?

Log in

No account? Create an account

the last one | the next one

Because I finally watched the fourth season of The Walking Dead, and I never got around to talking about the third season, and despite the record evident on this very journal, I do actually want (and even sometimes try!) to finish things I said I would might. (Although there's, like, A LOT to talk about for the series overall before delving into the specifics of the season-themes, so looks like my record might just remain intact for the moment!) Also because I am getting pretty cranky at dropping by the online watercoolers and seeing criticisms of TWD such as this:

Thanks to The Walking Dead's crazy devotion to nightmarish details, the show's prosthetics are also constantly evolving to reflect the gradual decomposition of the zombies as the series progresses.
[...]
So the next time you hear somebody criticizing The Walking Dead for having characters that don't evolve, feel free to correct them. The zombies totally evolve. It's just the humans that don't develop in any meaningful way.

LolololjokesNO. It might not always hit its target, but it is doing a whole lot of really solid stuff, and some quite subtle stuff, both with its themes and its characters. And since I just finished yammering about how it's both easier and more financially rewarding for tv to develop good stories (and, while we're at it, its continuing/evolving nature makes the storytelling misses less risky), yeah, how about I go on feeling free to correct people criticising The Walking Dead for having characters that don't evolve.



So after watching the fourth season, and having a lot more trouble picking up the specific theme out of the mix than in the previous seasons (especially the third), I picked up several different motifs/patterns rattling around that I began to suspect were series-wide, which finally led to getting off my ass and rewatching the entire series to test my theories. (Scientific!) Having done so, I can confirm that: there are several series-wide motifs; the Dixon contra-theme remains on-point for them, too; there are a bunch of questions/threads that are articulated and explored but also left open and on-going; this show is rife with symbolism and metaphor and references and loves telling sub-stories through inference rather than stated explicitly; once you're listening for it, it also states explicitly a lot more things than I remembered from the first time through, and it's not afraid to meta-wink-nudge at things it's trying to say. Oh, and Daryl continues awesome always forever the end. I mean, really that goes without saying, but ... dayum.



Before gettin' right down to the real nitty-gritty, let's refresh, and also review:
Last time, I pegged the basic premise of the series at tracking how the pre-apocalypse humanity rots away, through the essential dichotomy between the demands of survival and the demands of remaining "human", that
So far what they’ve done is take each block of half-dozen-odd episodes – S1, 2.0, and 2.5 – and build them around a specific cluster of hopes, traits, or principles that represent the remnants of the survivors’ (and pivotally, Rick’s) humanity. [...] They set about breaking that piece of humanity down over the course of the episodes, until the survivors are forced to choose to relinquish it in order to continue to survive.
(Meanwhile, the Dixon contra-theme tracks how
[Daryl] is exempt from the theme altogether. He doesn’t actually belong to the story at all (notably, he isn’t in the comics). [...] Not only is he already perfectly suited to survival, he is, as he says, better on his own. The humanity tradeoff doesn’t apply to him; more than that, while the zombie apocalypse is killing or stripping the humanity from every other character at various speeds, Daryl is on the opposite trajectory – in his choices, he is gaining humanity. [...] There’s no set way he participates in the themes, he’s essentially a wild card.)

It is, as noted, the same question the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica wrestled with – at least in its first season before slowly climbing up its own mystic ass – put in elegant terms by Adama: "It's not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival." BSG used cylons to reflect and ask questions of human nature, and its collective worthiness of survival, drawing an ultimately (bizarrely, Luddite-ly) optimistic conclusion; TWD uses zombies to reflect and underscore the human condition, and signs currently point to a pessimistic trajectory.

(Keeping in mind, I have no experience of the comic, other than occasional notes on the differences I've seen discussed here and there, but since Kirkman is treating the show as its own alternate variation (second draft) of the story, complete with all-new characters, I don't know that experience of the comic would necessarily contribute much to the interpretation of the show. From the overall tone, I get the feeling he'd be willing to take everything right the way down to ALL DOOMED, but I am not so sure AMC will let him. Nor, come to that, that they won't. So we will see. Also, I'm perfectly aware of the three successive showrunners, but as the patterns remain idiosyncratic as to pacing/approach but consistent in theme, I'm assuming they issue from Kirkman and treating it all of a piece.)

The humans are of course the true threat of the series, the real monsters, as they descend at different rates into the necessities of survival; the zombies are merely the metaphor, the foil, the catalyst, the excuse. The story we're watching revolves around Rick's struggle to hold on to his humanity while still going to the brutal lengths it takes to survive, and the ways that is changing him. All this for the sake of preserving his family (crucially, striving to pass both survival and humanity on to Carl), but along the way they become either dead, missing, or changing, which is the fate of every single survivor we meet. As Rick brokenly put it when he finally managed to reconnect to a now-shattered Morgan in S3:
I kept gettin' ... I kept gettin' pushed further out. I had to, I didn't have a choice. I found my wife, and my boy, I had people, I – I had to keep 'em safe. We kept gettin' pushed back, deeper into the country, I swear to God I didn't have a choice!
(3.12)
(He's describing the group's literal survival situation, and at the same time, signposting his own moral journey! It's a ~metaphor~! The show does this constantly! IT IS NOT TRYING TO KEEP IT A SECRET!)



