A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 4, Episode 11: “Claimed”

So after last week’s Rashomon inspired episode, The Walking Dead gets back to linear storytelling this week with “Claimed.”  This week serves to introduce the audience to our three new faces from the end of last week’s episode, but, as with the previous episodes, sets up the overarching arc for the remainder of the season.  This week contained the storylines to three and felt more focused than last week, but also continues to deal with clinging to hope when all seems lost.

Claimed- Tara watches Abraham kill walkers

The episode begins with Tara riding in the tank that belongs to the three newcomers.  As they make their way, Tara marks down street names, but the tank comes to a halt due to attracting walkers.  The muscular leader of the group makes quick work of the walkers, conserving ammunition in favor of just bashing in some skulls.  Tara watches and notes that she’s never seen anyone smile while killing a walker.  The man’s response?  He’s the luckiest man in the world.  Well, better luck than most people are having during the zombie apocalypse.

Claimed- Carl and Michonne bond over breakfast

We then return to Rick, Carl and Michonne, with the latter two trying to connect.  The two talk of cereal, which leads to Carl describing his hatred for soy milk.  The conversation takes a dark turn when he talks about formula and is reminded of Judith.

Claimed- Rick and Michonne make plans

In another room, Rick thanks Michonne for making Carl laugh, as Rick himself has forgotten what that sounds like.  Rick concedes that he’s never going to be Carl’s father and best friend, so he needs someone like Michonne in his life.  Michonne asks whether the building they’re in will be a permanent home, but Rick insists it’s home for now while they figure things out.  However, they still need supplies, so Carl and Michonne will go out for some.  Rick offers to join, but Michonne has him stay put.  After all, he spent most of yesterday unconscious and he’s still recovering from the prison assault.  He’s of better use at full strength, so no need for him to drain what’s left of his strength by just trying to help.

Claimed- Michonne and Carl travel for supplies

This leaves Carl and Michonne to try and bond as they make their way through an abandoned home.  Try.  Michonne tries what should pass for humor, but comes off as awkward.  She does get around to talking about her life before the walkers and speaks about her son.  But because this is Michonne, she’ll answer Carl’s questions: one at a time, one room at a time and after said room has been cleared.  Picky, picky.

But her son’s name was Andre.  Andre Anthony.  Carl presses for more, causing Michonne to say he could have been a great spy.  Michonne confesses that she never told anyone about this, not even Rick.  Carl assures her that the secret is safe, even though it’s not a secret.  When the two get back to looking around, Carl finds an unwrapped painting and looks further into the house.  When Michonne unwraps the painting, she finds it covered with blood and decides to investigate.  She enters what appears to be a child’s room and after thumbing through some books, enters another room- this one belonging to sisters.

Claimed- Michonne finds room with bodies

But Michonne finds nothing but corpses of girls on their beds and a woman with a shotgun blast through the head.  She recoils and doesn’t reveal to Carl what she saw.  But then it’s Carl’s turn to open up: Rick was the one who let him give Judith her name.  Maybe she and Andre are together somewhere.  There’s something to talk about later.

Claimed- Rick hides from marauders

Back at the house, Rick is playing hide and no seek after hearing men enter the building.  He hides under the bed and grabs his bottle of water to give no indication that anyone has recently been there.  One of the men has camped himself right on the bed when another comes in and demands it.  A fight ensues.  One of the men ends up on the floor and is able to look Rick right in the fact, but before he can say anything, he’s strangled by the other man and passes out.  Guess Rick caught a break.

Claimed- Glenn awakens, asks Tara about the bus

On the road, Glenn finally awakens and demands that the tank stop.  It doesn’t, so he bangs his gun against the glass.  That’ll get their attention, and it does.  They’ve already passed the prison bus, so Glenn has to go back.  The leader of the three advises against it, saying that they’re on a time sensitive mission.  His advice to Glenn is simple: find strong comrades and stick together.  Few could last a night alone in this world and there’s strength in numbers.

Claimed- Abraham tries to stop Glenn

Tara is still skeptical and as she doesn’t even know the names of the three survivors, it’s time for proper introductions: the leader is Sergeant Abraham Ford, played by Michael Cudlitz.  Accompanying him are Dr. Eugene Porter, played by Josh McDermitt, and Rosita Espinosa, played by Christian Serratos.  Their goal is to get Dr. Porter to Washington D.C.  Why?  Because he knows exactly what caused this mess.

What caused it?  Classified.  Damn.  There’s always something classified.  But Eugene has been communicating via radio with contacts in Washington.  The three could use Glenn’s help, but he refuses.  He and Tara start the long walk back toward the prison bus until Abraham tells him there’s zero chance of finding Maggie since she’s probably dead.  No need for him to die, too.  How does Glenn respond to that?  With a punch to the face.  Wow.  Some gratitude to the folks who gave you a lift after you passed out.  Plus, Glenn’s not too smart if he’s gonna take on a big, muscular man he just met while he’s still got his own bruises.

Claimed- Rosita, Abraham and Eugene fire

But as expected, Abraham fights back and overtakes Glenn.  In the name of convenience, walkers emerge left and right.  For some reason, no one’s able to hear Eugene call for help even though they’re only a few feet away.  So Eugene loads a gun and begins firing wildly and without direction.  Only this alerts the others to the walkers and they lay waste to the horde.  They’re successful, but the tank is now leaking.  Way to go, Doctor!

Claimed- Rick ALMOST Caught

Rick is still under the bed, but manages to slip out when the man has fallen dead asleep with no sign of waking up.  Despite hearing other noises, Rick makes his way to another room just as another man prepares to enter.  Rick’s unable to open the window, so he grabs a trophy as his weapon.  Unfortunately, fooling the men into thinking the house is empty falls flat when one of the men finds a woman’s shirt.

When the two men head downstairs, Rick heads to the bathroom and encounters a member of the group.  A fight breaks out with Rick managing to get the upper hand and strangle the man to death.  He manages to get his jacket and slip out of the house undetected.

Back on the road, Rosita hands Glenn his photo of Maggie while Abraham still goes on about Washington.  Well, with no tank, it will be pretty challenging to get there.  Tara and Glenn take the long walk back toward the bus, and Rosita follows.  Nothing else they can really do if the tank’s no good, so why not?  Tara questions Abraham’s involvement, given how Eugene is apparently the one with the smarts.  But Abraham just wants to help save the world.

Rick waits by the side of the building when one of the men sits on the porch to eat some food.  At the same time, Carl and Michonne are closing in on the house.  Before a confrontation can take place, the man hears a scream from inside and goes back in the house.  This gives Rick the chance he needs to warn Carl and Michonne away from the home as they head elsewhere.

Claimed- Michonne, Carl and Rick find rail car

They end up by a freight car displaying a very familiar notice: “Sanctuary for All.  Room for All.  Those who arrive survive.”

As the case has been with the past two episodes, “Claimed” felt like more setup.  Focusing on just three storylines allows for longer stretches where the characters can develop.  Sometimes that can work.  It didn’t always work this week, but the episode’s weaker moments were strengthened by the more tense moments, such as Rick dealing with the marauders.

Claimed- Carl and Michonne TRY to bond

But before we get to that, let’s deal with Carl and Michonne.  So yeah, Michonne isn’t exactly known for being open at all.  Heck, she spent a good amount of time not saying anything before, but when she tries to converse about herself, it feels very awkward.  And I mean very awkward.  Michonne shouldn’t be treating Carl like a kid by trying to make him laugh.  The stuff this kid has seen, you don’t have to force humor on him.  I understand that it will take a while for Michonne to come out of her shell, but I just wish the dialogue between her and Carl wasn’t so off.  I mean, saying you’ll only reveal one fact per room is a bit childish, even for Michonne.  Treat Carl like the man he’s become.  Though at the same time, Carl isn’t one for nagging, so it felt a bit out of character for him to play 20 questions with someone he knows isn’t the best conversationalist.

It’s like Michonne’s emotions are on a dial.  If she’s not trying to be super animated, she’s back to being her usual, quiet self.  She hasn’t found that fine balance, but she’s making an effort.  I’ll give her that, but these moments don’t carry the same emotional weight as did the flashback that showed her home life.

But I do like Michonne’s reveal of her child, as it gives her and Carl a connection.  To Carl, it makes Michonne seem less cold and distant.  But the moment where he laughed at her shirt felt very real and unforced.  And like Rick said, it’s been awhile since he heard Carl laugh, so it was a good moment for both father and son.  And I did like Carl trying to be optimistic by telling Michonne that maybe Andre and Judith are together somewhere.

Claimed- Carl calling Carol an idiot for believing in Heaven

This is very different from the Carl that called Carol an idiot for believing that Sophia was in Heaven, but since Carl believes that Judith is gone, he can relate to what Carol said.  A well-done ironic echo in my opinion.

Claimed- Michonne examining girls' room

Michonne finding the girls’ room was one of the creepier moments of the episode.  It’s an interesting juxtaposition: the innocent of a child’s room against the dead bodies laying almost perfectly on their furniture and bed.

Claimed- Morgan finding bodies

It’s reminiscent of a scene in the comics where Morgan finds the remains of a family in a house he’s exploring.  Though that scene is more graphic, as the father had poisoned his child, scrambled his brains and then blew both his wife and himself away with a shotgun to the head.  Like Carl finding the abandoned room with video games and a television, it offered a brief glimpse into the world children had before everything went to hell.

Claimed- Rick hiding under bed

Rick definitely had my favorite segment of the episode.  His moments were very tense, with us able to hear every single sound in the house as he tried to avoid detection.  You could see the fear etched onto Rick’s face not just when he realized he was not alone, but when he was almost exposed if not for strangulation.  And with no music at all, suspense always building and no false scares, it felt like a genuinely tense moment for Rick.

Even in his weakened condition, Rick just can’t have one decent day off, but when it’s ruined, he still manages to find a way out.  Though, in typical television or film fashion, no one bothers to check under the beds when surveying their surroundings.  Seriously, one simple look and Rick would have been exposed, but I guess even in the post apocalyptic zombie world, raiders aren’t that smart.

While I think this sequence was only here to give Rick something to do, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of these men, given how they were not only found Michonne’s shirt, but they know one of them had been attacked by someone else.  I get the feeling they’ll be back.

Claimed- Glenn and Abraham

And then there’s Glenn and Tara.  Glenn’s pretty much repeating the same mantra he had last week: Maggie’s out there and he’ll find her.  I get his determination, but he doesn’t progress beyond that.  After meeting three other survivors, one would think that both he and Tara would at least take the time to consider the possibility of finding out what caused this mess, something that hasn’t been touched upon since the CDC at the end of Season One.  For now, though, Glenn has a one track mind and it only leads to Maggie, so any insinuation that she’s long gone doesn’t even enter his mind.

So it makes sense that he’d slug Abraham for implying that, even though, again, not the smartest of ideas to strike a man whose physically more intimidating than you.  But he’s going to find Maggie, and Tara really has nothing else to do, so no reason she won’t join him, even if she doesn’t really add anything to the plot right now.

Claimed- Abraham

As far as our new characters, I think Michael Cudlitz does a good job as Abraham, though I do wish he was a bit more physically imposing than he is right now.

Claimed- Abraham and Eugene

His reveal about Eugene knowing what caused this mess came a bit too quickly for my liking.  Better that it be revealed when more of the group has reunited, but then we as an audience may have spent the entire time wondering about Abraham’s intentions.

He’s certainly fun to watch, proving this through the smiles on his face as he bashes in walkers.  And I like how determined he is to get to Washington even though he isn’t the one who needs to go.  Appearances can be deceiving and rage can change a person, so it’s too early to draw conclusions on Abraham.

Claimed- Glenn and Rosita

The same can be said for Eugene and Rosita who, like Abraham, are mostly here for introduction.  Eugene’s the scientist, supposedly, with the answer to this problem, and Rosita is attractive.  Again, it’s all set-up, so I assume they’ll get more to do later.  Though it is a bit presumptive of Tara to say that Rosita will follow Abraham anywhere, given how she barely knows Rosita.

