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As The Walking Dead’s brief first season came to an end with the sound of a Bob Dylan song playing in the background, I reflected briefly on what they’ve done over these six episodes. It’s certainly been an up and down ride, though not everyone agrees on what the strong or weak parts were. Personally, I thought the premiere was fantastic, exactly what a show about zombies bringing the end of the world should be like. Then the second episode deviated from the plot of the comics, and screwed things up in grand fashion. The next few episodes and their moments and their pitfalls, but I thought they were of generally improving quality and I was hopeful that we would be up for a slam-bang finale before the year long wait for more episodes. Unfortunately, this episode simply wasn’t very good, not as bad as the show’s nadir in part two, but still the worst it’s been since then.
It had all the elements it needed for a successful and exciting stopping point for the show, it just botched the execution in a lot of unfortunate ways. The episode begins pretty well though (in a sequence I didn’t actually see until after the rest of the episode during the encore showing, because Boardwalk Empire’s season finale ran a bit long). We get the show’s first glimpse into what was happening when the big zombie push was actually going on, before Rick woke up in a completely different world. Shane is by his side, watching in horror as soldiers execute apparently infected patients and start getting overrun by the hordes. A blast knocks out the equipment monitoring Rick’s condition, and Shane can’t hear a heartbeat when he checks with his ear. He seems to give up on getting his friend out of danger alive, but not completely, because he closes the door behind him and blocks it with a gurney before escaping.
It then cuts back to the present, where CDC Agent Jenner has just opened a door to let the survivors in, but not without ominously warning them that once the doors close, they won’t open again. They’re all desperate to leave the zombies behind, so they rush in, and then proceed to have a nice pasta dinner with their savior and get fabulously drunk on wine. Jenner explains how once the outbreak hit most of the CDC employees left to be with their families, and the ones who couldn’t get away killed themselves, making him the only one left. After a dour moment, he leads them to where they’ll be sleeping, and also points them to the shower facilities, but tells them to go easy on the hot water. “Hot water?” the survivors ask. I briefly wonder to myself what other thing I had seen recently where the characters were overjoyed to experience a simple pleasure like hot running water, and then remembered that it was the first episode of this very television series. That doesn’t stop them from basically doing that scene again, and as a bonus, we’re treated to every shower scene cliché imaginable – Rick and Lori getting touchy-feely together, Shane looking rough and drinking wine from the bottle, and Andrea looking even worse, sitting with her legs pulled close to her chest.
Dale finds her distraught and vomiting into the toilet, and tries to comfort her with kind words, but she refuses to see what’s good about their situation, with everything in the world gone and probably not coming back. Meanwhile, a very drunk Shane confronts Lori, trying to explain what he meant by telling her Rick was dead. For all intents and purposes he was, and if she thought he was still alive, she would never have agreed to leave without him. So by lying, Shane saved her and her son’s life. But she’s not having it, and things get ugly when he tries to force himself on her. She gives him some serious scratches on his neck, which he is somehow able to pass off as self-inflicted at breakfast the next morning, and then he leaves.
Dale asks Jenner what he knows about the outbreak, and he treats the group to a high tech tour through the brain, showing a scan of an infected person’s mental activity. At first their synapses are all firing wildly like a healthy brain should, but then they shut down and the image goes dark. Jenner explains that the time to reincarnation has been measured as anywhere from 3 minutes to 8 hours, and then shows what that looks like – there is activity in the brain stem and some primitive functions, but all areas of higher thought and cognition are dead. He knows what happens to the brain, but he doesn’t know what the cause is. Oh, and by the way, the reason the clock on the wall is counting down is that at the end, the backup generators shut down and the entire lab gets incinerated to prevent contamination. Just so you know.
Seems like something he should have mentioned before locking up everyone inside with him, and some of the survivors are reasonably upset. Darryl in particular lets his crazy shine through, and after they check to make sure he’s telling the truth about the generators, they get to work on the blast door with axes. Everyone’s pretty furious at this point, but Rick, whose fault it is that they’re in this situation, tries to reason with Jenner. He reveals that the infected test subject they were watching was his wife, a genius in the field, and tells them how France came the closest to finding something, but eventually they ran out of power too. Eventually he relents and opens the door to the surface level area, but first he tells them all to consider staying inside. There’s no hope for any real life outside, with only the chance for a rough life before a rougher death visible in the future. It’s better to just painlessly get exploded in half an hour when the lab shuts down. They all try to escape, except for the black woman who’s been on the periphery all season long, as well as Andrea, who’s given up on life. I can understand why they’d take this direction with the character, it’s a pretty standard drama beat for someone to need to be talked back into trying to live after a loved one dies. Dale refuses to leave without her, forcing her hand into agreeing to leave. Personally, if I was the other woman, I would have been pretty miffed that no one was trying to convince me to leave that much.
The outer door is locked shut, and the windows are impervious to fire axes or bullets, but Carol has an ace up her sleeve – the grenade Rick grabbed from the tank way back in the premiere. That’s Chekhov’s Gun at work there, folks. Rick sets the grenade and jumps away as it explodes and shatters the window. Everyone manages to make it out and kill a few zombies on their way to the cars before the building goes up in a huge, mediocre-looking fireball, and they all turn around and drive away, reflecting on all the crazy crap they just went through. The episode had some enjoyable bits, but a lot of it didn’t work for me. All of the Andrea stuff was pretty heavy-handed, and Jenner’s decision to force everyone to be dead with him until the last moment was pretty ridiculous. You can see why he’d decide to let go, but it’s unreasonable to make that choice for people he just met. It was a pretty enjoyable six episodes of zombie carnage, but I hope they’re a bit more consistent as far as intelligent plotting and reasonable human drama in season two.