Sunday, October 18, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Walking Dead' - Carol and Morgan Protect Alexandria from the Brutal and Deadly Wolves in 'JSS'

AMC's The Walking Dead - Episode 6.02 "JSS"

Just when it looks like things can return to normal, or as normal as things can be in the apocalypse, a new problem arises for Alexandria.

Last week's Season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead ended on one very enticing cliffhanger with a horn blaring from Alexandria that threatened to destroy all of the delicate planning Rick and his group just undertook. It was a situation that hinted at some major trouble going on back at home. It created a couple of questions for this week's episode: What's happening in Alexandria? And will Rick be able to get the walkers back on the right path? "JSS" tells things entirely from the Alexandria side of things. It's unclear how the events of this episode will create certain doom for the civilization in the coming weeks. It continues to highlight just how weak the citizens of this community actually are. But it does so in many powerful ways. It is an action-oriented hour. But it's also very insightful with its character dynamics. It's more compelling than the premiere was while still enjoying the peril that has hit this community.

The episode opens with a wonderful vignette of how Enid - the teenage girl Carl is apparently interested in - went from surviving in the outside world with her parents to living in Alexandria. It's an absolutely brutal and beautiful sequence. It offers the first indications that this hour is phenomenally directed and edited. In this opening scene, it cuts away from all the violent acts to show Enid's ability to keep surviving. It goes from seeing walkers approach the car with her parents outside to the bloody aftermath of their deaths. She spots a turtle and it then cuts to her eating the creature to survive. Her mantra of "Just Survive Somehow" gives the episode its name. But it also showcases the journey all of the characters are on in this new world. How does one survive in a world that has been overrun by the dead? That's the basic premise of the show. It's certainly a narrow focus. However, it's a question the show has always handled well. Enid has survived for some reason. She doesn't know why but she has. None of these characters can really explain how they are still here in this world. They have adjusted to what life has become. But an episode like this one shows just how much more brutal things can actually be.

Everything is quiet and peaceful after Rick takes his group out to do the dry run of leading the walkers away. Of course, that plan didn't do so well. Plus, it's not very long before Alexandria is dealing with its own crisis. The horror that's coming for the community is presented in an absolutely beautiful but tragic fashion. Carol is still maintaining her cover as a meek housewife. She's sharing recipes with the other women of the community. She tells one that she'll teach her how to make pasta if she promises to give up smoking in the house. Later, Carol stands in her kitchen and silently looks out the window to see the same women smoking a cigarette and a mysterious attacker violently and quickly coming up behind her and killing her. It's devastating in its quick brutal. It forces the community into action that establishes who is deserving to stay alive and who is still weak and afraid of what the world has become.

The episode is then broken up into various character stories as everyone is dealing with this sudden and devastating crisis. Some of them are brief. But all of them are very compelling to watch. Something like Carl doing his best to protect Judith and also helping the other kids his age is simple but very engaging. He has had to do this for awhile now. He is Judith's guardian more than anyone else. He knows what the world is and is ready to protect the things that he loves. When the wolves come for Ron, Carl is the one to take action. All Ron does is run away not knowing how violent this world actually is. Carl shows some hesitation. He isn't certain if he should kill this man who wishes to kill him. And yet, he does so as soon as the man lunges forward. Carl is simply doing what it takes to survive. Enid may be done believing this community is anything worth saving. But Carl still wants to do his best to protect what he and his family have right now.

Deanna wants that as well. She is still mourning the deaths of her son and her husband. But this world is forcing her to move forward. If she can't, she dies. She's forced to cede some of the leadership responsibilities to Rick and Maggie. Deanna's friendship with Maggie wasn't all that developed last season. And yet, Maggie is the one telling Deanna what she needs to do. That largely amounts to Deanna hiding when her community needs leadership and protection the most. She is thinking about the future and making sure Alexandria has one. She and her one remaining son don't know how to fight in this world. It's devastating watching as everything they've worked for is attacked and potentially destroyed. They don't do much to stop it though. They aren't foolish characters who deserve to die. But when the moment came, they chose to hide instead of fight.

That stands in contrast with Jessie and new surgeon Denise. Both women choose to stand up and do something in the face of uncertainty. Jessie did her best to protect herself and her family when someone threatened to take that away from them. She finally was able to get all of her anger and frustration out from Peter hitting her for all of those years. It proves that there is a warrior in her. But it might not be a path that her sons are ready for. Similarly, Denise is the closest thing the community has to a surgeon right now. She is called to try and save the life of a woman injured trying to protect Alexandria. And yet, her internal injuries were too severe. There was nothing Denise could do to save her life. All that was left for her is to be reminded to stab her in the head in order to protect everything else. That is so bleak and stark. She put in all this effort to come up empty. But that shows her fighting spirit in a way that makes her an engaging addition to the season.

But the true focus of this episode is the way that Carol and Morgan handle this situation. Carol emerges from her hidden identity to be the badass that the audience knows that she is. She is a killing machine. She shows no mercy when handling the wolves who threaten this little piece of civilization. Once again, she has the brilliant idea to go undercover. She puts on the clothes and the W on her forehead in order to lure people into a feeling of safety. And then, she kills anyone who gets close to her. It's such a good plan too. She knows exactly what needs to be done and isn't afraid to do it. She kills all of these people in order to protect the stability of this civilization. She puts on the wolves' clothes and kills just as much as they do. And yet, it's never seen as senseless murder to her. She's doing whatever she needs to do in order to survive and eliminate the people who wish her harm. It's also important to show that she is not a monster though. This world has severely changed her as a human being. But she is still deeply affected by the deaths of the people who she had grown close to in Alexandria. All they wanted was a safe and normal life. The world took that from them and it's still just as devastating as it has always been.

Meanwhile, Morgan is the only person from the big walker mission to get back to Alexandria in time to actually do something about this threat. He's able to handle himself in battle just as easily as Carol but they have fundamental differences over what to do with these people. He has emerged from this very dark chapter in his life. He was able to kill his wife but he wasn't able to save his son. He is capable of killing but he doesn't always see that as the only option in order to deal with the world. He gives the wolves a choice whether or not they die in battle or flee and survive. In that moment, he maintains his humanity a little bit more than everyone else. He is capable of surviving in this world. But he doesn't just kill before he can be killed. At one moment, he actually ties up one of the wolves ready to hold him prisoner and Carol just walks up and shoots him. It's a difference in perspective made understandable by the struggles in both of their lives. When the time comes for it, Morgan can kill. He is willing to do it. But it's still something he respects with vast importance. He will mourn as well. But he also knows just how dire things might become outside the walls very quickly.

Some more thoughts:
  • "JSS" was written by Seth Hoffman and directed by Jennifer Lynch.
  • Ron is very much an annoying teenage character who feels like he came straight out of the show's spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead. He's just not someone who is all that interesting because he frustratingly makes stupid decisions out of ignorance.
  • This is a vastly different type of show for Emmy winner Merritt Wever to join. And yet, she instantly makes an impression as Denise. She has a personality that is a welcome addition to the show in a way that is more than just levity.
  • At times, it was weird that Morgan made it back to Alexandra but the rest of the crew outside the walls didn't - until one remembered that Rick sent Morgan back before the horn sounded to tell the town that they were already going through with the plan and it wasn't just a run through.
  • Father Gabriel is showing some willingness to repent for his actions and embrace the skills he needs to survive in this world. It's still not an interesting character though.
  • Hey Jessie, how soon until you can give Carl a haircut? He desperately needs it more than anyone else on the show right now.