A Brief Look at Supergirl- Season 1

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This was not meant to happen.  We’re in a golden age of superhero adaptations right now. Films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, I feel, are to thank for the plethora of comic book adaptations we’ve seen thrust on movie screens at a rapid-fire rate, not to mention Marvel’s and DC expanding their cinematic universes.

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On the small screen, sure, you had programs like Smallville or Birds of Prey that may seem a tad dated by today’s standards, but they were instrumental in helping us get where we are today with so many superhero or comic book adaptations on television, not to mention huge hits on Netflix like Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

Lovecraft- Arrow

Arrow may have kicked off the most recent trend that’s continued with the likes of The FlashLegends of TomorrowAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D., GothamiZombie, and so on.  As far as these types of adaptations go, anyway, compared to the likes of The Walking Dead or Preacher.

But for reasons different than why I don’t watch S.H.I.E.L.D.Supergirl was never on my list of comic-book based shows to watch.  Not because of it airing on a different network than the other DC Comics’ based shows outside of Gotham on FOX, but because I wasn’t sold on the premise.

Trailers can lie, yes, and sometimes you need to look beyond a trailer or teaser before making a judgment call, I’ll admit.  But upon seeing the very first trailer for Supergirl in a movie theater, I was not impressed.  I didn’t know what to expect, but it looked like Supergirl meets Dawson’s Creek and really emphasized the whole girl power and feminism angle.  Having now watched the show, I wasn’t completely wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with approaching Supergirl like that, and in this day and age, I think that’s expected.  What matters is execution.

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Adapting anything Superman related is a daunting task, as the likes of Richard Donner, Bryan Singer, and Zack Snyder no doubt know.  What is the value structure?  Do you go for something more optimistic, or go for something more grounded in current society?  And is there room for a happy medium?  This is what separates Arrow and The Flash because, while part of the same world, their tones are very different.

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So it’s no surprise that Greg Berlanti is the brains behind not just Supergirl, but the DCCW adaptations, not to mention Vixen.  He has a certain formula that would no doubt make Supergirl work.  And given the show’s renewal and generally positive feedback from critics and fans alike, it would seem that he’s succeeded.  So why wouldn’t I be on board?

Again, it all goes back to marketing.  And I do not feel that CBS knew how to market this show.  Fundamentally, it’s similar to Arrow and The Flash, but Supergirl mixed with Dawson’s Creek didn’t wow me over in advertisements.

Pilot- Gordon speaks with Bruce Wayne

And, for priority’s sake, it didn’t help that this show airs the same time as Gotham.  And while Gotham isn’t exactly the pinnacle of comic book adaptations, it is one that I talk about, so that show came first.

Also, despite airing on a different network, Supergirl felt like a show that belonged alongside the likes of the DCCW shows.  In my mind, it felt left out, but hey, that’s why the multiverse exists.

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I didn’t care that J’onn J’onzz was a supporting character, that Barry Allen popped in from his Earth for a crossover episode, or that this was a world where Superman had already been established.  Hell, with the way Warner Bros. operates and given the deaths of Amanda Waller, Deadshot, as well as the lack of subsequent appearances of Slade or Harley Quinn on Arrow, I didn’t think Superman was fair game.

I’m doing a massive exposition dump as a roundabout way of saying that Supergirl had a lot of elements that sounded appealing, but nothing that made it a must-watch for me.  As months passed, the first season ended and we learned that not only had Supergirl been renewed for a second season, but it would be on the CW.

Between that and curiosity getting the better of me, I gave in to see if my preconceived notions about this show based on a trailer or two were valid.

When I was finished, I had a mixed reaction.  There were elements in Supergirl that I enjoyed, but also many parts that I disliked.  I’m not here to do an episode-by-episode synopsis, but give my late and, quite frankly, unnecessary and clustered thoughts on some aspects of the show.

After holding out for so long, could I look at this objectively and not let any hesitation hamper what could be genuine enjoyment?  Well, let’s do a brief plot synopsis.

Like ArrowThe FlashLegends of Tomorrow, and iZombie, each episode starts off with an expository monologue giving viewers the basic gist of the show.  Krypton exploded, Kara was sent to Earth to protect Kal-El, but she got knocked off-course.  By the time she got to Earth, Kal-El had already become Superman.

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So Kara blends in with the world, has an inner circle of close friends who know her identity, and she works to protect the city, nay, the world, from domestic and extraterrestrial threats.  Along the way, she learns secrets and revelations about her family, friends, stumbles in her journey as a hero, and shows the citizens of National City why she’s a symbol of hope.

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At a time where Superman in the films is criticized for being too dark and emulating more of Batman than the bright and colorful Superman many are used to, Supergirl stands in contrast to Kal-El’s adaptation on the big screen.

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This Supergirl doesn’t exist in a mostly muted color palette.  She’s fun and has dimension. And there’s a real passion in Melissa Benoist’s performance whenever she’s on-screen that it’s hard for me to picture anyone else playing this particular incarnation of Supergirl.