Correcting people criticising TWD writing/ how it handles character growth:
If their development sometimes appears cyclical it's because they're on a downward spiral (would calling it "devolution" instead of "evolution" make it easier for people to twig?), each time peeling away the next strip of hope or humanity which they'd been desperately clinging to, after losing the previous one. The whats, hows, whys, and whens of that are what tell us about them as characters and their evolutions/arcs; S4 beat that drum especially pointedly (we've changed! everyone/thing changes! can we change back? WHOOPS THAT IS A NO) and I'm assuming it's in response to the above kind of criticism, trying to make things clearer.

And by and large, it might not be enough. In fact, having kept pace with a few different reviews for S4 (for the most part, AV Club, Vulture, and the podcast I've been following from the beginning), I can report: by and large, it wasn't enough. Granted, two of those aren't particularly in-depth analysis, they're just episode reviews, but there is still a level of high-profile critical engagement of pop culture that goes on there. The podcast, I eventually had to abandon. The guys on it spend a fair amount of time on facebook and reddit discussions of the show, which they will refer to, and also watch Talking Dead, along with airing the feedback they get themselves, so I found it useful as a partial clearinghouse of the wider reactions I had no interest in spending time tracking myself. I appreciate that they are making genuine efforts to engage with what they're watching, and when they get up steam they can be a lot of fun, and I really enjoy the scathing survival critiques of the characters' situations and actions. But more and more where their conclusions once amused me they now frequently baffle me (and appear to baffle them, too), and there is some kind of basic assumption going on that if they don't understand what they're seeing, it must not make any sense, and there's only so many hours of the day I can devote to headdesking.¹

To be fair, the show's short, split seasons don't do it any favours when it comes to its audiences retaining detail, the kind that flag the progress of the themes and characters; binge-watching, as I do, makes it much, much easier to spot.² Yet at the same time, we live in a post-LOST society, we know how to obsessively track and discuss the most minute details of our week-by-week shows if we believe it's worth our while. The more fundamental problem is, from what I can tell, that people are looking for the wrong signs. One of the things I found most interesting about following those reviews was how they triangulated on the show; on the whole, they each liked, and hated, and noticed, completely different things about it. But while doing so, all of them discussed the show, the themes, the characters, framed in terms of survival. It's a zombie apocalypse, so obviously, the point of telling a story set in it must be surviving it!

From everything I could tell, the base emotional urge among viewers is for Rick, and (most of) the group, to survive (another reason why Daryl is so popular), and whenever the action doesn't directly serve that end, people complain that it's senseless or pointless. The impatience, and I'm assuming the idea of no character growth or that the survivors are being stupid and not "getting" it, really come out when Rick (or others) resists the obvious – but agonizingly dehumanizing – steps to all-out survival that people badly want to see him (and them) take. Essentially, audiences want Rick to break bad; while shocked, they are yet bloodthirstily relieved when he tears out a rapist-murderer's throat with his teeth, they want him in this state – preferably permanently.³



Back to what the show is actually, broadly, doing:
The opposite. The world has broken bad; Rick is fighting tooth and nail to keep from being taken down with it. And, in increments, failing (and, I cannot stess this enough, this is when audiences are happiest ). This show is flatly not interested in survival for survival's sake. Over and over again – most notably, Shane, The Governor, Joe – it shows that those slippery-slope breaking-bad steps are the easy ones to take, especially for a strong man such as Rick, and where that eventually leads you. While it's examining the push-pull of survival vs humanity, the question it's actually asking is What is the point? Death (the failure of survival) being inevitable for everyone, eventually – the zombie hordes being the means of bringing that fact into sharp focus, further driven home by the fact that everyone's infected, not to mention the fairly strong indications that we are watching not the survival of the human race but its lingering, grotesque death throes – then what is the point of life? Why live? How much of what makes you being alive worthwhile do you give up in order to cling to merely being alive – at what point have you reduced yourself to nothing more than the walking dead? Having gone too far, can you subsequently somehow make up for it and walk (hurr) it back?

In the first season, Jenner's answer, given in the hermetic, synthetic luxury of the CDC, insulated from the gruesome face of death lurking just outside its doors (and, symbolically, windowless, not to mention already buried underground), having scientifically rejected any hope for anything more than just this present material life, is notable for being the closest approximation of society's current state as the show gets, before devolving into more and more chaotic states per season, closer and closer to the bone. Given those conditions –
There is no hope. There never was.
You do want this. Last night, you said – you knew it was just a matter of time before everybody you loved was dead.
(1.06)
– Jenner (who, incidentally, has not been outside to see the stark reality of life in the very face of death, has only been exposed to its horror in the controlled, sterilised conditions of a medical lab) argues the highest, best, most human (kinder, more compassionate) way to spend that life boils down to
... just hold your loved ones and wait for the clock to run down.

