TV Review: The Walking Dead, 2.8 & 2.9: Nebraska/Triggerfinger

 

Two weeks ago, AMC’s The Walking Dead made its mid-season return to the air after a brief hiatus. I’m not at all worried about spoilers at this point– if you like the show, you saw what happened in the cliffhanger ending of 2.7, and if you haven’t watched the show then you shouldn’t be reading this– so it’s with little trepidation that I bring up where the program left us off, namely with Rick Grimes holding a smoking gun after gunning down poor zombified Sophia. After spending six episodes mostly treading water and teetering on the verge of being irredeemably dull, current showrunner Glen Mazzara managed to come out of nowhere with a real sucker punch of a reveal that put The Walking Dead firmly back on its rotting feet. In short, Pretty Much Dead Already bought the series some momentum; the question lingering two months ago was one of whether it could hold onto that much-needed shot in the arm.

The answer is a pretty resounding “yes”– at least as far as it concerns Nebraska. Remember the more in-charge Rick we met in the show’s earliest days in season one? He’s back. Rick has caught a lot of flak for being kind of an ineffective milquetoast in the second season, and in some cases just for making the decisions of the heart that he’s prone to make– like searching relentlessly for Sophia. In many circles, Shane is seen as the stronger leader between the two despite his inclination toward delusion, his tendency to explode into psychotic fits like a small angry child, and his willingness to sacrifice other people’s lives for…well, arguably for the good of everyone else, but in the infamous Otis debacle, that callous act had just as much to do with saving Shane’s skin as it did Carl’s.

I won’t lie– Shane, for all of his increasing faults and misdeeds, has his appeal. I’ve said it numerous times here, but he’s an endlessly watchable character and probably the best written of the entire cast; he has substance, and he’s been painted with a sure, well-rounded brush that makes him intricately complex. More than that, he often does have the right idea, but as Andrea points out in Triggerfinger, his sales pitch needs a lot of work. People don’t tend to take well to being strong-armed into doing the “correct” thing, no matter how logical it is to, say, tear the barn doors open and open fire on every zombie inside. Shane might have common sense survival skills, but he’s not a people person; no one will follow him no matter what he does because he doesn’t have Rick’s way.

Of course, Rick’s way has been very grating since the end of season one, so it felt like only a matter of time until Shane ousted him as the head of the survivors and began laying out new directives for the rest of the cast. Not anymore. Nebraska‘s a solid episode all around, but like Pretty Much Dead Already it’s the last five minutes that seal the deal and mark it as a moment to savor in the show’s minute history. Not only does the climax completely drip with tension in every single line and movement– and recall timeless, iconic Western imagery, perfect for our favorite cowboy– but it lets Rick be the man of action we know he can be. And it’s interesting to see that Nebraska‘s ending so closely mirrors that of Pretty Much Dead Already, though the details and intentions behind both differ drastically. There’s nothing merciful or “right” about what happens in Nebraska; things get violent because Rick has no other choice, and a man has to do what a man has to do. Sorry, Dave and Tony.

None of this is to say that Nebraska is perfect, mind; it still has its share of characters doing bone-headed things (see: Lori’s brave rescue attempt that ends with her plowing her car into a ditch, which turns out to be good because it leads to great zombie grue in Triggerfinger, but still, dumb move, Olive Oyl), but they’re far reduced in comparison to the episode’s better attributes, though I’d like T-Dog to get the Glen treatment and become a more complete character while Dale really ought to stop kvetching about Shane to anyone who’ll listen. I think we’re reaching a point where everyone else in the cast is understandable, even if they aren’t agreeable; Hershel’s coming around in reversing his stance on walkers, and he’s coming to grips with the fact that his decision regarding the barn could have cost a lot of lives, while Carol’s also changing her worldview to something more realistic in the wake of her daughter’s transformation. It’s a balancing act that should prove tricky to maintain with a cast this large, but nobody here’s right or wrong in any strict sense, and I like that.

