The Walking Dead 3.09 "The Suicide King" ReviewA tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
If you remember, I wasn't really sold on the big "cliffhanger" ending of The Walking Dead's mid-season finale a few months ago. There was no way the "brother fights brother to the death" scenario was going to play out in any meaningful way. Because of that, any tension we were supposed to feel going into the back half of the season was forced and fake. If it had been someone other than Daryl (Norman Reedus) in peril, except for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) of course, then there would have been real tension and suspense.
But they're not killing off the only character that is unequivocally loved by all. And they weren't going to kill Merle (Michael Rooker) since he provides fantastic dramatic opportunities down the road. We've all been dying to see the Dixon Brothers reunited, if only to watch it all fall apart until Daryl finally has to put Merle down like the dog he is.
So we get blatant manipulation of the audience in order to maybe, possibly, fool the rubes.
And instead of a fight to the death, we get another boring smoke-screen rescue, where our heroes kill a few people in the process.
Honestly, it would have been a better cliffhanger to end with them showing up at the car where Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and Michonne (Danai Gurira) see that they've rescued Merle alongside Daryl. Now that was a volatile situation that created real dramatic tension.
Spoiler Alert from this point on, people.
Writing duties this week were undertaken by Evan T. Reilly, who has a decent track record with the series. Direction was by first time Walking Dead director Lesli Linka Glatter, and it was perfectly acceptable. Nothing jumped out as particularly awkward or mishandled, but nothing jumped out as particularly well done.
It was a thoroughly middle-of-the-road episode on pretty much every level.
The performances didn't stand out overall, but Melissa McBride did the strongest work, both in mothering Carl (Chandler Riggs), comforting Beth (Emily Kinney), and mourning the loss of Daryl. It was also nice to see Steven Yeun get to actually play something other than goofy lovestruck kid and/or reckless youth. Although to be quite honest, the tension that has developed between Glenn and Maggie after their escape from torture and the threat of rape feels forced and more than a little annoying.
This may be unfeeling, and I know that the Governor (David Morrissey) made Maggie feel powerless and small, but he held back. She wasn't raped or brutalized physically. And while that mental abuse is serious, these people live in a world where horrible shit, the most horrible shit, happens on a regular basis. We can't tell yet if Maggie's shell-shocked reactions are due to almost being raped or are reactions to Glenn knowing she was almost raped.
I'm hoping for the latter, as that is the more psychologically interesting way to play it. I'd rather see a strong Maggie slapping Glenn into shape. With any luck, we'll see a scene soon where Maggie tells Glenn not to let the Governor mind-rape him with what could have been.
As far as the story goes, our heroes don't get much development this week. Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and his crew are polite and respectful, although there is trouble brewing. Michonne has a concussion so will probably be out of commission for a few days. The baby's fine. Hershel (Scott Wilson) is essentially sleepwalking through every scene. Everybody's fine except Glenn and Maggie, really.
Although there is the inconvenient appearance of a spectral hallucination that makes everyone think Rick's gone crazy.
Oh wait. He kind of has gone crazy.
Meanwhile, back in Woodbury, The Governor has lost his shit as well. While he hides in his apartment, mourning his dead zombie daughter (!!!) the town is going to hell. People are scared to death, thanks to our heroes' assault on the town – and murder of a number of people – so they want to leave. They want to leave so bad that there's a near riot at the gates.
None of this rings true to me.
Either these people are just idiots or it's just bad plotting. And I don't put the blame for that on Reilly. This is a scene that is orchestrated by the producers rather than the situations, and the only reason it is here, is to allow Andrea (Laurie Holden) a chance to step up and give a remarkably lackluster motivational speech.
That part is weak writing, by the way.
It's hard to write a motivational speech when the situation itself is so forced and lacking in purpose. It only happens so there can be a motivational speech, and the motivational speech reflects that. Andrea spouts empty platitudes and some seriously shallow psychological points about sticking together and how history will look back on them and the people all start nodding and hugging.
I just don't buy that everyone would hop in their cars and abandon a WALLED CITY WITH ARMED GUARDS so that they could DRIVE UNTIL THEY RUN OUT OF GAS AND ARE EATEN ALIVE BY THE WALKING DEAD.
At this point, the people of Woodbury are not characters. They're walking talking plot devices. Oh, they're having picnics and parties. Oh, now they're a crowd shouting at zombie fights. Oh, now they're a mob screaming for blood in a fight to the death. Oh, now they all want to run away and leave the relative safety of the town.
Everything that the citizens of Woodbury do is entirely motivated by providing Andrea's character something to react to. They serve no other purpose, and tonight it was made absolutely clear.
This was one of the low points of the series for me. Not for the emotional moment, but it was just a shameless bit of pandering and a scene where the overall plot dictated what had to happen rather than allowing natural and believable reactions to be played by the actors.
So that's pretty much it for this week.
The only real movement was allowing Andrea to gain face with the people of Woodbury and either become a stronger ally with The Governor or a rival he'll have to take out, and Rick's gone crazy and isn't just talking to a dead phone but is now seeing a shadowy lady in fancy dress. And Daryl and Merle are out on their own, about to start having their own adventures that will inevitably end with Merle dead and Daryl coming back to the prison. Probably in the nick of time to turn the tide at their darkest hour, or some such bullshit.
I say bullshit, but what I mean is melodramatic audience manipulation. Same thing.
I'm starting to miss the time on the farm, when nothing really happened with the plot, but the characters got to interact and develop naturally. The conflict between the prison and Woodbury is starting to slip away from me and maybe from the creators as well. Is this why Glen Mazzara is now out as showrunner?
After a breakneck opening few episodes that were some of the best in the series, the show has settled into a hectic pace that hasn't allowed for much of anything character-driven to take hold. Combine that with the perceived Black Male Quota of one speaking (when they have lines) part at a time, and maybe the rumored creative differences with creator Robert Kirkman are things that needed to be addressed.
Of course, this is all speculation, and maybe my problems with the series aren't the same problems that the creative team has. I'd be surprised if they were. But with Season Four already a lock and Season Three slipping into more and more shallow, plot-driven masturbatory dead-ends, I'm hoping somebody behind-the-scenes wants to slow things down a bit and allow the story to breathe.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.