As S2 very quickly demonstrates, the artificial conditions of the CDC and the denial it allows (again, reflecting the encompassing, bloodless artificiality we sustain in our own mod-con societies) is the only place such an approach to spending life could even be considered possible. Meanwhile, the night before, the group had literally (although unknowingly – to them, it's an inversion, a celebration of apparent salvation) played out the darker flipside, St Paul's evaluation of life without hope of anything more – if there really is nothing else, then fuck it,
"Let us eat and drink [wine], for tomorrow we die."
(In context: let's blow everything we got left on partying and get wasted; Paul is quoting Isaiah where God's people were condemned for reacting that way in the face of destruction.) And then we have Shane's version of holding his loved one. Contrary to what it seemed, those walls don't hold out death or the "monsters". So, yeah.

Rick, of course, rejects Jenner's conclusion and solution of an instantaneous, clean, painless, uncursed death in favour of the elusive Something More Than This, and the group busts back out into the real world, into a short, brutal life and an agonising death (thanks, Jenner!), pushing on because ... well frankly, because basic survival drive revolts against the idea of just rolling over and dying, letting their children die, even if Jenner is ultimately right and his logic is sound.
My daughter doesn't deserve to die like this!
(1.06)
In hindsight, would Carol still say that? Would she still choose a chance at life for Sophia, even knowing the price of death and zombification she actually suffered? What about the price of the extreme hardships, if she had survived? The potential to warp beyond repair, like Lizzie? There is nothing, so far, to suggest Jenner was wrong, or that he was incorrect in identifying this as humanity's extinction event; the question the show thus sets up is: even without a greater hope, even if we're just running down the clock, what more is there to it, out there, to consider?

S2 considered the purpose of living to steward and pass on the lasting legacy and inheritance of lives past, ultimately summed up in Hershel's farm, in his family for generations; once that's abandoned, S3 and Woodbury gave us the purpose of empire building, of creating a legacy for lives of the future. That, too, gone, S4 spends a lot of time on the purpose of living for the sake of the lives and survival of each other – of community – and ends with Rick ripping a man's throat out with his teeth for Carl's sake AND the scattered group reunited with each other by being trapped in a train car by a bunch of cannibals, with the very definite prospect that come S5, one group is going to die for the sake of the survival of the other.

A few things to note: none of those things are judged bad or unworthy, they are simply shown to be not enough – and ultimately destructive – when taken as ends in themselves, as The Point of living in light of the inevitability of death. The elements of them still function in other seasons, integrated into the patterns of various survivor groups, and generally shown to be useful and valuable in their place. Invariably, the Rick analogues, major and minor, who no longer examine and wrestle with the question of humanity vs survival (at last count, iirc, Morgan, Guillermo, Ed?, Morales, Jim, Jenner, Dave From Philadephia, Dale, Shane, Tomas, Allen, Sam, Hershel, The Governor, Joe, and presumably now Gareth and, in all likelihood, Abraham, pooosssssibly even Tyreese at some point) are the ones to doom themselves and/or members of their group, regardless of what side they actually come down on and why. (Meanwhile, other non-analogue survivors die according to how they navigate the season's theme.) Which might suggest that the final answer the show is able to offer is that the point of life is to question the point, which ... is a bit recursive, but okay, if that's what you got left at the end of the day, I've certainly heard worse. Also, I'm curious to see if the season-theme pattern will shift now that Rick has accepted that survival-driven monstrousness-of-necessity is a part of who he is, not just something he takes on when he sees no other choice. I'm thinking it won't, just moving on to the next thing that Rick has to find the middle path through, but if he does become more static, planted one foot in humanity and one foot in survival, then the theme/challenge will relocate to Carl's journey between the two. (I mean, I'm guessing, but I'm pretty sure.)

Also? I'm not completely sold that the whole thing isn't just one long coma/dying dream in Rick's head after being shot, before he eventually slips away (or wakes up?), in pursuit of expressing/proving (to himself? to Carl?) how much he cares about his family, fighting off/through his worst fears and instincts, aggressive or passive, in the form of his analogues.

That's, that's what she always says. 'Speak. Speak.' You'd think I was the most closed-mouthed son of a bitch ever to hear her tell it.... The last thing she said this morning – 'Sometimes I wonder if y'even care about us at all.' She said that, in front of our kid. Imagine going to school with that in your head.
(1.01)
I felt like I'd been ripped out of my life, and put somewhere else. For a while, I thought I was trapped in some coma dream, something I might not wake up from. Ever.
(1.03)
Drifting on the spaceway / By the Betelgeuse Hotel
Mapping out constellations / Of the place I know so well
Sifting through the system / For the piece that knows my name
Endlessly I listen / In the master game
Welcome to my world / Welcome to my only world
It is full of space junk / But your words are coming through
I'm riding on the space junk / And it's bringing me to you
[...]
Through the tenth dimension / To the certainties beyond [...]
Machine that spins within me / And the spirit that drives me on
Searching for an answer
Welcome to my world / Welcome to my only world
[...]
Sitting on the space junk / What am I to do?
I'm riding on the space junk / And it's bringing me to you
My head is full of space junk / But your words are getting through
I'm riding on the space junk / And it's bringing me to you....

