up the war that’s brewing between the Woodbury and Prison camps. We’ve seen some unsuccessful attempts to defuse the explosive situation between the two groups (mostly Andrea being her usual clueless self) and some interesting group additions on both sides. Last week’s episode saw Merle trying to build bridges and make nice with the people in Rick’s group he had a part in torturing and trying to kill. The surprising part of the episode was seeing a huge departure from the comic book narrative: Tyrese and his small group making it into Woodbury and seeming to side with the Governor (well, at least Allen and his son Ben) in his war against Rick and his people. This change looks to be one of the this season’s gamechangers. With Tyrese in the Governor’s camp the chance of him and Rick ever finding a common bond looks to have been made quite difficult.

“Clear” looks to be one of this season’s somewhat standalone episodes. The interesting thing about tonight’s episode is that it brings Rick right back to where he started when the series first began. His town looks to have seen better times as it looks like someone has turned Main Street into some sort of zombie trap with sharpened stakes, triplines and cages with live birds as bait. The scene looks like a set-up for what Max brooks has termed the LaMOE scenario.

What is LaMOE you ask?

It means Last Man On Earth and that Main Street and then the sinper on the roof of the building that starts shooting at Rick, Michonne and Carl look like a prime example of one. Yes, the unknown gunman was a LaMOE but as soon as they incapacitate him Rick finds to his surprise that this crazed gunman was someone he knows well from a year ago when he first came out of his pre-zombie apocalypse coma.

One of the characters from season 1 which many have been wanting to make a return was the first person Rick meets for the first time: Morgan Jones. It was this man who gave Rick the lay of this new zombie land and gave him the rules on how to survive. It was Morgan Jones and his young son Duane who was this show’s last symbol of normalcy before everything turned into a living hell for Rick even after he found his family. It’s now been a year since Rick last spoke with Morgan and the time since hasn’t been good for the latter.

The sequence where he finally recognizes Rick as someone he knows who is still alive was one of this show’s more emotional scenes. Then an even stronger scene follows it as we find out from Morgan’s emotional monologue of what happened since Rick left. His retelling of Duane’s fate was an emotional rollercoaster not just for Morgan who had to relive the awful memory but also for Rick who sees in Morgan someone he’s on the path to becoming since he lost Lori earlier this season. This made Rick’s attempt to bring Morgan back from the brink and join them at the prison even more telling. The fact that Morgan refuses almost destroys the last hope Rick has in seeing himself redeemed. This realization was then tempered by a revelation from Michonne that she understand what Rick is going through emotionally and mentally and that it was ok.

“Clear” shows Rick seeing a mirror-image of himself in Morgan and despite the latter’s fatalistic look on what life he has left it leaves Rick with both a sense of melancholy that the future will not be as bright as he hopes it will be, but also some hope that he’s seen what could happen to  him if he gives up all hope. It helped that Lennie James returning as Morgan Jones was such a standout in not just tonight’s episode but also the whole series as a whole. James’ heartbreaking performance as Morgan truly made tonight’s episode one of the strongest this season, if not, one of the best in this show’s three year span, so far. It definitely brought out a great performance from Andrew Lincoln who reacted to Morgan’s circumstance with equal parts horror, pity and compassion. The fact that Rick doesn’t get to redeem (hopefully a temporary thing) Morgan (and in some small part his own self) only adds to the notion that Rick can’t save them all and that when he can’t that he needs to move on instead of internalizing the hurt of failure.

The other subplot in tonight’s episode saw Carl look both a badass and a young, reckless kid. On the one hand, Carl looks to be more stable than his father Rick, but his mission to retrieve a personal item from one of the cafe’s in town shows just how much a child Carl still is. It was during this part of tonight’s episode that we finally get to see Michonne become a much more fully-realized character instead of just glowering in the background.

