Cinemax Friday: The Babysitter (1995, directed by Guy Ferland)


Teenager Jennifer (Alicia Silverstone, shortly before she starred in Clueless) is hired to babysit Jimmy (Ryan Slater), the son of Denise (Lee Garlington) and Harry Tucker (J.T. Walsh) while the Tuckers attend a party over at the the home of Bill and Bernice Holstein (played by George Segal and Lois Chiles).  Harry spends the night drinking and fantasizing about Jennifer while Denise spends the night fantasizing about Bill.  Who does Bernice fantasize about?  The movie doesn’t say.

The adults aren’t the only ones fantasizing.  Bill’s son, Mark (Nicky Katt), is also obsessed with Jennifer and, while his parents are holding their party, he hangs out with his friend Jack (Jeremy London), who also happens to be Jennifer’s bitter ex-boyfriend.  Jack and Mark both start to discuss their own fantasies about Jennifer and they make plans to head over to the Tucker House and surprise Jennifer.  (Mark has even more in mind.)  Meanwhile, even little Jimmy is having fantasies of his own.

Today, it can be easy to forget just what a big deal Alicia Silverstone was in the early to mid-90s.  Even before she landed her star-making turn in Clueless, Silverstone achieved fame as the star of three videos from Aerosmith, all of which featured her playing roles that personified male fantasies.  Her role in The Babysitter fits right in with those Aerosmith videos as the entire film is devoted to men fantasizing about her.  Not much is revealed about who The Babysitter is and her name isn’t even revealed until the end of the movie.  Instead, the movie is about how every male in town, except for George Segal, is obsessed with her.  (What makes George Segal so special?)  Fortunately, Silverstone had the right mix of innocence and sultry beauty to be believable as everyone’s object of lust.  She does a good job playing both the normal teenage girl who just wants to make some extra money babysitting and also the exaggerated caricature who appears in everyone’s fantasies.  (Some of the fantasy scenes are ridiculous but most fantasies are.)

Especially after the release of Clueless, The Babysitter was advertised as being a softcore thriller and it used to show up frequently on late night Cinemax, playing alongside films like Body Chemistry.  Actually, it’s a satire of the suburbs that follows all of the men as they have too much to drink and make fools of themselves.  Thematically, it has more in common with movies like American Beauty, The Ice Storm, and The Virgin Suicides than it does to anything that’s ever been made by Shannon Tweed.  While many viewers were undoubtedly disappointed that Silverstone remained clothed for the majority of the film (and that even the scene where she took a bath was carefully shot to suggest more than it showed), The Babysitter was not a bad movie and it provided the great J.T. Walsh with a rare leading role.  The Babysitter is a better-than-expected mix of Nabokov and Cheever.

 

 

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S4E02 “Infected”


TheWalkingDeadS4

“I see when the shit hits you’re standing there with a shovel.” — Daryl Dixon

[some spoilers]

Last week saw the return of AMC’s wildly popular horror tv series, The Walking Dead. The show ran huge ratings numbers which seems to still confound it’s critics. These are numbers that rivals Sunday Night Football ratings numbers. Yes, the show has had issues with character development and acting, but it continues to bring in more and more viewers. Could it be that the show is satisfying a jaded public’s appetite for bloodlust? If that’s the case then gory horror films should be doing much better in the theaters, but that’s definitely not the case.

With the show’s return we get to see what sort of long-running arc new showrunner Scott M. Gimple has planned for the series. With the first truncated season it was all about Rick adapting to this new dangerous world and reconnecting with his lost family. The second season saw a change in showrunners with series creator Frank Darabont fired and replaced by veteran producer Glen Mazzara and we saw the change in the show’s pacing and storytelling. What was a much more deliberate pacing under Darabont became much more about forward momentum. This worked for the most part and complaints about the show going in circles and nowhere died down, but Mazzara was soon replaced by the end of season 3.