Triggerfinger is much more about moving pieces into place than it is about a principal taking action. That’s not to say the episode lacks anything resembling action, of course; much of the story here unfolds in the town center where Rick went all Man With No Name on his fellow man in Nebraska, and it turns out (surprise!) that the Sheriff, Glen, and Hershel aren’t alone. Dave’s and Tony’s friends don’t take too kindly to their loss, and a shootout ensues. (And here I thought Philly was the city of brotherly love.) What’s most interesting about the bits that unfold in the town center is that the threat of human violence raises so much more tension than the inevitable arrival of droves of walkers, who, attracted by the gunfire, decide that they could use a late night snack. Walkers are kind of predictable. They don’t have much by way of strategy on their side. Humans, though, are much trickier to pin down. I’m curious to see how this bodes for the rest of the season, especially since the survivors have Randall, one of the living interlopers, in their custody.

But I digress. Triggerfinger‘s clear purpose is to set up a grudge match between Rick and Shane for all the marbles (and the “next week on” clip kinda confirms that), largely at the behest of Lori, who’s doing her best Lady MacBeth impression here as she whispers in Rick’s ear about Shane’s lies and various other crimes– provable or not. Again, she’s not really wrong. Shane may have the right idea about a number of things, but he’s unstable and– here’s that word again– unpredictable. That latter quality isn’t exactly what you want in a follower, much less a leader. So Lori’s scheming isn’t really scheming at all, though I’m sure that it certainly looks like it to many; Shane’s a hothead and he’s unraveling more and more as the show progresses. The writers go out of their way to emphasize that he’s not an inhuman monster– see his tender and caring moment with Carol and his interactions with Carl– but it’s clear that Shane’s becoming more of a danger to the survivors, even with all of his pragmatism.

I might sound like I’m raving about Nebraska and Triggerfinger, and, well, maybe I am a bit; they’re both fairly solid episodes in a series that’s been very touch-and-go for most of its lifespan. I don’t know if it speaks well to the show’s strength if “fairly solid” constitutes a wildly positive review, but I’ll take what I can get, and for the time being I’m hooked. We’ll see where we end up next week with 18 Miles Out.

 

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13 thoughts on “TV Review: The Walking Dead, 2.8 & 2.9: Nebraska/Triggerfinger

  1. Although I’m aware of my usual tendency to watch zombie entertainment through my fingers or in another room while quietly debating whether or not to board up the windows, the Walking Dead has really gripped me. I never really noticed season one’s weaknesses, mostly because I ended up screaming before I could get bored. (Though I appreciate that the show rarely goes for the textbook scares.) But even though the character’s are pretty one-dimensional at this point, Shane obviously excluded, I like the picture they writers make as a whole; the archetypes they’ve used and the statements they’ve made about human society breaking down instantly into pack laws and “traditional” gender roles.

    And though Shane gets a lot of flak for being overtly unstable and delusional, I’m beginning to believe that Rick is JUST as delusional. To take on an extra person whom they probably should’ve shot and then to claim he’s been protecting everyone the whole time? He’s been a decent moral compass, but based on what he said to Lori at the end of Triggerfinger, he seems to think he’s been doing this for his wife and son when really, as Shane points out, he’s just been leaving them time and time again to do things that on the surface seem unnecessary. I think Shane’s behavior is so uncomfortable because it’s so very primal, moving away from any humanity whatsoever, but while Rick’s behavior has been self-sacrificing, even admirable, it can also be considered incredibly dangerous.

    Anyway, I’m excited for the next episode, no question. I must say it’s the first zombie ANYTHING that I’ve voluntarily watched more of and that’s saying something, considering my track record… though Zombieland was totally awesome.

    • Season one drags after the third episode or so. I often think that a lot of material got left out of the finalized episodes which would have encourage a better sense of pacing and timing; as they are now, they’re clumsy, and things just sort of happen without a ton of logical lead-in or build-up. It’s sloppy stuff.

      Rick doesn’t get a lot of love, mostly because he’s terrible at making decisions and staying the course, so I’ll throw down for him. In a choice between Shane and Rick, I’d choose Rick in a heartbeat. Why? Look at it this way: if Rick had gone with Otis, Otis would have come back alive, or at least Rick would have done everything in his power to see him to safety. This is because Rick follows a compassionate ideology, where Shane’s survivalist ideology is intrinsically selfish. I don’t want a selfish man having my back in a disaster scenario of this sort.

