They moan, they argue, they make no forward progress.
That’s what episode five of “The Walking Dead,” “Chupacabra,” felt like. It was a filler episode, and an immensely frustrating one at that. This season’s episodes have been so hellaciously inconsistent it’s almost dizzying, a tennis match of tension versus tedium. After a stumble in episode three, last week’s “Cherokee Rose” felt like the show was getting its legs again. And then, we’re presented with this week’s episode, which, yes, featured another cliffhanger ending that gives the impression that things will get interesting. Except that’s exactly how I felt after last week’s episode.
It’s beginning to feel like there are two or three separate shows happening. There’s the main storyline, consisting of Rick being tortured about all the big issues and torn about his leadership, Shane becoming more and more of a bastard, Lori pursing her lips or crying, and the saga of Dale and Andrea. There have been very real and complex developments with all of those characters — the shooting of Carl, Andrea’s suicidal crisis, Shane’s shooting of Otis. And yet, “Chupacabra” moved them forward not one iota. Andrea shot someone, so now she knows guns are bad. As far as I can tell, that’s the only new development in terms of character. Everything else — Rick and Shane’s (well-written, I’ll concede) argument in the woods? Been there. Lori’s confrontation with Shane? Done that. Dale and Andrea arguing and then having Tense But Tender Moments? Yep, seen that too.
And then there’s the supporting cast, which let’s be honest, consists of Glenn and Daryl. Carol is basically an afterthought in this episode, a character who for all intents and purposes contributed nothing and exists as little more than a prop that whimpers occasionally. Hershel is somber, vaguely suspicious, and kind of a dick. Maggie has potential, I’ll concede, but she’s given next to nothing to do here. And… then there are some other people, but no one cares about them, and they’re basically background noise. Kind of like the zombies, unfortunately.
I’m reaching a point where I kind of just want to watch the Glenn and Daryl Zombie Adventure show. They’re the ones that, at least right now, make the show worth watching. Daryl was the focus of the episode, and Norman Reedus was excellent, particularly in his teeth-gritted, furious fever dream. Glenn was sweet and charming and totally disarming, a breath of fresh air amidst the whining shrillness. Glenn has a potential romantic interest, and it’s being handled slowly and awkwardly, but in the right ways. Daryl is developing even more, torn between the two sides of him —one represented by Carol’s devoted gratefulness, and a darker side shown by his pain-induced hallucinations.
Oh, a brief aside: This isn’t the fault of the show, per se, but more the fault of AMC’s marketing department. You’re going to tease Merle in the closing of “Cherokee Rose” and then let that tension build for a week and then throw the “it was all a dream” bit at us? Fuck you very much, AMC. That shit was goddamn bushleague. It was cheap and annoying.
“The Walking Dead” is suffering, folks. It’s suffering because, by continuing to have its leads play the same tapes over and over again, they’ve lost the luster they had in season one, and in fact it’s making them seem more annoying than they are. In fact, the truth is that without seeing what we’ve seen, in a vacuum these episodes would be fine. But taken as a part of the whole, they’re getting redundant. It’s also suffering because the pacing is off, staggering from breakneck to crawl without any sense of purpose. It’s suffering because frankly it has stretches where it’s just boring. I initially was happy that it would be more character-focused, and not primarily about zombies, but now we’ve got two-three minutes of zombies in forty minutes of television, and that’s just not cutting it.
But mostly it’s suffering because there just doesn’t seem like anything’s really at stake anymore. Sure, Carl got shot and Sophia is missing, but the sense of imminent danger and heightened tension just isn’t there. And that’s for two reasons — no zombies, and nobody’s dying. I’m not suggesting they go the tired route of killing off a character for dramatic effect, but it’s a show about a zombie apocalypse and in five episodes we’ve had one person die. It’s not like season one was a bloodbath, but there was something about it that gave it a tautness, a constant sense of anxiousness, that served it well. That sensation is gone now, and instead we get bickering and complaining with brief injections of terror, and it’s quite simply killing the show. My hope is that there’s a beast of a surprise coming, and I’m guessing that potential is very real given the revelation of Hershel’s creepy-ass zombie barn.
But I hate the fact that I have to hope in the first place.