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But Supergirl is more than Kara and it’s most of the performances around Benoist where I had problems.  Half of this is the actors, and the other half is in the writing.  When I say that Supergirl feels like a superhero version of Dawson’s Creek, or any other sappy teen drama, I’m talking about familiar beats or tropes you see in those type of dramas.

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Whether it’s characters arguing for the sake of drama, complicated love triangles, one character happening to walk in or catch two people kissing, episodes closing out with musical cues to get your emotions running…it all drags Supergirl down.  And I don’t feel some of the drama here is earned.

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Now don’t get me wrong.  A show can have some of those traits and make them work without feeling forced or cheesy. Hell, iZombie has many of the aforementioned elements, but what makes that show so great is the writing.  I buy Liv’s complicated relationship with Major in that show.

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I don’t buy Kara’s will she/won’t she feelings with Jimmy Olsen.  Part of that is because the love triangle between Kara, Jimmy, and Lucy Lane just feels like conflict for the sake of conflict, and also because I don’t feel Melissa Benoist and Mehcad Brooks have the same sort of chemistry as, say, Grant Gustin and Candice Patton on The Flash.

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Plus, aside from sticking Lucy at the DEO, having Jimmy already in an established relationship with Lucy just feels like the show sowing seeds for Jimmy to break it off with Lucy and explore his true feelings for Kara.  That’s expected and is just what happens, partially because of neither Kara nor Jimmy telling Lucy that Kara is Supergirl, even there’s no reason to hide it from her of all people.

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Oh, but it’s not just Jimmy.  Then you’ve got Winn, the guy who has a crush on Kara. He’s fine enough as an ally, but when he kisses Kara and then gives her the cold shoulder, I’m left wondering why.  And then at one point, he’s disappointed because he saw Kara and Jimmy hug?  What the hell?

supergirl-winn-and-kara-dance

Okay, Winn is shy and in a bit of competition with Jimmy, but I never thought of him as the petty, jealous type.  It felt out of nowhere.  He already knows how Jimmy feels about Kara and if television conventions are anything, Jimmy’s relationship with Lucy wouldn’t last, so for Winn to get pissy over a hug is an example of unearned drama.  It’s drama for the sake of drama.

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This extends to characters not communicating or saying things just earlier instead of later. Maybe this is a me thing, but I don’t have the patience for people who don’t just talk about their problems.  So Alex kills Astra, but J’onn takes the blame.  Okay, I get that.

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But then Kara gives J’onn the cold shoulder for quite some time, but he’s fine because he can take it.  Alex, though, feels that telling Kara the truth would hurt their relationship. Either Alex isn’t giving Kara enough credit and making a huge assumption, or she’s just afraid.  If it’s fear, then fine, but given their longstanding relationship as Earth sisters, I would think that Alex is bold enough to admit what she did.

And once Alex gives her teary revelation, it’s as if all the anger Kara felt towards J’onn just dissipates.  She forgives Alex in no time, but the fact that she was such as asshole towards J’onn felt unnecessary.

She gets over it and that’s my problem: withholding the news served no purpose other than to create some friction between Kara and J’onn and let guilt eat away at Alex…guilt that wouldn’t have been there if she had been honest in the first place.  Trust your sister the way that she trusts you.

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These are the kinds of issues that have dragged down Arrow, but this is only the first season of Supergirl and some of the sappier elements or lack of communication that I see here are the reasons there’s such hatred from many fans towards the fan-dubbed ‘Olicity.’

For the record, I think you can make Oliver and Felicity work as an item, but not when it’s dragged down by bullshit romantic drama better saved for soap operas.  But then, Arrow might as well be a soap opera right now, but I digress, because the show’s current issues run well beyond Olicity.

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Back to Supergirl. Oddly enough, the one character who I disliked the most is the one who may not appear as often because of the show’s move to Vancouver.  I like Calista Flockhart’s performance and Cat Grant is one of the more vocal characters on the show, but she was also one of the most grating.

Aside from her being insufferable and vain- and I get that was the point- her celebrity name-dropping coming almost as frequent as Cisco’s movie references on The Flash, and her overall less than pleasant character made her someone I could have done without. For a moment.

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When the show introduced us to Cat’s eldest son, Adam, I saw how much Cat wanted a relationship with an actual human being instead of her awards.  Her defenses drop when Adam takes her down a peg and calls her out on her shit.  And even though I find Cat’s vanity an issue, she does make a valid attempt to bond with her son and the writers do a good job of humanizing her as the season progresses.

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This extends to her relationship with Supergirl.  She believes in Supergirl standing as a symbol of hope, but also recognizes that Supergirl, like Kal-El in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, gives the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards.

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And that became very clear in the episode that not just made me respect Cat Grant, but stands as my favorite episode of the series thus far: “Falling.”  Here, Kara is exposed to red kryptonite and becomes an all-around asshole.  She becomes bolder, lets an alien go, and even throws Cat off of a building before catching her at the last moment.  Kara tells Cat that power is deciding who gets to live and who dies.

