Once again, it wasn’t what I expected. Once again, it was an episode of a zombie show with few actual zombies. Once again, “The Walking Dead” showed itself to be one of the best shows on television. And now we settle in for what will likely be a ten month drought.
The season finale to this abbreviated freshman season of “The Walking Dead,” “TS-19,” cleverly answered our questions without answering any questions. It was an episode about hope, but also an episode about hopelessness. The group found its way into Atlanta’s Center For Disease Control headquarters, hoping to find answers and a safe haven. They found that haven, albeit temporarily, allowing them a respite from the hardscrabble struggle they’ve all been enduring since day one — a brief remembrance of the creature comforts they’d been privy to before the world went dead. Electricity. Hot water. Food and wine and books. For a few moments, they could catch their breath and find some joy in their lives. They’d found sanctuary.
That sanctuary was provided by Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich), the last surviving doctor at the CDC, working for as long as he is able to try to find a solution. Turns out, there is none, and what’s worse, Jenner is succumbing to a madness of his mind’s creation — he’s given up, sees no future, and can’t understand why anyone would feel differently. Emmerich’s portrayal of Jenner was rather brilliant — he’s a man who had settled in, comfortable and accepting of his own destruction, and when the travelers stumbled upon him, he was content to simply take them with him, not understanding why they’d want to live through the horrors that roamed outside those fortified walls.
At the same time, the group became once again both stronger, yet more fractured. The dynamic between Shane, Rick and Lori was beautifully explored, and once again Jon Bernthal showed himself to be more than capable of handling what is easily the most complex role on the show. The opening sequence, with a desperate Shane trying to figure out how to save his friend as the world comes apart outside the hospital room door, was a tragic and heartfelt scene. We learn that Shane didn’t exactly abandon Rick — he just didn’t know what else to do, so he did the best he could. That is Shane’s curse — doing the best he can, and yet what he wants is continually out of his reach. To be a leader, to be with Lori — despite his best intentions, these things continue to evade him, and the pressure is slowly, but surely, breaking him.
He’s an interesting study, though, because despite his noble intentions, Shane was never a good guy. Go back and watch the opening of episode one, and we see the harsh misogyny lurking beneath his soldier’s facade. It’s the hidden scar inside him, and it’s slowly being exposed as he grows angrier and more despairing — culminating in the his awful, desolate and drunken assault on Lori. Shane is a time bomb now, a man whose path is going to take him and those around him to the brink of the abyss. At the same time, Rick got to be a little more than just the strong, wise leader, finally showing some doubt, some weakness — some humanity. While Andrew Lincoln’s portrayal has been solid, the character itself has been somewhat stock — the good guy, who gets his girl, finds his man, dedicated and true and blah blah blah. He’s also been boring, but his alcohol-induced moment of unguarded helplessness with Jenner was a welcome diversion.
While characters like Daryl and T-Dog took a back seat, Andrea and Dale continue to shine, and their relationship — whatever form it may take — continues to be a unique and interesting one. Dale’s “wise counselor” bit would get annoying if it weren’t played with the nuance and rough edge that Jeffery DeMunn provides. Instead, he shows both vulnerability and strength, and his dedication to Andrea in her most despondent moment was terrific. Jacqui, on the other hand, simply gives in and accepts the fiery respite that Jenner provides, and that’s not a bad thing. The character was underused and she was a virtual unknown, but it was also interesting to see the other side of the coin — those that simply don’t have the strength to go on and want to just end this seemingly hopeless journey.
“TS-19” gave us the bleak answer that some of us had sort of been hoping for, and really, the only answer that works if the show wants to sustain itself. Instead of “The Walking Dead” becoming some sort of race for a cure, it now truly is a tale of survival. No one knows what happened, what causes the dead to rise, and most importantly, how to stop it from happening. Honestly, that’s the show we wanted. There’s no salvation. No cure. No answers. But for Rick and company, there are still enough reasons to keep going. In a strange way, they have a focus now — not on finding miracles, but instead simply staying alive. When there truly is no hope to be found, all they have is the quest to make it to the next day.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.