      The thing about Shane is that he’s not completely self-motivated; he does genuinely want to keep the survivors alive and moving. But he’s also driven by a prime directive in which his survival is paramount. Maybe you could argue that he’s following some objectivist philosophy in which by being self-serving he’s serving the greater good (because if he’s alive, the group is safer, and if he dies then they’re much more vulnerable to danger). I’d say that that’s poppycock, mostly because screw Ayn Rand, but also because all of that chest-puffing about the greater good goes out the window when he’s being chased by a zombie horde. As the Otis scenario proves, Shane doesn’t have to outrun the walkers– just you.

      Is Rick really all that delusional to save Randall? Unless Dave and Tony’s group of people is significantly larger than Rick’s even after sustaining the loss of four people– Dave, Tony, Zombie Chow guy, and Randall– they don’t seem like a particularly credible threat to the safety of the farm, particularly when the farm seems to be so remote compared to the rest of town. (We don’t even really know how the two sync up geographically, though maybe that’s just bad form on behalf of the writers and directors.) If anything saving Randall is impractical, but the other option is to either kill the kid on the spot or leave him to serve as more Zombie Chow, which is inhumanly cruel given how agonizing it is to die at the hands of ravenous walkers. So Rick’s only realistic option is to kill Randall or save him, and what makes the most sense to a person depends on their worldview. I don’t think Rick believes saving Randall has anything to do with protecting his family; killing Dave and Tony most certainly does, though, especially given the throwaway line about their sexual deprivation. I wouldn’t have wanted them around a camp filled with women either.

      I don’t disagree that Rick’s behavior is dangerous in the sense that he takes on excess risk through his compassion and self-sacrifice. But I’d take that over the danger Shane represents in a heartbeat; he’s a pot ready to boil over, impervious to reason and unable to see anything other than his own worldview. Maybe Rick has made bad decisions, but he hasn’t sacrificed his fellow survivors for his own sake, either.

      I’m looking forward to the next episode, too– the season looks to be picking up. And I’m glad you liked Zombieland, I think that’s one of the strongest zombie movies to come out in the last five years or so. Good to hear from you Kami!

      .

      • I don’t disagree that it was sloppy, you made your point very effectively in your season one reviews. I just never noticed that while watching since I was scared out of my mind. Also, my expectations for non-comedy, non-animated TV shows are pretty low. The original Twilight Zone is about the only one I’ll give any kind of accolade to, though I’ve never seen The Wire.

        However, while I’m not defending Shane, I do disagree that Shane’s primary motivation is self-preservation. It seems to me that, for whatever reason, he’s been unable to relinquish his role as Carl and Lori’s protector, probably because of he was in love with her in the pre-apocalyptic situation. Now that he’s been unhinged, he seems willing to do anything to cement himself in that role. I don’t think killing Otis was for his benefit alone (though it obviously helped him out a great deal), but Carl was dying and he had to get back as fast as he could. He could a.) dawdle about trying to think of a way to save them both, or b.) shoot Otis in the leg and make a break for it. It’s not just that he’s selfish, but that he’s put two people ahead of everyone else. Everyone. Though that in itself, I suppose, is selfish.

        Yet Rick, when confronted with a similar situation, holds up two other people in front of a rapidly approaching, substantial group of walkers, for someone who was trying to kill them. I’ve been on Rick’s side for most of the series, and I’ve approved of his choices more or less the entire time, because I think it’s important not lose what Shane has lost or is losing at an alarming rate. Tony and Dave were completely justified casualties. I’m not saying that Randall’s death would’ve been justified or even wise (who knows, he may prove useful in the end), but Rick seems to be trying to get out of this world with nothing on his conscience, which I don’t believe is possible. I agree with you, I’d rather have Rick watching my back than Shane any day of the week, but if I were Lori… I don’t know how much I’d like it, and his comment that he was doing everything “for her” seemed as silly as Shane saying Lori and he had something “special.” (It’s called a comfort lay. He needs to get over it.) I just thought Rick was getting off too easy. If he’s going to be “that guy,” he shouldn’t pretend to himself that all he cares about is Lori and Carl. He may care the most about what happens to them, but not to the exclusion of the others. And not that it’s exactly a good quality, but I’m pretty sure Shane would kill everyone and everything if it meant Lori and Carl’s safety.

