I’ll just come out and say it: this was the first episode of “The Walking Dead” that I was completely disappointed by. It was a filler episode, and in a show that focuses on intensity, fear and human drama as much as this one does, there is little room for filler. It did little to advance the characters, it introduced new characters who, at least at first glance, are completely uninteresting, it forced conflict instead of letting it happen organically, and it simply fell with a dull thud.
The first thing that struck me at the episode’s conclusion was that it was so full of luck and coincidence that it stretched even my ability to suspend disbelief. Young Carl is shot, and conveniently the man who shot him lives with a doctor. The doctor may be low on supplies, but conveniently there are more just up the road. T-Dog is getting sick, but conveniently Daryl has a stash of meds that he never told anyone about? It was frustrating, to say the least. It was the type of manufactured drama that failed to create any real tension, instead feeling like a video game where luckily, the big gun is lying in the middle of the road right before the big boss fight.
“The Walking Dead” has lived and died on strong characterizations, generating solid feelings of tension and dread, and a certain unpredictability. “Bloodletting” failed on all three of those issues. The characters are taking a turn downhill - it’s saying something when Lori Grimes (a character that I’ve mostly found annoying until now) was the most well-portrayed character of the episode. Yes, the interplay between Rick and Shane after the extremely uncomfortable surgery scene was powerful stuff, and it continued to develop the complicated relationship between the two. To a certain degree, the new characters offered nothing really new either, other than medical expertise. Perhaps it’s my knowledge of the comics that’s motivating my sudden aggravation, but this constant influx of kindly, helpful people in the aftermath of a world gone mad? It’s unrealistic and it’s starting to bother me.
I guess what I’m saying is, I miss Merle.
Part of what makes stories of this sort compelling isn’t just that the world has gone to shit and that zombies are laying waste to everything we know and love, but also the idea that you begin to really see the truth about people, to see their souls laid bare. And frequently, what you see isn’t very nice. Yet “The Walking Dead” has failed to show any real human conflict other than a couple of arguments and, well, Merle. Instead, other than initial hesitation and suspicion, everyone seems delighted to help each other. Perhaps future episodes will prove me wrong, but I was really hoping that this new group would add a layer of complexity beyond this. And while the terror created by Carl’s shooting was certainly impressive and gripping, it simply created another mission-based episode. The group travels, something goes wrong, they have to go somewhere to find the solution, zombies attack.
It’s strange that an episode which focuses on a child being shot could fall so flat, and yet somehow that’s what happened. It felt like a racecar that got stuck in the mud, especially after such an engaging, heart-hammering season premiere. All of the parts for real drama are there, and yet it felt like nothing really happened. The only excitement came from Rick and newbie Otis’s quest for medical supplies, yet even that came across as another video game quest-style development. That said, I’m very happy to see Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays Otis, get a role as something other than a village idiot or a psycopath. I’ve always liked him.
Despite it’s harrowing opening, and the panic generated by an injured child, “Bloodletting” still managed to cause the show to lose momentum somehow. It was a dragging episode that felt too forumlaic, too run-of-the-mill. In previous episodes, when the pace has slowed down it’s because there was critical character development or interaction going on, yet the attempts at either of those stumbled badly here. Here’s hoping that “The Walking Dead” gets back on track in episode three (ominously titled “Save the Last One”) and continues to develop the grim future we’ve grown to love.