“Claimed” was a mixed bag for me.  It allowed for character growth between Carl and Michonne, some well done tense moments for Rick and fighting between Glenn and the newcomers.  The Carl and Michonne storyline had the potential to be stronger, if not for the shoddy dialogue, but the other two plots made up for that.  A decent episode.

A Look at House of Lies- Season 3, Episode 7: “Pushback”

And here’s why you don’t screw around with T.I.  Or Kristen Bell, for that matter.

The episode begins in a headlock.  Well, with Lex having locked Roscoe in a headlock before he tells him to get ready.  Lex tries to make small talk with Marty, but it goes nowhere until Roscoe returns.

Pushback- Marty and Roscoe argue

Marty and Roscoe talk.  Since Roscoe was 18 months old, he always dressed himself, so Marty’s confused as to why he would take advice from someone else.  For Roscoe, it’s because Lex is his girlfriend.  The two clash, with Roscoe believing that Lex is the first person who ever got him and believing that Marty never asked Roscoe what he thought about his own relationship.

Pushback- Dre and Marty talk via Skype

At work, Marty tells Dre via Skype session that Lukas knows the deal, so better to put the cards on the table.  Their conversation is cut short when Marty notices various items being moved out of DollaHyde.

So, pod to the rescue, Jeffrey included this time.  Marty sends the new pod to find anyone who might return to the offices with a high capacity magazine.  Old pod?  Suck it up.  This is the nature of the business that they’re used to, so now’s the time to find a way to fix this mess.

Out comes Dre, who received a message from Lukas.  Lukas will be unable to attend the meeting because he’s meeting with Chihuahua breeders.  All eyes are on you, Doug.  The pod tries to convince Dre that Lukas is only hurting himself and whatever he does, they’ll have something ready to counter him.  Will, thinking practically, suggests just rehiring the people that Lukas fired- which is half of the senior staff- but there’s a double signatory required on all outgoing checks.  More than that, he shut down production, cancelled orders and stopped payments.  Damage control is working for now, but the pod needs to fix this mess.  Now.

Pushback- Dre and Marty talk at Kaan and Associates

When Marty and Dre alone, Marty tells him that the more time spent panicking means the pod has less time to do its job.  Lukas has only won a small battle, but not the war.  Someone like Marty Kaan isn’t intimidated by a small fry like Lukas, who loves money more than he hates Dre.

Pushback- Jeannie and Clyde propose alternative method to dealing with Lukas

Back with the pod, Jeannie tells the others that until Lukas co-signs on the payments, what they’re doing is volunteer work, which Jeannie isn’t a fan of.  Marty enters and lets the pod know that they’ll have to deal with Lukas directly, so Caitlin and Jeffrey will set that up so everyone can close this buyout today.  Why?  Because Dre is a client.  He paid them, so he gets what he wants.  Jeannie counters that the company is the client that paid them.  The company in which Dre and Lukas are equal partners.  The two go back and forth until Jeannie poses the question of who DollaHyde benefits from having more.  Doug presents two models of DollaHyde’s five year projections and viability: one with Dre at the helm, the other with Lukas.

Jeannie says there’s no point in spending time on ousting Lukas if there’s no financial advantage.  Just bring him up under different terms.  Marty still sees Lukas as a liability and blows off any suggestion that isn’t his, so this all goes nowhere.

So the game plan is for the old pod to visit Lukas and convince him that they’re weak and he was right. Stroke his ego, as it was.

Pushback- Marty explains Hood Rich

Time freezes as Marty explains that Lukas suffers from a socioeconomic disease known as “hood rich.”  This presents itself in many ways, but symptoms include more cars than novels, disapproving white neighbors and gold.  Marty is no psychic, but he does bet that Lukas is lousy with the crowd.  There’s no cure for hood rich, except for an arrest, I guess, but this means they all have to suffer.

Lukas and his posse come down to give the pod a tour.  Lukas does indeed have great affluence, even as far as having a live catfish pond.  It could happen, I guess, when you’re hood rich.

Pushback- Pod meets with Lukas

When the tour ends, Marty concedes that Dre and the pod royally screwed up.  Bottom line is neither of them can make a move without the other.  The buyout price is well above actual market value of his shares and he can walk away with more money than he already has. Lukas isn’t sold on being told what he already knows, though, so he shoots this idea down.  He thinks Dre is desperate, but won’t accept his welfare.  But he has two options: he can sell his part of the business and live like a god, or sit on his ass while the entire thing burns to the ground.

Lukas passes, so Marty decides to play hardball and presents DollaHyde’s actual financial report that can get both Lukas and Dre thrown in prison.  Lukas isn’t intimidated since prison for him would be like a family reunion.  Also, Atwater has ice cream sandwiches and Neapolitan.  Hell, prison sounds like a good idea right about now.

But Marty is willing to bet that Lukas has friends in the drug game that wouldn’t be glad that he outed him to the Fed.  He as in Marty, but since Lukas paid him, it would be as if he did it. Marty isn’t intimidated by Lukas…

Pushback- Lukas in Marty's face

…until Lukas gets right in his face and lets him know, point blank, that he might have been able to bitch at Dre, but Lukas is a real gangster with live catfish ponds and everything.  Even if the S.W.A.T. team bursts in, Lukas isn’t signing or selling anything.  So what’s Marty’s move?

Pushback- Well, that worked for the pod

Well, that worked.  At least Doug gets the post-conversation ball rolling by wondering aloud which one of the pod Lukas will kill first.  But Doug’s odds may be better since he did kill Lukas’ dog, so maybe he should set the speculation aside for the moment.  Marty believes that Lukas is acting out, but Jeannie laughs.  She’s glad that the pod went with Marty’s foolproof plan.  The pod retreats for the moment.

Except for Jeannie, who returns to Lukas and is later doing shots while swimming in his pool.  Not the catfish one, though, so the fish are safe.  She tells Lukas that Dre doesn’t give a crap about him and that the partnership is over.  Lukas needs to take care of himself and just take the money.

Pushback- Jeannie and Lukas talk

Jeannie then speaks about people who know they’re great, but are then erased by those around them.  It’s not when people succeed, it’s the moment when they’ve accomplished something that they shouldn’t have, so people say they never did and don’t deserve it.  Lukas, however, just wants to be spoken to like a real person, so Jeannie spills: her father died on Tuesday.  The funeral is tomorrow in the town where she grew up, but she’ll be making money and taking care of herself at work.  She learned that no one is on her side but her.  Lukas sees that as screwed up, but he concedes and tells her to consult.  Her suggestion?  Call Marty and tell him that he’ll sign under certain conditions.  Those conditions?  Jeannie never gets to say before she and Lukas go at it.

Pushback- Jeremiah discusses Marty's situation

At House Kaan that evening, Marty’s hard at work when Jeremiah enters.  Without Chantelle, as Jeremiah needed a break.  However, he did have a chance to catch up with Roscoe, who told him about the confrontation earlier.  In Jeremiah’s mind, Marty just pushed him a bit too far because he’s not good at reading people.  Marty believes Roscoe is off the rails, but Jeremiah doesn’t think so.  Sure, Jeremiah isn’t around when the shit hits the fan, but this isn’t about him.

Marty, whose dealing with his own consulting firm, needs help from Jeremiah, but Jeremiah spells it out: Marty is at a place where everything else falls away and it’s just him and Roscoe.  He remembers what happened when he and Jeremiah found themselves locked in combat after his mother died.  Despite that, they made it out alive.  He and Roscoe will get past this, so long as Marty allows him to live that long.

The next day, the pod waits while Marty takes a phone call from Lukas.  Lukas is out, under certain terms: he wants $150 million plus royalties.  Jeannie doesn’t seem too surprised by this news, but she only suggested $125 million.  Eh.  What’s $25 million?  Hey, it’s what Marty wanted, right?  Lukas out.  Though Dre doesn’t have that kind of money, so looks like Marty is Lukas’ bitch.  Well played.

Pushback- Lex and Roscoe drunk and playing basketball

Back at House Kaan, which has seen better days, Roscoe and Lex engage in a game of basketball as Marty enters.  Seems like there’ll be no issue until Roscoe shoots and shatters some glass.  Oh, and they’re both drunk.  Another good idea, right?  This sets Marty off, as he demands not only that Lex leave, but that the whole dating scene is done.  Er…deaded, in Marty’s words.

Pushback- Lex becomes Michelle

Marty even goes as far as to drive Lex home, though he locks himself in the car so he can get back in his dress and look like a girl.  Huh.  Also, his name is apparently Michelle.  I suppose I should feel something with this scene, but I don’t.

At the house, Marty helps a woozy Roscoe into bed.  Before Marty can leave, Roscoe asks him to not be angry at Lex since the whole ordeal was his idea.  Marty’s not angry, but if Roscoe ever mixes a 25 year old single Malt with Hawaiian Punch again, he’ll find himself up for adoption immediately.  He’ll also probably need to find his own money to pay for a brand new Bottega Hobo handbag after puking on his.  Why does he have one of those-oh, why am I even wondering at this point?

Well, at least Roscoe has something to look forward to.

This episode felt more balanced as far as the blend of humor and drama that’s always made the show work.  We’re slowly seeing the dominos fall as DollaHyde splits.  We saw the slow loss of control for both Dre and Marty, while Lukas and Jeannie get to bask in the true victories.  The episode put more focus on power struggles and realizing that little fights would soon blow over, as we saw with Marty’s situation at home.

Pushback- Jeannie shuts Clyde down

While I’m glad this episode united both pods completely, Will, Caitlin and Jeffrey are mostly here just for show, as the primary focus goes to the original pod.  Now that we had all members of both pods together, I would like to have seen them interact more, but it could easily be argued that “Middlegame” helped bridge the gap between the two pods, even if it does put Will and Clyde at odds.  Speaking of, all Clyde really gets to do is talk more and more about this McClintock empire he’s yet to produce.  Each of the new pod members are just given a few scant lines and screen time, but nothing else.  I think there was a missed opportunity now that everyone appeared at once, but it was nice just to see them working on the same assignment.

Pushback- Jeffrey returns

Though it does irk me that Jeffrey’s absence is never addressed.

Pushback- Angry Lukas

As for Lukas, we’ve seen last week how smart he is, but now he backs that up with his gangster prowess.  Sure, fists never fly, but I am glad that Lukas poses a challenge for Marty in that he won’t just roll over and accept whatever business talk he’s dealt.  He’s loud, an idiot and throws around his money for show.  Seriously, who has a catfish pond?  Marty sees Lukas as all muscle and no brains, but Lukas has both.  Dare I say he has even more muscle and anger after figuring out that Marty and Dre planned to oust him?  Seems like it, given his demeanor when Marty tells him that he’s not intimidated by him.

Yes, Lukas is obnoxious, but I doubt he got to where he is without having some smarts.  Drug money helped, yes, but given how calculating we’ve seen Lukas can be, it’s not a stretch that he’s got some intellect that others don’t acknowledge.  Like Jeannie said, it’s only when you accomplish something that you shouldn’t have that you’re taken down, and to the world, Lukas is in a position of power that he doesn’t deserve.  Despite that, he’s very willing to prove them wrong.

And Lukas is just fun to watch on screen, whether when bringing out three women to model for him or watching his crew debate going to prison just to get ice cream sandwiches that they could easily get elsewhere, Lukas provided the most entertainment this week for me.

Marty has underestimated Lukas’ intelligence, but now he’s underestimating his raw strength.  From the start, he’s painted Lukas as a gangster who got lucky, but he also believes that he’s the only one with the correct solution.  In the past and even this season, Marty’s been open to suggestion, even when dealing with Free Range Foods.  Now he sees one solution: his.  By shutting down every other idea, he’s decided it’s up to him as the designated leader to solve this crisis.  And what he ends up with, given Lukas’ terms, is not what he expected.

Pushback- Jeannie tells Marty that he's Lukas' bitch

This will only make his relationship and partnership with Jeannie more combative.  Jeannie is a much more approachable person than Marty, except when it comes to Caitlin, I guess.  As a result, she can be more practical in her position because she doesn’t walk around with an air of superiority.

