Episode 12 - Still
6 March 2014
Synopsis: Darryl and Beth continue to survive together. Beth wants to have her first drink and they break into a country club. Darryl isn't happy with their drink choices and takes Beth to a still. They drink moon shine and talk about their feelings.
The Good: This absolutely had its heart in the right place.
The first half of the episode was succesful at making Darryl and Beth seem interesting as people. This whole season has made better use of the imagery of a post-apocalyptic world and yet another great choice was the car trunk teaser. Cars have become indispensible forms of shelter in this world and to show us just the sights and sounds of the dead passing by was clever. It gave us a simple but intense shot of two people struggling to survive. One tired and scared, the other gripping his weapon for hour upon hour upon hour.
Then we got to see them making camp and finding food which was interesting. Again the car provided valuable parts to create a small perimeter while to see a snake become a hearty meal was eye opening. Darryl's broken arrow hinted at the finite nature of their ability to survive alone. Beth's desire for more than mere survival made sense in the context of their situation. Darryl is refusing to communicate and they have no clue how to find their friends. So she decides to try and accomplish something, to live a little for today.
The country club continued last week's glimpse into those who committed suicide to escape this nightmare. Only this time we get the sense of class warfare playing out as those inside turned on one another.
At this point the writers, very bravely, gave Darryl and Beth a lot of acting to do. The simple things worked best. It looked like they were writing a sort-of Beauty and the Beast when Darryl nine-ironed the brains out of some Walkers only to ruin Beth's new clothes. And the story was similar when he broke down in tears admitting that he took some responsibility for the collapse of the prison.
Beth's side of things was more complicated. We learn that she was sheltered by her father and brother and was a good girl who didn't drink even when her friends were partaking in front of her. But that was who she was. Now she seems like she's almost part of Carl's generation. Someone who has adapted a new code of behaviour to fit the apocalypse. She is more willing to let go of the pre-apocalyptic past. In part because death and loss are so familiar to her now. She is better adjusted than Darryl at dealing with the balance of hope and cynicism (See The Unknown for more).
The Bad: Burning down the still at night, while drunk was really dumb. Presumably this was done because the fire would be more dramatic at night. Either that or they wanted us to think these two were stupid.
The Unknown: Beth's character is multi-faceted. As it should be given the amazing change she's lived through. However it is difficult to explain exactly how her new psychology would work. In part because we barely knew what she was like before all this happened. So her claim that Darryl would miss her when she's gone was an awkward one. Was it representative of someone with a healthy seperation from the old assumptions about life expectancy? Or was it a naive girl trying to sound mature? The real problem is that I'm not sure I understand her better as a result of this.
Darryl's story was easier to follow in part because it's been told before. It was a rehash of the "red neck with a heart of gold" bit that basically is all there is to know. When he got drunk and became abusive it didn't feel like an insight into his soul. It felt more like what it was - a setup for him to cry and Beth to hug him so we could all see how amazing his heart really is. As you can imagine I was more interested in him actually being an abusive drunk. I mean he said pretty mean things to Beth. Perhaps he is silent most of the time for good reason.
The decision to burn down the still (if you take out the time of day) was gooey. Accompanied by an actual pop song and montage it felt very much like the end to a Lost episode. I didn't think it worked. I didn't feel Darryl's red neck past had been weighing on him sufficiently to make this the triumphant moment it needed to be. But I'm not putting it in "The Bad." It was harmless. It didn't make me dislike the characters or the writers.
In fact they tried really hard to make this like an episode of Lost. Complete with a game of "I have never" (as we call it in the UK) just as Sawyer and Kate did back in "Outlaws" (116). It was a lot of weight to put on Darryl and Beth and the acting was perfectly adequate. The writing couldn't quite carry off what they were looking for but Lost is the right model for The Walking Dead. I hope they don't ape it like this all the time but we need more episodes like this. We need more time getting to know people in this universe. This may not be anyone's favourite episode but it was more evidence of the creative team moving the show where it needs to be to make you care about these people.
Best Moment: Darryl smashing the Walkers to death with golf clubs. There was a lot to that scene including some tasty action. It seemed like Darryl was both enjoying his work and taking out his frustration. All the while Beth stares at her morose protector and wonders what makes him tick.
Conclusion: This began really promisingly, became overambitious, swung and missed. But it wasn't a bad episode by any means. And I'm pleased to see them taking a swing.
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