        The main reason I’m worried about Randall is because I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy a while back and now I can’t get over the idea of roving groups of cannibalistic rapists with a freak ton of weapons. I see your point though and perhaps it was harsh. I suppose it’s easy to be callous when it’s not my leg impaled on a fence during a zombie apocalypse…

        • The Road! What a great book. The movie, I heard, wasn’t much of anything special, but that’s a damn fine novel. The one area in which that differs between TWD is that you have zombies as a variable; in The Road, Rick, Glenn, and Hershel may have all been screwed, but the walkers proved to be something of a buffer and, let’s face it, their arrival kind of saved our heroes’ skins. But it is interesting to see that humans can be just as dangerous as zombies in a lawless world.

          Maybe Shane shooting Otis isn’t strictly a matter of self-preservation– though I certainly think Shane’s mentality in that moment was “it’s him or me”, which I’ll touch on more in a bit– but let’s think about his delusions regarding him and Lori and, by extension, Carl. Shane thinks he and Lori are meant to be together, and he seems to think of himself as a stand-in father figure for Carl. So when he shot Otis to save Carl, he wasn’t acting so much on Carl’s behalf but his own because he wants Rick’s family for himself. He wants what Rick has. Would Shane have acted the same if it had been Dale or T-Dog with the bullet wound?

          Now, here’s the thing about Shane shooting Otis– he was doing it for himself first and foremost. Shane’s a pragmatic guy; he makes tough decisions that others don’t necessarily like and he doesn’t apologize for them or feel bad. I grant that hamstringing Otis with a gunshot and using him as zombie bait drastically differs from tearing open the barn in its moral ramifications, but if Shane shot Otis because it was the correct call to make, why has it been eating him up inside since? He knows that what he did to Otis was wrong and that he did it for the wrong reasons. If he’d done it strictly for the right reasons, I doubt he’d be unraveling as rapidly as he is. And I doubt he’d be so adamant about hiding it at this point, either; Dale’s magically figured it out (which I find to be really sloppy writing), and now Lori knows, too (insomuch as either of them can “know” without any proof whatsoever). I can see why Shane, on returning with the goods and without Otis, wouldn’t want to immediately come right out and admit to volunteering the poor bastard for zombie chow. But the cat’s clearly out of the bag, and if Shane truly felt like he did the right thing by sacrificing Otis, I think he’d probably be less reluctant to fess up at this point. “Yeah, I shot Otis and let him die. But I had to make that choice because Carl’s life was on the line. What would anyone else have done?”

          Rick, of course, would have cowboy’d up and saved the day because that’s who he is. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree that saving Randall was unwise– though we’ll see if Randall’s presence turns out to be a benefit to the survivors or not– but he couldn’t have left him to the walkers. And, as Rick points out, he’s just a kid. Two people went into a zombie-infested zone to save Carl, and only one got out alive; if that’s acceptable, then surely gaining a body and losing no one in the process is just as much so. Again I concede that Carl is Carl where Randall is an unknown quantity, so the situations differ, but it’s a question of weighing risk versus reward, and I think taking Randall might have been the right thing to do.

          I’m not sure if his people will go looking for him– as far as the last man standing in their group is concerned, he’s zombie food– but if they do, who’s to say they’ll find the farm? They haven’t found it yet and it sounds like they’ve been going about like vagabonds trying to find shelter and supplies, so our protagonists should be safe. If they are discovered, well, now they have Randall as something of a bargaining chip. If nothing transpires between Rick’s people and Randall’s people, then Rick just saved a life in a world where that kind of heroism can, realistically, get you killed– so kudos to him. That said, I completely agree that Rick’s a big idealist, and that that is potentially dangerous for everyone else around him– so in his own way, he’s selfish, too. He’s just the selfish guy I know I can trust.

          Love talking about this with you, Kami. I really like getting into the nitty gritty with this sort of stuff, so by all means, don’t hesitate to drop a line!

