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The Walking Dead S7 E15: Something They Need

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

In the aftermath of last week’s disappointing “The Other Side” – with its heavy emphasis on Operation Dipshit – The Walking Dead really needed a strong, focused episode to get us back on track. So is “Something They Need” something we needed? Kinda, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

This episode begins with an excellent cold open. A John Carpenter-esque synth score plays as we hear Tara (Alanna Masterson) tell Rick (Andrew Lincoln) about the Oceansiders and their sweet, sweet cache of weapons. On screen we see Rick and crew preparing to take the weapons, by force it seems, and a horde of slimy, barnacled zombies disgorging from a large, partially sunken boat. This is the kind of efficient, visual storytelling The Walking Dead really needs more of and the beach of barnacled biters is a strong image on which to segue into the opening titles.

Meanwhile at The Sanctuary, Sasha (Sonequa Martin) has been imprisoned in the same cell that played a temporary home to both Daryl and Eugene. Apparently we’re not going to see how she managed to get caught, and frankly the less said about her profoundly stupid plan the better. David (Martinez) pays Sasha a visit and within about a minute decides he’s going to rape her. He gets down to the trouser-dropping stage when Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) pops in and plays an actual savior for once. Negan, you see, draws the line at rape. Beating unarmed people to death with a baseball bat? Fine. Sexual assault? Not on his watch. Negan demonstrates this point by knifing “Rapey Davey” through the neck. He leaves the cooling corpse and bloody knife with Sasha, offering her a number of options – kill herself, try to kill Negan, kill Rapey Davey before he becomes “dead alive Rapey Davey” or let herself become zombie food. Not a great list of options but Negan makes the offer sound tempting, as he purrs to Sasha about her “beachball-sized lady nuts”.

Later, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) pops in to preach the gospel of Negan to Sasha. He actually does a pretty convincing job of explaining his own motivations for joining the Saviors but Sasha doesn’t want a bar of it. Eugene leaves and Rapey Davey’s dead eyes open…

Back at the Hilltop Gregory (Xander Berkeley) pays a visit to Maggie (Lauren Cohan) who is doing a spot of gardening outside the walls. Olive branches are extended but as Maggie continues to garden, Gregory seems to toy with the idea of stabbing her. He decides not to and then a zombie arrives. Gregory laughs off the idea of a pregnant lady helping him dispatch the walker, but then can’t seal the deal and backs off. Maggie stabs the zombie quickly and efficiently and even saves Greggers from a second ambulatory corpse. A group of Hilltop residents arrive just in time to see Gregory puking as Maggie calmly sheaths her weapon, offering a fairly heavy-handed visual juxtaposition. It’s clear the balance of power is shifting at the Hilltop.

Back at Oceanside, Tara attempts to reason with Natania (Deborah May) to get the weapons off the ladies without any bloodshed. Apparently she isn’t given much time to accomplish this because within a few minutes explosions are ringing out and Tara gets grabbed by the grumpy alpha nan.

The explosions were just to distract the Oceansiders, and Rick rather apologetically informs everyone he totes needs those weapons to wipe out the Saviors. Interestingly his words (and heavy ordinance) seem to convince most of the group, except Natania who holds Tara at gunpoint. It looks like Natania is about to cop a shot to the bonce from a tree-sniping Michonne (Danai Gurira) but the waterlogged zombies from the cold open arrive and everyone must band together, albeit briefly.

The salty sea corpses are dispatched in a delightful scene of efficient carnage and impressive special makeup effects and by the end of it everyone supports Team Rick. Everyone that is except Natania who has been knocked out by Cyndie (Sydney Park). It’s a little weird that everyone is so quickly onboard with Rick’s plan to nab the weapons, especially the more potentially fatal elements of it, but it succeeded so… yay?

Back at the Sanctuary Sasha has killed Rapey Davey and Negan all but tells her she’ll be used in some way to hurt Rick. Eugene visits later and Sasha desperately begs for a gun or a knife or some way she can kill herself. It’s a ruse, of course, Sasha wants another crack at killing Negan but Eugene obliges: providing her with the poison he concocted way back in “Hostiles and Calamities”. This was not what Sasha was hoping for and she’s left alone in her cell, wondering just what the hell she was thinking joining Operation Dipshit in the first place.

Finally our conquering heroes, now armed to the teeth, arrive back at Alexandria. They are greeted by Rosita (Christian Serratos) who informs them they have a visitor cooling his heels in their cell. It’s Dwight (Austin Amelio) who tells the gang he wishes to defect and help kill Negan. Rick pulls out his shiny .357 Magnum (aka The Overcompensator) and tells Dwight to get on his knees.

The episode ends with our heroes ready to take on Negan, now with weapons and even perhaps a new ally. “Something They Need” is an enjoyable enough episode with some great-looking zombies and decent tension, but it doesn’t feel like the second last entry before Negan’s reign is ended. In fact I think us Walking Dead fans are just going to have to accept that the Rick vs Negan storyline will probably be dragged on for at least half a season too long. So basically Governor 2.0.