So, the Scott M. Gimple era has begun and with last week’s premiere we found a season the started off full of hope and normalcy, but since this is a horror series that peaceful serenity ended just as fast as it was introduced.

“Infected” takes up very quickly after the cliffhanger of the season premiere which saw one of the new cast members die of some disease (I’m guessing a strong strain of the flu) in the showers and left unattended. If we’ve learned through the three seasons of this show that any death will cause the body of the deceased to reanimate and go looking for living flesh. So, that rule hasn’t changed and we see Harry Potter, I mean Patrick, get up from where he died in the showers and into a cell block full of sleeping people.

Tonight’s episode played out almost like a sort of crucible that Rick had to go through once more to find his true self. Last week’s episode showed us how Rick has turned his back on being the group’s leader. He’s stopped carrying his revolver when stepping beyond the prison’s fences. He’s trying to be a better role model for his son Carl who we saw last season become much colder and murderously pragmatic. Tonight we saw Rick having to face that decision to stop being a fighter and leader to become a farmer instead.

From the very beginning of the episode we see the seeds of doubt being planted in Rick’s mind that while his decision to forgo being a leader and fighter may save his son Carl from lsoing his childhood innocence he must believe deep in his heart that it’s a fool’s task. Rick is trying to regain a semblance of pre-zombie apocalypse world by being a better father to Carl, yet in doing so the group lost a person who had protected them from Atlanta and through Woodbury. It takes and outbreak within Cell Block D and the sorry state of the prison fences to finally wake Rick up from his utopian dream. By sacrificing the piglets Rick was dropping the act of being a farmer and going back to what he was good at doing and that’s protecting the group and killing zombies.

We see the opposite happening with the once meek and victimized Carol who has taken all the personal loss she’s had to go through the last three seasons and allowing that crucible to forge her into a survivor of this new world. She might’ve sounded harsh when dealing with the young girls and how they must learn to defend themselves even if it means killing a dying loved one, but nothing she said tonight was in the wrong. She’s adapted and accepted her new role as protector of the group even if it means she might alienate some. Rick was like this but could never find the balance between ruthless efficiency and empathy towards other survivors. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of pay off Carol’s character growth will mean not just for the group as a whole, but for Daryl who has formed a close relationship with the former victim.

Tonight’s episode was much stronger than last week’s by a wide margin. Where last week’s season premiere seemed like a new showrunner playing it safe with tonight’s episode we see a stronger and more focused narrative that looks to dominate at least the first half of this new season. So far, the new season had promised a new danger to harry the group and now we see what it is and we still haven’t seen the absent Governor. Scott Gimple promised that the show was going to go back to making the zombies a true danger once again after the human-on-human carnage from last season and if the first two episodes for season 4 were any indication he’s keeping his promise.

Notes

  • “Infected” was written and directed by series veterans Angela Kang and Guy Ferland.
  • Just when I thought Greg Nicotero and his make-up effects wizards at KNB EFX couldn’t top themselves they come up with several gory gags in just the first 20 minutes of the episode.
  • While some think it unbelievable that no one heard Patrick chowing down in the next cell one has to think that these people thought they were safe. The way the dead just geometrically expanded from Patrick to suddenly many in less than a morning was a nice touch.
  • It looks like we now have two new medical professionals with unnamed dude with the beard and Bob “On the Wagon” Stookey.
  • Carol has definitely grown as a character from the damaged housewife from season 1 to growing badass in Season 4. She’s even dressing up to look like one to match the new survival mindset.
  • The show has never been gun shy of putting children in danger but it was a tough scene to watch the one young mother carrying the small, bloody bundle out of Cell Black D to be buried.
  • I was very surprised at the event which finally looks to bring out the badass locked inside bug teddy bear Tyreese. I was thinking that it was something terrible happening to his younger sister, but definitely did not see Karen’s death at the hands of an unknown assailant as being the catalyst.
  • One the best gags in tonight’s episode was a nice homage to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead were Greg Nicotero apprenticed with FX master Tom Savini and also appeared as one of the soldiers tasked with protecting the scientists. Here’s the scene in question from that film…
  • Tonight’s episode will definitely not amuse PETA. Not one bit.
  • Talking Dead Guests: Series exec. producer Greg Nicotero, comedian Doug Benson and Paramore singer Hayley Williams.