Pushback- Jeannie looks nice every day

All right, she kind of walks around with an air of superiority, but as of now, her ego is nowhere near as inflated as Marty’s.  Her conversation with Lukas about her family is very telling, and it builds upon the character development we witnessed when she discussed her family with Jeremiah: while she doesn’t believe she’s as powerful as people paint her out to be, Jeannie knows that, at the end of the day, she’s the only person in her corner, so everything she earns is from hard work, not because it was given to her.

Pushback- Lukas and Jeannie connect

I like the connection between Lukas and Jeannie: both are in positions of power and great authority that their close acquaintances don’t believe they deserve.  But both Lukas and Jeannie are smart enough not just to make it on their own steam, but to one-up their friends in a great power play.  And when Jeannie tells Marty that he’s just become Lukas’ bitch, there’s great satisfaction in her voice.  She said she won’t hesitate to throw Marty under the bus, and she’s proving her point.

Pushback- Roscoe and Marty outside Lex's home

And then there’s Roscoe, who reaches a low point with his rebellious phase and getting drunk.  All part of him growing up, right?  But from the start of the show, Roscoe has never fit into Marty’s ideal of the model son.  Now that Roscoe is growing up and in a relationship, he’s challenging Marty’s authority.  He pushes, but because Marty pushes back, all Roscoe can do is push back even harder because this kid is not one to just back down, especially now.

Roscoe’s relationship with Marty has been as turbulent as Marty’s is with his own father: Marty isn’t always there when Roscoe needs him due to his job and he isn’t on board with Roscoe’s life choices, but despite that, he still loves Roscoe as a son, proving this when he helps him into bed after a night of drinking.  I think Marty and Roscoe know their feuding will pass, but it will be awhile before that happens.  The best they can hope for right now is acceptance, but that presents a complication, given how differently the two view the world, as Marty definitely has a more traditional mindset than Roscoe.

Pushback- Lex at home

I can’t pin down Lex yet.  He’s living a double life, yes, but the scene where he enters his home dressed as a girl looks to be played for sympathy, as if we should feel sorry for Lex.  Should, but Lex has shown nothing but confidence in who he is, so maybe he’s more embarrassed at revealing his home life to Marty and Roscoe.

I’d feel bad for the kid, except Lex has been portrayed as pretty arrogant from the start.  He can have a backbone, sure, but he and Roscoe got drunk in the home of the father who already doesn’t like him.  Not to say Lex is a bad apple, but he definitely hasn’t made the best of first impressions on me.  Nonetheless, Roscoe sees something in Lex and makes him happy.  That ought to be enough to convince Marty to give Lex a chance, but given how much of a smartass Roscoe has become since meeting Lex, it’s no wonder Marty isn’t quick to budge.

Like last week, “Pushback” had its humorous bits, but also knew when to be serious and push the overall story forward.  Jeannie had her moment in the sun with another great power play, but the episode showed what happens when ego and overconfidence can overshadow tact, as was the case with Marty underestimating Lukas.  As has been the case throughout the season, Marty has been put on the defensive, both at work and at home.  True to what Jeremiah said, people will weather some rough moments, but can overcome obstacles and come out as stronger people.  In the case of Roscoe and Marty, Marty and Jeannie, or Dre and Lukas, the challenge is to see whether long lasting bonds will survive amidst their differences.

Jeannie setting her family aside to focus on work and saying she can only depend on herself is, I think, as close as the show has come to drawing a direct parallel between her and Marty: both what something that’s theirs and are willing to brush others aside to get it.  In a practical sense, none of these characters would be all too likable, but the writing, as always, is what makes them watchable and helped produce another good episode.

A Look at 12 Years a Slave

I think one of the elements required for creating a great drama is to craft a protagonist who perseveres despite the odds.  It requires a character who is a fighter.  They can face setbacks, sure, and they can have their moments to grieve or reflect, but I believe moviegoers are more likely to root for a fighter instead of a character who gets stuck or falls into despair.  They want to follow the journey of someone who comes out on top so the viewing experience was well worth the journey.  And that’s what director Steve McQueen managed to pull off with 12 Years a Slave.

12 Years a Slave- Poster

Based off of the 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup and the years he spent as a slave after being kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.  Given how this is based off of an already published novel, in addition to its title, we know that the protagonist won’t be in bondage forever and that the story most likely will end with his freedom.

However, the film isn’t about the resolution or leading you along until the main character finds freedom.  It’s about Northup’s journey that ends up providing him with the satisfying payoff that so many others like him had been denied or never experienced at all.

12 Years a Slave has already topped a lot of critics’ lists for best films of 2013.  It’s received much critical praise for the performances and story.  It’s been called everything from “a film that needed to be made” to “one of the greatest films of all time.”  It’s been compared to Schindler’s List in the way this film depicts slavery with the same stark filmmaking exhibited during List.  I try to avoid buzz words when it comes to visual mediums and just say what’s on my mind, not get in line and parrot what’s popular.  That said, I will say that 12Years a Slave, like The Butler, is a well dome drama centered on a man’s journey during a particularly tumultuous period in America’s history.

A period, not the period.

The film uses a nonlinear approach to storytelling, as we actually begin during Northup’s time as a slave.  It’s all setup for what’s to come and it’s not until we get up and close with our protagonist that the film flashes back to 1841.  We’re then properly introduced to our main character, Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who lives as a free man in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and two children.  He works as a carpenter and fiddle player, but more importantly, Northup is well known and respected in the community.

12 Years a Slave- Solomon meets with Brown and Hamilton

One day, Hamilton is introduced to two men: Brown, played by Scoot McNairy, and Hamilton, played by Taran Killam.  Brown and Hamilton are travelers who regale Northup with stories of their band, filled with African exhibitions.  How exotic.  What they need is a good musician and they offer good money.  How could Northup turn this down?  They toast as Northup enjoys more wine.  And then more wine.  Soon enough, he’s getting rid of it in the alley, but as Northup is put to sleep in bed, Brown and Hamilton, through their utmost generosity, promise that when Northup awakens, he will feel as well and refreshed, as if the Earth were new again.

And how!

Northup does indeed feel as if the Earth were new.  In fact, chances are he never felt closer to the ground, as he awakens in shackles.  Two men enter the dingy room and Northup tries to explain his situation, but he’s unable to produce his free papers when asked.  Always carry your free papers.  Anyway, Northup is no longer Northup.  He’s just a runaway slave from Georgia, and he’s beaten repeatedly with a paddle in order to be forced to submit.

12 Years a Slave- Solomon on boat with Clemens and Robert

Like that, Northup’s life is turned upside down and he finds himself among other Negroes in bondage and in a potential lifelong life of servitude.  When placed on a boat, he discusses his situation with two other men: Clemens Ray, played by Chris Chalk, and Robert, played by Michael K. Williams.  Right from the start, we see that these aren’t ignorant Negroes.  They know what lies ahead, so the key is to do and say as little as possible.  Don’t mention that you can read and write.  Living is much better than surviving.

12 Years a Slave- Theophilus slaps Solomon

After the ship docks, Clemens receives the best news of the day when his owner arrives to pick him up from being sold.  Northup isn’t so lucky.  In fact, he’s so unlucky that he doesn’t even get to keep his name, as he finds when a slave trader named Theophilus Freeman, played by Paul Giamatti, calls him by his new name: Platt, the identity of a runaway slave from Georgia.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

Northup is shipped to New Orleans and sold to plantation owner William Ford, played by Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.  Ford is what we would call one of the good, benevolent whites.  He’s sympathetic to the plight of a woman named Eliza, played by Adepero Oduye, who doesn’t want to be separated from her children, even though Freeman is unwilling to part with them all, as his sentimentality extends the length of a coin.

On this plantation, Northup shows his knowledge on canals by helping engineer a waterway to transport logs downstream.  In return, Ford presents Northup with a violin for his personal use.

Unfortunately, Northup has drawn the ire of carpenter John Tibeats, played by Paul Dano, who entertains the slaves with the timeless hit: “Run, Nigger, Run.”  While Ford is kind, Tibeats is cruel and harsh, proving this when he ruins part of the foundation of a shed Northup had been working on.  To Tibeats’ surprise, Northup doesn’t falter.  He received his instruction.  If something went wrong, it was because of the instructions.

That’ll earn you some lashes.  Well, it should have, but when Tibeats pulls off his whip, Northup fights back and turns the whip back on Tibeats.  Tibeats retreats for the moment.

Between this, Northup speaks with Eliza, whose been crying ever since she arrived at the plantation.  She’s still wrecked not just by losing her children, but for being there in the first place.  She bore her daughter by her first master and had been brought to this location under the pretense that her free papers had been executed.  She pleads that Northup just let her weep and calls him out on playing up to the master, but Northup is here to survive.  He will not fall into despair.  He will offer up his talents and so on and so forth; you know how the rest of the line goes.  It’s been played everywhere and if I could ever pin point a single scene that spelled “Oscar Nominated Line,” it would be this one.

Anyway, Tibeats gets his opportunity when he and some friends try to lynch Northup.  They’re driven away by the plantation foreman, but the foreman does not cut Tibeats down.  He leaves him to hang all day, just low enough for him to move around without suffocating.  Night arrives and Ford eventually arrives to cut Northup down.  When Northup awakens, he is in Ford’s home, where Ford explains that Tibeats still wants him dead.  In order to protect Northup’s life, he must sell him to another plantation owner.  Northup tries to explain who he is, that he’s a free man with an established identity.  Given Ford’s kindness, he expects that Ford will help him, but Ford tells Northup that he cannot hear any of what he’s being told.  He won’t hear of any talk of freedom.  He has a debt to pay.

12 Years a Slave- Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson as Edwin and Mary Epps

The film then cuts to the new plantation owner of the hour: Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender.  In his introduction, Epps preaches to his slaves the importance of servitude.  Epps is protected by the Almighty and given biblical authority to whip his slaves into submission.  After all, God put the White man to have dominion over all the other dusky races.  It says so in the Bible, right?  And to prove his dominion, Epps requires each of his slaves pick at least 200 pounds of cotton per day or be beaten.

But Northup’s hard knock life doesn’t just end with Epps.  Enter Epps’ wife, Mary, who’s given a vicious performance by Sarah Paulson.  Mary, just a smidge above a slave’s status, is jealous of Epps’ attention toward one particular female slave: Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o.  She takes any and every chance she can to physically and verbally abuse all of the slaves, but Patsey in particular.  Patsey is the black apple of Epps’ eye, and probably the black eye by way of Mary’s fist, but Epps has had his way with Patsey before and, if given the choice between her and his wife, he would choose Patsey.

Sounds like Northup is in so-so hands.

There’s a lot that I enjoyed about 12 Years a Slave.  The film is well paced and allows the audience to absorb both the scenery and dialogue as we move from location to location.  Though the film is told, for the most part, in a linear fashion, we’re treated to various flashbacks that show Northup’s life as a free man with his family and these are the moments where the audience is meant to feel Northup’s loss.  There’s no introduction or trigger for the flashbacks; they just happen on occasion, but they never felt distracting to me.  They show the huge contrast between Northup’s free and slave life.  In New York, he and his family could walk into a store and receive respect from a white owner, as well as wonder from the looks of nearby slaves who find the sight of a free Black family a rarity, a rarity that they themselves may never experience for themselves.

12 Years a Slave- Waiting for auction

This particular flashback is played against the auction scene in which Ford purchases Northup.  In the past, Northup and his family could walk where they pleased without fear of reprisal or scorn.  When Northup has his name taken from him, he’s put on display alongside other Blacks who are made to jump, play music- louder to drown out the sound of sobbing slaves- and have their bodies examined like skeletons.  It also doesn’t help that the slaves are given the highest form of encouragement when Freeman tells their soon-to-be owners that they will grow into fine beasts.  The juxtaposition of flashbacks against Northup’s time as a slave never felt forced to me.  The flashbacks are short enough for the audience to get the gist of them: Northup is in a dire situation, but the memories of his family push him to continue his struggle to attain freedom.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

In addition, the flashbacks help flesh out Northup’s character arc and provide more background into who he is before he wound up in slavery.  He has clear motive to get out of his situation and is demonstrated to have both the survival instinct and intellect to prove formidable to Whites.  He’s told by Clemens that living is better than surviving, which is true, but Northup letting on how smart he is when it comes to canals is what earns him Ford’s good graces.  Northup would have probably survived on Ford’s plantation for some time, but I’d be hard pressed to think he could escape.  Though Ford was respectful and cordial, he wouldn’t hear of Northup’s talk of recently being a free man.  He may have been able to make Northup feel as comfortable as possible, but a little bit of comfort does not equate to liberty.