Of course I might be wrong. Perhaps next week’s finale will wrap everything up beautifully but it seems unlikely. Either way I’ll see you back here in seven days.

 

 
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The Walking Dead S714: The Other Side

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

 Well it had to happen eventually, didn’t it? After five solid episodes of The Walking Dead in a row we were probably overdue for a dud. That’s not to say “The Other Side” is without its moments, but it’s far too late in the day (and the season) for such a meandering, talky episode.

The cold open is played mostly without dialogue, which works very much in its favour. We see a montage featuring Maggie (Lauren Cohan) teaching classes in knife yoga (and blade chuckin’), we get a glimpse at the bun in her oven via an ultrasound. We see Sasha (Sonequa Martin) sketching a map of Negan’s HQ with help from Jesus (Tom Payne) and even a beat where Maggie gives some food to a brooding Daryl (Norman Reedus). The message of this latter beat is clear, Daryl may still blame himself for Glenn’s death but Maggie doesn’t. Then Rosita (Christian Serratos) arrives and joins up with Sasha and the talking begins, along with the eye-rolling. I’ve dubbed this idiotic pairing of Sasha and Rosita ‘The Spite Girls’ and their grand plan ‘Operation Dipshit’. Proceed accordingly. Cue opening titles.

After a brief bit of dialogue where Jesus reveals to Maggie that he’s gay (which middle America must just love!) Sasha spends a whole scene trying to rationalise Operation Dipshit to Jesus and Enid (Katelyn Nacon), but it falls flat. It’s hard to believe any character would think Rosita’s plan is a good one, much less Sasha who, while moody, has proven herself capable and intelligent before this.

Then the Saviors arrive, headed by Simon (Steven Ogg) and the Spite Girls exit through a previously unseen secret tunnel hidden under a woodpile that looks like something out of Get Smart. The Saviors want Daryl but he and Maggie hide in the basement.

Operation Dipshit gets off to a slow start because the Spite Girls can’t find a car that works. The problems are further compounded by the fact the pair don’t actually like one another very much, and after Rosita spies Sasha’s necklace from Abraham, she snipes: “Like it? I made it.” Later Sasha suggests that maybe this suicide mission would be better with less suicide, and Rosita harrumphs like a moody teenager who just had her Joy Division collection confiscated until she cleans her room.

Back with the Saviors, Simon menaces everyone while slimy Gregory (Xander Berkeley) brown noses to an embarrassing degree. Eventually it becomes clear that Simon needs to take Doc Carson (R. Keith Harris) who is the brother of the other Doc Carson (Tim Parati) that Negan turned into a woodfired pizza in “Hostiles and Calamities”. Gregory almost stands up to Simon but buckles like a belt when Steven Ogg turns on his “Trevor from GTA V” crazy eyes.

Daryl and Maggie have a slower, less elegant version of the scene in the cold open where Maggie affirms that she doesn’t blame Daryl for the death of Glenn. It’s an adequate moment but in an episode that struggles to find momentum it’s not exactly adding anything new.

The Spite Girls flog a car from some rowdy zombies and make it to The Sanctuary. Looking through the sniper scope they see Eugene (Josh McDermitt) supervising security near his metal-headed zombies. Rosita seems to think Eugene is “playing an angle” but Sasha doesn’t look as sure.

Then the Spite Girls remember they used to be pretty decent characters and bond over shared memories of Abraham, with Rosita filling in her backstory on why she’s so good at defusing explosives and flogging cars. Spoiler alert: it’s because she’s had a lot of shonky exes. The ladies attempt to take a shot at Negan but can’t get a clean one off. Looks like it’s time for Operation Dipshit to begin!

Moving in close, Rosita attempts to “rescue” Eugene who literally starts crying and runs away, apparently to tattle to Negan. Jesus, Eugene, that Stockholm Syndrome kicked in fast, eh mate? Sasha pretends like she’s breaking through the fence but is in fact trapping Rosita on the outside. Sasha has decided it’s not “Rosita’s time” and runs off, shooting a henchman on the way. Rosita looks like she’s ready to have a massive dummy spit when she turns and spies a figure with a crossbow nearby. Is it Daryl? Is it Dwight? We don’t know because flabbergastingly that’s where the episode ends.

“The Other Side” is an adequate 45 minutes of television but for the ante-penultimate episode of Season 7 it can’t help but feel like a bit of a fizzer. Hopefully this will mean the next two eps are thrill-filled crackers, because god knows we don’t want another season six finale cliffhanger situation. Don’t let us down, Walking Dead, or there will be strongly-worded tweets, by crikey!