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Right before Kara tosses her, Cat says that she created Supergirl and that she won’t let her down.  It’s a ballsy thing to say in front of an alien who could kill you without trying, but this showed me that, despite Cat’s arrogance, behind that tough exterior is someone who wants Supergirl to be this shining example of truth, justice, and the American way.  Only when put in mortal danger does Cat go public to denounce Supergirl.

Sure, it’s because the plot demands that Kara rebuild her reputation, but this one moment made me appreciate Cat Grant a little more.  Even J. Jonah Jameson can come around to admit that Spider-Man is a hero.

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But this isn’t why I love the episode.  Supergirl, like Clark in the Donner Superman films, goes through an arc.  Heroes don’t always just get their praise from the public.  They must earn it.  And at times, that struggle can be grueling, but worth it to show character development.

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I enjoyed watching Oliver Queen show the people of Star City that he’s more than just a vigilante, Bruce Banner proving that the Hulk can be used for good and not just a weapon of destruction, Matt Murdock showing the police of Hell’s Kitchen that Daredevil is on their side, or Peggy Carter showing the men of the SSR that she’s a capable.  Even though she already deserved to be seen as an equal, but I’ve already discussed Agent Carter.

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The drama in “Falling” felt real because we’ve seen Kara endure conflicts from every side, whether work or the DEO, but this gave her a chance to really vent, but also, like Batman’s fear of Superman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, show the public what kind of person a Kryptonian could be if they chose not to be a savior, but embraced their power and just did as they pleased.

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And watching Kara try to earn that trust back after one little slip-up felt like a real arc. Like Clark in Superman II, she learns that she’s held to a higher standard because she gives people hope.  She doesn’t get to just be a normal person.  Sure, Supergirl here is allowed to be a bit more vulnerable and show emotion, but she still has to maintain that strong exterior so people still look up to her.

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When the public aids her and The Flash when the two battle Livewire and Silver Banshee, the renewed trust in Supergirl feels genuine and we see that Kara regrets her actions. She’s learned from her errors and that makes her a better person.  And I appreciate that the public doesn’t just flip on a dime and accept Supergirl without consequence.  She has to earn that trust, not just get it back without effort or because the plot demands it.

To me, this was the high point of the series and the best example of emotional drama that felt earned instead of just exploring Kara’s bad side. Nothing before this was bad, but not all that memorable. “Falling” had real weight to it. It’s a shame that it just took sixteen episodes into the series for me to find one a memorable one.

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Otherwise, the show itself is decent enough.  The fight scenes aren’t too bad, and the dramatic moments when earned can be quite good.  The feminism and girl power talk didn’t grate on me as much as I thought it would since it’s only prevalent in a few episodes and is all but gone towards the end of the season.

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I understand that, this being a female superhero, you’re going to tackle that topic.  Hell, I would be surprised if the show didn’t.  But I don’t think the talks of feminism and being a woman in the world are as well-written or believable as they are in Agent Carter, nor are they given the level of seriousness that we got in Jessica Jones, though Jessica gets a whole different set of standards with Netflix.

And don’t give me any nonsense about not comparing Supergirl to other female led comic-book programs.  Both Daredevil and The Flash have been compared to Arrow when Daredevil, like Jessica Jones, has a different set of standards.  Supergirl is just as fair game for comparisons as anything else.

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Overall, though, the first season of Supergirl is decent enough.  As far as Berlanti-led shows, I’d say it’s better than the first season of Legends of Tomorrow, but not the first seasons of either Arrow or The Flash.  The forced emotional drama and lack of chemistry between some characters drags the show down.

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However, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and Supergirl is much more than its first trailer made it out to be.  Benoist is a great lead and she brings the optimism you’d want from a superhero like her.  When Supergirl is good, it’s very good, but like other Berlanti shows, the drama and romantic subplots keep it from being great.

Sharpen up the weaker elements and I think Supergirl could be a much stronger show. And given how much the CW has been marketing the show since it changed networks, I do hope it gets more exposure because behind all the unearned drama is a good show. It’s not for everyone, but if “Falling” is any indication, it’s that this show has the potential for greatness.  Here’s hoping that happens in Season 2.

A Look at Wild

Wild- Movie Poster

Wild is about one person’s journey to overcome the elements, to redeem herself and find some salvation.  Cheryl Strayed packs up her monster of a pack and prepares to walk the Pacific Crest Trail.  This is a well-made character piece that’s helped by a strong performance by Reese Witherspoon in a film that challenges us to hold onto our best self despite life’s many obstacles.  Let’s jump right in.

Wild- Cheryl struggles with her boots

The film begins in the mountains. Climbing to the top is Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon. Cheryl has been going at this for awhile and takes a moment to compose herself. She pulls off her boots and shoes to reveal very bloody and bruised feet. If that wasn’t enough do deter you from hiking, maybe the sight of Cheryl pulling off a big, bloody toenail will. However, she loses her footing a bit and one of her boots goes sailing down into the chasm. Enraged, Cheryl throws down the other boot and lets out a blood curling yell. Perhaps Reese Witherspoon could have another pair flown to her.