12 Years a Slave- John Tibeats and Solomon on foundation

I see Northup’s time on Ford’s plantation as a testing ground for how he would fare on the Epps’ plantation, as both Edwin and Mary challenge Northup at different times not just to see if he’s smarter than he lets on, but just as a reminder that he should not step out of line.  He could get away with that on Ford’s plantation, yet the Epps come off as crueler, but this is something I’ll touch upon later.

12 Years a Slave- Picking cotton

Much like The Butler, 12 Years’ cinematography places you smack dab in the time period and at times, looks very authentic.  It doesn’t look like it was shot on a set, but used actual location shooting.  The hymns sung by the slaves evoke the Negro spirituals of old.  There are times when the film looks a bit too neat and not really all that gritty, but it’s nothing that I lost sleep over.

I’m approaching this film more on what I feel certain characters represent, as opposed to just their performance.

12 Years a Sliva- Eliza weeps

Eliza and Patsey symbolize one of the worst parts about being a slave: being the endless object of a master’s affection while having your pride, family and livelihood stripped away.  Eliza is the mother who now has to wake up each morning and know that she’ll probably never see her children again after being promised freedom.  She grieves because it’s the best outlet for her to vent any frustration or anger at the world.  When she practically begs Northup to let her grieve, she feels entitled to be upset over losing what was once hers.

12 Years a Slave- Patsey, Edwin and Solomon

Patsey, however, has it even worse since she suffers under the hands of both Edwin and Mary.  She’s as much the object of the master’s desire as she is the mistress’ ire.  For Patsy, there is no way out and her situation is made worse by the fact that she consistently picks more cotton than everyone else on the plantation.  She’s as much useful as a slave as she is a vessel for Edwin.

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And aside from wanting to take her own life, Patsey isn’t given a lot of options.  There’s a scene where Patsey drinks tea with Mistress Harriet Shaw, played by Alfre Woodard, who has made the best of her situation, now married and living a calm life.  Through endurance, Harriet has worked her way up to a position of authority where she can give orders to slaves.  We aren’t told much about Harriet’s life to judge whether everything in her life is as fine as she makes it out to be.  But then, the scene is meant to give Patsey some encouragement about her situation.  Though for me, it is a shame that you get a powerhouse performer like Alfre Woodard and only have her in one scene, but that’s beside the point.

12 Years a Slave- Patsey begs Solomon to kill her

The problem is that Edwin is far too cruel a slave owner that Patsey really can’t get encouraged about anything.  Even when she slips away to get a bar of soap, it’s as if Patsey is meant to be tethered to Edwin so he can always reel her back in.  Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is very strong in certain scenes, such as when she begs Solomon to end her life because she sees no comfort in living and just wants mercy.  She claims that God will forgive merciful acts, showing just how far she’s descended into hopelessness.

This hopelessness is compounded even further when Patsey is subjected to abuse by Mary.  Consider, at this point in history and even after Reconstruction, a woman was just a few steps above a slave on the social ladder.  It’s said that women weren’t a fan of the 15th Amendment because it granted suffrage to former slaves, but not women.  Mary is representative of women neglected by their husbands who saw favor with their slaves.  For Mary to watch Edwin show affection toward someone deemed inferior, it angers her.  She claims that slaves are foul with hate and will eventually revolt against their masters.  But then she also berates Edwin’s manhood, calling him a eunuch.  Since she can’t physically overpower Edwin, she takes out that anger on the slaves because, again, she needs an appropriate outlet to vent her frustration about being neglected.

12 Years a Slave- Sarah Paulson as Mary, examining Patsey

It’s scary how good of a job Sarah Paulson did in this role.  The looks in her eyes is just the epitome an icy disregard for the slaves and Patsey in particular.  I know some have said they left this film disliking Fassbender’s character, but I absolutely hated Mary by the end of the film- a testament to just how strong of a performance Paulson gave for this role.

12 Years a Slave- Edwin thinks

That’s not to say Michael Fassbender doesn’t deliver a strong performance.  On the contrary, he can be downright scary to watch at times.  As a villain, Epps walks and speaks with great confidence as he exerts power and control over the slaves.  Heck, there’s a sequence where he wakes up the slaves in the middle of the night to have them dance, and that’s him in a good mood.  When he interrogates or questions a slave, he can be up in your face cruel or very quiet with rage building under the surface.  I wondered at times what would send him over the edge and cause him to start attacking his slaves.  Turns out it didn’t take much.

I do wish we had more chances to get inside his head.  I appreciate the film letting Epps use the Bible as his justification for slavery, as it paints him as a character who believes it’s his moral duty to be superior over the duskier races.  Given how actual masters used religion to defend their pro-slavery stance, it wouldn’t have been too far off for Epps to use similar reasoning, as if he was hand-picked by God to have dominion over these particular slaves.  His alcoholism certainly doesn’t make him any friendlier to his slaves.

12 Years a Slave- Edwin and Mary

It also doesn’t help his relationship with his wife.  I get the feeling that Edwin and Mary have been married for a long time, but he just grew bored.  He seems to still care for Mary, sure, so long as she’s at arm’s length so he can focus his attention on Patsey.  Some more scenes with just Edwin and Mary would have been nice so we could learn more about them as a couple, but as is, what we’re given is fine for the purpose of the film.  After all, they’re just part of the story.

12 Years a Slave- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon

This is Solomon’s story and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s facial expressions alone make him a great choice to play this role.  When watching this film, seeing Solomon’s surprise when first imprisoned, the loss of hope when double-crossed, the imminent fear when he faces potential death all show Ejiofor’s range as an actor and he did an excellent job in this role.  I never got tired of watching him.

Despite being enslaved, being taken away from his home and family, and never fully knowing who he can trust, Solomon has the will to live and enough intellect to survive.  His motivation is to be reunited his family, which is demonstrated through the film’s flashbacks that show Solomon as a happy man compared to now living in servitude.

It’s good that Solomon did make an effort to bond with the other slaves wherever he went.  As a free man who experienced liberty in ways that the slaves can only dream of, it’d be easy for him to seclude himself off because he’d consider himself above them.  But no, Solomon connects with the slaves because they now share the same plight.  He goes from sleeping in his own home to having to bathe nude in the open alongside other slaves.  Such experiences, I think, would humble a person to another’s plight, and I do believe that Solomon realizes what slavery is in its raw form, now that he’s been subjected to it.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

Another factor that makes me like Solomon as a character is that he’s proactive.  As mentioned, if he had stayed on William Ford’s plantation, he may have been treated fair by Ford, but he wouldn’t have escaped.  Now every scene doesn’t consist of Solomon trying to run away.  That would be too repetitive and, given how Solomon has no idea how to even get back; it’s guaranteed that he would get lost.  But at least he doesn’t just sit around and lament his situation.  There’s a moment where Solomon confides in a
man who claims to be former overseer, but abused his authority.  Solomon tells the man about his situation and that the man could possibly deliver a letter to be sent to his family.

12 Years a Slave- Edwin pays Solomon a visit

Next thing we know, Edwin comes to Solomon in the middle of the night to let him know that he’s learned that there may be a devil among his slaves.  When confronted, Solomon denies it, claiming that he doesn’t know how to write and has no one to write to.  He then turns the situation, saying that if Edwin’s slaves ran free, the so-called white confidant could be promoted back to overseer and a position of authority.  It’s a tense scene, but indicative of Solomon’s ability to find a solution to his problems, even though that means burning the letter he could have mailed if he hadn’t been betrayed.

12 Years a Slave- Brad Pitt as Boss, talks to Solomon

Before wrapping up, I do have a qualm with one character.  The one I wasn’t entirely sold on was the Canadian carpenter, Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt.  He shows up near the end of the film to be the moral reason and question why Edwin would only be concerned with his well-being when he and Solomon are working on the same assignment.  He sees no justice in slavery and believes it has turned the United States into an ill nation.  So Bass is saying everything the audience has been thinking this entire time, but he’s not going to just change Edwin’s mind like that.  There’s no real introduction, as we don’t see him when Solomon first comes to Edwin’s plantation.  He’s just there in a later scene.  Sure, he helps Solomon out in a big way, but other than that, the character just felt shoehorned into the film in order to have a White person with a conscience exist on Edwin’s plantation.

12 Years a Slave is a gripping film about an ugly period in America’s history.  The strength comes from the great performances across the board and from being a well done drama that, while not having many surprises, does give you a protagonist who continues to fight his way to freedom to savor that feeling of independence that so many of him would never know.

A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 4, Episode 10: “Inmates”

Last week’s “After” benefitted from being contained and only following up on what happened with Rick, Carl and Michonne.  Of course, the show had to keep moving along and explain what happened to the rest of the group in the prison, so this week’s “Inmates” quickened the pace with more characters, more action and a few surprises.

If “After” was a quiet and decidedly focused episode of The Walking Dead, then “Inmates” served to get things moving with a roll call of the prison survivors that weren’t featured last week, as well as a few surprise appearances.

The episode begins with Beth narrating her escapades while she and Daryl continue on the move.  She talks of finding the prison and how Hershel told her it could become a new home for a new life, but obviously that didn’t come to pass.  Beth hasn’t gotten her hopes up too much.  After all, she’s worried that it’s becoming easier just to be afraid.

When Beth and Daryl finally stop for the evening, Beth holds out for other survivors.  Daryl says little, but insists that if anyone goes looking, he should since he’s a better tracker.

Inmates- Beth and Daryl find footprints

That morning, the two continue wandering until they come across some footprints and what appear to be crushed grapes in the center of the prints.  Based on the prints, things went south for whoever came through the area.  Beth, again, holds out hope, but Daryl, in his own way, reminds her that hope hasn’t helped anyone so far, even Hershel.  He spots some blood on a tree, but it’s not of a walker.

Inmates- Beth stands over the walker pile

The two follow a trail and happen upon a few walkers feasting upon the remains of other walkers.  Daryl makes quick work of the remaining zombies, but Beth is just sickened by what she sees and everything that’s happened so far.  Daryl, however, insists that the two keep moving.

Inmates- Tyreese with Lizzie, Mika and Judith

We then rejoin Lizzie, Mika, Tyreese and baby Judith.  Because, come on, you know AMC isn’t going to off a baby like that.  This isn’t Game of Thrones.  But anyway, Lizzie gives Mika a knife to protect herself since she’s more worried than anyone else about whether the others are all dead.  Tyreese promises the girls that they’ll find a safe place, but they won’t be able to get there in time if they’re eaten by walkers attracted by the sound of Judith crying.

Yes, Judith’s wails carry throughout the forest until she’s given her bottle.  As the three move along, they find some edible looking grapes which Tyreese deems safe enough to eat, so the girls do.  When Judith keeps crying, Tyreese decides to change her in hopes that it stops her crying.

How many television shows or movies that have a baby involved eventually have at least one diaper changing scene?

Upon hearing some noises, Mika screams, but Tyreese decides to investigate.  He tells the girls to stay close to each other and hands them a gun, informing them to only fire it if they’re in danger.

Inmates- Tyreese finds group attacked by walkers

Tyreese goes off and finds a group of men unsuccessfully trying to fend off a group of walkers.  And, you know, we don’t know their names, so it’s pretty clear that they were going to be bitten, if Red Shirt logic is indicative of anything.

Inmates- Carol with Lizzie, Mika and Judith

Tyreese hears his gun go off, but then hears a familiar voice call his name.  He turns around and is greeted by the sight of Lizzie, Mika, Judith, and Carol.

One of the men in the attacked group manages to tell Tyreese and the others that there’s a safe place further up the train tracks.  Surprisingly, they decide to keep him alive instead of killing him, but I guess he’s not their problem.

Carol explains that she was on her way to the prison, but never made it.  She did manage to witness the end of the Governor’s assault and saw people flee, so she somehow found them.

Somehow.