 
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Feud

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The relationship between the highly prolific showrunner Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson) and US cable network FX has been a largely fruitful one. When Murphy pitched the idea for his latest effort, Feud, a themed series that depicts famously combative relationships with the maiden series covering the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the bitter rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, FX head honcho John Landgraf immediately gave the thumbs up. It’s intended that each series will cover a different real-life feud, with the next series focusing on the tumultuous relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) trawls dozens of novels that feature strong female characters in order to find a project for herself, given the dearth of decent roles for women of her age and stature. She stumbles across Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? about two sisters and decides to offer the co-lead to her arch rival Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon). She ropes in Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, played by Alfred Molina here) to direct. Aldrich ends up as the meat in the emotional sandwich as these two golden age goddesses hammer away at each other’s neurotic self-image and deep-seated sense of inferiority. Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) is adamant that Aldrich keep the two former screen sirens at each other’s throats because of the tremendous publicity that gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) is giving the production. As every day throws a new headline and a new volcanic meltdown on set, Aldrich does his best to play the two off against each other as the actresses both begin to fray at the edges. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates plays actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell respectively.

The show looks fantastic and it is clear Murphy and his team relish the production design and style of the era. As a slice of old Hollywood history, it’s nice to bask in the recreation of the period.

 

 

 
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The Walking Dead S7E13: Bury Me Here

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

 Morgan has in recent seasons become one of the more annoying characters on The Walking Dead. The blame for this rests not on the shoulders of actor Lennie James, who consistently delivers A-grade performances even when he’s working with shonky material, but rather in the maddeningly inconsistent writing for his character.

This is a character who has been with us since the beginning, has featured on one of the best episodes ever, “Clear” from season 3, and still provides solid thrills in his better moments. However his recent conversion to pacifism has gone from mildly interesting to frankly idiotic, but with “Bury me Here” it looks like Morgan’s ready to make war not peace.

The episode begins with a bunch of characters from the Kingdom glaring at a rockmelon. We’re not sure what the piece of fruit has done wrong, other than be the least interesting part of a fruit salad, and the credits begin before we can find out.

We move through dual action of Carol (Melissa McBride) heading into the Kingdom (dispatching zombies with a street sign, bless her heart) and Morgan teaching stick fighting to Benjamin’s younger brother. Carol grills Morgan about Daryl, wanting to know if her best bud was withholding information in his previous visit. Morgan replies that it’s not his secret to tell, leaving Carol frustrated. Benjamin (Logan Miller) tries to bond with Carol on the way out but she wants none of his nonsense and brushes him off. Then Ben gifts Morgan a thoughtful painting and those of us who have been watching The Walking Dead for a while know the little tacker’s days are numbered.

A number of Kingdom members, including Benjamin, Morgan and Richard (Karl Makinen) head off to the drop point to pay their tribute to the Saviors. They’re stopped by a barricade constructed of shopping trolleys and find an empty grave nearby with a sign saying “Bury me Here”. Creepy.

They arrive late at the drop and are one rockmelon short a tribute. The Saviors are none too pleased and it looks like they’re going to kill off one of our heroes. Richard steps forward to take one for the team but the arsehole Saviors shoot Benjamin in the leg instead. Ezekiel and Morgan attempt to save Benjamin at Carol’s place but it’s too late, Benjamin bleeds out and Morgan goes dark. Really dark.

Morgan soon puts the pieces together and realises the whole caper was set up by Richard, who wanted his own death to start the war with the Saviors. Morgan takes Richard’s explanation on the chin, but there’s something going on behind his eyes. Savior tribute round two and the gang deliver one rockmelon (so that explains it!) but before it goes on too long Morgan leaps on Richard and chokes him to a messy, gasping death in front of everyone.

Members of the Kingdom and Saviors alike are frankly horrified, even after Morgan explains the whole nasty business was Richard’s fault. Still the war is delayed for the moment and Morgan decides to obey the sign and buries Richard where the grave was dug. Then Morgan goes on a wild-eyed zombie bashing spree and it’s deliriously wonderful, but he’s clearly unravelling.

Morgan heads back to Carol’s place and finally tells her the truth about Glenn and Abraham. Carol tears up but manages to hold it together long enough to offer the now near-psychotic Morgan use of her halfway house. She won’t be needing it anymore.

Back at the Kingdom Carol arrives in time to plant new life in Ezekiel’s garden where the pair of them agree they will need to fight soon but “not today”. Carol also mentions that she’s moving into the Kingdom. She’s ready to be part of the community. To fight for it and to die for it.

“Bury me Here” is a solid bit of piece-moving that finally gives us back Morgan and Carol ready to fight. It’s a little rough around the edges, and Richard’s plans were deeply dubious, but it seems like the Kingdom’s finally ready to join the war – which is good news for everyone. Except, you know, Negan.

 
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Marvel’s Iron Fist

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Following in the footsteps of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage (and presaging team-up series, The Defenders), the latest Marvel/Netflix series has a lot to live up to – and a lot of now-apparent baggage to shed. Sadly, Iron Fist does neither.