Anyway, the film then flashes back to Strayed being dropped off at a hotel. She pays the fee for the night, though the clerk leaves the door open for her to invite a partner. There will be none of that, though. Cheryl is planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. And since she’s unable to provide a license or address, she must provide another.

That address belongs to the man she then calls on the phone: her ex-husband, Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski. Paul is busy making dinner for a friend. He apologizes to Cheryl, though he’s not sure why he’s sorry. He hesitates when he tells Cheryl that he doesn’t understand why she’s walking 1,100 miles. Cheryl has provided Paul with a list of addresses for various stops she’ll be making, so he can send her packages that way. During this, we get a brief flashback of her sitting a friend, who tells her that she can quit anytime.

When Cheryl finishes her call with Paul, she considers her options on who she can ask to help her reach the first part of trek. After all, you don’t want to just entrust your life to anyone.

All right, time to head out. Cheryl is all packed and ready to go…she’s a bit too ready to go. Her pack has backpacks on backpacks. Combined, the entire pack looks like a roller suitcase stacked on top of another roller suitcase, but with bags jutting out of every corner. She fills one bag with water to keep herself hydrated. She tries to lug it out, with no success. The scene plays on for a while and is for comedic effect, but it does serve as a precursor to just how grueling this trip will be. Plus, if anything, it’s a chance to see Reese Witherspoon try out some sort of physical comedy, but I digress.

After getting her monster pack out of the hotel, Cheryl heads to the nearby gas station. She decides to hitch a ride with a couple. The husband plays a song that strikes a familiar chord with Cheryl, as the film flashes back to a younger Cheryl dancing with a woman. Problem is that the wife doesn’t like the music, so she turns it off. Sourpuss.

Wild- Cheryl coming up on Science Trail sign

So the couple drops off Cheryl and the trek begins with the Day One entry. She pulls out the journal in the available mailbox, jots down an entry and begins walking. Cheryl very soon wonders just what the fuck she’s done. The journey goes on and on with her growing more delirious with every step, not to mention that heavy fucking pack on her pack. And remember, folks, this is only the first day.

Wild- Cheryl writes in her journal

After walking for five miles, Cheryl makes camp…she eventually makes camp. She writes a note in her journal and hopes that the receiver would not be angry if she decided to quit.

The film then flashes back to Cheryl’s school days. Surprisingly, they just had Reese Witherspoon play Cheryl as a student in addition to an adult. Here, she looks like she did on Election or Pleasantville. I digress. Anyway, young Cheryl/Witherspoon is in class during a lesson on Marie Curie. Once the lesson ends, she runs into the woman from the previous flashback: her mother, Bobbi, played by Laura Dern.

The flashback continues to that evening with Cheryl apologizing to Bobbi for apparently slighting her earlier at school. Bobbi isn’t upset. In fact, she’s still proud of her daughter nonetheless. Then enters Bobbi’s other child, Leif, played by Keene McRae. Leif and his friend have come by for some food. Cheryl chastises Leif for wanting their mother to do everything for him.

In the present, after a night’s sleep, Day Two has arrived. With her handy-dandy portable stove, Cheryl cooks herself some mush. She gets a lot of mush in her life right now. Regular mush, mush with nuts, she has mush dreams and even shits mush. I’m serious, there’s a shot of it under some rocks, but I’m pretty sure Reese Witherspoon didn’t take that shit. Point is that Cheryl loves mush.

Wild- Cheryl's journey begins

Day Five arrives, 30 miles in, and Cheryl is still talking to herself. When we get to Day Eight, Cheryl notices that she’s running low on food. She can still give up this journey, if she wants to. She gets a break when she spots a farmer tending to the field on his tractor. She asks if there’s any place he can take her food, but according to man, Frank, played by W. Earl Brown, nothing would be open at the hour. Plus, he needs to finish his work, so for now, Cheryl can just wait in his truck.

Cheryl does just that and finds herself still waiting for Frank to finish as night falls. She snoops around in the car and finds a gun. When Frank finally finishes, he gets in and tells his companion that she can come back to his place for dinner and a shower. The two bond over alcohol from his flask. Cheryl hesitates, but she does give in and takes a sip. She tells Frank that her husband is traveling ahead of her and she will catch up with him eventually. Right. Anyway, Frank does have just one more thing he needs to share with Cheryl.

Licorice! That’s right. Cheryl’s new friend has a sweet tooth, but she must keep quiet about it. Frank doesn’t want his wife finding out that he eats candy.

At Frank’s, Cheryl meets his wife, Annette, played by Jan Hoag. Just for precautions, Annette actually places newspaper on Cheryl’s seat. Any potential tension is thrown out the window as Cheryl eats the first decent meal she’s had in days. Annette and Frank find it crazy that Cheryl and her so-called husband would go on this excursion. Actually, Annette and Frank themselves are pretty snarky and have good banter. Annette even suggests that she take off with Cheryl. I instantly like these two not just because of their chemistry, but because they showed no hesitation to letting a complete stranger into their home and showing her some real hospitality.