Michonne’s character looked like she was going to be similar to Morgan’s character in tonight’s episode in that she worked best as a lone wolf. While it looked like she never reached LaMOE status as Morgan, there was a sense that she felt more at ease when just worrying about herself. She’s seen what happens when she finally cares for someone and it bites her in the ass (Andrea), but tonight we also saw how Rick’s group is actually one that she could truly belong even if it means opening herself up more to them and risking being hurt again.

“Clear” was clearly one of this show’s strongest episodes and the fact that it had Lennie James in the cast list was no accident. His only other appearance on The Walking Dead all the way back in the extended pilot is also considred one of this show’s best. While it looks like tonight might’ve been a one-off Morgan appearance there’s always hope that Rick and his people will run into this LaMOE when things become desperate for them. I sure hope that tonight’s episode was not the last time we see Morgan Jones as played by the great Lennie James.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “Clear”, was written by next season’s new showrunner in Scott M. Gimple w/ series newcomer Tricia Brock in the director’s chair.
  • That was some coldhearted shit that Rick w/ Michonne and Carl pulled on that lone hiker on the road. Considering all the issues these people have had with strangers I think most people would agree with just driving past the guy.
  • Looked like the makeshift sign telling one Erin that her people were going to Stone Mountain didn’t end up going well for this Erin as the zombie with Erin wristband showed in the cold opening.
  • Oh shit on a cracker! news that Lennie James would return as Morgan Jones was received well by fans of the show, but the fact that he shows up in tonight’s episode should be a delight to fans all-around.
  • Love the different looks given by Rick and Michonne after seeing Carl gun down Morgan. From Rick it was that look that he can’t believe his son just did what he did. Michonne’s expression was more of respect like seeing Carl was truly turning into a true badass.
  • That is some very inventive booby traps laid out by Morgan.
  • That is also a lot of guns. I am envious.
  • Makes one wonder how Morgan got a hold of all those guns.
  • Rick and Morgan seem to have more in common. They’ve both lost people they love but where Morgan’s son Duane was unable to defend himself the same turned out differently for Carl who seems to be turning out a better survivor in this new world that his father.
  • Stupid actions by Carl to retrieve something for Judith, but it was a nice moment which helps both Carl and Michonne bond together. Plus, it was a nice, compassionate gesture Carl wanted to give his baby sister.
  • Chandler Riggs’ performance during his scenes with Michonne was up and down, but it was mostly up and it was nice to see that realization on Rigg’s performance that Michonne was someone he could trust.
  • Michonne actually smiled in tonight’s episode which helped opened up the character to something other than a glowering badass.
  • Will this be the last we see of Lennie James as Morgan on this show? After tonight’s episode I’m hoping the answer is no.
  • Hitchhiker looks like he should’ve been more quiet after trying to catch up to Rick and his group.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 9 (6-8 more off-screen)

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King
  10. Episode 10: Home
  11. Episode 11: I Ain’t a Judas

Review: The Walking Dead S3E11 “I Ain’t a Judas”


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“You once said this wasn’t a democracy. Now you have to own up to it.” — Hershel Greene

This Sunday wasn’t just the premiere of a new episode of The Walking Dead, but also the airing of the 85th Academy Awards Show. So, my ind was being pulled in two directions all night. This will account for the lateness for this latest episode review. When I finally was able to actually sit down and watch “I Ain’t no Judas” properly with no distractions I found the episode to be one of the better set-up and filler entries in this highly popular, but uneven series.

This latest episode finds Rick’s leadership being questioned by those in his group. Whether it’s Glenn who is still angry at the treatment he and Maggie received from the Governor and his lackeys. It didn’t help Glenn’s temper much that one of those lackeys happen to be one Merle Dixon and now becoming a part of Rick’s group by necessity. If it wasn’t Glenn then there’s Hershel who knows what Rick has been going through mentally and the cause of it and sympathizes, but at the same time wants Rick to cowboy up and take responsibility once more for naming himself their dictator. It was a nice moment to see Hershel voice what every fan of the show has probably been saying since the death of Lori in the first half of this third season. While Rick going through some mental instability does make for some interesting paths the show can take in the future it doesn’t help this current narrative where the prison group must now contend with the Governor and his army which has them outmanned, outgunned and literally put under siege.

