Monday, December 1, 2014

Decoding "Coda": Thoughts On Tonight's Episode of the Walking Dead

Okay, so I'm new to the Walking Dead fandom. I marathoned seasons 1-4 over the past 2 weeks and just caught up on what's aired of season 5 so far before the midseason finale tonight. I don't know if it's seeing it so close together like that as opposed to spread out over a span of weeks, or what, but it's left me... confused about how to feel after tonight's episode. Well, not how to feel really. I feel sad. Beth's dead. (SPOILER ALERT!) But more confused as to what the writers are doing.

This whole season 5 arc right now seems like an exercise in futility. Terminus seemed like salvation and it turns out to be the nightmare we viewers have come to expect by now. Eugene's gonna save the world if we get him to Washington, except - nope, wait. That was all just naive wishful thinking. That outlandish trio (Rosita dressed like an anime character, Abraham as an action-hero wannabe, and Eugene with his mullet and so many "It's classified"s) always seemed unreal to me. So it felt weird when people took them seriously and trusted them and acted like such a ridiculous mission would be plausible. And what is up with that preacher dude? In this past episode they worked so hard to make sure he and Michonne and Carl and Judith would be safe inside the church, then he wanders off to look at the school site and comes back and basically ruins his own safe haven by leading hordes of walkers right through the front doors.

So there's this with the church, and Team GREATM's meltdown, all of which spells out failure of a mission. Futility. The pointlessness of all their efforts. So it didn't surprise me at all when our third group met the same result. The whole point, the whole reason they were in the city working out this risky exchange to begin with was in order to get Beth back. So of course she dies. All of it for nothing. What the fuck, writers? I don't get what you're doing.

I want to think this is purposeful, that they're making some sort of thematic statement with all this futility and failure. But there are other, smaller stumbles along the way that have made me wonder if they're just getting clumsy in their storytelling. Seasons 1-3 each had their own tight narrative arc that stretched over the season. Season 1 was about how it all started, getting to know the characters, getting to the CDC. Season 2 was about finding Sophia and starting a life at Hershel's farm. Season 3 was about the parallel stories at the prison and Woodbury. Season 4 is where this tight structure started to unravel a little, but I didn't really mind because it's also what gave us some of the best character-building episodes in the whole series. Daryl and Beth's arc is my utter favorite from that season, but I also loved seeing Rick and Carl's relationship shift, getting to know Michonne's backstory, and watching Carol's heart-wrenching dilemma as she says "Look at the flowers"...

Damn. Good stuff.

All along what's made these big story arcs convincing is the smaller moments throughout, individual lines or decisions characters make that feel believable. Season 5 has been lacking in these. Like tonight's episode, when Rick shoots officer Lambton just because he wouldn't stop. That didn't feel believable to the Rick we know, the one who values human life and feels reluctant to take it if the person isn't directly endangering the group. I know the interactions with the thugs Daryl got caught up with in season 4, as well as the Terminus psychos, really changed Rick, but I still don't know that I believed it. Just like I didn't believe Sasha would fall for Lambton's story to begin with. And Michonne has softened some since we first met her, but I still think her frustration and anger at the minister would have led her to respond far more harshly to him when it becomes apparent he was stupid enough to get himself in such a mess. Maybe she is angry at him and is just more focused on keeping Carl and Judith safe? I don't know. Little things like that, little moments of doubt sprinkled throughout various episodes this season; they've taken me out of the story, made me question the motivations of the storytellers.

I still love the show and want to find out what happens to these guys, but right now? The way they left things? Nothing's at stake. It's just more of the same. Someone we care about has died. Walkers are still everywhere. We need to find somewhere safe so we can stay alive. We just went around in a huge circle and came back to where we started, only far worse for wear, and having lost loved ones along the way.

Futility. Failure. Pointlessness.

I've got enough of that in my life right now. I need my fiction to have some sort of a thing to hope for. So I'm holding out that the second half of season 5 won't just be more of the same, but that maybe they'll pull it together and get back to the incredible storytelling we know and love. After all, the title of this episode was "Coda," which Google defines as "the concluding passage of a piece or movement." So perhaps we'll head on to better and brighter things. People keep murmuring about this safe zone in Alexandria...?