Wild- Flashback, Cheryl and Paul get tattoos

As Cheryl showers the filth from her body, she has memories of Paul. The film then flashes back to the two of them getting tattoos. When the tattoo artist, played by Art Alexakis, asks the two why they’re getting ink, Paul explains that they’re getting a divorce. Getting the tattoos binds them together. There are better ways to do that, you know. Cheryl goes a bit further with the explanation: she cheated on Paul. A lot.

The two receive their divorce papers and say their goodbyes after seven long and crazy years.

In the present, Frank drops Cheryl off at her next checkpoint. Before Cheryl leaves, Frank correctly guesses that Cheryl’s boyfriend isn’t on the trail with her. She just said it because she was afraid of Frank at first. She makes a big leap forward in technology when she’s able to get a fire started with her portable stove. It’s the little things in life that matter, you know. In fact, Cheryl is so happy that she even calls out to the wolves that night.

Day 10 arrives. Cheryl has been able to trek five to seven miles a day. At that rate, she figures she’ll be done in about 20 years. That’s plenty of time. She does get sidetracked by a snake in her path, though.

The film then briefly flashes back to Cheryl again meeting up with her friend, Aimee, played by Gaby Hoffmann. And following a terrifying encounter with a tiny bug that causes Cheryl to blow her rape whistle, we cut to Paul and Cheryl arguing in the past.

Cheryl reaches 80 miles and comes across something she probably didn’t expect to see on the trail: a man skinny-dipping. This is Greg, played by Kevin Rankin. He recognizes Cheryl not by face, but from her name in the registrar. Greg is making good ground so far. He’s been able to do 20 miles a day. That comes with heavy preparation. Greg suggests that Cheryl head to a nearby camp where she can plan her next move.

We then cut back to Cheryl and Aimee as the two talk over margaritas. Cheryl tells Aimee that she believes she is pregnant. She has an idea of who the father may be. Whoops.

Reese Witherspoon as "Cheryl Strayed" in WILD.

So the two head to a clinic. While waiting in line to take her test, Cheryl spots a book on a nearby shelf about the Pacific Crest Trail. After Cheryl receives the results, she leaves in a huff and begins to shovel the shit out of the snow covering her car. You make that snow pay, Cheryl! She tells Aimee that she has no intentions of having the baby. She was supposed to be strong, responsible and want things in life.

Wild- Cheryl arrives at rocky mountain

In the present, Cheryl comes face to face with a giant rock while scaling a mountain. She edges herself into the space between the mountain and the rock. Following this, she winds up at a camp on Kennedy Meadows. Greg and some other men welcome her in and help her get situated for the time being.

Wild- Cheryl talks to Amazing Ed, played by Cliff De Young, who calls her pack 'Monster'

One of the men, Ed- or Amazing Ed- played by Cliff De Young, offers to help her clear out some extra stuff from her pack, which he refers to as “Monster.” What can she part with? The saw, the deodorant, some of her books and an entire roll of condoms, just to start. He also suggests that as Cheryl reaches a new point on the trail, she tears out that portion from her book on the Pacific Crest Trail. If that wasn’t enough, Cheryl learns that she can call a shoe store and have them deliver her new boots at her next destination.

We then cut back to Cheryl asking her mother what she sees in the author James A. Michener. She doesn’t get it. Cheryl sees herself as more sophisticated than her mother was at her age. After this exchange, following a brief snippet of Cheryl and Bobbi with their horse, we then head to the doctor’s office. Bad news: Bobbi has a tumor in her spine.

Wild- Cheryl speaks with Jimmy Carter, played by Mo McRae, about not being a hobo

In the present, Cheryl arrives in Reno and calls Paul to let him know that she’s still alive. However, she now decides to hitchhike again. Most drivers pass by, but one does stop: a writer named Jimmy Carter, played by Mo McRae. Jimmy Carter here writes for The Hobo Times and he’s glad to finally meet another hobo. He knows these types, too. Trauma causes people to enter the hobo life. Cheryl insists that she’s not a hobo and women can’t just walk out of their lives, which likens her to a feminist in Carter’s mind. Rude. Regardless, she receives a nice hobo care package, but she does not a ride since Jimmy doesn’t have any room in his car.

Cheryl does eventually pick up a ride. The people inside, two men and one woman, are nice enough, though one of them does leer at Cheryl longer than necessary. Cheryl’s attention is drawn to the photo of a young boy, who was eight years old. He was killed when a truck struck him five years ago.

In the past, Cheryl tells her mother not to give up because they can fight this. In the present, Cheryl comes face to face with snow on Day 30. She suits up with her snow pants and continues on while two skiers pass by and let her know she’s in California. Dicks. Well, Cheryl at least isn’t lost. She’s just screwed. Then, the spots a fox…

We flash back to Cheryl arguing with the staff at the doctor’s office. Her mother had been given a year, but it’s only been a month and condition is deteriorating.

At home, still in the past, Cheryl chastises Leif for never visiting their mother. He has his reasons. He doesn’t want to accept the idea of her dying. He may have acted like she didn’t mean anything, but in reality, she meant everything to him.