The surprising part of this episode was to have Rick’s own son advice him to relinquish the role of leader to someone else. Let Hershel or Daryl take charge from now so Rick can find some peace and time to mourn what he has lost. Chandler Riggs as an actor still has a ways to go before one can call him a very good child actor, but this scene was another step towards that as we see him not just as a young child having to grow up quickly but as one of the grown-ups who has taken it upon himself to lead the group. That scene alone shows just how much Rick has fallen into despair and how much more tough-minded Carl has become. One could easily see the son taking over as leader in the future either sooner or later.

The rest of the episode was focused more on Andrea as she finally realizes that the two groups she has come to see as family were now gearing up for a bloody war that she knows there’ll be no winners. On one side is the people of Woodbury who she come to care about and want to see protected. Then there’s her previous “family” which some have called a band of killers, but who she knows better as misunderstood and scared enough to lash out violently at any hint of violence from the Governor and his people.

It’s interesting to note that while both sides were gearing up for a fight that could easily have been avoided as Andrea puts it to Rick and the Governor, this also makes her look so cluelessly naive. She might have learned how to survive alone in the wilds and take on zombies without flinching, but she still clings to the old ways that everyone should and could get along. Andrea continues to either ignore or hope for the best when it comes to the Governor and his inner circle when she knows deep down that the Governor instigated everything and put this war into motion. It was a nice moment when Andrea meets up with Michonne once more in the prison and the latter pretty much acts like she has been vindicated in her decision to leave Woodbury. Andrea was wrong and continues to make the wrong decisions. Sooner or later she will have to pick a side and the way the show has deviated from the comic books there’s no telling that she would pick Rick and her old group over the Woodbury group.

For a set-up and filler episode this was one of the better one for the series as regular series writer Angela Kang seems to have a better grip on the series narrative and the characters. While the episode was one of the so-called “talky ones” it didn’t drag the pacing down. Part of that has to be due to the reunion of Andrea and the old group and the tension that came with it being written and handled well by all involved. Then when things did look like it was about to slow down we got Greg Nicotero and his gore-wizards at KNB EFX come up with one of the more gruesome and disturbing zombie gore scenes for the show. For a series that’s been quite liberal in showing gore and violence on the screen the impromptu curb-stomping and limb-chopping done by Andrea and Milton on a zombie was even more gruesome than usual.

There’s now 5 more episodes left to this third season and we’re seeing the two sides begin to moves pieces on the proverbial board as the inevitable final showdown between Team Rick and Team Governor will resolve itself by season’s end. There’s a good chance not everyone will make it out alive by the time this third season ends. The question now is whether the writers will follow the comic book path and abandon the prison and go back on the road or will the survivors of the two warring parties finally unite to create a safe haven for everyone.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “I Ain’t no Judas”, was directed by series regular and make-up effects maestro Greg Nicotero and written by series regular Angela Kang.
  • Even with most of the group of the mind to take Merle out the back and feed him to the zombies for his actions while in Woodbury I actually do believe he’s the best chance this group has got against the Governor and, in his heart, Daryl knows this too.
  • Great to see Hershel doing more than just trying to channel his inner-Dale and actually letting it be known to Rick and everyone else that their leader needs to get his mind out of his ass and get to leading.
  • Which is what Carl seems to think Rick has lost the will and stomach for. Hershel and Carl are both right. Whether Rick listens to one or the other is a different matter altogether with the ghost of Lori leading him at the moment.
  • Tonight’s episode was Andrea-centric and I think it suffers not because of dealt with the story from her perspective but because the actor playing Andrea just seem to have lost any sense of portraying the character with any subtlety at all. Just how much better would the Andrea character would be if it was being played by someone else is something future pundits would be talking about for years to come.
  • Glenn, Glenn, Glenn…you seem to have become this season’s second half idiot with the way you’ve been acting. Nice work by Steven Yeun, but this current state of the Glenn character could easily derail one of the show’s more pragmatic and even-handed characters. He’s really toeing the line of turning into a hysterical character ready to pop-off at anyone at a moment’s notice.
  • Hate him or not, Merle’s a survivor and understands his best chance of living is with Rick’s group despite being outnumbered. Great scene between him and Hershel who looks to try and bridge the gap between the Merle he probably hates for putting Maggie and Glenn through the ringer while in Woodbury and the Merle he knows has the skills the group needs to weather the storm on the horizon that is Woodbury and the Governor.
  • Not many zombie kills tonight but there was one highlight scene that will go into KNB EFX’s growing portfolio of great zombie effects work. It’s a scene that has arms being chopped off and a curb-stomping sequence that would make those who winced at a similar scene on American History X turn away from the tv.
  • The episode ends with Beth Greene singing a song (she’s become like the groups bard or something) straight out of Tom Waits’ 1999 album, Mule Variations, and that alone makes “I Ain’t no Judas” worth watching.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 3 zombies (a very slow zombie-killing episode).