          • Well, the writers seem to be on your side, all of Rick’s decisions which I might find questionable always work out for him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if saving Randall has some benefit later on.

            I think Shane’s made it clear he wouldn’t piss on fire to put Dale out, so no, I doubt he’d go anywhere to get medical equipment for Dale, though I think he’s overreacting because he knows the old man is right about him. The scene at the truck, for example, he sounded like a teenager talking back to his dad. It just occurred to me though, would Shane be behaving this way at all if it weren’t for Lori and Carl? I believe you’re right, he selfishly wants them for himself, but if they weren’t there, do you suppose he’d fall into line behind Rick or go it alone? We don’t know exactly what he was like before Rick showed up; without this tension between him, Lori, and Rick, do you think he’d be so unraveled? He’d be practical and not prone to Rick’s heroisms, surely, but would he have such a belligerent and openly aggressive attitude? Or what if Lori finally convinces him she’s not in love with him? Next time there’s an attack, he might go the “if I can’t have her, no one can” route. I don’t know what the show would do without Shane, since he’s really the only character you can speculate on in this manner. Though Hershel is showing some promise and Glen went through a nice turning point in the last episode. I’m rapidly losing hope on T-dog. We found out his name, but it doesn’t seem to have done the slightest bit of good.

            I most definitely agree! Hopefully we can have a proper argument after next week’s episode.

            • I certainly don’t think Randall’s presence will lead to destruction raining down on the farm, but if the show’s smart there’s going to be some kind of catch to saving him.

              Good questions about Shane there, and spot on about his relationship to Dale almost being teenager/dad. Definitely I think Shane’s aggressive responses to Dale stem directly from Shane’s guilt, coupled with his frustration and alarm at the realization that Dale just intrinsically knows that Shane’s guilty. (Which, again, I think is just sloppy writing. If Dale has to point the finger at Shane, at least let him take note of the signs of the latter’s struggle with Otis before Shane shaves his head– torn-out patches of hair, scratches, cuts, etc. Couple such observations with Dale catching Shane putting Rick in his cross-hairs last season and it becomes a lot easier to see how Dale came to the conclusion that Shane shot Otis.)

              And I think that Shane’s growing obsession with Lori and Carl has a lot to do with his tendency toward outbursts and histrionics, though I wonder if he’d be just as much in opposition to Rick without them. I think undermining and contradicting Rick partly has to do with usurping him not just as leader but as the patriarch of the Grimes family; Shane doesn’t think Rick can protect the pack, much less his own wife and son, but he thinks he himself can. The more that Rick makes decisions that go against Shane’s philosophy, the more he sees Rick endangering Lori and Carl, I suspect.

              Ultimately, his unraveling at this point has much more to do with his guilt over Otis than anything else, I think, but Lori and Carl are factors in his unhinged behavior too.

              Can’t wait for the next episode!

  2. I am wondering if Shane will make it much longer. I hope they don’t kill him off like they did in the comics. He seems to be making the most sense on the show even though he is a hot head.

    • I’m pretty sure Shane is doomed to one bad fate or another. I could see him surviving into next season, but eventually his philosophy is going to end up biting him in the ass, and if nothing else Triggerfinger is strongly pushing us toward a confrontation between Rick and his former best buddy.

      • Should be interesting to see how that one turns out. They should have a side-story with him. That would help give the show a little more depth.

        • I have a feeling that we will get a Shane side-story before too long. He’s one of the most central characters in the entire show, and he’s hurtling toward something big in his arc. Sooner or later, we’ll be getting a Shane-centric episode. I for one can’t wait.

          • Me either. Rick makes sense in our time, but sometimes you got to make the hard choices. I don’t think I could shoot a guy to save myself, but then again, I’m not in a zombie invasion.

  3. I can’t see both Rick and Shane both living next season. They’re both adamant about where they are on their emotional spectrums and both refuse to change. This conflict ends with a bullet.

    • Well, I’ll tell you one thing– it damn sure did in the comics, but they’re way past the point of what happened to Shane in the comics happening to Shane in the show.

      But I think you’re right. Shane’s not long for this world, and he’ll be ushered out of this life at gunpoint.

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