selected
lyrics to Space Junk, played over the closing shot pulling up from the tank Rick's trapped in (1.01)

It would certainly explain the symbolism, Rick-centrism, Jim's weirdly prophetic dream-thing, and sliiiightly wonkus time passage (but then, so would the fact that it's a story with a super-pulpy premise being played dead (hurr) straight and really only caring about picking over the juiciest bits). Although if that is the case, then dang, Rick. That's some intensely intricate self-flagellation you've got going on in your subconscious purgatory. Also, it pretty much makes Daryl your spirit guide. Which, I think we can all agree: nice one.



Gettin' right down to the real nitty-gritty:
There is a lot of nitty-gritty. Like ... a LOT. And all this is the stuff that isn't part of the season-specific themes, motifs and issues (I'll get to S3 and 4 some other time). There are several clear series-wide motifs, that I've been able to spot, anyway, and then, just, a bunch of stuff just woven into the organic fabric of the story.

Because the show delights in fun, sly, freewheeling flavour and references to go with the unfolding events, and because I'm in danger of making it seem like it's a dour existentialist tract instead of a gleefully gory, dry-black-humoured zombie apocalypse show full of grace notes and love and devotion, and for a bit of a break, let's start with the more frivolous stuff. As indicated above, every single music track it deploys is some seriously precision work and always worth tracking down for the full lyrics (not to mention some really good tunes). As are the ones it only references, ie, calling episode 3.13 Arrow on the Doorpost, or Merle trying to undercut Daryl's relationship and loyalty to Rick and the group:
Merle — You know what's funny to me? You and Sheriff Rick, like this *crosses fingers* now. Right? Hm? I betcha a penny and a fiddle o'gold that you never told'em that we were plannin' on robbin' that camp blind!
Daryl — Didn't happen.
Merle — Yeah, it didn't, because I wasn't there to help you!
(3.10)
[Daniels] explains, "The Devil's just blowing smoke. If you listen to that, there's just a bunch of noise. There's no melody to it, there's no nothing, it's just a bunch of noise. Just confusion and stuff. And of course Johnny's saying something: You can't beat the Devil without the Lord. I didn't have that in the song, but I should have."
Daniels has had people tell him they felt the Devil played a better piece, and to this he says, "If you dissect it and listen to it, that's the smoke and mirrors thing about the Devil. There's just nothing there. I mean, there's nothing. There's no music involved."
Or what Beth had to say (sing) about her aimless roadtrip relationship with Daryl:
It's unclear now, what we intend / We're alone in our own world
You don't wanna be my boyfriend / And I don't wanna be your girl
And that, that's a relief / We'll drink up our grief / And pine for summer
And we'll buy beer to shotgun / And we'll lay in the lawn / And we'll be good
Now I'm laughing at my boredom / At my string of failed attempts

Because you think that it's important / And I welcome the sentiment
And we talk on the phone at night / Until it's daylight / And I feel clever
And I hear the slow in your speech / Yeah you're half asleep / Say goodnight
Now I've got friendships to mend / I'm selfishly dispossessed
You don't wanna be my boyfriend / And that's probably for the best
Because that, that gets messy / And you will hurt me / Or I'll disappear
So we will drink beer all day / And our guards will give way / And we'll be good

the bolded being the part we hear in the episode itself (4.13)
... which is just about the most adorable thing ever, and, were I one of those inclined to ship them, would not deter me in the least. (Incidentally, the fact that Beth – this wealthy farmer's high school daughter in rural Georgia – is somehow a Tom Waits fan is absolutely delightful to me.)

Then there's the non-musical references, such as 3.09 The Suicide King, and my personal favourite, Lil' Asskicker, aka, Judith. (S3 was a colourful one.) Basically, whenever something even seems like it could be a reference, it's well worth looking up, and I'm sure I've missed plenty (getting all up on extraneous details isn't the way I usually watch shows). I haven't even started checking out the book titles we're shown; maybe next time.




Aaaaaaand ... having got quite a lot further into the nitty-gritty, I have realised just how seriously out of hand long it is getting. (There is a lot, repeat, A LOT of nitty-gritty.) So let's call this part one and part two will most definitely be along shortly is here, 'cause it's like already 2/3 written. PROMISE. LIES. Part three ... is happening right here.



¹ The breaking point, because I know you want to know, was somewhere between the point when they were puzzling over why Daryl would loot the golf clubhouse of survival-useless items such as cash, jewellery and watches, and concluding, typically, "dunno, doesn't make sense, *shrug*" and don't question it any further (although one did posit that wiping your ass with twenties held an appeal); and the point when one of them brought up that on Talking Dead, one of the actors had mentioned how it's actually the characters who are the "walking dead", which was treated – and, mind you, we are in season fucking four of blow-by-blow podcast coverage at this point – as something of a revelatory perspective on the whole thing. At which point, I decided that there wasn't enough DERP in the world, and peaced the hell out.