On Day fucking 36, Cheryl remembers when she and her brother finally visited their mother together. One they arrive at the hospital…

…nah. You find out. Let’s hold it there.

When you take Wild at face value, the idea of someone simply walking around the country may not sound all that exciting or inviting of a premise. However, the film was made with a lot of care and shows respect to its source material, thanks to the performance of Reese Witherspoon- who also doubled as a producer- and the film’s director.

Jean-Marc Vallée, who recently directed Dallas Buyers Club, has an eye for the personal. In a way, Cheryl Strayed is similar to Ron Woodruff: she’s found herself in what looks to be an unwinnable position, but she pushes on, despite the risks. Of course, the difference is that Woodruff did eventually pass away, though years after his supposed death sentence. Strayed, as we know, lived to tell the tale. That’s not to take away from either journey, though.

Wild- Cheryl stares off

Wild works on many levels: here is a woman that wants to get away from the world and just be with herself by mounting a seemingly impossible task. Things aren’t explained right away, but told in pieces so we can pick up more bits of information about an earlier scene as we travel with Cheryl.

Wild- Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, screams

This is not a linear film, evident from the film’s very opening. As the movie progresses, we’re treated to many flashbacks and, at times, flashbacks within flashbacks, to give us glimpses of Cheryl’s past, such as her childhood, relationship with her mother and brother, and her ties to Paul and Aimee. In addition, we see the slow self-destruction, ranging from drug use to having sex with the closest man she can find, that led her to embark on this journey. Even these moments aren’t presented in chronological order. For example, early on, we get a flashback of Paul and Cheryl arguing, but we don’t hear their conversation. Only later on, when we revisit the scene, do we learn why the two had a disagreement.

I’m not entirely a fan of how the flashbacks are edited. At times, flashbacks just pop on-screen during Cheryl’s journey. Sometimes there’s a trigger for them, and sometimes there isn’t. Some are fast, maybe half a second before we cut either back to Cheryl or to another flashback. Sure, if I wanted to stretch it, I could say that this represents the gaps in Cheryl’s mind, or maybe it’s due to her past, rampant drug use, or maybe the heat is making her delirious. These are all pretty ridiculous reasons to speculate on, but my point is I wish the flashbacks weren’t as frequent as they are in the movie. This is only an issue when the flashbacks appear in quick bursts, one after the other, but luckily, that doesn’t happen very often.

Wild- Bobbi with young Cheryl and Leif

The movie has many themes and messages, most of which relate to Cheryl’s journey and her relationship with her mother: discovery, detachment, self-preservation, eternal optimism, redemption, salvation and, above all, survival. Cheryl could never be the woman her mother way: full of sunshine and happiness, even when life threw everything at her. The two attended school at the same time and Bobbi is a survivor of domestic abuse from her previous husband. These two factors seem like things that would make a person very cynical about life and how they choose to live it. Despite that, Bobbi is a constant ray of sunshine, much to Cheryl’s annoyance.

Wild- Bobbi and Cheryl with their horse

At one point, Bobbi tells Cheryl that it’s important to find and hold onto your best self, despite life’s obstacles. The problem is that Cheryl, for the longest time, couldn’t even find her best self. She found solace in having sex with random strangers, using drugs and betraying a man who had true feelings for her. And yet, she tells Aimee during one flashback that it felt good to do bad things. We aspire to achieve what we feel is best in life for us, but for Cheryl, that happiness and joy she feels comes at a price when she alienates the people close to her. As a result, she walked away from it all in order to find herself. Some have argued that Cheryl’s tale is more about redemption than salvation, but I think there are shades of both. Cheryl doesn’t deny the horrible things she’s done and she isn’t looking for pity. She wants to get lost in the wilderness until she discovers who she is, regardless of the risks.

A lot of the tense situations come through what Cheryl expects to happen when she encounters random strangers, as opposed to what actually happens. Sure, there’s a lot to be said about a person who walks 1,000 miles on their own, but the film makes a point of highlighting the dangers of being a woman that could be raped. Cheryl isn’t dumb, though, and she treats most situations with caution. To her surprise, though, most of the men she runs into turn out to be harmless and have good intentions. There are two tense encounters, but Cheryl is able to work her way out of them.

I get that Cheryl is doing everything necessary to protect herself, and maybe this is because I’m not a woman, but the film almost makes it seem as if every man Cheryl encounters might have some underlying motive. Newsflash, people, not every man who does something nice for you is doing it just to worm his way into your pants, as hard as that may be for some of you to comprehend. More often than not, many of the men Cheryl meet offer their assistance. It’s a smart way to turn tense encounters on their head, such as when Frank tells Cheryl not to tell his wife about him eating licorice, when Cheryl had just been worrying about the gun Frank had in his car.

In fact, the encounter with Frank is just one of many light hearted examples. For a movie like this, Wild has plenty of humor to it. The sight of Cheryl struggling to get her pack on her back before her journey even begins, meeting Jimmy Carter of The Hobo Times, Cheryl blowing her very loud rape whistle at the sight of a bug and her calling out the wolves are just a few examples of the film slowing down and reminding us that you can still laugh, even when there’s so much seriousness going on around Cheryl.