Which is not to say it’s a terrible time, but Iron Fist exhibits a lack of ambition and an inability to effectively define its own identity. It feels by the numbers in a way its predecessors, even when they were working to formula, didn’t. If Daredevil is the opener of the way, and Jessica Jones filtered that narrative model through the lens of a woman’s experience, while Luke Cage steeped it in African American culture and history, then this series does… well, nothing too interesting.

Which may in fact be the best argument for re-imagining Danny Rand as an Asian character, instead of the comics-canonical white guy trained in the mystic East. There’s engaging work to be done in viewing the hoary tropes of the ’70s born martial arts movie through the eyes of, say, a savvy second- or third- generation Asian American.

Instead we get Finn Jones (Game of Thrones) as Rand, long thought dead after being lost in a plane crash along with his parents in the Himalayas, returning to New York City 15 years after the fact. Where’s he been in the interim? Why, learning martial arts in the magical mountain retreat of K’un L’un – hence why he’s now presenting as a shoeless hippie wanderer, a look that doesn’t endear him to the current executives of his father’s former company when he fronts up and informs them that he’d like his billions back, please.

Perhaps the weirdest choice made in Iron Fist is to spend so much time focusing on the machinations and maneuvering involved in Danny wresting back control of his company from his former childhood friends, Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup) Meachum, who are acting as catspaws for their father, Harold (David Wenham, having fun), Rand Senior’s former business partner , who is currently pretending to be dead for nebulous reasons.  If nothing else, Batman Begins handled this entire plot much more quickly and adroitly.

Still we do get some martial arts action, largely from Danny’s reluctant ally, dojo-owner Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who gets involved in illegal cage fighting in order to pay the bills. And Danny gets some moments to shine, too – his skirmish against a squad of hatchet-wielding Chinese toughs ticks the boxes nicely. But it’s all a bit underwhelming, lacking the audacity and brutality of Daredevil‘s fight choreography, and the casual superhuman power of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. And, forgive us, but isn’t Iron Fist’s whole schtick supposed to be spectacular martial arts?

If anything is a dealbreaker, it’s the series’ failure to fulfill the inherent promise of its premise. We should be seeing some Yuen Woo-ping style wire-fu, some scenery shattering displays of mystic kung-fu power (which we do from time to time, to be fair, but it’s underwhelming), something that takes us above the street-level beat-ups we’ve seen so far and bridges the gap between Daredevil and, say, Doctor Strange. It’s all there in the premise.

But it’s not there in the show.

So far, at least. Netflix put out the first six episodes for review purposes, and it’s possible that Iron Fist picks up significantly in the back half, but it wants to ramp up to an extraordinary degree to make up for its plodding opening act. If there’s one thing Netflix needs to learn – and this goes beyond their Marvel properties to encompass pretty much all their original series – it’s that length is not its own virtue. We shouldn’t have to trudge through hours of makework storytelling to get to the climax. It is, at base, bad writing beholden to a pointless production mandate.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Iron Fist is for completists only. It’s not a complete mess, but it’s a significant step down in quality.

 
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The Walking Dead S7E12: Say Yes

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

It’s almost always good news when Greg Nicotero directs an episode of The Walking Dead. Nicotero started out in the world of special makeup effects, learning under the tutelage of the maestro, Tom Savini, and honed his craft on the set of George Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). What this means in practical terms is that Nicotero knows how to shoot zombie action and always delivers something fresh and memorable, which isn’t bad for a television series in its seventh season.

Nicotero’s latest, “Say Yes”, is also his nineteenth episode and the man shows no sign of running out of new ways to deliver fresh twists on ambulatory corpses, but more on that in a moment. First a quick recap.

The cold open has Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Dana Gurira) moseying around the countryside in what could quite honestly be its own spin-off show called Scavengin’ and Lovin’ with the tagline “they loot, shoot and occasionally root!” It’s a jaunty little sequence and really plays to the rarely-seen lighter side of both characters, although as Rick suggests they keep on pushing further out the ominous music clues us in to the fact this might be a terrible idea. Cue titles.

Back at Alexandria, Rosita (Christian Serratos) is being unnecessarily dickish to Tara (Alanna Masterson). There’s nothing wrong with Rosita being mad that her ex was clobbered into a fine patch of skull porridge but her petulant, adolescent reaction is winning her no friends. She pops off to find firearms (a recurring motif of “Say Yes”) and is almost eaten by a large mama zombie that looks like it washes itself with a rag on a stick. Rosita lives but scores nothing for her troubles except a kid’s toy gun. Damn you, American children and your realistic-looking toy weapons!

Back with the A plot, Rick and Michonne fall into some supplies. Literally. The roof of the building they’re on collapses and it’s food for all. Even better the nearby carnival is brimming with military zombies who are all packing some serious heat. The loved up duo enjoy each other’s company, and the freshly-found food, as they prepare to take down the zombies in the light of day. Michonne asks Rick “What happens after we win?” Rick claims he doesn’t want a continuation of the Ricktatorship, but would be happy to rule as partners with Michonne. This seems like a sensible course of action.