Season 4

Review: The Walking Dead S3E04 “Killer Within”


“No more kids stuff. People are gonna die. I’m gonna die. Mom. There’s no way you can ever be ready for it.” — Rick Grimes

[spoilers within]

This third season of The Walking Dead has been hitting 3 for 3 when it came to quality episodes. The surprising part is that the season is three episodes in. Last week we had an episode where Rick and the prison group never appeared. It was a well-done introduction for the new characters that will have a major impact on the series. With tonight’s episode, aptly named “Killer Within”, we return to Rick and the prison as they start to settle in their new safe haven (as safe as any place can be in a zombie apocalyptic world).

Tonight’s episode begins with a mysterious individual who seems to be up to no good within the confines of the prison fences. We see this person (all we see is that he’s dressed like a prisoner) using the carcass of a deer (or was it a wolf) t lure zombies into the prison and also taking an axe to the chains and lock that kept the gate secured. It’s an ominous beginning to an episode that would see a major reshuffling of the show’s cast of characters. To say that tonight’s episode was shocking would be an understatement. It was full of what fans and critics had been saying last season lacked. It had action pretty much through half the episode’s running time not to mention even the quieter scenes in the beginning of the prison segment and back at Woodbury led to something instead of just filling up airtime.

The mystery of the  “killer within” of the episode’s title was kept a secret until pretty much close to the end of the episode. It was quite surprising to finally find out who it was who had opened up the gates to the prison and turned on the prison alarm which was ringing the dinner bell to zombies within the prison and those still outside the fences. There’s some leaps of logic that someone watching tonight’s episode would need to get past as to how this “killer” was able to survive so long since episode two without being noticed, but the positives of tonight’s episode outweighed any failures in logic that one noticed.

With tonight’s episode we got to see how much Rick and Carl has changed since the end of the second season and this season. What exactly happened to the group during the 7-8 months they had been out in the Georgia wilds trying to survive day-to-day until they happened upon the prison. The writers have been very silent about whether there would be some flashback sequences that showed how the group survived the Fall and Winter. All we’ve seen this season was how those months out in the wilds had turned the group into a well-oiled survival machine that had one leader and everyone with a role they’d accepted and played. The fact that the group suffered no casualties during the time-off between season 2 and the start of season 3 showed that maybe being on the move was the best thing. They’ve just moved into the prison and started cleaning the place up and now two (maybe three) of their group has died.

One of the things which stood out the most with tonight’s episode is how much Carl has come to be just like his father this season. Last season, Carl had become a joke to the audience with is penchant to avoid his adult handlers and go off running into danger. His behavior and actions even led to the group losing one of their own late in season 2. Carl before this season was almost as if the writers had no idea how to write up a child character in a zombie apocalyptic world. One moment Carl was this helpless and naive child then the next he would act and talk tough like Rick or Shane. Both sides of Carl last season didn’t ring true, but we saw hints of changes to the character in the last two episodes. We see the result of the change in the show’s leadership and mission statement for season 3. Chandler Riggs has improved as an actor which goes to show that good writing will bring out the best in even the least experienced performer. While we find out who the killer within was the episode’s title could easily mean the arrival of a harder Carl who could be on the dark path to turning out to be a killer.

As for Rick, we see another instance where he seems to have left his idealism behind and accepted the fact that ruthless pragmatism was the new golden rule of this zombie apocalyptic world. He looks at strangers not with an open-mind or whether these new people would become helpful members of his group. No, Rick has taken an insular view of the world. If you’re not part of his group then you’re a danger waiting to happen whether that suspicion has credence or not. This mindset has kept his group alive since they left the farm after season 2 but it has also made him harder, colder and more ruthless to those in the outside looking in and, more importantly, even to some within his group.