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King
  10. Episode 10: Home

Review: The Walking Dead S3E10 “Home”


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“Running is not an option.” — Glenn Rhee

[some spoilers within]

The series returned from it’s two month hiatus with even bigger numbers that still continues to surprise many tv pundits. The Walking Dead seems to be the show that no behind-the-scenes problems or storytelling and characterization problems can kill like other shows that has similar problems. The show is not on the same level as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, FX’s Justified and Sons of Anarchy or even AMC stablemates Breaking Bad and Mad Men, but it’s a show that looks to have become must-see tv because of the very things tv pundits and critics have been complaining about.

Tonight’s episode, “Home”, was a microcosm of why the show has been such a frustration to hardcore fans of the comic book and the zombie genre, but also why the show still continues to bring in huge viewing numbers. Numbers that has begun to rival shows on the major networks and not just shows on cable. It was an episode that made me wonder if the season’s trip to redemption from season 2’s wildly uneven tone was suddenly being wasted. Then the second half of the episode arrived like a bullet to the head and we’re reminded why the show has gained such a huge following.

“Home” opens up with Rick still in the grips of the psychotic break we saw and experienced to end the previous episode. This part of tonight’s narrative is beginning to look like one of this season’s weaker ones. While I thought it was good to show the source of Rick’s growing mental instability the way the writers have gone about it makes Rick such a wildly uneven character when the “crazies” hit him. We understand that the burden of leadership has cost the poor man since he rejoined his family but whenever he begins to hallucinate it’s quite a glaring change. The same could be said about Glenn’s sudden rage-fueled need to avenge himself on the Governor for what he thinks was done to Maggie. We’ve seen leadership qualities in Glenn throughout the series’ run, but this need for vengeance for something that didn’t happen to him looks so out of character for Glenn. He’s almost channeling his inner-Shane and, despite what fans of TV Shane’s character might think, that’s never a good thing.

Tonight’s episode was all about the concept of the word “home” what it means to people surviving in a world where no place is safe. The prison and Woodbury are homes for two different survivors. On the one hand, we have Rick and his band of survivors who have survived some of the worst this zombie apocalypse has thrown their way and learned the hard way to survive. On the other side we have Woodbury where most of it’s population never learned to survive but relied on those in power to keep them safe. People in power who really do not have their well-being in mind, but just a resource to dominate and use when it suits them. One home has been invaded and it’s illusion of safety shattered by Rick and his people. Tonight we see the Governor repay that action in his own way.

Home is now a concept that doesn’t seem like a logical thing in this new world order and tonight’s episode went too talky about whether it was safe to remain in the prison or whether it was their best chance of survival. It didn’t help that Rick was on his crazytown jaunt through the woods outside the prison, Glenn was going all Shane on everyone and Hershel was starting to sound very Dale-like. Not very good combinations considering the writers on this show could never handle the quieter and philosophical moments on the show.

