If Sunday’s installment of The Walking Dead says anything, it’s that even Lori deserves some sympathy and maybe even redemption. Lori, for a boatload of reasons, has been saddled with the honor of being the show’s most well-despised character through and through; she’s duplicitous, she’s “bitchy”, and she’s just plain old hard to like. I won’t lie, I’m not firmly in her corner either, but I think she gets a really, really bad rap considering the objectively terrible things Shane has done in the name of surviving– which, when you think about it, is all that Lori has done by neglecting to tell her husband about her relationship with his best friend in the early part of season 1. Not to mention that pregnancy thing.
But for as deep a grave she’s dug herself, she’s human. We all are, even the worst of us, and as bad as Lori is (or as bad as people perceive her to be) she’s never quite sunk to that level. In Secrets, she tries to dig herself out of the hole she’s made for herself– albeit at metaphorical gunpoint. Nonetheless, I think I felt more for her in her heartbreaking scenes with Dale and Rick than I ever have across the entire series– maybe Lori needs to work a little more at earning forgiveness, but it can’t be said she hasn’t made her perspective and sentiments entirely clear. I get her now. And that’s a pretty big deal.
Secrets really won me over, in impressive fashion. The story moved forward enough to keep the wheels turning. The characters moved forward. Zombies died through some keen shooting and wild, adrenaline-infused skull-crushing. There’s post-zombie killing coitus. Glenn (everyone’s favorite underdog) got some major character development. Really, this is the sort of stuff that gives a person faith in a show with mixed consistency and makes me glad I’ve stuck it through to this very point. Since Bloodletting, I’ve been waiting for an episode to work for me as much as Secrets does, and I’m now in a place where I’m highly anticipating this Sunday’s mid-season finale.
Not that the episode is sterling and perfect– it has its flaws. But overall, the episode’s good elements shine much brighter, and besides those flaws fall under the same categories as the criticisms I’ve made of the show in the past. Maybe that’s not necessarily a positive; after all it clearly means that the writing isn’t dramatically improving, which may bode poorly for the reason of the season. At the same time I think it just highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the writing staff. They know how to nail character moments, but they rely far too much on convenience, coincidence, and deus ex machina to keep their plot moving along.
Case in point: Dale. Dale just sort of knows stuff, not because the writers carefully set him up to be in a position to conclude that Shane killed Otis but because they’ve written him as the “wise old man who knows things”. Not that Dale couldn’t guess at Shane’s guilt, mind, but he gets from point A to point B so easily as to be insulting to our intelligence, especially considering his evidence in the matter– catching Shane with Rick in his crosshairs last season– is shaky at best. If Dale needed to confront Shane about Otis, why not sooner? Why not allow a brief moment where Dale catches Shane without a hat on before he shaved his head? There are a lot of ways to make this moment, which should have been huge, play a lot more organically. Instead, it feels forced and, like the moment Dale recalls from season one, unearned.
And then there’s Sophie. If this kid’s still alive, she’d better have transformed into a feral, forest-dwelling zombie killing machine; if not that she’d better be dead. I’m not one to root against the survival of a child, but at this point having the survivors expend time and energy searching for her drags events down. 2.7 had better see her found; I don’t think season 2 can really afford to waste time looking for her in its second half. (And what is up with Carol? Why won’t she ever lift a finger to help find her daughter? I get that Carol doesn’t fall in with the group’s muscle, but it’s her kid! Imagine the scene where she tells Sophie she sat around and moped while everyone else put their lives at risk for her.)
With all that said, Secrets puts everyone’s chips on the table and serves as a great set-up to the next episode (provided, of course, that the writers can capitalize on their work and really make the mid-season finale something explosive and dramatic). For an episode in which numerous characters air their dirty laundry, few repercussions are felt when they break their silence, but I think Secrets is about getting those whispers, rumors, and lies exposed and out in the open. With every revelation, there’s a stunned, silent response from one other survivor; for example, Lori leaves Dale thoroughly speechless with her heartbreaking confession of her concerns with bringing a child into post-zombie America. No one is afforded the chance to respond to the information they’re entrusted with, merely being allowed to digest what they’ve absorbed instead. I kind of think that’s how we’re meant to react, too.
Could I just be excusing short-sighted writing by virtue of my strong emotional reaction to Secrets? Maybe. But all of these reveals work dramatically, despite the fact that we’ve been made privy to all of this knowledge in prior episodes. And not only that, 2.6 features some of the best zombie violence of the season so far yet, reminding us that walkers come in more than twos and threes. If anything, the episode is far from boring, and at this point that might be the baseline criteria by which each offering in the season is judged– until the writing staff really shapes up their consistency and becomes more circumspect.