Will tonight’s events finally become the final straw that breks Rick both emotionally and mentally or will it galvanize him even more to protecting his own and damn to everyone else. This Ricktatorship has suffered it’s first casualties and it should open up a whole new world of storylines moving forward. Idealistic Rick became a frustrating character to root for in the second season, but there’s also the danger of a despot Rick this season becoming too much on the other side of the personality spectrum. It will be up to Mazzara and his talented group of writers to balance Rick as a character where he still has some sense of the white hat sheriff’s deputy, but at the same time also knowing that he cannot let that very idealism endanger him and his people.

As an audience we’ve come to expect a season to spread out how much action and tense moments a drama series has the length of a season, but the writers of this series seem to be making up for all the “go nowhere” episodes of season two with a vengeance. I’ve been saying since the beginning of this season that we’re finally seeing the series’ take on the narrative style of it’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara who came up writing some of the best episodes of the FX cop drama The Shield over seven seasons. He and his writers seem to understandthat in a world as savage and cruel as the one in The Walking Dead having episodes where nothing happens outside of character debating and philosophizing about the nature of civilization and humanity wouldn’t make for very dramatic tv. the question that comes up now is whether the show will be able to sustain this streak of very good episodes over the length of season three.

NOTES

  • Tonight’s episode was directed by Guy Ferland and written by series newcomer Sang Kyu Kim.
  • Some levity involving Glenn and Maggie didn’t last the episode which looks to be the most nihilistic of the series to date.
  • Michonne may not be as chatty as Andrea this season, but she’s made her words count when she has spoken. Also very observant of not just her surroundings but her situation.
  • We come across a situation regarding strangers and their fate. Last season the group, especially Rick, would’ve debated all episode long and maybe into the next one about how to deal with the strangers. Another sign that this season has become a sort of reset for the series with Rick (with some help from Daryl) deciding not to change the agreement he has with the surviving prisoners.
  • Look between Rick and Lori before all hell broke loose looked like things may be thawing between the two.
  • Good to see the writers not making Hershel go through a bout of self-pity. He even made good use of the crutches when things got real stressful.
  • This now marks the third stressful and action-packed episode inside the prison. Writers have definitely taken to heart about the lack of action and tension that plagued Season 2.
  • Carl has definitely become a mini-badass like his father.
  • It had to happen and the sequence leading up to T-Dog finally getting bit was handled quite well. There was no mysterious zombie suddenly popping out of nowhere to chomp down on his shoulder. When he moved to close the gate one could see just before the scene switched away a zombie come into the frame and move up towards T-Dog who had his back turned.
  • Part of me thinks that disagreeing with Rick’s decisions is like people saying “NO” to Jack Bauer. It’s a sure way to get yourself killed either by Rick or some other way.
  • This season really hasn’t made Andrea a sympathetic character. I’m wondering if the writers have a new role for her in contrasts to how she was in the comics. I can definitely see her turning on the group and joining the Governor.
  • The Governor definitely has a way with him when it comes to getting his way. Andrea seems to be buying what he’s been selling her and even Merle seems off his game around him.
  • It’ll be quite a turn of events if this season we end up getting Merle rejoining the group as a helpful member while Andrea becomes the Judas.
  • We learn that the Governor’s first name is Phillip and that he has a young daughter. We also get to see him channel his inner James Bond villain with a scene of him doing practice golf swings at the zombies beyond Woodbury’s walls.
  • Carl’s reaction when Maggie told Lori to take her pant’s off was classic.
  • T-Dog went out a hero and his final scene was a nice shout out to a similar throat-rip scene from Day of the Dead (the original one).
  • We finally find out the answer to whether Andrew the prisoner who Rick left locked in the prison yard with the zombies died or lived.
  • Sarah Wayne Callies performance as Lori in tonight’s episode was some of her best to date.
  • For all the talk on Twitter about zombie babies I like to remind people that the best zombie baby ever comes courtesy of Peter Jackson.
  • We hear the shot but we never truly saw Lori die by Carl’s hand. Here’s to hoping the writers are not trying to pull a fast one on the audience.
  • Carl definitely turned a corner in tonight’s episode. This season we’ve seen that Carl’s become more useful and mindful that his past behavior had some fatal consequences. It’s not until tonight that we see Carl lose that final vestiges of his childhood behind and become the child-soldier Rick and his group need him to be.
  • For all his cold distancing from Lori we see that Rick still loved Lori in the end. Talk about heart-wrenching scene from Andrew Lincoln.
  • I have to give it up to Sarah Wayne Callies, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan and Andrew Lincoln for bringing their A-game and more for tonight’s episode.
  • The monologue towards the end that really got to this hardened horror fan: “You’re gonna be fine, you’re gonna beat this world. You are smart, and you are strong, and you are so brave. You promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. You promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world. So, if it feels wrong, don’t do it. Alright? If it feels easy, don’t do it, don’t let the world spoil you. You’re so good. My sweet boy. The best thing I ever did. I love you.” — Lori Grimes
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: 32.