Meanwhile in the B plots, Rosita is unnecessarily dickish to Father Gabriel for a while and Tara wonders aloud to baby Judith (aka Lil’ Ass-Kicker) if she should tell Rick about the Oceanside community.

Back at the carnival of the damned, Rick and Michonne embark on a mission to clear out the fairground and claim their weapons. At first things run smoothly, with the dead going down nice and easy, however when a well-armed walker accidently pops off a few rounds things turn south and the pair have to improvise. This is the meat of “Say Yes” and it’s totally worth the wait. Seeing two of the show’s most capable characters dispatching zombies, changing weapons on the fly and just managing to escape from certain death is a thrill. Sadly, however, Rick falls off a ferris wheel and is devoured by zombies.

Oh, alright, that doesn’t actually happen – but for a few moments Michonne thinks it does and it sours the mood from dry levity to something darker. Later Michonne laments that she can’t lose Rick, but Rick disagrees. “You can lose me,” he says in a surprisingly nuanced argument for The Walking Dead, “It’s not about us anymore, it’s about a future.”

Then we’re back to Junktown where Rick does some more sexy bartering with Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), queen of the Scavengers (aka Heapsters) who agrees to fight but only after she receives yet more weapons. Tara has wrestled with her demons and approaches Rick, apparently to tell him about the Oceansiders. Things are moving forwards and the plan appears to be gathering steam.

The episode concludes with Rosita approaching Sasha (Sonequa Martin) but instead of being unnecessarily dickish, she proposes the pair of them join forces and take out Negan by themselves, alone, with a single sniper rifle. It’s a plan so bad that the term “face-palmingly fucking stupid” is woefully insufficient a descriptor and yet apparently rendered simple-minded by grief Sasha agrees as long as she can fire the killing shot. Odds are high that at least one of this pair won’t be back for season eight.

“Say Yes” is a solid, fast-paced and frequently funny episode that skillfully matches striking imagery – fairground zombies, a walker falling to pieces in Rick’s hands, a wandering deer amidst the carnage – with genuinely solid character work in the A plot. The notion that society could, and indeed has to, continue after our heroes are gone is a strong one and perhaps hints at a potential endgame for the series.

 
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The Walking Dead S7E11 – Hostiles and Calamities

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

What’s it like to be the henchman of a truly evil person? That’s the question that underlies every scene in this week’s quirky detour, “Hostiles and Calamities”. The theme is explored through the experiences of two of the show’s most eccentric characters, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) with a number of tense appearances from Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is a much more effective villain when used sparingly, but more on that later.

We open with Dwight discovering Daryl has flown the coop and Eugene getting delivered to Negan’s compound aka The Sanctuary. It’s a nice juxtaposition, as Dwight is one of Negan’s favoured acolytes and Eugene is a hostage, literally bound with a sack over his head, but we’re about to see a rather neat reversal of fortune.

Eugene is dragged towards what we imagine will end up being a grim and grisly cell but is in fact a totally terrifying… comfortable-looking room! He’s then offered a meal and is left to his own devices. His fridge is full, the stereo works and Eugene cranks that bloody ‘Easy Street’ song. Enjoy having that stuck in your head for another week. Thanks a bunch, Walking Dead.

The Walking DeadDwight meanwhile ponders the note Daryl received that reads “Go now”. Does he recognise the handwriting or is he just an ardent fan of neat penmanship? His train of thought is abruptly derailed as Negan is at the door with a group of Saviors. Poker night for the boys? No, actually it’s a savage beating for Dwight. Negan is evidently displeased by Daryl’s escape and perhaps something else? Cue the opening titles.

The next day Dwight, found lounging in Daryl’s old cell, receives a visit from Negan. Apparently Sherry (Christine Evangelista) former wife of Dwight and current “wife” of Negan, has done a runner. Negan wants to know if she helped Daryl and, perhaps more importantly, where she is. After reestablishing his dominance over Dwight with a classic “Who are you?”, “I’m Negan” exchange, Dwight says he’ll find Sherry and bring her back, first paying creepy, gaunt-looking Dr. Carson (Tim Parati) a visit to get his busted mug fixed. No shade, Dwight, but that’s like pouring perfume on a pig, mate.

Eugene meanwhile gets a brief tour of what looks like the most depressing post-apocalyptic version of Paddy’s Markets imaginable and scores a jar of pickles for his troubles. He’s then lead outside where Negan quizzes our clearly-on-the-spectrum hero about just how smart Eugene really is. Initially, it does not go well, and Eugene delivers a stumbling, flustered monologue about his own intelligence to little avail. As if to punctuate just how badly he flopped a nearby zombie drops its guts, leading Negan to ask how Brains Trust would fix the problem of fence zombies falling apart like poorly-rolled burritos. Eugene comes up with an insane plan that involves pouring molten lead over the walkers. Naturally Negan loves it, praising the idea as “not only practical… it is just badass!” Eugene lives to eat more pickles, but just what game is he playing?