² Related DERP example: it had been established that character Bob Stookey is: a combat medic, an alcoholic, and twice was the sole survivor of groups that all died, leaving him wandering alone through the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Georgia for weeks or months, literally feeling cursed to have witnessed that twice over (did we mention twice? – because yes, for this season at least, Bob is providing a strong, though only partial, analogue-type reflection of Daryl). When the prison is destroyed and the survivors scattered, and he gets away with two other survivors – one of them even being the woman he had taken a shine to – he cannot stop smiling, even in the face of their obvious distress. Podcast is baffled at what could possibly be the cause of this reaction, comes up with ???, and opines he should stop being such an asshole. Now, those initial facts of Bob Stookey were established in no uncertain terms, but they were also established in 4.0, airing months before the prison aftermath in 4.5. It's hard to know how the show could hit the relevance of those factors harder – except to have Bob literally explain himself to his two fellow survivors, which he later did, in his next episode – but if you can't be bothered to so much as revisit the few basic facts of a character when actively trying to understand why they're doing what they're doing/how they're changing, then ... then ... I got nuthin.


³ Note to audiences: I do not think that word "character growth" means what you think it means. For further pondering on how audiences/critics latch onto the wrong things to express their dissatisfation with what they watched, try (if you can) this Film Critic Hulk essay, TANGIBLE DETAILS AND THE NATURE Of CRITICISM.


I don't watch Breaking Bad, or Mad Men, or any of those types of shows; I've tried, but that kind of antihero protagonist is Not For Me. I have no interest in a fall from grace that the fallee is secretly, in his heart of hearts, revelling in, finding some kind of twisted – repulsive – affirmation/empowerment in (the less said about audiences that find vicarious empowerment through them, the better). With Rick, the fall is not empowering in any way, it is literally soul-destroying, and he knows it. The reason – for me, anyway – Al Swearengen was so compelling was that, by the choices his circumstances obliged him to make, he was being dragged even against his baser will toward a greater state of grace; arguably, so was Seth. (Raylan Givens, on the other hand, is almost entirely static; by his own code, his choices and actions are not just justified but capital-J Justified. It's Boyd that's bippin' and boppin' all over that canvas.) AV Club just had an article on how Vikings' Ragnar Lothbrok is the true hero modern antiheroes misunderstand, looking at those kinds of dynamics, which did way more to boost that show on my "might watch" list than anything Travis Fimmel's blue eyes and funky dreadbraids could. (Although they certainly don't hurt.)

Comments

( 5 speakses — have a speak )
im_ridiculous
Oct. 19th, 2014 07:12 am (UTC)
TWD rants and ramblings begin in five, four, three, two....
Aiming for single comment because Other NittyGritty posts and things could quickly get outta control!

Firstly: I love your brain like whoa. Dunno where to start... how bout just getting the YOU'RE WATCHING THE SHOW WRONG, PEOPLE bits out of the way?

If their development sometimes appears cyclical it's because they're on a downward spiral
This. As we've discussed, the 'badly written/no character development' criticism BAFFLES me. Yes, I had the benefit of bingewatching. Yes, that makes it easier to see arcs and throughlines. But people. This is basic stuff.

I'm not raging at casual viewers here, or even really fandom, much as it frustrates me, because fandom's gon' fandom. It's the people writing (at least sometimes for money) reviews/articles intended for broad consumption.

Even if the devolution arc weren't SO LITERAL (which it is), as you say, we know how to obsessively track and discuss the most minute details of our week-by-week shows if we believe it's worth our while. We should reasonably expect reviewers'/mainstream article writers' professional responsibility to actively try to identify these themes and structures THAT ARE CUNNINGLY HIDDEN... um, right there out in the open, you guys. *points*

I honestly don't get it. I'm not an idiot, but usually being analytical about my shows is something I have to do consciously or it's all just feels. BUT OBVIOUS PATTERNS ARE OBVIOUS: urban to agrarian to nomadic; freedom is outside the jail, is one the run, is in being confined/inside the jail (briefly, *sob*).

And on it goes: Rick's Good Man parameters/clear delineation b/wpeople and walkers - 'we don't kill the living' - turns into killing threatening randoms, is a step away from summary execution (policeman becomes vigilante), is a step from killing his friend (and PS, Lori haters, fair enough that this scares her. She's not adapting to the new normal as quickly as Carl (or Rick), and also, IT IS SCARY that her husband MURDERED THEIR FRIEND, even if he had it coming. Lay off.)... ie spiralling down until... well, until he rips a man's throat out with his teeth. And that's just Rick!

THIS IS BEAUTIFUL BUT NOT PARTICULARLY SUBTLE STORY CONSTRUCTION, PEOPLE.

What DO we get? AV Club reviews. And I'm picking on Zack because The Worst.

I could quote and then yell at you about any of his reviews, but lets go with The Killer Within:
"to put it another way, The Walking Dead has to be about more than just a bunch of people getting chased by zombies and eventually dying."

...