Wild- Cheryl's drug use

What I admire most about the main protagonist is how flawed she is because she comes off as more complex. If she had no issues with this hike or any personal problems, it would be harder to relate to her. Cheryl is far from perfect. In fact, she’s not even that much of a likable or even relatable character. She lashes out at her mother’s optimism, she cheats on her husband and showed no remorse at the time, got deep in drugs and her solution was to walk away from it all. From an objective point of view, all of these factors and more would not give audience members any reason at all to root for Cheryl.

Wild- Young Cheryl with her therapist

But when we start digging deeper and learn about her abusive home life under her tyrant of a father, combined with her burning bridges with most of her connections, we see how she arrived at this point. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to go from sex and drugs to walking 1,100 miles with nothing but the pack on your back and I do wish we got more setup leading to this decision besides Cheryl just finding a book on the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s literally and figuratively weighed down by some serious psychological issues, but whatever task rests ahead of her, Cheryl does manage to find a way to conquer it. Some would say that Cheryl is literally just walking away from her problems and there’s some truth to that, but given her former, destructive ways, this is what she feels is the best decision for her. That’s not to excuse her behavior at all and no, I don’t fall into the camp who believes that Cheryl’s promiscuity would be viewed differently if the main character had been a man.

Wild- Cheryl in the water

Cheryl is a fighter. What we learn from the very first scene is that she’s sitting on a lot of rage: at the world, at her mother and herself. She channels that anger and frustration into her hike and we see on her face the frustration when she meets another setback. And yet, despite every urge to turn around, she keeps moving forward. Reese Witherspoon’s performance is very visceral and she has a great, commanding presence as the main, focal point of the film. It’s one of the best lead performances I have seen in 2014 thus far. I wouldn’t say it’s as layered as Cate Blanchett was with Blue Jasmine in 2013, but that’s not really a fair comparison since they’re playing two very different types of characters. Both are wandering through life to make something of themselves, but Jasmine came from wealth and had an air of pretentiousness about her, while Cheryl detested her lot in life and squandered it when she had the chance.

Wild- Cheryl

Witherspoon isn’t doing any mugging for the camera and the film never focuses on her too long just to show off her face. Each time we see her, there’s a multitude of emotions and thoughts going through her head. Some of that is obvious by sight alone, and other times the emotions come through her narration. This is both a positive and negative for the film. While Cheryl’s thoughts are both funny and revealing, some narration is unnecessary when we’re able to see what Cheryl is going through just based on her facial expressions. The film does a good job of showing what she’s going through and I just wish it did more of that as opposed to Cheryl flat out telling us her situation.

It’s a minor complaint, but when so much of the film emphasizes what Cheryl sees, hears and breathes in all around her, the directors and writers should have allowed Witherspoon more freedom to dictate what’s going on around her instead of somewhat forced narration.

Wild- Cheryl and Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski

Much like Obvious Child, Wild has a twist with the main character’s significant other. Paul is someone who could have cast Cheryl aside after her infidelity, but he still stays in touch with her and is even proud of what she sets out to do, even if he doesn’t fully approve of it. It shows that, despite how Cheryl wronged him, he will still not turn his back on her as a person. Speaking of Obvious Child, by the way, I wish this film had more Gaby Hoffmann.

Wild- Laura Dern as Bobbi

And while Witherspoon is a force in this film, the other bright star here is Laura Dern, who is happiness incarnate, even at her weakest moments. Like Cheryl, Bobbi has been through Hell, but unlike her daughter, Bobbi refuses to let anything get her down. She’s the kind of woman that Cheryl wishes she was and there’s not a mean bone in her body. This would be annoying if Bobbi flat out denied she had been through anything and just acted like her like she hadn’t endured any hardships. The difference is that Bobbi refuses to let any setbacks ruin her sunny disposition. She and Cheryl are so similar, but at opposite ends of the spectrum at the same time. Both women strived to make something of themselves and could have given up at any time, but Bobbi focused on the good in life, while Cheryl embraced the negative.

This is a very well made film that showcases some great direction from Vallée and an equally strong performance from Witherspoon. I’m not a betting man, but I do think she may at least get nominated for Best Actress based on this film. She commands each scene she’s in and is great from start to finish. Wild is about redemption and navigating through the darkness. While some of the themes and messages were a bit obvious and heavy handed, that did not take away from an enjoyable film about Reese Witherspoon’s journey to see how much she can fit on her back.

A Look at The Walking Dead #134: “From Whispers to Screams”

The Walking Dead #134- Cover

An issue of The Walking Dead without Rick Grimes in it? Blasphemy.

But on a serious note, I didn’t mind the lack of Rick in this issue of the series. Issue #134: “From Whispers to Screams” gave us only two storylines: Carl, Sophia and Maggie dealing with issues at The Hilltop, while Jesus deals with the new group threat, which now has an actual name.