As a reward for his grand idea, Doctor Smartypants (Eugene’s new nickname) gets a visit from three of Negan’s wives. Frankie (Elyse Nicole DuFour), Tanya (Chloe Aktas) and Amber (Autumn Dial) all purr and coo at Eugene who plays Yar’s Revenge on an old Atari 2600. Eventually the ladies convince Eugene to perform a few explosive science experiments and the mulleted one delivers, getting awkward hugs and mild sexual tension for his efforts. Eugene, you lady killer.

Meanwhile Dwight searches his old house and finds a note from Sherry. Sherry apologises for leaving, but claims they never should have returned to the Saviors. Even though that course of action was Sherry’s idea, the note concludes with “I loved who you were – I am sorry I made you into who you are” and Dwight finds his former wife’s wedding rings inside. It’s a surprisingly emotional moment and one can almost sympathise with Dwight’s plight, although a lot depends on what he does next.

Meanwhile back at The Sanctuary, Frankie and Tanya beg Eugene for a suicide pill to give Amber. Amber has fallen into a dark and abiding depression and wants to shuffle off this mortal coil painlessly and soon. This seems a lot to lay on the big fella, but Eugene mumbles and nods his assent and uses his newfound status to score meds at the market, not to mention a bedpan, flyswatter and cuddly toy.

Dwight returns and tells Doc Carson that Sherry was torn apart by walkers. Carson is about as sympathetic as a particularly callous brick and one wonders why the scene exists at all. The question is answered in the next sequence where Negan is heating up the branding iron in the furnace. It seems a note has been found in the not-very-good doctor’s belongings, implying that he wanted to impress Sherry by releasing Daryl to curry her sexual favour. A ripped bit of paper seems a fairly thin piece of evidence, but Negan is convinced and offers Carson the iron or the apology. Because Carson has clearly never watched the show before, he admits his guilt, apologises and gets chucked into the furnace.

Eugene gets a final visit from Frankie and Tanya but it doesn’t go well for the ladies. Eugene is hip to their plan, which is to poison Negan, and will not be a part of that. “You’re a coward!” the ladies spit, “That is a correct assessment” Eugene replies. Later Negan visits and it’s time to ask Eugene the big question, but Eugene is so ready to answer he doesn’t even let Negan finish asking: “I am utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan.” Oh, Eugene, say it ain’t so.

The final scene shows Eugene’s molten-lead-on-the-walkers plan being implemented while Eugene munches on a pickle. For him there is a sense of belonging here, even if it comes at the cost of personal freedom and dignity. Dwight sidles up next to him and the compromised pair chat awkwardly. “We are Negan” Eugene says. “Yeah,” Dwight replies.

“Hostiles and Calamities” is a strange episode, offering a mixture of deadpan humour, quirky dialogue and genuinely threatening Negan all at the same time. It’s light on zombies and violence but it does offer an interesting glimpse into the henchman’s dilemma. Is it really is it better to die on your feet than live on your knees? For Dwight the court’s still out, but for Eugene – when slavery comes with an Atari 2600 and all the fresh pickles you can eat – it seems he’s all too willing to bend the knee.

 

 
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Girls S6E3 – American Bitch

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There’s a quiet and compelling energy that pulsates in “American Bitch”, which goes deep into the world of sexual politics, accountability, and consequence. A brooding exchange between Hannah and lothario writer, Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys), sustains an entire twenty-seven minutes where we discover Chuck has summoned her to his expensive apartment to question her on a piece she wrote about his occupied position as a famous author having his way with young, impressionable, literary groupies – who then kiss and tell by blogging about it.

What unfolds is a low-key, slow-burn narrative and fluctuating power play that starts off as a curious enough encounter between two people. Hannah gets kudos straight up assuming he has “an ass-deep google alert” on himself – how else would he know of the article written for a niche feminist website? And she gains traction stating she’s an unknown writer whose only wish is to use her voice momentously – which, again, means accusing hip authors of using their power and influence to bed fawning female creative writing students. Chuck pushes back, but not in an obvious way. He’s prickly, yes, but hardly in combat stance, and concedes she’s smart and funny by reading out a line from said article. ‘If one more male writer I love reveals himself to be a heinous sleazebag I’m going to do a bunch of murders, create a new isle of Lesbos and never look back.’ “You’re funny – that’s a funny sentence”, he says.

The episode alternates between opinions and differences due to gaps of gender and age and suffice to say a war begins between them. A war between generations, a war of the sexes, a war for and against technology. “Isn’t that the crazy part about all of this? About being alive right now?” Chuck says. “So much of your life, your world, can be destroyed by something called Tumbler without an e?” Hannah cheerleads for the internet as some kind of public town hall that gives voice to the marginalised. “Is that why the internet is so cool? Because some might argue that it’s a monster we’ve created that will ultimately kill us”, Chuck shoots back. “Yeah, well the people who argue that are probably a generation above me”, she retorts.