This from a man in whose Still review we find this:

"'Still' finds The Walking Dead in stall mode, removing even the slightest hint of plot in favor of an hour long diversion about Beth and Daryl bonding over moonshine and arson."

ZACK. YOU CAN'T COMPLAIN THE WRITERS NEED TO DO MORE THAN ACTION/HORROR, AND THEN COMPLAIN WHEN THEY DO CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. YOU ARE TMF WORST.

(Also, on gruesomness of Lori's death: "Simply inspiring a knee-jerk, physical reaction in your audience isn’t enough for an ongoing story. There needs to be follow through, and I’m wondering if the writers understand that."

LOL ZACK U SO HILARIOUS. ... Oh you're serious. *sideeyes Zack Handlen SO HARD*)

Although I find his reviews so consistently, even wilfully obtuse that they're actually intellectually offensive, in fairness, it's not just him. From women writing about how anti-feminist Lori is (making me Hulk out), to this random gem of failed basic comprehension: "Glenn's nonchalant 'There’s walkers in the barn and Lori's pregnant'" (my emphasis)...

I give up.

And coming back to your nitty gritty on music and other references (and thanking for kindly linky-linking in one convenient post!)... again, right? It's so unfair that a show that includes a staggering depth of allusion is still written off, BY SO MANY PEOPLE, as dumb, or superficial, or lightweight. I just... WHUT.

Has this ever happened for any other show, to this degree, and by people who're getting paid to write this bullshit?

All of which, essentially, is me agreeing with everything you just said.

Edited at 2014-10-19 07:17 am (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Oct. 25th, 2014 09:06 am (UTC)
Re: TWD rants and ramblings begin in five, four, three, two....
Don't mind me, just finally catching up with replies :) And don't mind this, it just became a rambling bunch of probably-not-helpful thoughts because I've been going around and around on what you point out and I don't think it's gonna get any more coherent, so here goes!

the 'badly written/no character development' criticism BAFFLES me. Yes, I had the benefit of bingewatching. Yes, that makes it easier to see arcs and throughlines. But people. This is basic stuff....
THIS IS BEAUTIFUL BUT NOT PARTICULARLY SUBTLE STORY CONSTRUCTION, PEOPLE.


Right? ALL THIS. I've been going trying to figure out just what exactly the fuck, because ... what exactly the fuck? And I CANNOT nail it down. (Although it's mixing into some other wider thoughts on storytelling that'll probably become yet another post, although thankfully this time NOT about TWD or anything specific.) Like, it feels like some kind of freak combination of factors, reinforcing each other. Something to do with expectations and the wider context and the public conversation that's happening around this and comparing it to other Acclaimed Shows. And ... it's like, okay, fine, I haven't seen them all but I'm quite happy to grant that they are more skillfully constructed, and communicate their story super-clearly, or whatever. That TWD isn't communicating its story the way they do, or isn't balanced the way they are – which, if those shows are the ones setting expectations for how "good" writing communicates or is paced or weighted, if their storytelling "language" and style is perceived to be THE Template For Good Storytelling, I guess I can kiiiiiind of see where you get the basis for criticisms like Zack Handlen's, because by that template it feels like the mix is off? Too much action, too much character-focus, The Writers Don't Get It because they're not doing it the way those brilliant writers over there do it. (Mind you, in his specific case, it mostly comes off as him being a complete poser, talking down to the writers because it's not like he's risking getting called out for saying they're messing it up.)

And maybe that's just the snobbery you're stuck with when you decide to use the zombie genre to explore the themes you're interested in, and too bad, sucks to be you (if you happened to want people to pay attention to anything you might be saying). There's something about genre that just isn't taken seriously in the mainstream (although that's slowly changing), so you can't possibly be tackling serious ideas unless it's played as a super-blatant, usually political/ideological allegory, and then people are like, Oh, It's About A *Thing*, Doncherknow. *cough*STID911Truthiness! And TWD is this weird, gross, fairly messy, very black-humoured thing without any strong agenda-statement in sight. BB and MM and The Wire and so on and so forth are all examining Very Serious Issues We Face or Were Shaped By. And even with zombies, we can look back and say, oh, Romero was making a Commentary On Mindless Consumerism, or whatever. But TWD tossed consumerism out with the first season, and started digging for the next thing down, because there's nothing new to say about mindless consumerism (or whatever ideology du jour) in the context of zombies. But I think that might also be part of the problem, that as blatant as it's being with its subtext and framing, it's not making many firm statements about what they're examining in the way that people are used to looking for to latch onto, or debate; it's mainly asking questions rather than providing any kind of Statement – much less Answer. And therefore, by our current metric for judging if a show is "saying something", it's not, and people don't expect it to, and so don't notice, and so don't expect...... freaking etc.
im_ridiculous
Nov. 2nd, 2014 08:15 am (UTC)
Re: TWD rants and ramblings begin in five, four, three, two....
OMG I JUST MANAGED TO NAVIGATE OFF PAGE AND LJ DELETED EVERYTHING I JUST TYPED. ... Maybe it'll make me be more concise this time. HA! But no really, GODAMMIT.