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S3E03 “Walk With Me”


“We’re going out there and taking back what’s ours…civilization.” — The Governor

[some spoilers]

It’s been quite a refreshing surprise to see this new season of The Walking Dead unfold. Even though it’s just been two episodes in the change in pacing, acting and writing has been noticeable and all for the good. This fresh new start courtesy of Glen Mazzara and his crew of writers could easily revert back to the old bad habits that made season 2 of the series such an uneven and frustrating show to watch. The potential for this show to hit it’s stride was kept from happening by wheel-spinning and extended philosophical introspection that put the brakes on any momemtum a great episode had going into the next one. This hasn’t been the case for this season and tonight’s episode, “Walk With Me”, will show whether this streak of very good television continues or the bad habits return.

“Walk With Me” starts off interestingly enough as we see a military helicopter on it’s flight to who knows where, but still it is a scene that’s above the danger and not on the ground. It doesn’t take long before something goes awry and this whirly-bird crashes in the Georgia woods. It’s a scenario that doesn’t bode well for those inside and seeing all this occur in the far-off distance is our wayward Andrea and her new companion in fan-favorite Michonne and her two pets.

It’s been a long time coming but we finally see the appearance of The Governor. This character has been a huge part of the series’ comic book universe. He’s been the best symbol of what happens we those leading a group of desperate people loses their humanity and becomes as much a danger as the zombies and, at times, even more so. So, this character (being played by British actor David Morrissey) already has a built-in for it not just from the fans of the comic book, but even just the fans of the show who have heard about all the things the character has done in the original source material. It’s going to be a hard slog for David Morrissey and the writers of the show to make the character sympathetic or, at the very least, charismatic enough not to come off across as a villainous caricature.

We don’t spend any time with Rick and his group at this prison in tonight’s episode. This episode concentrates on Andrea and Michonne meeting up with The Governor (aka Phillip Blake in the comic books and novels) and the introduction of the Woodbury town settlement. It’s an interesting departure from the previous two season which tried to juggle two locations at once. Sometimes this juggling works in the show’s favor and, at times, it has been to it’s detriment. Tonight it’s more of the former than the latter. It would’ve been nice to see how Rick and the group has been keeping themselves busy since taking over the prison, but with the promise of The Governor and his group being the main antagonists of this third season the show couldn’t delay this part of the season’s main story arc to remain on the sidelines.

Tonight’s episode was much slower than the season’s first two but it made up for it in introducing the character of The Governor to the show’s audience and reuniting these same fans with one of the show’s favorite in Merle Dixon (played with sociopathic glee by genre venteran Michael Rooker). Andrea and Michonne don’t know what to make of The Governor and his safe haven of Woodbury. It looks peaceful and, most important, safe enough at first glance, but we could see that they both sense something is a bit off with their current benefactor and his Norman Rockwell-esque town. Andrea seems to be warming up to the leader of this group more than Michonne and this reaction should elicit more groans from her detractors who already see her as a character who seem to switch allegiances, or at least, jump from one leader to the next.

