TV Review: The Walking Dead, 2.3: Save the Last One

Save the Last One suffers from one major problem: telegraphing. I rather liked the episode overall, and feel that it keeps up the narrative push and character development which made Bloodletting so good, but 2.3 gives away a pretty shattering end-of-episode reveal in its opening scrawl. I don’t know that that particular misstep ruins the episode, but Phil Abraham’s first time in the director’s chair on the series would have very much benefited from some discretion on his behalf and a decision to play with his cards closer to his chest.

At this point I’m going to do something somewhat different here. When I write these pieces– as I do when I write about films– I operate under the assumption that readers haven’t yet seen the episode, so I stray on the side of caution and tend toward keeping mum on the explicit gory details. That said, the episode’s opener in contrast with its climax, in my opinion, bear a detailed discussion, so anyone who hasn’t watched Save the Last One should probably read with caution. This is going to be detail-heavy.

Why, you might ask, does the episode demand spoilers? It’s a huge turn-about for Shane, for one, fleshing out his persona even further in a way that’s organic and builds off of what we know of him as a man, but the ramifications of his actions will inevitably be felt further down the road as the season moves ahead. I think calling Save the Last One a game-changer would be jumping the shark, if only a little, but there’s no arguing how much it’s going to change the way we look at Shane and how we interpret his dynamic with the rest of the cast.

The Walking Dead is somewhat about the secrets people keep, and that largely comes down to Shane (and by extension the much-maligned Lori). He’s already sitting on one big truth– his affair with his best friend’s wife– but now he’s guarding the reality behind Otis’ demise. I think of Shane as a broiling pot of water threatening to bubble over, someone who bottles himself up and refuses to deal with everything he keeps inside, and his betrayal of Otis could be the catalyst that sees Shane come totally undone. Shane has been one of the primary driving forces of the show since its inception, pushing plot ahead more than nearly anyone else in the cast from episode to episode; he’s also one of the most interesting and overall well-drawn characters. It’s a combination that should make for some pretty outstanding drama down the line as he wrestles with himself over his guilt and struggles to maintain his lie. While that deception is centered only in Shane, it’s a pretty big whopper more than capable of completely upending group dynamics and shattering any sense of security or peace the primary cast has attained in arriving at the farmstead.

Shane’s arc isn’t the only area in which Save the Last One scores big. In fact, just about everyone is given time to breathe and develop if only just a little bit, from Lori to Dale to Andrea to Daryl to Glen (though poor Theo is neglected in this orgy of character portraits). Best of all the episode mostly steers away from trading plot advancement for its character beats, allowing its players to grow organically without hamstringing the story. However, I particularly like the material that the episode gives to some of its more unpopular characters; whether they’re bitchy or selfish or ineffective, they’re saddled with some pretty humanizing stuff that makes them pop despite being so strongly impugned.

When it comes to it I think one of the biggest bones of contention for most when discussing The Walking Dead lies in its unlikable characters; in particular, audiences seem to loathe Lori with the sort of passion best reserved for Neo Nazis, and from talking to people here and there I’m getting the impression that Dale’s self-righteous and self-serving attitudes toward Andrea have made the affable man less than beloved as well. (Not to mention Rick, whose inability to make decisions is slowly turning him into something of a milquetoast doofus.) But there’s no hard, fast rule that says every character must be portrayed positively. While I’d say that Lori, in the past, has just felt like a caricature, here she’s given some depth; maybe we don’t agree with her but she’s justified regardless and she comes off as far more down to Earth. Even Dale, who basically incinerates any goodwill his speech to Andrea may have generated immediately after orating to her, feels a bit more real and sympathetic here– maybe he’s going about repairing his relationship to Andrea the wrong way, but his intentions are good even if his methods are somewhat skewed.

But Save the Last One comes down to that huge reveal at the end, no matter what else is discussed. This could be a pivotal episode, if the writers are smart enough to capitalize fully on Shane’s transgression and Otis’ subsequent gruesome, agonizing death; in point of fact, Save the Last One could lead to a season that’s emblematic of what the series is really supposed to be all about. While watching zombies shuffle around and groan and die to gunfire and arrows is fun, the real meat of the show comes down to witnessing human behavior in an extreme situation. Shane might not be the most honorable man in light of the episode’s events, but his actions emphasize what the show is all about– let’s see if the creative team can really use Save the Last One to full advantage.