The group follows the train tracks and arrives outside an entrance with a sign that reads “Sanctuary for All.  Room for All.  Those who arrive survive.”  Well, it’s nice to see that in the end of the world, people can still find time to rhyme.

Inmates- Sasha tends to Bob's wound

Elsewhere, Sasha tends Bob’s wound while Maggie carves into a rock.  Maggie wants to go looking for Glenn, but Sasha is against the idea since they have no idea who got out of the prison.  She suggests they just camp where they are for the night, but Maggie knows that Glenn got out, so she goes looking for him.  And since Sasha is against the idea of them splitting up, she and Bob really have no other option than to follow Maggie.

Inmates- Maggie, Bob and Sasha find the bus filled with walkers

They happen upon the bus that Glenn used to leave the prison, but it’s now littered with walkers.  Maggie needs to know if Glenn was in there, so she has Sasha and Bob open the back door so she can confirm if any of the remaining walkers is Glenn turned.  When they aren’t, they’re given a stab to the head.  Turns out that the walkers were all people from the prison.  Best guess is they’re part of the crowd that came over from Woodbury.  Their names?  Who cares?  Again, they’re Red Shirts.

Inmates- Glenn awakens at the prison

So let’s go to Glenn, who awakens not in the woods, but on a ledge still at the prison with a crowd of walkers crowding beneath.  He considers jumping across a huge gap, but decides against it and heads back inside the prison.  When he’s back inside the cell block, he grabs some riot gear and takes a moment to soak in what has happened.

Soon enough, a picture of Maggie gets him motivated.  He grabs a few items, like a knife and Hershel’s watch, and suits up.  With the riot gear on, Glenn brushes through the walkers and makes his way through the prison yard when he spots Tara, who has boxed herself in a cage to protect herself from walkers.

Inmates- Glenn finds Tara locked in

Glenn asks for her help, but Tara is too remorseful in the part she played with aiding the Governor.  With no real time to discuss this, Glenn prepares a Molotov cocktail and throws it at a car to distract the walkers.  When the walkers are drawn to the fire, Glenn and Tara use this as an opportunity to flee into the woods.

When the two are out in the open, Tara apologizes for what happened and accepts blame, but Glenn isn’t interested in playing the blame game.  He also doesn’t want her help, but he needs it in order to find Maggie.  He doesn’t know if she made it, but believes in the best.

The two make some work of a small group of walkers but Glenn collapses from exhaustion, leaving Tara to finish off the rest of the walkers.  The two are not alone, however.  Tara finishes her work just in time to see an Army talk parked right next to her.  She tells off whoever is inside, but then three unnamed characters, two men and one woman, make their way out of the van, well-armed and interested in more than Tara’s sharp tongue.

Inmates- Three new faces

Now these three characters do have names, but as they’re adapted from The Walking Dead comic and not just made up for the show, I’ll refrain from addressing them by name for the moment.  Don’t want to delve into spoiler territory yet even though I was excited to see them make their debut.

This was a solid episode.  I did enjoy the “Rashomon” approach to the storytelling that allowed us to see various parts of the same storyline occur at different times.  It’s an approach that I don’t think the show has employed before, but it was a nice way to balance out the drama, but still give each group their moments to develop without then cutting away to another character and interrupting development.  It also helped fill in blanks so we can see how each stories affected one another, such as Beth and Daryl happening upon the remains of walkers previously killed by Tyreese.

If these events all took place at the same time, it would just confuse the issue since that means the groups were so close to each other, but despite the marks left, they somehow never intersected.  Could these stories have worked at the same time?  Possibly, but playing Rashomon allowed the characters to grow without being lumped upon one another.

The episode answered most of the unanswered questions about the fates of the others at the prison, though it did leave the door open for future confrontations.

Inmates- Carol tells Tyrese where she's been

Take Tyreese’s group.  You know, let’s just start with Carol.  I’m not entirely sold on the details of how she caught up to the group, given how she literally just pops up off-screen.  Carol must have had impressive luck to end up in the exact same part of the forest as Tyreese and the girls.  However, while I find the explanation of her absence a bit sketchy, it does make sense, given the circumstances Rick left her in when she went off on her own, that she wouldn’t have been able to help during the Governor’s assault because she went off to do her own thing.  What that thing is, we’re not sure of, but I guess the goal was just to integrate Carol back into the group.

And Carol really does seem like the type who would be able to survive on her own.  She’s grown from the near defenseless woman we saw back in Season One and I feel that watching Sophia turned into a walker and then shot by Rick really opened her eyes even more to the reality of the world around here.  This Carol can be motherly and nurturing, but she can hold her own in battle.

Inmates- Comic Book Carol lets herself get bitten

It’s a world apart from her comic book counterpart.  There, Carol is much more dependent on others for survival and very insecure about her emotions.  She let herself get bitten because she wanted a way out.  The TV version of Carol knows better and I’m glad that she’s put to better use than she ever was in the comics.

Inmates- Tyreese and Carol

Also, Tyreese doesn’t know that Carol is the one who took responsibility for Karen’s death, which ought to lead to an interesting conversation…

Inmates- Tyreese with the girls

I actually like Tyreese as the temporary guardian for Lizzie and Mika, as it puts him a position where he has to help defend two people who realistically would not be able to fend for themselves for very long.  And having him be the one to have Judith gives him an extra incentive to survive, not just for his sake, but for the newborn who must grow up in an ugly world without her mother and- currently- her father and brother, as well.  Tyreese is shown to be very patient with two girls who have grown up in a real world Hell and just had their new, temporary home attacked.

Inmates- Mika and Lizzie

Like Carl, Lizzie and Mika have seen their fair share of danger that would have an effect on their psyche.  They’re being molded by this apocalypse because the memories they have of the world before this are leaving them.

Lizzie comes off as more seasoned, given her age, but while she’s still a bit of a prude to Mika, saying that she’s not as brave as Sasha, she does arm her sister with the tools needed to survive, proving this when she tells Mika to tuck her knife behind her shirt when she needs to use it.

Inmates- Maggie

I do like Maggie’s determination to find to find Glenn and Lauren Cohan sold the scene at the bus when she stabbed and bashed each walker’s head when she needed to know if one of them was Glenn.  Like Beth, she clings to hope because she believes it will carry her further than pessimism, but like Carol, Maggie is a fighter and isn’t about to let a little separation stop her from at least looking for Glenn.

Inmates- Bob and Sasha

This puts Bob and Sasha in the position of having to just tag along.  Thought I did like Sasha saying that shit happens and it doesn’t have to mean something, but Bob throwing out the possibility that it does.  That’s pretty much one of the running themes of the show: things just happen and survivors just get through each day to survive.  What happens the next day?  They survive again in an endless cycle where the primary goal is to live.

The only issue I have with their sequence is that I didn’t feel anything for the people who had turned.  Again, they’re Red Shirts.  These walkers could have just been anyone, but for the characters to point out that they lived at the prison should carry some sort of emotional resonance.  For me, having never learned anything about them, it fell flat.

Inmates- Daryl and Beth

I don’t have much to say about Beth and Daryl, as it’s pretty much them going from point A to B with some dialogue in between.  I did like the fact that their storyline took place after the events of Tyreese’s group, so we as an audience could learn later on what led the two of them to finding the footprints and crushed grapes.  Daryl did have his moments of interaction with Beth, mostly to tell her how pointless it is to have faith, but at least he’s not shutting her out completely.

Inmates- Glenn back in the prison

Glenn’s sequence was definitely my favorite, if only for the sequence where he reenters the prison and lays down.  You can read the contemplation on his face as he comes to grip with the fact that he believes he is alone at the prison without the love of his life, his friends, or anything else.  The entire sequence was well directed and I bought his motivation to fight his way out in light of the prison assault.

Inmates- Tara spots the army vehicle

I’m not sure what to make of Tara yet, but for character purposes, at least she shows some remorse for helping the Governor attack the prison.  I can’t help but think her character is on a clock since her inclusion feels like an afterthought, but we’ll see.

Again, the three surprise characters at the end do play a major role in the series, but more on them when they’re properly introduced.

“Inmates” ramped up the action and still had good moments of character development.  Like last week, it set up the trend of slowly getting the group back together and dealing with their various storylines as they try to survive without the support of the group as a whole.  Though some of the episode was too predictable and lacking in details at points, I enjoyed it.  I still prefer “After” if only for it being more focused, but again, it’s all setup for the rest of the season and I’m looking forward to the group reuniting and meeting their new travel companions.

A Look at House of Lies- Season 3, Episode 6: “Middlegame”

Is this what you’d call a bottle episode?

This week, House of Lies decides to play chess in a contained episode with very few characters outside of the main cast.  We left off last week with Marty and Dre agreeing they’re both in for good on their plan to screw Lukas out of DollaHyde, but this episode also put focus on the pod’s dynamics and what makes them work so well.  In another attempt to merge old and new, the show is integrating both of Marty’s pod through giving us more character insight into Will and Caitlin which, in turn, sets up competition for Clyde.

The episode begins- and entirely takes place- in a night club, complete with a dance floor aligned with people dressed as chess pieces.  All right, I guess.

Middlegame- Dre, Marty and Lukas toast to the launch of Soldier Sneaker

And at the club, Lukas, Dre and Marty toast to the soon launch of the Soldier Sneaker- the brand that will take DollaHyde to the next level.

Time out!  Time freezes as Marty smells the aroma of the exquisite B.S. throughout.  All of this fancy partying for a shoe line that will never even exist.  This is all a DollaHyde Trojan horse party meant to distract Lukas while he cedes complete control of the company.  Is it duplicitous?  Of course.  Morally questionable?  Well, maybe, but Marty is convinced that Lukas is just a corporate cancer, so may as well dump him.

Elsewhere in the club, Caitlin tries to make nice with Jeannie by pointing out that the Soldier Sneaker’s design is similar to that of another shoe.  As a reward for doing her homework, Jeannie gives Caitlin a nice pat on the head, which is more of a dick move than anything else, really.  But Jeannie does admit that her playfulness can come across as mean spirited.  And how.

Middlegame- Doug brings his gift to the party

Doug approaches with his gift for Lukas: chocolates.  Not champagne, because that would insinuate that Doug gets all of his information about Black people from rap videos.  But apparently Black people don’t like chocolates, according to Jeannie, anyway.  And dark chocolates are just out of the question.

Middlegame- Will describes to the pod how he got his nickname

Will serves the pod a drink he calls an Attica 1971 because after drinking it, chaos and riots will ensue.  Clyde is sticking to water, though, but he does have reason to perk up and talk when Jeannie refers to Will by his nickname: “20.”  Turns out that in college, Will attended a party where the guys would try to shoot for a 10.  Soon enough, the girls came to the party and Will had a threesome with two perfect 10s!  Sounds so amazing that Clyde does not believe it at all and tries to downplay Will’s confident strut, but to no effect.

Middlegame- Slim Walter confronts Marty in the bathroom

In the bathroom, Marty, whose been trying around a prototype of the sneaker, gets confronted by one of Lukas’ “bodyguards,” Slim Walter, played by Omar Miller.  Slim tells Marty that Lukas is wise to what’s going on.  He knows that the sneaker line is total bull and that he’s being pushed out.  Marty plays defense until Slim reveals that he’s just screwing with Marty.  There it is again.  But Lukas has a proposition that will pay much more than whatever Dre is offering.

Middlegame- Doug and Caitlin talk work

Outside, Caitlin complains to Doug about her inability to connect with Jeannie.  Doug would use this as an opportunity to flirt, if not for Caitlin’s cigarette and Lukas’ bodyguard bringing out the body of a dog.

Whoops.  Doug does indeed find that his box of chocolates that he stashed has been eaten, but he disposes of the evidence.  No harm done, right?

Middlegame- Marty confronts Dre about Slim Walter

Marty confronts Dre about Slim Walter.  Turns out Dre just wanted to test Marty to see if he’d sell him out and if he was only in it for the money.  Marty is convinced that he could have destroyed Dre if he wanted to, but Dre is just convinced in getting the job done, so quit whining and get to work.