Where the episode was saved was when the bolts, bullets and blood flew in abundance in the second half. This first begun with Daryl doing something that Merle would never see himself doing on his own and that’s helping a band of strangers cornered by a large group of zombies. We see how much Daryl’s time with Rick away from the influence of his more volatile big brother Merle has made Daryl a better man without taking away his inherent badassness (yes that is a made up word that should be used more often).

The Governor’s payback against Rick and his people becomes a bookend to the midseason finale where Rick attacked Woodbury. The prison’s illusion of safety has been destroyed and with it one of their own who seemed to be finding his role. Axel was beginning to become a character of note then the Governor and his bullet happened and we’re once more left with the the core group which entered the prison.

If there’s one thing this show has done well since it first began two years ago it’s action and gore. I think it’s what this show does well that keeps people from tuning in for new episodes. There’s a chaotic feel to the action that makes them such a fun thing to watch. These people are not action heroes and not trained professionals in killing but it doesn’t keep them from trying to be both which goes to one of the core tenets of the zombie apocalypse genre. These people should be working together but the inherent mistrusts people have when put into extreme situations keeps that from happening. It’s why things got out of hand and things fell apart for everyone. It looks like it’s happening again but in a much more smaller scale with this war between Rick and the Governor.

With the season now putting the showdown between the two groups front and center it should keep things basic and that’s a good for this show. Basic and simple narratives keep the show moving at a fast-pace. It’s when everyone has some downtime to reflect on the nature of things that the show falters. Here’s to hoping that the first half of this episode was something that had to be done to set things up for the rest of the second half of this season. If it’s not then maybe there was reason why Glen Mazzara will not be returning as showrunner for season 4.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of was directed by series newcomer Seith Mann and written by series regular Nichole Beattie.
  • We have ourselves another cameo of a series regular killed off with Sarah Wayne Callies appearing as a figment of Rick’s fractured mind during the episode’s cold opening.
  • Interesting how this sequence is musically scored by the same music theme from way back in the series’ pilot. At first, I thought the return to this motif in the cold opening was announcing the announced return of Lennie James’ Morgan Jones character from the pilot.
  • Glenn trying to make up for Rick’s latest bout of craziness as leader of the group is both refreshing and, at the same time, funny as he’s clearly trying to overcompensate for what happened to him and Maggie during their time in Woodbury.
  • We may be starting to see one of the reasons why Glen Mazzara was replaced as showrunner for the upcoming season. Only two episodes into the second half of season 3 and we’re starting to see the bad habit of the show spinning it’s wheels as it rehashes some philosophical questions about survival and leadership.
  • Andrea being put in charge of Woodbury while the Governor “pulls himself together” would be a much more interesting turn of events if Andrea wasn’t such a broken character played by a performer who can’t seem to find that fine line between cocky and annoying that her character seems to be written as.
  • The best performance of this second half of the season seems to consistently be from Lauran Cohan as Maggie Greene. She has another fine performance tonight as Maggie as she pretty much puts Glenn in his place.
  • Good to see the writers resisted the temptation to revert Carol back to being an emotional mess once she found out about Daryl choosing to leave the group.
  • Speaking of the Dixon Brothers: it looks like Daryl really regrets choosing blood over his new family as Merle continues to be Merle. His attitude towards the Latino family besieged by walkers on the creek bridge is so hilariously racist yet something that continues to stay in character. It definitely helps in making the question of whether Daryl stays with Merle or goes back to the group not become a protracted affair as we see at the end of the sequence.
  • The first half of the episode was quite a bore that highlighted the very flaws this show has had throughout it’s current broadcast life, but the second half saved it by showing just why people continue to return to watch each new episode every Sunday.
  • Axel, we hardly knew you but at least you lasted longer than Oscar. I must say that his death mirrored very well the way he died in the comics.
  • It would seem that it’s easier to headshot zombies when they’re stumbling towards Rick and his people than to actually hit the Governor and his shooters when they’re standing still.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 35 (at least 15 more off-screen).

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King