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7 thoughts on “TV Review: The Walking Dead, 2.3: Save the Last One

  1. I *should* be looking at this show more like you are – from a developing character standpoint – but I just can’t get beyond how glacially paced it is on the larger scale. I realize that the interaction between this group may be important, but I suppose that with a worldwide zombie takeover scenario, I can’t help but want for more storylines like the one that placed them at the CDC last season (also, one could argue that all of these characters, save Rick and family perhaps, are somewhat expendable and interchangeable – I’m leery of growing attached to any of them since we know, a la LOST, that any of them could go in any show). Instead, we’re given whole episodes dedicated to events that could be shown in 10 minutes, and so much repetition it’s not funny.

    Also, I know what you mean about the potential importance of the events of this episode for Shane, but at the same time, it didn’t seem out of character for him, nor would such behavior shock me coming from most any character, but maybe that says more about me than them. However, the one thing that did bother me with that was that not two minutes earlier, Shane was on the ground moaning “go on without me.” I didn’t buy that the same guy would do those two opposing acts. It felt manipulative.

    Great write-up.

    • I don’t really think this is out of character for Shane at all– he’s a survivalist, and he truly cares about Carl. In that situation he just weighed the odds and put Carl’s life before Otis’, which makes sense as Otis is the guy who nearly killed Carl anyways. Shane’s actions are cruel (couldn’t you have just shot the bastard in the neck or something?) but they’re not cruel for cruelty’s sake. He’s got a reason behind what he does. Shoot Otis, save Carl. He’s also saving himself but he knows he needs to live so that he can help Carl.

      I think it also subtly highlights the difference between Shane and Rick. Shane has tunnel vision and never thinks ahead enough for maximum chance of survival. Rick, on the other hand, would have brought back Otis alive without any trouble– if he’d need Otis to come along at all.

      As far as the pacing goes, I do agree somewhat– the whole Sophia thing should be resolved and over with by now and everyone should already be at the farm. With so few episodes to tell the story, pieces need to get in place much faster than they are. While I dug Save the Last One overall, the show absolutely must put everyone back together in the next episode (or two, max) to keep the wheels from falling off the wagon. That said I’d rather keep good character beats if it means a slower pace. We’ll see which way they go.

      Glad to have someone else watching the show out there, by the way.

      • I don’t necessarily think it’s out of character, either, but I think we’re supposed to think it’s out of character, at least to a point. The character of Shane is terribly acted, but you’re right about him being (potentially, anyway) one of the most interesting characters – he’s a complicated guy and has been teetering on the hero/heel axis for some time now, and I assume that the situation with Otis, or at the very least the way he handled the situation (indeed – why not just take the fat bastard out of his misery first?) is supposed to make him more of the villain. Personally, the bad acting has me wanting Shane to just get his way and leave the group like he wanted to earlier. What’s stopping you, dude? How close could you really be to that kid?

  2. I just caught up with this (Thanks Storm Alfred!).

    Nice discussion… I would say they need to either amp up the pacing or the character development. One or the other. I love the comics because they’ve taken people to some pretty sick, dark places. There’s a lot of “downtime”, but I think Kirkman uses it well.

    On this show though, there’s a lot of downtime… but this was the first really kind of “sick” thing we’ve seen out of anyone. Just a lot of moaning and groaning about the state of the world.

    They’ve amped up the Zombie quotient though so far this season. As long as they keep that up, I’m a pretty happy guy. Not that critical on this show….

    • I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum on the books– I think they’re awful– though I think we’ve had that discussion before.

      I agree with you for the most part, though I’d prefer that both elements be ramped up together without ditching or de-emphasizing one. That said, I’m really pleased with where they’re taking Shane and I’d like to see them build on that in a way that’s smart and goes somewhere. Cherokee Rose doesn’t succeed in that regard, but I’ll get to that next week.

  3. This episode turned my girlfriend off completely. I had an inkling that Shane was going to darker places this year and for whatever reason I see him and Rick shooting at each other at the end of this season.

    • If the show stays close to the comic (which it hasn’t, really; it’s diverged plenty, for which I’m thankful) then Rick and Shane will come to blows at some point. I kind of see Shane slipping off before having to answer for his transgressions, though.

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