Andrea as written for the tv series is definitely not as fan-friendly as her comic book counterpart. Again, the writers of the show have made a conscious decision to try and make the Andrea role be more complex and earn her role as a badass through trials and tribulations. It’s going to be a tough sell the writers will need to do to try and rehab this character as the season goes along. So far, Laurie Holden has kept the character tics and habit which has made her such an uneven character the past two seasons to a minimum in tonight’s episode but it still show’s up here and there.

It’s interesting to see how much Rick and the Governor seem to share not just in how they’re leading the group, but in how efficient he’s gotten his people to become to adjust to this new world they now live in. Both are trying to recapture a piece of the civilization that’s fallen since the outbreak began and both have done so in varying degrees of success. Even though Rick doesn’t appear in tonight’s episode his character looms large as we see with each passing scene just what sort of leader The Governor is to his people. Throughout the episode we see that The Governor is not running a democracy (same as Rick) and from little bits of dialogue we get a notion that his benevolent dictator act could be hiding something more sinister.

Could we be seeing in The Governor how Rick could turn out to be a year from now if and when he loses more people? One thing for sure is that The Governor comes across as being more charismatic and in control of his situation than Rick, but at what cost and as the season plays out it’ll be interesting how the two stack up next to each other if and when they finally meet face-to-face. As both characters struggle to regain the very civilization The Governor spoke about retaking at the dinner table with Andrea and Michonne it goes without saying that the two alpha males of the series have the right ideas, but one’s methods seem to have gone beyond the pale. As the saying goes about how power corrupts it looks like it might be the case with The Governor.

“Walk With Me” is not as action-packed as the previous two episodes. There was some action close to the end and for some it probably came as a surprise, but for readers of the comic it was a sequence that was inevitable. The fact that the writer of tonight’s episode decided to reveal the ulterior motive and agenda behind The Governor’s benevolent facade so soon was the true surprise of tonight’s episode.

NOTES

  • Tonight’s episode was directed by series regular Guy Ferland and written by another series regular in Evan Reilly.
  • The pre-credits opening says a lot about the world beyond Rick’s group. A military helicopter patrolling and looking for any signs of survivors means there’s still some sort of organized government or military group trying to save as many people as possible. Even though we find out the safety has been compromised it still shows that there might still be hope out in the wilderness.
  • From the sounds leading up to the chopper’s crash it could be mechanical failure but part of me thinks it was a long-range shot that could’ve taken out the engine.
  • Finally the Governor shows up and his group is just as well-organized and efficient as Rick and his people.
  • MERLE! Michael Rooker’s return is as over-the-top as the character yet I have a feeling fans of the show (even some detractors) wouldn’t have any other way.
  • He’s sporting the Aquaman harpoon for a hand look and he seems to have gotten pretty good at using it.
  • It didn’t take long for the show to show us Woodbury and this once again I commend Mazzara and his writers for not delaying the inevitable and stretching it out for drama’s sake.
  • David Morrissey has definitely done a very good job in just one episode in making the character much more charismatic and multi-layered than the comic book counterpart.
  • The role of Milton (played by Dallas Roberts) is a nice homage to Romero’s Day of the Dead head scientist Dr. Logan.
  • His reaction when dealing with the survivors of the military convey was quite interesting and it had no dialogue explaining why which is another of the positive things about this season. The writers are showing rather than telling every little detail of each character and scene.
  • There’s definitely some unresolved issues going on between The Governor and the military.
  • The roles of the helicopter pilot has been expanded to be part of the military. In the comic book the chopper was a tv station newscopter and the survivors from the crash civilians.
  • I wasn’t sure how the ending reveal about The Governor would play out but it wasn’t as over-the-top as I thought it would be and actually came off as very creepy and disturbing. Once again I think this is in due part to David Morrissey performance as Woodbury’s leader.
  • Danai Gurira still comes across as more of a cypher (a badass one), but her dialogue has been limited, so far. This could be a good thing as she seems to be more suspicious of The Governor and Woodbury, in general than her partner of the past 7-8 months. Her survival instincts is not just about the zombies out in the world, but of strangers she meets for the first time. Her instincts may just save both her and Andrea in the long run.
  • Final reveal of the episode was chilling, disturbing and creepy as anything that has happened in the past 21 episodes of this series.
  • Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: 12.