Middlegame- Clyde makes a bet with Jeannie on Will

Elsewhere in the club, Jeannie meets up with Clyde, whose just taking sips of water and notes how tedious parties can be when you’re sober.  Very true.  He makes a wager with Jeannie: he will bet $50 that Will strikes out with a Bishop woman he’s talking to.  Because that will turn out well.  Clyde switches to his recent turn of events and how hard it’s been after going against everything.  He has to fight with all he’s got just to earn a bit of Marty’s trust.  Jeannie concurs that going to Monica was a terrible idea, but says it was a good idea of him to not put all of his eggs in the Marty Kaan basket.

Middlegame- Marty asks Jeannie to feel out Lukas on double cross

Later, Marty meets with Jeannie and tells her that they may be switching sides.  The idea is to expose the double cross to Lukas in order to see if they can leverage it to their advantage.  Dre is just too unpredictable.  Lukas is at least a manageable asshole.  Jeannie doesn’t see the advantage, but Marty does, so he wants her to do intel on Lukas: find out if they can keep his emotions in check after revealing the double cross.

Middlegame- Lukas makes a proposition to Caitlin

Speaking of Lukas, he makes a second attempt to hit on Caitlin after she proves her expertise of shoes by knowing what shoes he’s wearing.  But then Lukas makes another play- he wants someone with a real respect for shoes to be in charge of consulting the entire Soldier Sneaker line.

Middlegame- Dre rides in on a motorcycle for Lukas

Before Caitlin can consider this, in comes Dre on a motorcycle.  Why?  Because people just randomly give their friends a motorcycle, I guess.  But it’s a gift for Lukas putting in all his hard work for Soldier Sneaker.

When Lukas rides off to a room by himself, he’s followed by Jeannie.  Soon enough, they’re both on the motorcycle as he shows her the proper grip and such.  He then asks why she thinks Dre gave him the motorcycle.

Middlegame- Lukas and Jeannie kiss

Jeannie believes that Dre does respect him, but off come the gloves as Lukas tells Jeannie that she should be better at selling bull if she’s in management consulting.  They share a quick kiss before Lukas tells her a tale: before Dre got married, he had a rotation of women that he slept with.  Each one got a piece of jewelry.  The longer they were in, the more expensive the piece.  But after that, it was over.  So the bike, the party, and shoes are all just parting gifts, right?

Middlegame- Clyde talks hedge fund guy with Marty

Marty eagerly awaits Jeannie’s return, but he’s intercepted by Clyde, who has good news.  He’s been in touch with Marissa, and he’s close to a major hedge fund guy in New York.  He’ll be in the area in a few weeks, so Clyde will try and get a meeting set up.  Until then, however, Marty isn’t interested.

Jeannie explains that Lukas knew about the double cross before it had been addressed.  If the pod wants to make a move to win him over, now is the time.

Dre enters the scene and lets Marty know that it’s just business.  It didn’t have to be, but someone like Marty must know what that’s about.  Dre does trust Marty, but it isn’t easy to just put his future in the hands of someone he just met.  Meanwhile, there’s still the problem of Lukas.

Middlegame- Pod all together

So the pod’s story winds up as such: Will drinks a bit too much and makes a mess all over Jeannie’s feet, Caitlin realizes she screwed up big time and Doug, after one shot too many, decides to apologize to Lukas about the dog.

Middlegame- Doug tells Lukas that he killed his dog with chocolate

Initially, Lukas doesn’t believe the news at all, but when none of the bodyguards are able to account for the dog’s whereabouts, Lukas begins to crack.  The situation is worsened when Doug tries to apologize for his first gift because Black people are offended by receiving chocolates as gifts.  Not doing yourself any favors, Doug.

But Lukas focuses on something in the distance: Marty and Dre talking and laughing together.  Putting the pieces together, Lukas rushes over and clocks Dre, ending the episode in a good old fashioned club brawl.

At least no one threw a chair.

After last week’s relatively harmless episode, “Middlegame” has characters exploding left and right.  In my opinion, the episode benefits from being confined because we’re able to follow each storyline without randomly switching to new locations without explanation.  As has happened before on House of Lies, the lines between personal and professional continue to blur, but for Marty in particular, they don’t mesh as well as he’d like because he got too close too early.  The actions of Dre and Lukas put the pod on the defensive and exposed their armor, the same way Jeannie did to Marty.  Like last week, however, there were just as many laughs as there were tense moments.

It’s worth noting how little Marty seemed to do his homework on Lukas and just judged him on appearance.  Sure, Marty did homework on DollaHyde, but his primary focus was on Dre without considering how smart Lukas turned out to be, as he’s able to piece together Marty and Dre’s plan to screw him over.

Middlegame- Lukas figures it all out

I like how direct Lukas is when spelling out the entire plan to Jeannie without her having to admit anything.  It shows how deep of a bond Lukas has with Dre that he’s able to realize when he’s being played.  This goes against Marty’s expectations.  Marty wouldn’t expect a thuggish looking man who loves pot and guns to be all that smart, yet he one-ups the pod because his connection with Dre is much deeper than anyone else’s.  When he reveals that he knows what’s up to Jeannie, he’s not bragging or showing off…I mean, yes he is when he’s hitting on Jeannie, but when he talks about Dre’s past girlfriends and their jewelry, he’s much more calculating than Marty gives him credit for.

This week felt like more of an opportunity to mesh both the old and new pods, with Doug continuing to try and become closer friends with Caitlin, as well as Clyde now seeing Will as competition.

Middlegame- Will versus Clyde

And Will has a point about Clyde.  He’s been at Kaan & Associates much longer than Clyde and it’s clear that Marty isn’t interested, for the moment, at restoring broken bonds.  As far as Will is concerned, Clyde is the real outsider and Will is part of the group.  And I can’t hate on Will for this, either.

Middlegame- Clyde is the new guy

Clyde has a massive ego problem and his fall from grace after working for Monica has shown just how screwed up his situation is.  When he has a chance to make friendly with the new pod, which Clyde would never actually do, he reverts back to his braggart self.  Problem is that it backfires and Will really does have a way with the ladies that Clyde doubted.  I like the idea of Clyde having to compete to regain Marty’s trust, but I do hope that the writers don’t just turn Will into a sudden bad guy or give the audience a reason to hate him.

When it’s all said and done, Will has proven to be probably the most competent new member of the pod.  And Marty has more reason to keep him around because he used to work for Monica and has valuable intel.  With Clyde, Marty just knows that he got stabbed in the back.  Though, in a nice moment of solidarity, I did like the moment where Doug came to Clyde’s defense after Will called Clyde the new guy.

Middlegame- Will wins with the bishop

I also enjoyed seeing Will have a bit of fun this week with the random women he hooked up with in the club.  Given that we’ve never learned much about Will, I didn’t know what to make of his character, other than that he was a hard worker.  Now we learn he was a bit of a playboy in his university days and still has that confidence.  It really helps flesh out his character and keeps him from just being a new guy made up to create trouble for the pod.  I mean, aside from throwing up on Jeannie.

Middlegame- Jeannie tells Clyde she agrees about not putting all his stock in Marty's basket

And on Jeannie, by the way, I do appreciate how she’s now the main go-to person for Clyde since she’s the only one who will hear him out.  I mean, Doug would obviously hear Clyde as well, but that’s assuming Clyde is even in the mood to listen to Doug.  But anyway, she did make a connection with Clyde in pointing out that putting all your faith and trust in Marty is probably not the best idea.  Jeannie knows this.  She had a chance for a close, emotional attachment with Marty, but he blew her off.  She’s not looking to have one of her friends go down that same path, though I’d argue that Clyde was the engineer of his own undoing.  Even though Jeannie accepted Clyde’s choice to not put all her faith in Marty, she did agree that going to Monica was not a smart idea.

Middlegame- Jeannie screws with Doug

As far as Jeannie’s connection with Caitlin goes, it looks like Jeannie has a hard time being cordial and constantly being professional.  It may take more time.  Jeannie wasn’t all that friendly with Benita until their last- as of now- conversation and she knows that Caitlin has potential for greatness, so she’s not going to cut her any slack.  That said, the pat on the head like Caitlin was an animal was pretty cheap, even for Jeannie.  That’s something I’d expect from Marty, but since Jeannie barely knows Caitlin compared to the way she knows her old pod, it’s easy to see how Caitlin would interpret Jeannie’s playfulness as rude.

Middlegame- Doug fears chocolates are bad gifts for black people

Yet I would think Doug knew Jeannie well enough to know he’s being played.  His subplot with the chocolates was as funny as it was awkward as he tried to explain his way out of a potential beat down by Lukas.  I got a good laugh when he talked about not buying certain gifts for fear of perpetuating Black stereotypes, yet he felt something as innocent as chocolate would make Lukas blow his top.  At least we learned something new about Doug: not only is he a huge dog lover, but he donates to the ASPCA every year.  Good to know where some of his money goes.

Middlegame- Marty versus Slim Walter

Marty is really finding himself backed into a corner each week.  He thinks Lukas for a fool and when called out on it, he’s ready for a fight.  While Marty has normally been able to keep up a good poker face, if he can be called out on a bluff, he’s lost even more of his luster than we know.  It’s like the idea of him not being completely in charge has affected his job performance.  When he tells Jeannie, point blank, that he liked things better when he was her boss, you can tell that he means it.  He’s not used to having someone operate on his level, most of all one of his closest friends.

Middlegame- Dre explains it's all business

This episode had a big payoff for something Jeannie told Marty: he was getting too close to Dre to the point that they may as well have been dating.  And now Dre tells Marty that he’s just not into handing over the keys to his future to someone that he just met as part of a business arrangement.  Marty may be savvy, but he’s still a businessman and a consultant.  For him, it’s about the money, even if he doesn’t say it.  His priority was making sure Dre was happy, which is also what Jeannie wanted, as she told Caitlin that when it comes to dealing with partners, the idea is to keep the alpha happy.  Problem is that the pod gave the not-alpha less credit than he deserved and has a huge mess on their hands.

Middlegame- Live chess set

I did enjoy the club atmosphere this week.  The production was bright and lively, and the living chess set, while not exactly on the subtle side as far as the pod and DollaHyde engaged in a game of chess throughout the episode, was a nice motif that helped the episode stand out.  This was a fun episode that provided payoffs, but also set up another confrontation that I hope to see next week.

A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 4, Episode 9: “After”

After the explosive mid-season finale, The Walking Dead returns for the remainder of Season 4 and deals with the immediate aftermath of the Governor’s second assault on the prison.  Now that the group is scattered, they have to fend for themselves.  What we got from the mid-season premiere was a fairly well paced, but good start to the rest of the season that, I think, sets up the tone and direction for the remainder of the season’s run.

After- Michonne with two new walkers

The episode begins immediately following the events of “Too Far Gone” with walkers roaming the now abandoned prison.  Many of the corpses littered there due to the battle, including the Governor, decorate the prison yard like a dancers’ routine.  Nearby is Michonne, blade drawn and at the ready, as she slashes her way through incoming walkers.  Soon enough, she’s able to lure two into one of the traps that impales them.  As with before, she slices off the walkers’ limbs and mouths to use them as protection as she heads away from the prison.  To fully put the prison and any memories of it behind her, she also puts a blade through Hershel’s skull.

After- On the road with Rick and Carl

Elsewhere, we’re on the road with Rick and Carl.  With no clear direction in sight, the two just keep on moving, though Rick lags behind due to the injuries he sustained during his fight with the Governor.  Through ragged breaths, he asks Carl over and over again to slow down, but Carl’s face just spells out that he prefers his father not speak.

After- Carl and Rick find a walker in an abandoned restaurant

The two stumble upon a restaurant and argue on keeping watch, with Carl insisting that he go into help his father deal with whatever may be inside.  What they do find inside is a single walker hidden behind a barricade.  Rick tries to take it out with an axe to the head, but he’s still far too weak to kill it, so Carl fires a single shot from his gun and puts the roamer down.  Rick chastises Carl for using not saving bullets and possibly bringing other roamers to them.  Every bullet counts, but for Carl, they surviving in the moment counts more.

Later, the two end up at an abandoned home, though Rick’s continued commands for Carl to stop seem to make the boy walk even faster.  Inside, Carl makes as much noise as possible, much to Rick’s anger, but no one is home.

