The Walking Dead - Season 1 Review - Part 2: "The RV Gang Hits the Road"

1.5 - "Wildfire"

Finally, Rick and the gang get moving in the wake of a fairly substantial nighttime attack by walkers.  The first twenty minutes of this episode offered up the mundane gruesomeness of life with zombies: burning the incapacitated walkers, making sure you're destroyed the brain stems of your bitten-and-killed loved ones, and terminating the loved ones who've reanimated before they can attack you.  Although most people would point to Andrea's determination to spend as much time with her dead/undead sister as possible as the most gruesome of these early moments, I think Carol Peletier's tortured finishing-off (with a pick axe) of her abusive husband as much more effective.  Actor Melissa McBride conveyed a truly horrifying mixture of rage, regret, and grief with each blow she delivered.

Thematically, the zombie-fever that is killing Jim (bitten in the last episode) brings out an idea that should prove very important in most episodes:  in a ostensibly hopeless situation, are people entitled to take their lives in the way they see fit.  As the decision is made for the gang to pack up camp and head to Center for Disease Control back in Atlanta, they don't go very far before Jim is left by the side of the road, under a pleasant tree, with a little shade and a little breeze, to die on his own terms.  It's a sad, merciful moment for the crew, those goodbyes to Jim -- in part because it's still another death in a world full of death, but more in how some people might wish as well to leave the world as Jim is doing.  Why not?

The small caravan of survivors reaches the CDC building, and there's another chilling moment of cinematography.  The sleek modern building is surrounded on all sides by dead bodies, those bodies rotting and swarmed by flies, and the camera makes the most of wide and boom shots to convey the sense of total disaster in a place where one might expect order.  The gang makes it to the doors of the CDC just as the sun is setting, and even as the dark and the walkers close in, it appears that the building's steel doors will not be opened for anything.  Pinned against the building, the crew is in full panic mode, but Rick sees one of the remote cameras move, and demands that the doors be opened.  Inside, the solitary scientist Dr. Jenner, who we've seen before in a few video logs and short scenes, finally relents and opens the door -- brilliant with light, just as the episode ends.

Aside from deepening several characters' personalities -- Andrea's, Carol's, and Shane's (whose tensions with Rick are clearly leading to darker developments -- "Wildfire" establishes the difficulty of staying put for any length of time, the correctness of some people to exit this terrifying new world on their own terms, and, with the CDC storyline, the possibility that civilization has truly collapsed and that there is no hope of recovery or cure.

1.6 - "TS-19"

As effective a machine as this episode as keeping the plot ball rolling, it resorts to a couple of narrative devices that I have problems with.  First of all, Dr. Jenner, who has opened the doors to let the RV Gang into the CDC underground compound, is a bit of a puzzle in terms of his characterization.  He's compassionate enough to let people into the complex, to share his food and wine, hot water and soap, and even share what he's been able to learn about the disease that's creating the walkers.  At the same time, he's arrogant and cynical enough to lock everyone in once the underground complex's auto-destruct sequence automatically kicks in once the power's run out.  Even though Noah Emmerich is a fine actor, the script does do his character any favors in terms of motivation.  He lets people in only to kill them the next day?

My bigger problem in the countdown self-destruct clock that rushes the plot through the final two acts.  Could we think of a less hackneyed plot device, please?  At the same time, it's certainly impressive that the grenade Rick picked up back during his clusterfuck by the tank finally has a use -- to blow out the unbreakable glass of the CDC lobby, allowing the gang to escape just before the Season Finale Giant Fireball.  And although the final shots of VEHICLES TAKING A U-TURN is a little disappointing as a cliffhanger, the basic work of TWD's Season One is complete.  The job is to set the mood and style of the series, establish the primary characters, and set the ground rules of this fictional world.

But to return to much of what worked!  Having cast off several characters in the last episode -- Jim Who Got Bitten, Andrea's sister, Carole's husband, and the entire Morales family -- we lose Jacqui, who dies in the fireball with Dr. Jenner.  Rick's leadership is solidified, Shane's deranged nature is made more extreme in his near-rape of Lori, and the relationship between Dale and Andrea is complicated, as he convinces her not to take her own life as the self-destruct sequence counts down.  Driving away at the end of Season One are most of the key characters from the comics, with the addition of T-Dog and Daryl, both of whom are mixed up in the mystery of What Happened to Merle.  That's tidy.

Of lesser importance is the establishment of the "ground rules" for zombie-creation and the possibility of a cure.  The deal with the latter first: There is no cure, reports Jenner.  Even the French cannot find a cure! (I suspect that's some species of meta-joke.)  As far as zombies are concerned, nobody'ssome of these questions need to be addressed.  The writers covered enough to get us to Season Two.

On we go.  Good luck, Rick and everyone else.  let's hope you don't meet up with Merle too soon.

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