I’m of two minds with regard to “Better Angels,” the twelfth episode of Season Two of “The Walking Dead.” On the one hand, it finally reconciled something that should have been dealt with long ago — namely, the fact that Shane is an unrepentant bastard who can’t be trusted. From the moment he set foot in that barn, there could have been no doubt as to how the episode was going to end. Rick or Shane was going to die, and as frustratingly over dramatic and beleaguered as Rick often is, we knew it wasn’t going to be him. Shane’s been on a collision course with tragedy for weeks now, and it was only a matter of time before it came to fruition.
As a result, the conclusion was a mostly satisfying one, as was the episode as a whole. What made it frustrating is that it came in the wake of the absolute shit show that was the prior week’s episode, and a terribly mixed bag of a season in general. One wonders how much longer viewers will be willing to suffer such gross inconsistency. “Better Angels” was a solid, though not spectacular episode. It resolved the Rick-Shane-Lori triangle, bloodily so. It put Carl back on the path to just being a normal bratty kid instead of an inexplicably borderline-sociopathic bratty kid. It finally closed the rift between Hershel’s family and Rick’s group. Glenn shone yet again, both in his disarmingly cute nervousness about being in Maggie’s father’s house as well as his emotional response to Dale’s death and the metaphorical passing of the torch by Andrea. All of this was handled swiftly, but not without skill. Even Lori’s scene with Shane was fittingly poignant, as if she was willing to give him a chance as well, and thus felt the need to give him the credit he (rightfully) deserves for saving them back when the outbreak hit. It was a nice little scene, and served as the turning point as Shane, misunderstanding her intentions and her feelings, finally snapped.
Except, of course, for poor, useless T-Dog, who I briefly touched upon last week and I continue to lament this week. T-Dog should either be written out of the show, or given something to do. He’s a useless, ineffectual fixture, and actually having him deliver a “aw hell naw” was perhaps the most painful insult so far. We get it. He’s black. Perhaps he could do something other than be black? Maybe make a friend, give some relevant dialogue, find a woman (or man), play a role other than dark-skinned window dressing? Anything?
But I digress. The focal point of the episode was, of course, Shane’s betrayal and the subsequent confrontation. I enjoyed it on a theoretical level, I suppose, even if it was at times awkwardly rendered. I liked the conversation, and Shane’s vicious honesty. I liked Rick’s sadness about the whole affair. Of course, there was much to be criticized as well — if Rick’s intention was to kill him all along, why go through all of that? Why offer to give up his gun? Perhaps he needed to finally glimpse Shane’s madness in all of its glory, and yet the whole thing just reeked of excessive exposition for the sake of… what? So we’d know that Shane was a bastard? That Rick was noble and tortured? As if we didn’t already have those points hammered into our heads before? It was strong acting from both performers, despite somewhat clumsy writing on the part of the show runners, but I suppose we should be used to that.
And can I just say — running through the woods in the dark with no flashlights? Really? At least Daryl was prepared.
I can’t help but wonder if I’ve simply lost my patience with “The Walking Dead,” and am finding fault where I perhaps shouldn’t. This season has been an exercise in frustration, filled with manufactured drama, endless clumsy exposition, belabored characterization and too little progress in terms of either the characters’ relationships or the overall storylines. And yet, there are flashes of brilliance, making the stumbles all the more infuriating. I’m glad that Shane is gone, because the character was becoming stale, but also because now we can move on, just as I was glad when the Sophia search was resolved. Similarly, I’m happy that the Randall situation is done with, for it opens the doors to the next threat.
Yet for all my criticism, they do come up with new ways to keep me interested. The second half of this season has undoubtedly been stronger, despite last week’s misstep. There are fascinating developments on the horizon — we now see that it’s not just getting bitten that makes you come back. Simply put, however a person dies can result in them rising again. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out, since clearly there have been examples of regular, non-zombie deaths that didn’t result in zombification. Similarly, Randall’s ominous stories about his crew — a mere five miles out — portend further daunting human-on-human confrontations. The barn’s safety, I suspect, is going to come to a violent end soon, and then things may, hopefully, get really interesting.