Upstairs, Carl finds the mother load: a television, accompanied by an Xbox with games.  But…no time for playing.  Carl heads back downstairs to find Rick trying to barricade the door with the sofa.  Carl has already fashioned a knot around the door- courtesy of Shane’s teaching- but he eventually aids the weakened Rick in blocking the door.

After- Michonne's dream

We then cut back to a cleaner and much neater Michonne, whose arguing with two other men in a kitchen about their visit to an art museum.  Her apparent lover, Mike, played by Aldis Hodge, just agrees with what Michonne says.  As Michonne continues her work, she lets her sword sit comfortably alongside her knives.  Wait, what?

Oh, and Michonne has a child, as well.  Life is just perfect until Michonne realizes the two men are missing both their arms.  And the baby’s gone, too.

Yeah, it was a dream.  Hey, at least she didn’t end up talking to the two walkers.

Back at the house, Carl prepares himself some cereal, but Rick is still dead asleep.  After repeated attempts to wake him up, Carl realizes his yelling has attracted two walkers.

After- Carl finds two walkers at the door

He leaves the home and draws them far away enough for him to back into another walker.  The walkers all dogpile on him, but he’s able to shoot his way out.  With a look of victory on his face, Carl declares himself the victor and moves on.

After- Carl rants to Rick

When Carl returns to the house, he tells his father of his victory, but also takes the opportunity to relish in what he accomplished.  He saved Rick, not the other way around.  He could get along just fine without Rick, if he wanted to just leave.  But Carl then blames Rick for everything that’s happened so far, including the deaths of Lori, Judith, Shane, the separation of the group, every single bad thing that’s happened.  To Carl and everyone else, Rick was the leader. He had a chance to get rid of the Governor, but didn’t take it.  Now Rick’s title of leader is pretty much worthless.  If Rick died, Carl’s sure he could handle himself.

To demonstrate his point, Carl goes on the move again to another home.  Like the last one, it appears empty, though Carl does stock up on a sufficient amount of food.

After- Carl finds one last walker inside an abandoned home

But there’s still one walker behind one of the doors!  Carl shoots for his life, but runs out of bullets.  He scurries for one room and tries to get through the window, but the walker barges in before he can escape.  Carl, with one less shoe, manages to get away and barricades the door shut, warning anyone who should come by that a walker is in the house.

After- Michonne mows down the mini walker herd

Michonne, meanwhile, has managed to make her way through a herd of walkers without being attacked.  Soon enough, a sea of emotions cascade over her as she slices her way through every single walker around her, even the two she had walking with her.

She eventually finds the same restaurant that Rick and Carl discovered earlier.

After- Carl can't bring himself to shoot Rick

Carl returns to the house, but Rick is still out cold.  Rick’s breathing becomes more labored and intense.  Carl grabs his gun, thinking that his father has turned or is beginning to.  Despite showing so much prowess all day, Carl can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.

But never fear.  Rick awakens, still injured, but himself.  He congratulates Carl on his work, but still advises that it was dangerous to go out.  Rick concedes: things will never go back to the way they were.  Carl knows this, but Rick still clung to that first reality because of his wife and children.  Now that Lori is gone and the two are on their own for the moment, Carl is no longer a boy, but a man.  Hell, he’s certainly seen his fair share of suffering to mature into adulthood.

Michonne finds yet another home and spots two figures inside.  At the same time, Rick and Carl hear a knock at the door.  After looking through the peephole, Rick, who looks the happiest he ever has in awhile, tells Carl that it’s for him.

“After” was a very slow paced episode, and I feel that worked to its advantage.  As much as The Walking Dead has great action moments, the quieter scenes can be just as powerful.  This episode was very reminiscent of “Clear” in which the majority of the focus went to Rick, Carl and Michonne when they found Morgan.  Like there, the episode is better because the storyline is focused on a few characters, rather than trying to make sure every person gets a few moments of screen time.

Whether it’s Michonne talking to herself or Carl telling Rick of his accomplishments, it’s these scenes where I feel The Walking Dead is at some of its strongest: no shootouts or zombies, just a few characters on-screen, having a conversation about their situation.  And it obviously helps that their conversations are interesting.  A previous example would be Rick discussing potential terms with the Governor, where the two are constantly in battle without having to throw a single punch.  That moment can be just as engaging as their actual fight.

I actually think the second half of the season benefitted from a slower premiere.  Having another massive shootout or confrontation so soon after the second prison attack wouldn’t give the audience a chance to breathe and regroup alongside the characters.  That’s not always true, given the beginning of Season 3, but considering how much greater the circumstances were this time around, something slower paced lets us see where the chips now lay in the aftermath of the Governor’s attack.

After- Carl's silent F You to Rick

For Carl, this was about him accepting how much he would have to shoulder, should he end up on his own.  He’s been surviving like this since the beginning of the series: he knows how to fire a gun, he can evade roamers with minimal difficulty and can score his own food.  After having to make decisions like shooting his own mother, watching Rick shoot Sophia, and being responsible for the walker that bit Dale, Carl has seen his fair share of death and it’s slowly led him down the dark path we see Rick on right now.

After- Comic book Carl rants to Rick

One key difference for Carl is his age.  Carl is much older and a bit more mature than his younger comic book counterpart.  Therefore he’s more willing to challenge his father’s decisions.  His anger toward Rick is not without reason and his rage, for now, seems contained, yet you know Carl has nothing but anger in his heart toward Rick throughout most of this episode.  Through his facial expressions and derisive response to Rick after being admonished for swearing, Carl has hardened.  In a world where you fight or be eaten, a potty mouth should not be any sort of real issue.

After- Carl wins

Sure, Carl is abrasive and reactionary, but it’s this survival instinct that helped him fend for himself in the episode, which makes his “I win” after surviving an attack on his own all the more satisfying.

What we learned about Carl as the series has progressed is that he’s very much willing to kill in order to survive.  He didn’t start out that way, but by now, he’s able to fight alongside his now debilitated and broken father.  Some kids Carl’s age would just see this all as a game, but Carl has seen enough tragedy to know that surviving in this world is what matters, so you keep on moving.

After- Carl finds abandoned child's room

And yet Carl is, in fact, still a child.  He may have more life experience than kids his age, but he lacks the practical experience that comes from being older, which makes the scene where he finds the television set and video games in the abandoned child’s room more poignant: as much as Carl would like, even for a moment, to step back into that innocence of being a child and not having to worry about a zombie apocalypse, he can’t return to the way things used to be.

After- Rick awakens

Even after all of this, though, Carl still realizes that Rick will always be an important part of his life.  When he speaks of what he did on his own, there’s a real sense of pride- even a little arrogance, but he’s earned it- in his voice, as if he would still like his father’s approval.  And by episode’s end, he got just that.

After- Michonne finishes killing a mini walker herd

Michonne is slowly on the way to becoming a more realized character and the flashback where we get a glimpse at her past life was great to see.  Many have criticized Michonne’s characterization as being too stoic and one-note.  She was like that in the comics as well, but she broke out of her shell sooner and grew more open to conversing with the group.  Though there, she still has moments where being “normal” is still strange for her.  On the show, for the most part, she’s served the purpose of scowling and slicing.  Now we’re digging into her life before the world went to hell, and for that, I applaud the writers.

After- Michonne walking through mini walker herd

This felt like Michonne fully shedding any past inhibitions and walking around aimlessly, proving this when she cuts down every zombie in the small herd.  If you wanted to stretch, you could even say she’s eliminating the idea of her keeping walkers around as pets, the same way the Governor did with his daughter.  But cutting through every single walker in sight, staring down the walker that looked just like her, felt like Michonne releasing what felt like years of repression.  It doesn’t mean her character will do a sudden 180, but it’s a good start to her getting in touch with her humanity.

After- Michonne speaks to Mark

And in another nice nod to the comics, Michonne speaks to her dead boyfriend, similar to how Rick spoke with Lori over the telephone.  It’s a nice way for Michonne to have some sort of connection with her past life.

“After” was a great start to the rest of the season.  In a way, it reminded me of the pilot in that the characters find themselves in a situation where the stability they thought they had has just turned upside down.  The episode worked because it restricted the amount of characters on-screen to give more depth to those we did see.  It sets up what I predict will be the pattern for the remainder of the season: deal with one or a small group of characters in the aftermath of the prison assault.  We follow their exploits until the group eventually reunites and tries to assess their current situation of staying alive without a home and trying to maintain a balance between “normalcy” and what’s in front of them.  By season’s end, hopefully, we’ll have been introduced to Abraham and we proceed from there.

Looking forward to it.

A Look at House of Lies- Season 3, Episode 5: “Soldiers”

Time to break the boys apart! If last week’s episode showed us the strain of longstanding relationships, this week’s “Soldiers” focused on trying to fix broken bonds. It focused on realizing how good our lives can be, but we don’t see the big picture until we’re either reminded of it or until our way of life is threatened.

Soldiers- Chantelle's first appearance

The episode begins with Marty firing some golf balls off of his rooftop.  Perfectly legal, I assume.  As he heads into the kitchen, he spots a semi-clothed woman sporting one of his shirts.  Roscoe comes out and informs Marty that the woman, named Chantelle, played by Alice Hunter, is Jeremiah’s new friend.  Out comes Jeremiah, clad in just a towel, who informs Marty that Chantelle is a therapist and currently finishing her doctorate.  Jeremiah met her at a talk he gave- what does Jeremiah do in his free time?- and wants her to feel welcome.

To make Marty’s day worse, Monica is at the door, as she’s arrived to pick up Roscoe.  She has a cane this time, so I guess it doesn’t take much time for a stab to the thigh to heal.

Soldiers- Clyde meets with his psychiatrist

Having few people to turn to, Clyde relays his problems to a psychiatrist, played by Romy Rosemont.  He shares his horror stories of working for top tier management consulting firms.  He knows fear.  The psychiatrist suggests Marty may be the root of the problems, but Clyde is focused on finding a big move that will get him back in Marty’s good graces.

Soldiers- Doug and Sarah after making love

And I guess because we need proof they’re trying to have a baby, we cut to Doug and Sarah going at it like rabbits.  Sarah’s in complete control as she demands that Doug put his baby juice in her.  Yum, right?  When they’re finished, Sarah wonders aloud if Doug ejaculated.  But Doug insists that he made the noise and everything, so he must have come.

Soldiers- Doug tells Jeannie that he's withholding orgasms

Turns out he didn’t come.  And Jeannie is the one who has to stomach the news as she tries to eat a bagel.  Turns out that Doug has been withholding orgasms since he and Sarah made the decision to have a baby.  To be clear, he does want to have a child, but thinks that Sarah is moving too fast.  Did you see how fast she humps?  I tend to agree with Doug.

But Doug is now on the edge since Sarah has moves that get him close to climax.  As such, he’s got a lot of hot, sticky white goodness ready to come out, but he can’t find the time to pound one out.  Jeannie gives the most practical solution: do it in the shower, but Doug will not lower himself to the Neanderthal stage!  Plus, if he wants to do it in the shower, he needs preparation, lighting, props, maybe even a little Maroon 5.  I hope there’s not a website out there with Doug uploading videos of himself jacking off.

The two make their way to Jeannie’s desk and Jeannie suggests that if Doug is so wound up, he should just do it then and there.  Not in her office, though!  Also, he can’t take a mental picture of her.  Well, heck, that takes all the fun out of it if I’ve got Kristen Bell in the same building as me and I can’t take a mental picture of her.

Doug’s pud play will have to wait, as Marty comes in and informs the two that it’s time to put into action their plan to rid DollaHyde of Lukas.

Soldiers- Lukas and Jeannie on the golf range

So Marty, Jeannie and Doug head to the driving range.  Since Caitlin isn’t around, Lukas has to contend with hitting on Jeannie, with minimal success.  Lukas wants the news, plain and simple, no fancy consulting rhetoric.  Jeannie has another issue on her hands: driving Marty out of Dre’s arms and focusing on the task at hand.  Well, looks like Marty Kaan has himself a friend.  That doesn’t happen too often.  More than Jeannie, but she admits that she doesn’t need friends.  She’s pretty.