Right. Deep breaths. Because YES. THIS:
comparing it to other Acclaimed Shows.
to me, it feels like people coming from a Rembrandt self-portrait, and then dismissing a Van Gogh for being inferior.

EXACTLY. OMG. I actually think that's a perfect analogy. I am so unbelievably sick of, and bored with, the reductive comparative criticism TWD is invariably saddled with. I mean, comparative criticism is fine, in its place, and it's an interesting and valid form of criticism. But it's not the ONLY form of criticism. If anything though, it is also, in my opinion (ha!), an even MOAR hyper-subjective form of criticism because it's not just evaluating a piece of art against what that art is trying to be, but against art with completely OTHER intentions and goals, which consequently means a reviewer is applying their own taste to two completely separate things and judging between them, even though apples and oranges. Or Rembrandt and Van Gough. I think I am going to start calling this The Razer Fallacy.....

Quite frankly, I could not give half a shit how successfully Mad Men or Breaking Bad, for example, or even The Great Zombie Films Of Our Age, achieve what they set out to achieve, in the context of evaluating how well TWD achieves what it sets out to achieve. If an individual thinks TWD, in and of itself, is uneven or does not enough/too much horror, gore, action, character development, introspection whatever, then... well, clearly I think that person's an idiot because I believe show is extremely well balanced, but whatever, we all love/hate what we love/hate. But if that individual is asserting TWD isn't as good just because it doesn't do story the same as MM or BB... well, frankly my dear who gives a damn?

As for the anti-zombie/genre snobbery aspect of all of this... Indeed. But also, the fact that anti-genre people don't like a genre show is at least logically consistent, albeit, I would argue, the same old pretentiousness. But as you highlight, particularly with that Cracked article, poor old show cops it from the zombie afficianados as well, and I just cannot compute that reasoning. Like, I actually cannot make it make sense. You like 'Fight the dead, fear the living' Cracked? Yeah, that's basically the whole fucking show. George formatted the whole genre that way? Oh, ok, I'm sorry, I missed the part where we complain now when someone plays around with genre tropes and formats and subverts things and actually does something original. What exactly about the zombie nature of this show is so objectionable to you, Cracked writer? I NO UNDERSTAND.

But y'know what? Maybe that's it. Because then you've got me (and others possibly including Danai "Michonne" Gurira, if some of her coments at Paleyfest a few weeks ago are any guide - she wasn't previously into horror AT ALL, still isn't really; talks about receiving scripts and reading once and going oohh, and again and going OOOHHHHH, and again and going OMG THIS IS AMAZING I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE. I heart her.) who is a genre show fan, but NOT a zombie/horror afficianado... but who FREAKIN LOVES THIS SHOW. Precisely BECAUSE OF how it uses its zombie-ness as a hook on which to hang its super interesting explorations of conflicted morality and humanity and real world dilemmas where there ARE NO clear cut answers or easy right or wrong and where the toll taken on our protagonists is felt, deeply, and the impact on their humanity seriously examined, and not just washed clean in some kind of Rambo-esque hail of automatic gunfire. SO SUE ME FOR FINDING THAT REALLY FREAKIN INTERESTING.

What I find exasperating, is that I would have thought that melding together of the zombie-genre show, AND the serious exploration of the human condition, would have appealed to BOTH zombie afficianados AND anti-genre-viewers. I continue to be genuinely baffled that a formula which is responsible for creating one of my favourite shows of all time, seems to catch so much vitriol from both ends of the spectrum instead. Poor show :(

Which... look. tl;dr I agree with everything you just said. Again. WHAT A SURPRISE.
themonkeytwin
Nov. 24th, 2014 04:07 am (UTC)
Re: TWD rants and ramblings begin in five, four, three, two....
OKAY SO I MIGHT NEED TO VENT SOME MOAR except it's also kind of just ludicrous and I mostly just want to point and laugh and roll my eyes. But also reply a little bit because I was meaning to and then LIFE.

So, continuing Cracked's stellar roll, fucking David Wong has got up on his soap box to lecture about how TWD hates humans. I wasn't going to read it because OMFG, but then later in a somewhat more tolerant mood I gave it a go because Wong is frequently insightful – and then he occasionally misses the point so hard I get secondhand whiplash. THIS WOULD BE ONE OF THAT. By a few paragraphs in, all I was wondering was whether he actually watches the show, or just wanted to preach away on his own hobbyhorse. I ended up skimming, trying to find content that would change that impression, but when the first two subtitles are #4. When Shit Goes Wrong, Only the Badass Killing Machines Will Survive and #3. Communities Are Cool and All, but in a Crisis It's Every Man for Himself and the content of those points only veer off even more wrong-headedly, I wasn't about to bother with the second page. I had reached MAXIMUM BOGGLE. And in record time, too. Man, and I thought shipping goggles had industrial strength warp capabilities – but I'll take them over self-righteousness goggles any day of the week.

You like 'Fight the dead, fear the living' Cracked? Yeah, that's basically the whole fucking show.