The problem is, Hannah thinks she knows Chuck because she’s read all his stuff along with some of the facts. But she wouldn’t know the first thing about who the private man is. She knows of the public figure and the prize-winning writer in possession of an unruly sexual appetite, but it’s Chuck Palmer and his shitstorm of a personal life that is the revelation for her. She also asks why she alone was invited to his apartment knowing she wasn’t the only writer who declared open season on him. It seems to be an insignificant question yet plays out well in a satisfying denouement. But it isn’t until their encounter abruptly devolves into an eye-popping disaster that you finally see Chuck and his ‘master manipulator’ shadow – one which fell across their entire meeting from the start.

 
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Riverdale Chapter 4: The Last Picture Show

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More Jughead = better Riverdale. It’s a simple formula largely based on this episode, which partly focuses on Cole Sprouse’s moody, beanie-clad outsider campaigning to save the Twilight Drive-In from impending destruction.

Of course, Juggie is an obsessive cinephile. It’s a perfect grace note for the character, denoted by a fairly basic Tarantino reference, but really driven home by our humble narrator referring to Betty Cooper as a “Hitchcock blonde”. As it transpires, Jughead has better reasons than cinematic taste to try and preserve the old drive-in cinema not only does he work there as a projectionist, he’s camping out there. Juggie’s home life is less than ideal; his mother and little sister are nowhere to be found, while his old man, F.P. Jones (Skeet Ulrich), is the leader of the South Side Serpents, a 1%er outfit of leather-clad ne’er-do-wells. Jug and his old man really only get one scene together, but it’s milked for pathos – especially since F.P. is partly responsible for the Drive-In being sold off to a developer, acting as a bagman in a bit of skullduggery involving Mayor McCoy (Robin Givens) and… the Lodges!

Remember the big bag of money Hermione Lodge was gifted with back in episode one? As it turns out, Hermione is acting as a catspaw for the imprisoned and as-yet-unseen Hiram Lodge, paying off McCoy and the Serpents in order for Lodge Industries purchase of the old drive-in to go smoothly. It’s a cool development, one that is hard to see coming but makes perfect sense in retrospect. Canonically, Mr. Lodge has always been the major financial player in town, and this lets him still fulfill that role while remaining offscreen.

The battle over the drive-in is also a strong thematic touchstone; it represents “Old Riverdale”, the innocent land of neon and classic cars, hot dogs and teen canoodling – how apt that it’s being destroyed by the “New Riverdale” of soap opera plot twists, corruption, and dirty dealing. Jughead, our POV man, wants to protect Old Riverdale; sadly, he can only bear witness to its passing, even as he himself is hurt by the machinations that grind it up.

We also get a better idea of the social dynamics underpinning Riverdale’s older generation. Hermione and Fred head to the drive-in together for its final screening (top marks for using Rebel Without A Cause) and it becomes clear that they used to have a thing going on back in the day before she ditched him for the wealthier Hiram. At another point, after Veronica sees her having an argument with F.P., Hermione explains that the two of them went to high school together Meanwhile, we learn that Fred once fired F.P. for theft. If anything, the middle-aged Riverdalers have more going on than their front-and-centre kids.

All this is background stuff, though, with the A-plot reserved for – and seemingly resolving – the increasingly icky relationship between Archie and Ms Grundy, as Girl Detective Betty Cooper learns that the music teacher is, in fact, using an assumed name (cue photo cameo from the real Grundy, the spitting image of her comic book counterpart). Grundy’s explanation for this is that she is fleeing an abusive relationship, but the show has put up too many red flags for that to fly, chief among them that she previously did an “independent study project” with the now deceased Jason Blossom.

Once all this is out in the open there’s nothing to do but put Grundy on a (literal) bus, but what’s really jarring is the fairly blase attitude everyone – including Fred, Archie’s dad – takes to the revelation that the music teacher has been in a sexual relationship with one of her students. There’s no way to read that as anything other than predatory, but only Betty’s mother, Alice, really getting bent out of shape over the situation and calling a spade a spade – and we’ve already been encouraged to view her as nuts, anyway (indeed, there’s a scene this ep where she suddenly appears outside a car window at the drive-in, flashlight in hand, that seemingly exists just to reinforce this). There’s actually a weird disconnect between the way characters react to the situation and the way the show represents it – consider the scene where Grundy – real name Jennifer Gibson if you’re keeping track – favouring a group of teen hunks with a lingering gaze; there’s a disturbing pattern being hinted at here, and we the viewers are far more squicked out than almost anyone on the show.

Still, “The Last Picture Show” is a pretty great episode, deepening our understanding of the town’s dynamics and laying foundations for further plots beyond the whole “who killed Jason Blossom?” hook. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of fallout results from the Archie/Grundy storyline – it’d be good to see ol’ Arch realise how badly he’s been used at least – but if not getting that is the price of moving forward narratively, fair enough. There’s plenty going on in the Town With Pep that’s more worthy of our attention.