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).

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 06 “The Middle Men”


Torchwood: Miracle Day is now into the second-half of it’s 10-episode latest season and something just occurred to me even while I was enjoying this 6th and latest episode. For a new season that’s just 10-episode the writers seem to be doing things as if there’s more than just the 10 episodes. For some people this slow pace has become an annoyance as the mystery of what is “Miracle Day” seem to be doing the glacial unveiling. I’m beginning to lean towards these individuals who thinks this season, as entertaining as it has been, looks to be wasting too much of of the season’s remaining episodes introducing new characters left and right to be nothing more than exposition mouthpieces to help add another clue to the mystery of the season.

While episode 6, perfectly titled as “The Middle Men”, was entertaining as we see Rex, Esther and Gwen deal with their part in exposing the government “Outflow Camps” (aka extermination camps for those deemed braindead but still alive), the episode seemed to spin it’s wheels in place once Jack met with one of PhiCorp’s executive who may or may not know the company’s role in “Miracle Day”. Ernie Hudson plays PhiCorp’s COO, Stuart Owens,  who also has begun to investigate on the true nature of the Outflow Camps. One of Owens’ operatives in Shanghai tasked with investigating that country’s Outflow Camps relays an ominous and cryptic message to Owens in the form of jumping off of the roof of the tallest building in the city after what he had uncovered. It looks like the burn units in the Outflow Camps’ module might not be the only way to get around the forced upon “immortality” everyone now has.

The episode actually takes place pretty much where the last one ended and it spends most of it’s time with Rex and Esther finding out who was responsible for Vera Juarez’s “death”. This part of the episode was actually quite frustrating to watch. Some of it was very difficult to watch in a good way as Rex goes through a form of torture that had even me averting my eyes. But it was also a part of the episode where both Rex and Esther make one stupid mistake after the other. Esther I can understand as she’s become almost useless as a Torchwood member outside of her hacking skills. Rex on the other hand I thought would’ve been more wary of his surroundings and those in the Camp he interacted with. The fact that it took a bumbling idiot to save the two put this whole part of the episode into the realm of the absurd.

Gwen’s time in the Cardiff Outflow Camp was a bit more successful though this leads to consequences which puts her in a no-win situation as the episode draws to a cliffhanger close. We did get to see her get into badass mode as she figures out in her own way to put a temporary stop to the burn modules. She does this all the while playfully bantering back and forth with Jack back in LA. This past of the episode was actually the best of the three concurrent story plot threads which has been running for the past couple episodes.

The third part of the episode is more of an exposition dump than anything else. For some reason this season has seen Jack in less of badass role while at the same time the one member of the team who seems to run across people who do nothing but act as exposition dump devices. While Ernie Hudson’s character unloading information on Jack was good and all most of it was something that audiences probably have figured out by now and that PhiCorp is just a link to the those in the shadows pulling the strings on “Miracle Day”. He did give a little tidbit about what might be the endgame for those behind-the-scenes of this worldwide event: The Blessing.

All in all, episode 6 (“The Middle Men”) was a good episode but definitely a step back from some strong ones previous to this one. With only four more episodes remaining in the season I’d be really interested in how Davies and his writers will be able to wrap things up without rushing things. Part of me thinks they may not be able to pull it off and another part of me suspect that there won’t be a true resolution and that a follow-up season may be what’s in store.

