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After last week’s cliffhanger (of a sort) appearance by the Governor, I certainly didn't expect an entire episode detailing what last season’s villain has been up to since he mowed down his Woodbury army in season three. But, that’s exactly what “Live Bait” turned out to be.
I, like many fans of the comic series, was excited at the prospect of having the Governor go toe-to-toe with the Grimes gang in season three. But by the end of the season, I was pretty disappointed with how the show used such an iconic villain. A lot of that was the result of the overall unevenness of the third season, but a good chunk of my disappointment came from the Governor dissolving into a megalomaniac character without our really getting a chance to see how the transformation came about. While he may have played nice with Andrea and the Woodbury group for a time, it was clear from his earliest appearance that things were not right with his mental state.
“Live Bait,” is a fairly clunky episode that tries to give us a look at the man the Governor once was. His early voice over hints that he is still smart enough not to tip his hand, but that he does feel some modicum of remorse for who he became while leading Woodbury. However, as soon as we see him stumble upon Lilly, Tara, and Megan, it’s clear that episode will not be a look at the man underneath the Governor's facade. Rather, the shoe will be beating us over the head with allusions to the Governor's past life.
While I applaud the show for taking steps to deepen the character, and give us some idea as to who he is and what he’s been through, I can’t help but feel like this episode is too little too late. Seeing the Governor embarking on a relationship that doesn't appear to be based on power (as his relationship with Andrea was) is nice, but not all that interesting. The same goes for the Governor forging a deep bond with little Megan, who is clearly telegraphed from her first appearance to be a surrogate daughter for the one he lost. If I had stopped watching the episode after its initial 15 minutes, I would have been able to predict the show's entire course, right up to the final moments when the Governor again stumbles upon his lackeys that abandoned him in the episode’s opening moments.
The episode lurches from plot point to plot point, taking the viewer on a journey that is neither interesting nor surprising. And while the Governor’s heart is on display, it doesn't tell us anything we didn't know before. We know the Governor had a daughter, we know the Governor had a wife, and we know that they both died. We know their deaths set off a chain of events that created the power hungry man we saw last season who was willing to do anything necessary to survive.
Now, while this was a disappointing return for the Governor, it doesn't mean that this can’t be a jumping off point that turns him into a multi-faceted character. Presumably, the Governor spent most of the time jump between seasons with his new family. Perhaps some of his shrewdness has rubbed off and he’s become complacent. Or, perhaps running into people that know the extent of his crimes will lead to some sort of schism with his new family. We need to better understand who he is at this moment, and how the crimes of his past will impact his future.
For all the work the episode does in setting up allegories between the Governor’s pre-apocalypse life and his current situation, it does a pretty horrible job showing us how the Governor is feeling about it. David Morrissey is a good actor, but he spends nearly the entire episode with a blank look on his face. If we can’t see how events are affecting the Governor, giving us an entire episode dedicated to his adventures is a waste of time. I know what the show wants us to believe the encounters are having a profound effect on the Governor, but you certainly can’t tell that by looking at him.
This episode is the first true misstep of the fourth season. Having seen how strong the season has been up to this point, I’m hopeful it’s merely a bump in the road. But a villain like the Governor can sink the show quickly if he is mismanaged. Here’s to hoping next week is a step forward, not another step back.
-- Take note of the name change for the Governor. When meeting the women, offered his name as “Brian,” rather than “Phillip,” which is what he was calling himself last season.
-- Color me unsurprised that the Governor’s lackeys ditched him the first chance they had. I’m impressed the got away without alerting him.
-- How amazing is it that Tara, Lilly, and Megan survived as long as they have considering they haven't even figured out how to kill the walkers? And how fortuitous that their father (and grandfather) parked a truck full of food in front of their apartment. And that no one else happened upon the truck and ransacked it. That's too many coincidences in their favor in my book. Again, more evidence of the clunky writing of the episode.
-- I have to point out the Governor’s comments regarding chess (particularly in light of D’Angelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) joining the cast as Bob). His statement that in chess, one “can lose a lot of soldiers and still win” reeks of foreshadowing, doesn't it?
-- That wig and beard were pretty atrocious, particularly for a series with such amazing make-up effects.