I debated on whether to be this honest. I loved the TWD. I did. This may end up being the show’s eulogy.
Maybe I’m might be alone in my disappointment of the last few episodes of TWD, but it’s been a consistent disappointment.
Over the years, I’ve been willing to forgive some less than brilliant episodes, episodes other fans reviled. TWD is a product, after all. It has to follow a production schedule, release dates, a budget as well as meeting the demands of managing personnel, meeting union requirements, complying with government regulations, etc. In that context, consistent brilliance, even if periodically interrupted by mediocre or adequate episodes, is still amazing.
The last five episodes, however, have been sub-standard. Episode 6.13, “The Same Boat,” brought back some of the same pervasive menace and horror that has, and should, characterize TWD, as well as the non-traditional use of and examination of female characters.
That said, it was marred by the turn in its depiction of Carol, which may have an undertone of traditional sexist narrative components: eventual punishment of a strong, decisive woman who is willing to take the moral grey ground to protect and survive. The theme has been furtive ground for feminist criticism since Hitchcock, if not before. Since Deanna’s death, TWD writers and directors have been diluting and sexualizing the female characters, depriving them of autonomous storylines and now, it seems, plaguing them with out-of-character insecurities and frailties unseen before.
The bottom line is, sadly, “The Same Boat” was the best of the lot since the mid-season premiere.
Even “Twice as Far” bore the most serious flaw I find in poor television writing: the plot moved forward not based on inherent conflict or danger, but by stupid and out-of-character decisions by the characters.
No competent psychiatrist would self-diagnose, then seek to treat others and herself by venturing out – unskilled – into a dangerous frontier. It’s unethical. The first rule of mental health treatment is safety. That would be like telling a Domestic Violence survivor to face her trauma by spending the weekend with her abuser. The triggers alone are too numerous and intense to measure; when dealing with seriously traumatized people, which Denise has every reason to suspect Rosita and Daryl are, no responsible psychiatrist would encourage such a means of confronting them.
Such a scripted decision undermines the intelligence and strength we’ve seen in that character. The writers try to sell this with having Rosita and Daryl protest. It just about works, but that Daryl would inexplicably decide to take the tracks, knowing the random violence that lurks in those woods (he’s faced it dozens of times), lacks credibility.
I could easily have gotten on board, if the writers or director had sold this as a metaphor, or symbolic of some deeper theme exploring a spiritual principle and existential truth. That wasn’t the purpose. Denise’s trip was a device to get her into the woods, get her killed, introduce more Saviors and create drama without meaning.
Similarly, that Abraham, a military man to the marrow of his bones, would not leave a man alone and vulnerable over a sophomoric spat that was beneath historical TWD writing. Even if that could sell, how can we buy that Abraham let Eugene get abducted in the first place? Why didn’t Abraham stop the man from firing at Denise, if he’d been lurking there the whole time? Again, this was all a string of devices to get Eugene into the hands of the Saviors and create a battle scene of violence without meaning.
These kinds of gaping plot holes aren’t characteristic of the TWD I’ve known and loved. Scott Gimple, where are you when we (and your writers) need you?
I decided to take a look at the creative forces behind the last five episodes, episodes 6.10 through 6.14, and this is what I found:
|“Next World”||6.10||Angela Kang & Corey Reed||Kari Skogland|
|“Knots Untie”||6.11||Matthew Negrete & Channing Powell||Michael E. Satrazemis|
|“Not Tomorrow Yet”||6.12||Seth Hoffman||Greg Nicotero|
|“The Same Boat”||6.13||Angela Kang||Billy Gierhart|
|“Twice as Far”||6.14||Matthew Negrete||Alrick Riley|
We can already see a lot of chefs at the pot here, with this season. What kinds of experience do these people have with TWD, and in television in general?
I am not slamming, disparaging, disrespecting, criticizing or otherwise diminishing the value of these people’s work, the other genres or shows they’ve worked in. They’ve worked on some shows I was a big fan of.
The problem, though, may be that the same tone and style doesn’t transfer across genres.
It’s like food.
When I want fun, I want fun. I put on my jeans, tie up my hair and my husband and I head down to this place with great fried mushrooms and little mini-corndogs. We know we might have a drink or two, laugh and play trivia, relax and let loose. When I want serious and intense, I put on a nice outfit, put on my makeup, and go to a place that has done things to lamb chops that made me want to cry with joy. I make sure I sit up straight, use my utensils appropriately, and don’t get too loud or rambunctious for fear of disturbing other patrons.
But I don’t go to one dressed for the other. I don’t expect to be able to transfer one set of skills from experience A to experience B.
My concern is that the need to keep the overall tone, maintain the psychological profiles that made the characters compelling, etc., is getting lost.
This was the mid-season premiere for Season Six, and perhaps the most notably different in tone. Many of the scenes between Rick and Daryl seemed like an installment of the Rush Hour franchise, and it introduced the “comic element” to their close relationship. I didn’t like it.
Angela Kang and Corey Reed do have some experience with TWD. Kang has written thirteen episodes since 2011, including “Four Walls and a Roof,” which I really liked. She has also worked as a story editor on TWD, some episodes of which she was also the writer. However, she hasn’t worked much on many other television shows: only as a staff writer for Terriers, which I think got cancelled. Otherwise, she’s listed as a writer on two shorts.
Corey Reed has written five other episodes, including “Four Walls and a Roof” with Kang. His other television writing credits include Da Vinci’s Demons and Medium. I haven’t seen Da Vinci’s Demons (after ten minutes of one episode, it does look good), but I have seen a few episodes of Medium, and it has the light-hearted tone that “Next World” had, but is contrary to the soul of the TWD series.
Of note is the director: Kari Skogland. “Next World” is the only episode she’s directed for TWD, although she has directed two episodes for the franchise’s Fear the Walking Dead. She has numerous directing credits, but has worked on very few shows thoroughly or consistently. She has a long resume of writing for television, but the most work on one show has been eight episodes of The Listener over a four year period, and then six episodes for The Borgias over two years, then five episodes for The Traders in 1996. My point is this: her direction doesn’t show work that can give her an in-depth familiarity with the characters, themes, conflicts and sub-plots that develop over time in a long-standing series like TWD. One-off directing may work well for shorts, made-for-television movies or feature films, but it seems the TWD episode suffered from that style of direction.
This would be a novel if I went into each season six episode’s director and writer histories with the same depth, so I won’t do that here.
I will say that after looking at the information, what I saw was a history of writers who generally – not exclusively –worked on solid slows, but whose tone is of the light, entertainment style: White Collar, Vegas, Penguins of Madagascar (Matthew Negrete). Some of these same writers have worked for grittier shows, such as Prison Break (Seth Hoffman).
White Collar (although, I want to give props to my favorite of that genre, Hide in Plain Sight, which ended about the time White Collar started) and its companions like Psych are great fun. However, when I sit down to watch The Walking Dead, that’s not what I’m expecting or want. Just like no one watching White Collar wants to see a body ripped apart into several pieces of ooey, gooey red nastiness (yes, I’m still getting used to that), TWD viewers don’t want the same story structure (build, build, build to a single moment of climax) or tone (light-heartedness). We want intense. We want catharsis.
My concern is that the creative minds aren’t in sync with what made TWD brilliant. I know a lot of fans will disagree with me. And “Same Boat” was definitely a shining moment in the season. However, I’m hoping some of us who appreciated the more cerebral subtleties of the show might understand what I’m saying.
 All information comes from IMDB.com