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 05 “The Categories of Life”


We’ve now reached the halfway point of the latest season of Torchwood. While the previous four episodes in this season has been quality work there’s been a small, but growing number of the show’s fans who saw the series as not as good season 3, Torchwood: Children of Earth, and that the addition of more American characters and transplanting the team to the US had lessened the show to some degree. I can’t say if these fans are right or not, but this midway point episode goes a long way to really giving Torchwood: Miracle Day the punch it really needed to put the season from just very good to something on the level of season 3.

The team has now split up into three working groups with Gwen headed back to Wales to try and get her ailing father from becoming just another statistic in the so-called “Outflow Camps” being set up by world governments with the help of the pharma-transnational PhiCorp. Her brief reunion with Rhys and her baby girl makes for some fun moments, but it doesn’t last long as Gwen gets right down to the business of “rescuing” her father from the very people tasked to help him. Their plan seemed like something that would never succeed, but seeing the chaos at the newly created “Outflow Camps” really helped in believing that Gwen and Rhys could actually pull off their rescue of her father. It’s not the danger of being discovered which puts her father in greater danger but the “Miracle Day” situation itself which does it and from that development in this episode’s story thread do we get a clue as to the darker nature of the hidden modules being built in these camps.

It’s during the plot thread involving Rex, Esther and Dr. Vera (who had decided earlier in the episode that she had a better chance to help people if she helped Rex with his plans) in California which was the strongest thread in the episode. We get to see first-hand through the eyes of Vera and Rex just how unprepared the government really was even in setting up these PhiCorp “Outflow Camps”. Camps which have been designed to house those who have been given new categories to describe their “Miracle Day” status. Category 1 being those who were braindead but still alive for some reason (including those who have been horrifically mangled in some fashion). Category 2 being people who have survived a fatal event and still alive and conscious (Rex for example) with Category 3 being everyone else who are healthy and no need for extensive care.

It’s during Vera’s tour with an unctuous, inept camp administrator that the true nature of the camps come to light. It serves less as a place to help ease the overcrowding in hospitals, but more of a concentration camp to segregate those labeled Cat 1 and 2 from the general population who make up Cat 3. It’s also in this plot thread that we see for the first time the horrific nature of the secret camp modules that Rhys had heard being called “burn units”. I wasn’t surprised that the writers decided to go all the way with demonstrating the nature of the modules with one of the season’s lead characters with still half a season to go, but it was a major gut-punch and should change how the Torchwood team goes about exposing not just PhiCorp, but those behind it and the true nature and agenda of “Miracle Day”.

The third plot thread in this episode was the weakest of the three as we see Capt. Jack continue in his attempt to understand Oswald Danes and his role in whats going on, but also use him to try and expose PhiCorp.  I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong in thinking Pullman’s performance as Danes would smooth itself out, but with five episodes in the season already in the can his character (as interesting as this character still remains to be) just looks and behaves like a bad caricature of an unhinged villain. Maybe Pullman will pull back on the scenery-chewing long enough to actually appear as the dangerous, albeit tortured, foil for the team, but I’m losing hope. This thread does show that whatever sympathy Jack may have had for Danes just went out the window as the very person he’s trying to use has just set himself up to be the face of “Miracle Day” and the cult growing around his personality.

“The Categories of Life” was still the best episode to date for this new season of Torchwood despite the weakness that is Oswald Danes. It explored the subject matter that’s dear to many (health care in the country or lack thereof) and themes of how in times of crisis people will flock to whoever is speaking the loudest (even if the message is one that is not for the benefit of people) and give those in power the blank check to do whatever needs to be done to keep the masses a false sense of hope and security.

Torchwood: Miracle Day still hasn’t reached the epic greatness that was season 3’s Torchwood: Children of Earth, but with five more episodes to go it’s making a strong push to try and equal it. Whether it does or spectacularly fail in the attempt should make the second half of the season worth watching.

1st Episode: “The New World”

2nd Episode: “Rendition”

3rd Episode: “Dead of Night”

4th Episode: “Escape to L.A.”