Yeah, that's the tagline – except see what that writer tacked onto it without so much as a single mental blip at having done so?: "and find out what makes society work and what's killing it in the process." Hey guess what, guy? That's not part of the tagline because that's not what the show is fucking doing. That's what YOU ASSUME it's doing. And maybe that's David Wong's problem too, the context he's bringing into judging what he thinks the show's saying, I don't know and can no longer bring myself to care. Because you know what? As long as it keeps getting record viewing numbers and keeps telling the story it wants to tell, which it really does seem to be, regardless of various obstacles – then really, that's more than enough for me. Especially since I get to squee over it with you! XD (Gotta give a shoutout to Vulture for their reviews, though; they don't go hugely deep but their very willingness to just engage what the show's giving them rather than pontificate on Why They Know Better Than The Show basically makes them works of genius in this field.) The combined critical DERP over this show is still kind of boggling/infuriating – but at the same time, it's so completely human nature, you know? But since I only have limited energy for now, and the choice between about how to spend it, I think I'll go for loving the show and leaving the ~h8ers~ to their thing. (I'm so hip with the lingo, daddio.)

Danai "Michonne" Gurira ... receiving scripts and reading once and going oohh, and again and going OOOHHHHH, and again and going OMG THIS IS AMAZING I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

<3
I really hope all these guys are getting feedback that tells them that there are people out here who get what they're doing – not just the fangirling/boying about zombie slaying and badassing and hawtness (all valid factors, of course), but this kind of reaction, too. And that those responses are getting through all the noise of people shitting on it. Because, damn.

Edited at 2014-11-24 04:09 am (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Oct. 25th, 2014 09:08 am (UTC)
Re: TWD rants and ramblings begin in five, four, three, two....
... I was gonna stop there (and have it be one comment long!), but you know me. Essentially – and this is far from a perfect analogy, but – art being my thing, to me, it feels like people coming from a Rembrandt self-portrait, and then dismissing a Van Gogh for being inferior. YES, Rembrandt is an absolute genius, and his self-portraits aren't just technically masterful, they're quite simply sublime – complex, subtle, penetrating, the works. No doubt, no argument about it. But if this is what you expect a brilliant self-portrait to look like, and you come to this, you're going to say it's messy, lurid, "cartoony", just trying to get a "knee-jerk, physical reaction". You can say Rembrandt's more skilled, and I'll maybe give you that, although not without a debate. You can say Rembrandt's is better because it clearly, unambiguously looks like him, any and every layman can look at that and connect with what Rembrandt's showing us. If you met him on the street you could immediately recognise him, and if that's your priority criteria for a "successfully" executed self-portrait, I'd give you that too, why not. It IS a masterpiece. But if you start saying Van Gogh is therefore bad at what he's doing, doesn't know what he's doing in choosing to paint himself that way, isn't communicating anything substantial or important, then YOU ARE GETTING AN EARFUL MY FRIEND. (... apparently, yes, I went there. I want to blame TWD for being a bad influence, but really, that's all me.)

"Glenn's nonchalant 'There’s walkers in the barn and Lori's pregnant'"
....I give up.


AND THEN THERE'S THIS. W. T. F. I ... I'm out. There's comprehension fail, and then there's this.


moar edited because maybe I should try not to swear so much

AUGH edited AGAIN because apparently Cracked and I are simpatico atm (or, you know, maybe it's the week before Halloween so zombie chatter is So In Right Now):

But zombie stories get me every time. Why? Because they're a story where our monster plays like a societal problem. Zombies are an insistent and dramatically useful malevolent force you can plan against.
[...]
I can't defend any non-pilot episode of The Walking Dead, but damned if their third season poster tagline doesn't sum up what makes zombie movies worthwhile. Fight the dead, fear the living, and find out what makes society work and what's killing it in the process. George A. Romero formatted the whole genre that way: an implacable zombie epidemic pushes the surviving members of society to face their racism or consumerism or municipal governing corruption, and they either survive by fixing it or die instructively.
That format has become so clear and iconic, it got its Mel Brooks-level parody with Shaun of the Dead way back in '04 ... which puts us a full decade past the point of "we can do these tropes explanation-free because audiences know them cold.


I really don't think it's a coincidence that the pilot episode is so widely praised where the series as a whole is panned, even though it's really not doing anything all that particularly different from the rest of the series, it's just that it can still be smooshed into a Standard Zombie Narrative format, wherein societal ills can be confronted and "fixed". As opposed to confronting the human condition and inevitable mortality, which can't be fixed; and those who develop, embrace, and follow through unswervingly on their "solutions" to the "problem" are all the ones who die, regardless of what their solution is, because there isn't one. Apparently we know these tropes cold but CAN'T recognise when they're not being employed, in favour of something else. *headdeeeeeeesssssk*

OKAY I'M GONNA STOP NAO.

Edited at 2014-10-25 11:12 pm (UTC)
( 5 speakses — have a speak )

what's me

schiff
themonkeytwin
themonkeytwin

what's tagged

what's on

January 2016
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31      
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Terri McAllister