I feel like we addressed this last week…

Marty tells Lukas that the pod ran some statistical analyses on the Wal-Mart expansion idea.  It’s very lucrative, to say the least, but Marty puts a damper on the supposed good news by then mentioning that he had to do a side by side analysis given DollaHyde’s key demographic and name recognition.  And after that test, the plan would fail.  DollaHyde has to expand the brand.  The pod suggests products like backpacks and the like, which Dre is all for, but Lukas is not.  To him, DollaHyde sells lifestyle, not merchandise.

Soldiers- Clyde meets with Marissa at treatment center

Elsewhere, Clyde pays a visit to the Garden by the Sea treatment center to visit a woman named Marissa, played by Eliza Coupe.  She doesn’t recognize the random visitor, but Clyde sure knows her.  He wants to turn her business around, but she calls Clyde a bottom feeder, saying that she’s at the bottom of the barrel and just trying to survive.  Why waste time by preying on her vulnerability?  But fear not, Clyde.  She’s only screwing with you.  That’s happening a lot this season, I’ve noticed.

Marissa is the pioneer of the website Mediawolf, one of the top sites in the world, but the site does not belong to her anymore, but her family.  Clyde promises to help her out, but only if she helps him.  This then turns into a conversation about how ‘fuckable’ Marissa is and how much she’s a fan of anal.  Well, at least Clyde is happy, I guess.

Back with the pod, Lukas throws out the idea of marketing sneakers.  Of course, that’s the first thing the pod considered, considering how many broke hip-hop lines try it.  DollaHyde can’t afford to expose its bottom line before the IPO because it’s too big of a risk.  Sneakers are overblown anyway, but Jeannie has an alternative: build a firewall between DollaHyde and the sneaker entity, effectively splitting DollaHyde in half.

Soldiers- Marty describes actual DollaHyde plan to Dre

Lukas is all for it and drives off with the good news, leaving Dre and the pod to enjoy the actual good news: they managed to make Lukas think the shoe suggestion was all his idea so he’d focus on that, meaning the rest of the capital would stay with the clothing line.  Lukas, meanwhile, would get 100 percent of nothing.  DollaHyde is clean for its IPO.  Dre then suggests that Marty come over to his home that night to have dinner with his family.  Guess Marty better pick out a nice dress.

Soldiers- Clyde arrives at Kaan and Associates

Clyde arrives at Kaan & Associates with the intent to give Marty intel.  Jeannie reminds him that the two aren’t exactly on best terms, but Clyde is focused on the future.  He gets his chance to give his proposal to both Marty and Jeannie.  He can bring them the McClintock media empire.  Marty wants to hear none of it, but Jeannie intervenes, as she at least wants to hear the idea.  Clyde lets it all out: he knows he screwed Marty over, but feels that he’s been punished enough as a Judas Priest.  Working for Monica has been hell for him and he’s paid his debt.

Jeannie points out that the firm could use both revenue and an increased profile.  Marty concedes, noting that if the boss lady is on board, so is he.

Oh, and Doug, in his words, is able to put a baby in Sarah later on.  Good for him.

Soldiers- Marty learns that Monica has been fired

Back at Casa Kaan, we enter on Monica ranting to Roscoe about her situation: she’s been fired from Kinsley Johnson because she apparently creates a hostile work environment.  Oh, and Christy just happens to be related to the Treasury Secretary.  Marty offers to make some calls, but Monica’s got her pills, which are all she’ll need.

Roscoe’s plans to meet Lex at a skate park will have to go on hold, as Marty tells him to get ready to go to Dre’s home.  Roscoe then proposes just bringing Lex along, but Marty shuts him down.  Roscoe gets a bit confrontational with his response of Fuckthatshit.com (Trademark) and puts down his foot: if he goes, Lex goes.

But then Marty reminds Roscoe who’s in charge and while Jeremiah might have allowed it, he won’t, so he better get ready.

Soldiers- Dinner at Dre's home

Dre has a very luxurious home, to say the least.  Marty is immediately impressed with the landscape and even manages to hit it off with Dre’s wife, played by Bridgid Coulter, as well as his two kids: Justin, played by Myles Lamonte, and Rosie, played by Brooklyn-Bella.  Roscoe not so subtly comments on their warm family in comparison to the chillier one he has, but dinner goes off without a hitch.

Soldiers- Dre and Marty agree

When the two men have a moment alone, they talk family and what they’d do to maintain what they have.  While Lukas may be considered family to Dre, he’s still toxic to everything Dre has worked for.  Even if there’s no coming back, Dre is fully ready to do whatever it takes to protect what’s his.  And so is Marty.

This episode put the pod on friendlier terms, even if a bit adversarial at times.  Bit by bit, the pod is coming back together, but without completely eliminating the new pods, though if we’re never going to see JC or Benita again, at least they got Jeannie’s trump card on Galweather Stearn.  The old status quo is being brought back, but the season is still setting up the direction they’re going.  The pod may not be in the most ideal of places, but the main cast realized this week that what they have so far is worth protecting and defending, particularly with Doug and Marty.  They’re not where they’d like to be, but they wouldn’t trade it for anything else.  “Soldiers” also dealt with happiness and securing your future, as Jeremiah and Clyde are trying to do.

It felt more light hearted than the more serious two episodes, as there’s more focus on the comedic aspect of the show.  It really speaks to the writing that the core of the show remains intact despite the tonal shift.  It’s still the same show, but the characters are cutting more wise cracks, particularly Doug and Jeannie when discussing Doug withholding orgasms.

Soldiers- Sad Doug cannot orgasm

Let’s begin with Doug, actually, whose nervousness about having a baby in his life is put on display again with his inability to fully have sex with Sarah.  We know he’s not backing out of it for sure.  He chose Sarah he loves her and she makes him happy in ways that no one else can, save for Jeannie if he gets a mental picture of her in his head.  Doug has a good life with Sarah and her decision to stop taking birth control is by no means a deal breaker, but at least he’s giving thought to his decision instead of just jumping into it headfirst, like it seems Sarah is.

Soldiers- Doug goes down on Sarah

Side-note, Jenny Slate seems to be having a lot of fun with this role.  Sarah is not a malicious or vindictive woman- she just has a wild side.  Nothing wrong with that in my book.  She wants to have a family and Doug, in her eyes, is the right man for the job.

I like the idea of Doug being tightly wound by withholding orgasms, as he’s already pretty reserved as is.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of him openly sharing his story of woe with a clearly grossed out Jeannie and even wanting to masturbate in her office.  More than that, when Doug told Jeannie that he wished Clyde was around to talk to and Jeannie responds that she thought Doug wanted Clyde to jerk him off- that’s an example of the humor that works so well when the pod clicks and I’m glad to see it making a comeback.  Also, just how much preparation does Doug go through into getting himself off?

Doug is less loose than the other members of the pod, which is why his choice of words often comes across poorly, as evidenced when he repeatedly gets in Lukas’ bad side.  Though he’s getting back into the groove of things.

Soldiers- Clyde brings his McClintock proposal to Marty and Jeannie

The same goes for Clyde, whose looking neater this week than he did during “Associates.”  Clyde knows that Marty won’t throw him a lifeline, so he’ll have to find a way to force Marty’s hand.  At least at first he thought he only needed Marty’s approval, but more on that later.  It’s possible that Clyde’s time in jail did help turn him around, but at least he has a goal in mind through his “in” with Marissa.  He’s done his homework on MediaWolf and is ready to prove himself not just to Marty, but to the pod.

Soldiers- Clyde's envy of Doug's life

His sense of self-worth is returning, as he’s back to trading barbs with Doug instead of becoming timid at the sight or sound of Monica, who had him bound tight.  Granted, Clyde is taking a huge risk to win Marty’s favor, but I like his determination.  Besides, he has nowhere else to turn to at this point.  It’s a huge gamble, but at least Jeannie is willing to hear him out.  And I did enjoy Clyde telling Doug how good he had it with a woman that loves him.  He tells Doug that he has everything and doesn’t even see it, while Clyde has next to nothing and is constantly reminded of it.  His dislike of Doug turns to envy, which showed last season when he continually hit on Sarah until Doug told him off.  It’s a good way to flesh out his character arc.

Soldiers- Clyde's psychiatrist

And while I find the idea of psychiatrists in television shows are just an easy way to get characters to talk about their problems, at least here Clyde has someone he can turn to since Marty won’t hear him out.

Soldiers- Marty offers to make some calls for Monica

Briefly on Monica, by the way.  She shares some parallels with Clyde in that she is too proud to accept help, but Monica isn’t a person who would go out of her way to ask for it, especially from Marty.  As much as she and Marty have been at each other’s necks, there’s genuine concern in Marty’s voice when he hears of Monica’s firing and I get the feeling that he would do something to at least help keep her afloat.  She’s literally been crippled and now her demeanor has caught up to her through her firing.  She hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, but the slow manner in which she moves with her cane and the lack of extreme venom in her voice shows that this is Monica in a weakened state.  And I guess it doesn’t take too long to heal after being stabbed in the thigh and having an artery nicked.

Though I have to wonder why Christy didn’t just use her connections to complain about Monica’s hostility in the first place as opposed to stabbing her.  Also, what’s she doing working at a firm if she’s related to the Treasury Secretary?  She could have been much higher up than where she was, but I’m dwelling too much on this.

Soldiers- Jeannie insists Marty consider Clyde's offer

Jeannie had her high moments with the past two weeks so now we’re seeing her make good on her promise to go toe-to-toe with Marty.  The fact that she’s with him when Clyde makes his proposition and her reminding Marty to stop making buddies with Dre show that Jeannie is as much in charge of this situation as Marty is, maybe even more.  She’s as smooth as Marty is, but is more direct in her approach, such as when she tells off Lukas.  True to her word, Jeannie’s power play was a business move and while she and Marty may still be on speaking terms, she’s far less cordial and more professional.  She’s probably the only one right now who can call Marty out on trying to hold Clyde’s betrayal over him forever as opposed to just starting over.

Soldiers- Marty talks about life and kids with Dre and his wife

And then there’s Marty, who has some nice parallels with Dre when it comes to family.  This week showed Marty with a particularly full plate, starting with Jeremiah and Chantelle.  Though Marty doesn’t have an ideal family, he does have a set way of doing things and Chantelle’s presence violates his living space.  That and, you know, her wearing his shirt and prancing around the kitchen half-naked.  Marty tries to fit his life into a perfect fantasy but, as Jeannie told him, that fantasy doesn’t exist in reality and he’s unable to control everything the way he’d like to.

Soldiers- Roscoe and Marty argue

Same applies to Roscoe.  Sure, Roscoe wanting to invite Lex is very last minute, but I don’t see it being a huge deal.  However, I could see no reason to invite Lex other than to give Roscoe something to do while at Dre’s.  Marty speaks before thinking and saying that Roscoe and Lex are like a circus cuts to Roscoe’s core, but also speaks to Marty’s character: he often puts his circumstances and problems above everyone else’s.  Roscoe’s choice of lifestyle doesn’t mesh with how Marty expected him to be.

Marty wants stability in his life, but he’s losing it from all sides.  Like he tells Dre, he’d do whatever it took to protect his family, but the people close to him are pulling away.  The very people Marty would fight to protect are the very ones he’s alienating through his own words.  I like the look at Dre’s family life in comparison to Marty’s, as it symbolizes what Marty could possibly have without major family drama.  Or at least for now, as we aren’t told too much about Dre’s family.  Both men want to secure what’s theirs, but for Marty, every day has been a battle with him being flanked on all sides, Jeannie especially being the one to expose his defenses.

Soldiers- Marty to Jeannie after accepting Clyde's proposal

Now to me, Marty doesn’t seem like the type to try and sabotage Jeannie in order to preserve what’s his, but you never know.  And I can’t help but love the look Marty has when Jeannie has decided to hear Clyde’s proposition, as if he knows that she’s capable of wielding just as much power as he is.

“Soldiers” came another step closer to returning the status quo, but with some major
changes.  It provided a major boost for Doug and gave Marty a personal connection through Dre and his family.  What lacked in major drama was more than made up for in the show’s black comedy.  I do hope that the new pods aren’t slowly phased out, as we’re given passing references to Christy and Caitlin.  All in all, another solid episode.