(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
How grateful are the producers of The Walking Dead for David Morrissey? Probably not grateful enough. Morrissey isn’t an infallible actor—for all the hard work he put into the title role of the British procedural Thorne, the glum, high-pitched series ended up showing the limits of his smoldering, good-bad guy act—but he’s assured and charismatic, and he can ground a role as gaudy as the Governor even as he bestows a movie-star glamour on the vicious bastard he’s playing. For those of us who never quite got the phenomenal appeal of the first season of The Walking Dead, and then found the second season damn near impossible to focus on for any length of time, Morrissey and the Woodbury storyline came as a godsend: Finally, something fun to watch! Those who had gotten into the rhythm of the series and were afraid that this unexpected concession to liveliness could take comfort in knowing that, at a certain point in each episode, there would be a return to the prison, where Rick was still boring brick walls to death.
“Home” catches the series at an in-between point. Woodbury is falling apart, and the future of Rick’s group is uncertain. Much of “Home” is devoted to scenes of characters pairing off and wandering around, hashing out their past difficulties, warming to each other, or, in the case of Hershel, lecturing everyone on what they need to do. Obviously, such an episode needs to start off with a little juicing up, to give viewers a stake in things and to serve as a promise that there will be some kick-ass action waiting for those who can make it through all the chin music. The show’s way of doing this is to establish that both the main hero and the main antagonist have gone batshit nuts.
Rick, whose mental state is telegraphed by having him stagger about pasty-faced, bathed in so much sweat that he looks as if he’s about to topple over from malaria, is still seeing ghostly visions of Lori. The nice thing about being as dull as Rick is that, when the character goes off the deep end, it’s easy to register that something has changed. Given how crazy the Governor has been on his sanest days, Morrissey has to work a little harder, with minimal assistance from the script. Trying to show that the windmills of the Governor’s mind are moving counter-clockwise at gale-force velocity, he settles for staring through Andrea while letting his mouth hang open. It is nobody’s proudest moment.
Crazy isn’t a great look on Rick, but I’ll take it over stupid. The Walking Dead often seems like one of those shows that insists on a strong dividing line between the good and the smart, to the point that, if you ever wonder why Rick is the obvious natural leader of the group, instead of, say, Norman Reedus’ Daryl—who is at least as courageous, efficient, and resourceful, in addition to being played by a better actor—you may realize that the most obvious difference between the two is that Daryl seems to have most of his lights on upstairs. Rick’s great distinguishing characteristic as group leader these days seems to be his readiness to vote against letting new people join the group.
There’s safety in numbers, and the disadvantages to having extra mouths to feed don’t stand out the way they would in a show where people ever got really hungry, but still, Rick is blind to the idea that it would be a good idea to expand the ranks a little that last week, the suspicious son of a bitch failed to drop to his knees and thank the gods that he had a chance to team up with Cutty! Of course, Rick, as a former officer of the law, has seen human beings at their worst and is inclined to view them with suspicion. Of course, the most destructive person who’s ever been a member of the group was Shane, Rick’s lifelong buddy and police partner, who actually seethed with resentment and jealousy toward him, who betrayed him and who, by the end, would have killed him in a heartbeat. Maybe the next time a vote comes up on whether to induct new members, Rick should excuse himself, on account of it having been established that he’s the single worst judge of character in the whol post-apocalyptic world.
Rick, unlike his arch-nemesis, will get over being crazy; he may be over it by the time of this episode’s violent climax, when Hershel looks into his face with his weary, rheumy old “Gandalf with a spittin’ cup” eyes and talks good, boring sense to him. Then the Governor arrives, in full-on, joyful-destroyer mode, which is much more entertaining than when he’s trying to seem reasonable to his girlfriend or his pet nerd Milton. The last several minutes are basically a video game, and a pretty good one, but it’s frustrating that, after the high point of the Woodbury story arc, The Walking Dead is turning back into a show that has only two distinct modes: 3-D splatter attack and survivalist talk show. Especially when it does the splatter so much better than the talk.
- In his earlier appearances, Lew Temple managed to invest Axel with a certain mangy charm, and he really blossoms in this episode; when he’s chatting up Carol and shining a little white-trash charm, I found myself thinking, “Shit, I’m glad this guy’s around,” which is a thought I haven’t had about Rick or Glenn or Maggie or Hershel in living memory. Unfortunately, the show itself seems to share Rick’s distrust of letting in strangers.
- In the sequence best calculated to mix talk and splatter, the Dixon brothers break up a zombie attack while discussing their issues regarding loyalty and their abusive childhoods. Both men get off a few good points, bare their souls, and get in some licks, but Merle is the one who makes insensitive comments about Asians and Hispanics, this incurring his brother’s disgust. In contemporary pop-culture shorthand, this is how you designate the “bad redneck” and the “good redneck.”
- With gun violence in the news recently, I’ve seen a lot of reviews complaining about TV shows and movies that are built around gun-happy heroes. After a while, this kind of chest-pounding will recede, just as it did after the big wave of soul-searching about violent movies that rose up after 9/11. I think there’s a conversation to be had about whether our collective fantasy lives end up shaping our reality by making things like guns seem more normal than they ought to, but getting self-righteous about specific stink bombs like Jack Reacher and Gangster Squad is mostly a distraction from that. That said, I could really do without the scenes here of little Carl, in the climactic battle, running around with a gun. The show doesn’t make a big deal out of the fact that this kid is packing heat, which just makes it that much more distracting and unpleasant. I imagine the show’s creators would counter that this is meant to be a gritty, realistic, dramatic show, and it would be dishonest not to address the necessity of drafting Carl into it when he and his friends and family are fighting for their lives. Whereas, in fact, it’s a horror-adventure show about people trying to shoot zombies before the zombies can eat them. So give me a break.