 
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The Walking Dead S7E10: New Best Friends

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Traditionally the second episode back after either the premiere or mid-season premiere tends to be a lesser entity. The logic at play seems to be: the showrunners have hooked us with the first one and now they can slack off a little, with more filler and less killer. While that’s true to an extent in terms of visual panache, New Best Friends is a solid, occasionally funny and moving entry for the back half of Season Seven. There’s nothing quite as gloriously gory as the zombie massacre-via-wire sequence from Rock in the Road, but what it lacks in splatter is made up for in Carol and Daryl’s oft-delayed reunion. More on that in a bit.

The episode opens with the Saviors collecting from Ezekiel and a select group of his subjects. Naturally, Negan’s crew are a bunch of dickbags and soon get into a messy tussle, which ends up with Richard (Karl Makinen) shouty, Morgan (Lennie James) injured and his prize stick (which inexplicably isn’t named) being flogged by a salty Savior. It’s a scene that speaks to the underlying tension between these two groups, but once again Ezekiel is contrite and de-escalates the situation. Back at the Kingdom Morgan continues to not tell Daryl (Norman Reedus) about Carol’s whereabouts (thus cementing his place on my angrily-scrawled shit list) and Richard gives Daryl a bowgun. This is apparently extremely important because straight afterward the opening titles begin.

Richard takes Daryl to his weapon-filled clubhouse, the pair get armed up and head out to… where? Well, Richard’s plan is to start the war. Ezekiel will not fire the first shot so Richard reckons he and Daryl kill some Saviors, plant evidence on some crazed loner who is loosely affiliated with The Kingdom and when the Saviors murder said loner, Ezekiel will be honour-bound to join the fight. It’s a strange and convoluted plan that might have actually worked until Daryl starts to grill Richard about the identity of the loner. After much glaring through his sweaty fringe and growling “say her damn name!” Daryl gets Richard to admit the loner is Carol. The pair fight and Daryl buggers off. Go to Carol, Daryl. Go to her!

Meanwhile at the endless junkyard of scary sculptures, Rick and crew are being menaced by what looks like a Type O Negative tribute group. The sour-faced, dark-clad band are either rogue puppeteers or the next evolution of emo, but apparently all they want is this world is to flog stuff and live in a junkyard. Their leader, Jadis (played by the wonderful Pollyanna McIntosh of The Woman and Hap and Leonard fame) is a strange mix of quirky and intimidating, but despite all this Rick continues to smile. Rick asserts his position: he wants his priest back (yes, the junkyard kids have Gabriel – although why Rick wants him back remains a mystery) and he wants Jadis to join his fight. Jadis seems to ponder the issue and then pushes Rick into a pit.

Rick sits up, Michonne desperately calling his name, and is confronted by a spiked, armoured zombie hungrily making its way towards him. The concept of armouring a zombie is a great idea, and conceptually this is a fantastic sequence, however director Jeffrey F. January lacks Greg Nicotero’s knack for framing zombie action. After an awkwardly-staged fight, Rick manages to kill the barbed mongrel and Jadis is suitably impressed. The pair have an oddly flirty bartering session and agree on terms. Jadis will join the fight but wants a crapload of stuff in return. Rick will also need several tetanus shots.

Back at Carol’s shack, after a cruel fake-out involving Ezekiel delivering cobbler, Daryl and Carol are finally (finally!) reunited. The authenticity of Carol’s tears is a testament to Melissa McBride’s acting skills and her genuine platonic love for Daryl is moving as hell. The pair bond over dinner, Carol explains her reasons for leaving (which are still dubious, but we’ll let it go) and asks Daryl if the Saviors killed anyone. Daryl straight up lies to her face and tells her everything is fine. Thankfully Carol doesn’t have twitter in the zombie apocalypse so she won’t have the lie spoiled… for now. But what hell will she unleash when she does learn of Negan’s actions? Honestly, I can’t wait to see it.

Daryl heads back to the Kingdom and hangs out with Shiva (Ezekiel’s tiger). Morgan pops in and mutters some tiresome, zen nonsense that just reminds us how much more of an interesting character he was in seasons 1 and 3. We gave peace a chance, Morgan, the shit didn’t take. “Wake the hell up!” Daryl growls, and tells Morgan he’s heading to the Hilltop in the morning. Morgan and Ezekiel may be comfortable in their bubble of non-violence but Daryl has made it clear he won’t be a part of it.

New Best Friends won’t be on anyone’s all-time favourite list, but it’s engaging nonetheless. The junkyard kids (aka Bin Chickens) are a strange but fascinating group and the moments between Carol and Daryl are pure gold. The show seems to be moving in a proactive, occasionally humourous direction, which is a nice change. Certainly it’ll all end in tears and blood, but for now the good guys are winning more than they lose.