Full disclosure: I took a break from writing about The Walking Dead last week entirely due to Cherokee Rose being so utterly boring. When TV critics raise eyebrows at the progression of the series, it’s precisely due to the sloppy writing and pacing running rampant through 2.4; very literally, nothing happens throughout the entire forty minute block that means anything to the future of the characters aside from the discovery of the well walker (which, admittedly, almost saves the episode on its own merits). Conversely, Chupacabra holds up the show’s favored aspects and best represents how good The Walking Dead can be when it cares to, so my gamble– write about two consecutive episodes (again) in the hopes that 2.5 actually justifies its existence– paid off in the end.
Interestingly, Chupacabra doesn’t actually put us anywhere really new in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not a worthy installment for plot reasons. Rather, Chupacabra delights foremost as a character episode that ends on a note which suggests an explosion of plot and drama in this Sunday’s episode. It’s not much to say that Daryl may be my favorite character out of the entire cast– Norman Reedus certainly has offered the best work here, with his only real competition being Jon Bernthal’s Shane– so any episode which not only features him prominently but also teases with the endlessly great Michael Rooker is an episode worth writing home about. Maybe the story doesn’t end up in a particularly advanced location on the plot barometer, but it moves characters forward by miles.
The same can’t really be said about Cherokee Rose. In fact, quite the opposite– characters take steps backwards. In particular, that’s also Daryl, whose monologue to Carol toward the end smacks of the sort of sentimentality more frequently found in his cohorts. Meanwhile, Theodore gets a backseat yet again after the seasons’ opening episodes flirted with the promise of giving him a bona fide character, while Rick continues his transformation into milquetoast. Oh, sure, Glenn and Maggie do the horizontal tango and Lori finds out she’s got a bun in the oven, but the latter detail fails stupendously as a functional reveal and the former only does so much to make Cherokee Rose palatable.
Thanks to KNB, then, for treating us with their water-logged zombie, because otherwise the episode would be a total wash. In a show littered with rotting, emaciated, and, frankly, gross things, Timmy’s bloated and decaying adult cousin really takes the cake. This guy’s disgusting at first glance, pacing around at the bottom of a filthy well; he gets even more nauseating as he’s slowly brought into sunlight, and at that point Cherokee Rose crescendos and spills his festering guts all over the dirt. As the survivors react by either blanching outright or offering the sort of grimace only someone too acquainted with this sort of scene can, it’s appropriate to take a moment and remember that above all The Walking Dead is a TV show about zombies; in part, this is what we tune in for. Maybe taken in that regard, Cherokee Rose should be lauded.
Unfortunately, a great bit of stomach-churning zombie destruction does not a great episode make.
Luckily, the show’s writers have more waffles than an IHOP, which leads us into Chupacabra. It’s hard not to point to Chupacabra and decree it “season-best” (though “series best” is seriously stretching it); Daryl, finally, seems to be reconnecting with what makes Daryl Daryl in the first place– his innate family philosophy in which only the strong survive– which is exciting since the surviving party needs dividing lines that are broader than mere disagreements over Rick’s leadership. Allowed to be rough around the edges, Daryl could easily inject the unruliness necessary to make their lives that much more interesting– especially in light of the subtle power struggle between Shane and Rick, who by the end of season 2 will almost certainly have un-friended each other on Facebook. There’s just nothing fun about a show that slowly homogenizes its characters and renders them generic, and while Daryl’s kind of a bastard (Dale’s quip about how everyone at one point has wanted to shoot Daryl isn’t off the mark at all) his personality adds a compelling spark of anarchic energy to the mix.
In between The Story of Daryl lie things both inconsequential, good, and stupid. I’m not sure how much Andrea’s trigger-happy faux-pas bothers me conceptually, but as an executed scene it’s almost demeaning to the character; meanwhile, I’m actually kind of happy to see Shane and Rick going back and forth with each other over their distinct values, since the show has gotten away from that recently and focused on both of them as individuals rather than as extensions of one another. Then there’s Carol and Sophie, and let’s face it, the lost child storyline ran its course two episodes in, so it’s anyone’s guess as to why this particular thread is being perpetuated. Find her already. This is getting tiresome.
Speaking of show elements overstaying their welcome, how about Hershel’s slowly broiling displeasure with the behavior of the primary cast? Frankly, I can’t blame him, and I thought that particular comment was completely wonderful; these people have shown up on his doorstep and done nothing but disobey his rules, kill zombies, nail his daughter, steal his horses, get shot, get his other family members killed, and other general behavior best ascribed to nuisances. No wonder he’s so keen on evicting them.
Of course, there are other reasons for his general prudence and caution, as Glen found out in his quest to score a late night roll in the hay. (Zing.) Chupacabra ends on a note uttering promise of zombie mayhem in next week’s Secrets, which should be tantalizing enough to sate our lust for large-scale living-on-unliving violence for one more week. Let’s face it– these incidental zombie killings just aren’t cutting it anymore.