Walking Dead Report: Nebraska (2/12/12)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-02-13 08:15

The Walking Dead - "Nebraska" (2/12/12)
Written by: Evan T. Reilly
Directed by: Clark Johnson

Reviewed by: Brett G.

The Walking Dead report will is a weekly series that recaps the show's most recent episode; spoilers and speculation will follow.

I’m guessing most fans didn’t really dig the months-long hiatus that The Walking Dead recently took (or maybe they did if the persistent bitching on my Sunday night Twitter feed is any indication); I, on the other hand, saw it as the perfect opportunity to finally hop aboard. Despite thinking that zombies have been done to death (so much so that I can only trot out that shitty pun), I felt like I should be checking out a horror-themed TV show, so here we are.

Initially, I had planned to write up a sort of critical summary of where we are and how we got here, but I probably got distracted by watching a movie or something. Besides, this first episode of the resumed second season, “Nebraska,” adequately summed up my feelings when Shane expressed his disbelief that Sophia had been in that barn the entire time, something that was even worse as a viewer since it was so obvious and easily guessed at. And this is not to mention how the character was essentially a minor one that was somehow meant to function as a catalyst for those searching for her; I’m not so sure we ever cared if she was found so much as we hoped her fate would mean something.

Anyway, as we all recall, she shuffled out of the barn, only to be shot dead by Rick, an event that actually seems like a blip on the radar considering how well worn this path has already become in this series. Given the show’s title, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that it dwells on death, but I feel like it’s already hit the same old zombie movie beats that Romero hammered into our head decades ago, namely the quandaries surrounding the treatment of the dead and coping with how to treat loved ones when they’ve turned. They killed off poor Emma Bell in the first season, tears were shed, and everyone was haunted. It gave us an insight as to how these characters had accepted harsh reality of this world.

And now, in season two, we’re seeing all over again--only this time, it’s ballooned out to include other characters like Herschel and his family (who saw a whole mess of their undead loved ones get gunned down just before their eyes). “Nebraska’ picks up with everyone coping (again) and figuring out how to move on (again), giving the show the lugubrious feel of a funeral procession; it moves like one too--slowly and somewhat orderly as it scatters various plot points. Some are working fine with me--I like the central tension between Shane and Rick, and I enjoy that Dale is getting in on this (since he’s otherwise made to look befuddled and hold a rifle most of the time).

But a lot of The Walking Dead just feels like so much melodrama; there’s the matter of Lori’s pregnancy, which has given everyone involved an opportunity to discuss the ever popular topic of whether or not it’s even worth existing “in this world” (a phrase you could probably make a drinking game out of). That’s also the question at the center of “Nebraska,” as now, it’s Herschel’s turn to ponder what the point of it all is, so he takes off to a bar in the nearby city, a move that counts as a huge event in The Walking Dead. As he attempt to drown his sorrows, Rick once again plays the role of the shining beacon of hope, the guy who has to give another pep talk to assure Herschel that what’s left of his family needs him.

The most (well, only) interesting event of the episode occurs here when a couple of strangers stroll in; given the series that we’re watching and its insistence on riffing on the typical undead beats, I’d braced myself for an unpleasant confrontation. I was pleasantly surprised when the two guys (played by Aaron Munoz and Michael Raymond-James) seemed to be perfectly normal as they shared their experiences. This is the type of stuff I wouldn’t mind seeing the series focus on if it must be bogged down in conversation--little peers into slices of lives of other characters to give us an idea of the bigger picture. It perhaps helps that this conversation initially centers on hopeful things and the possibility of some kind of safe haven, a welcome change of pace from people sitting around discussing their losses and their grief.

However, things take a turn for the worse when the two guys get aggressive after all once they figure out that Rick and company are holed up on a cozy farm. I’d already prepared myself for a protracted conflict, maybe even one that would drag on for a few episodes; that fear was put to rest by Rick’s quick trigger finger when the two men get overly aggressive, a point that perhaps reiterates that Rick has fully embraced this ruthless world. It's a wonderfully cool moment that comes after an intense showdown that captures the ruggedness of Western lawlessness, and I'm liking the nuanced edge Rick's beginning to gain; particularly interesting is how he may become more like both Shane and Herschel by trading in heroic idealism for practicality.

Still, I’ve seen way too many movies degenerate into the obvious point that humans are their own worst enemy (instead of the zombies) so, for once, I’d like to see everyone involved in a zombie apocalypse to decide that it’s best they all work together. We saw hints of that a couple of times in the first season, only to see them traded in for an entire season that’s seemingly going to mediate upon whether or not these groups of characters can coexist.

Two more subplots develop in “Nebraska,” and something tells me these will be some long-running threads. One involves Herschel’s younger daughter collapsing and becoming ill (another example of the series asking us to care about a footnote character--I’d all but forgotten that Herschel even had another daughter). The other involves Lori having a car accident (because nothing goes off without a hitch in The Walking Dead) which may or may not take care of her pregnancy. One can only hope it does, if only to save us from the paternity question--unless Maury Povich is still available to conduct them. At any rate, I can easily see her plight working to just hem up the characters and keep them bound to Herschel's farm even longer--I fear she's either going to be bed-ridden or wandering around in the woods for the next couple of episodes, as if we haven't seen that done already.

“Nebraska” doesn’t do a whole lot to convince me that The Walking Dead is going to be shaking off its own feeling of rigor mortis any time soon. It’s still marginalizing the characters I enjoy the most (Daryl, Dale, T-Dog) and hovering around the same old tired plot complications. Maybe a hiatus subconsciously breeds some kind of expectations, but this just felt like a normal mid-season episode, which is exactly what it is, I suppose. I’m still not feeling any sense of direction, but I am happy to report that this episode’s title is sort of a joke; thankfully, the crew hasn’t settled on Nebraska as a new destination because, given the show’s turgid pace, I imagine it’d take them four seasons to get there.
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