The Walking Dead #134- They call them The Whisperers

I remember hearing a rumor after issue #133’s release that this group would be called The Whisperers, and now that’s their actual name. We still don’t know much about them, but I appreciate how Kirkman is spacing this out and slowly unraveling this group. With each issue, we get bits of information about them, but never enough to satisfy your taste. For example, do they claim territory? That could explain what one of them meant when they told Jesus that he was where he did not belong. Again, it’s all speculation, though.

The Walking Dead #134- Jesus battles with the Whisperers

Though Jesus’ portion of the issue was mostly action, I did like the Charlie Adlard’s penciling on the panels. And it wasn’t just nonstop slicing and dicing, as we did get some bits of dialogue. That’s gotta be some intense concentration Jesus has to talk with his team while still trying to comprehend what and who The Whisperers are.

The Walking Dead #134- Maggie and Gregory discuss what to do about Dante's group

So onto The Hilltop. Maggie’s moment is brief, but it illustrates an issue that also plagues the Alexandria Safe Zone: the group’s ability to lead. When Rick and company first arrived, people were aghast at his excessive use of violence. The people at The Hilltop were completely against the idea of violence and had to be coaxed into it, even before they’d even set eyes on Negan and The Saviors.

Yes, Dante still being missing could cause people to worry, but at the same time, Maggie doesn’t want to put even more people at risk by sending them out on a rescue mission. Maggie has no idea what’s out there, so she’s trusting in Dante to handle himself. She recognizes that she needs to keep people safe, but she won’t worry over him just yet. Gregory thinks otherwise and sees the need for immediate action. If there was ever a point where the people of The Hilltop would question Maggie’s leadership, based on what we’ve been given, I feel this would be the starting point.

The Walking Dead #134- Carl and Sophia ambushed

Then we have Carl and Sophia. After having a quiet moment to themselves, they come under attack by a pair of cowards. This actually reminded me of the issue where Rick, Carl and Abraham are attacked by the marauders when Rick snapped and gutted the men. We get that similar burst of outrage from Carl here as he goes to town on the boys with a shovel.

The Walking Dead #134- Carl Grimes goes to a dark place

Carl did not come to The Hilltop for this. He came to become an apprentice and develop into his own man without Rick by his side. Think back to when Carl attempted to become executioner when he considered killing Negan. Rick told him that there was a better way. Here, Carl’s only option was to fight back. The scene itself was very visceral and reminded me of the brutal way in which Negan murdered Glenn.

The Walking Dead #134- Carl attacks

This is Carl Grimes going down a very dark path and it could easily threaten the peaceful life he’s trying to set for himself at The Hilltop. And there’s no doubt in my mind that people will pin the blame for this on both Maggie and Rick for being the root of this violence. That said, it was a kick-ass moment for Carl. We’ve seen him hold his own in battle. For the most part, though, he’s been able to keep his anger in check, much more than Rick. Here, however, he and Sophia’s lives were put in grave danger and he reacted as I feel Rick probably would have. Hell, these guys had it coming. Even if Carl and Sophia claim that Carl fought in self-defense, this fight, combined with Gregory’s questioning Maggie’s leadership, will cause some real headaches for the people of The Hilltop.

At least now the kids in the neighborhood know never to screw with Carl Grimes.

A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 5, Episode 6: “Consumed”

And now we get the ongoing adventures of Carol and Daryl. After spotting the car that kidnapped Beth, Daryl and Carol head off from the rest of the group in pursuit. This episode helped fill in some blanks and, like the previous two episodes, set up what’s to come as the mid-season finale approaches. Let’s dig into “Consumed.”

Consumed- Flashback, Carol leaves after Rick banishes her

We begin in the past, after Rick and Carol’s confrontation during “Indifference.” Following their argument, Carol drives off. After she weeps in the car for a bit, she winds up at a law firm. Inside, she makes some noise to alert any lurking walkers, but finds that she is alone, so she sets up camp for the night.

Consumed- Flashback, Carol returns to the prison

As she drives along on the next day, she notices smoke coming from the direction of the prison. She heads there and sees the guard tower on fire, which shows that this takes place sometime during or at least after the Governor’s attack.

Consumed- Daryl and Carol watch an officer get back into the car

The episode then begins proper in the present with Carol and Daryl continuing their pursuit of the car. Daryl recounts how he and Beth ended up cornered in the funeral home, but he managed to spot the car with the cross on its window. The two keep following behind, but the car tank is running low. Luckily, the other vehicle comes to a stop. The two contemplate what to do if they manage to get a hold of whoever is inside, but soon, the car continues north. Both follow, but maintain a good distance. What looks like a police officer gets out of the car at one point, heads off, and then returns as the car pulls off. Daryl tries to start, but the tank is now empty. No problem. Carol knows a place they can stay that’s just a few blocks away.

Consumed- Daryl and Carol try to get some sleep

The two make their way to Carol’s destination just as walkers approach. They check for signs of life, but nothing. After finding a pair of bunk beds, Carol decides to take first watch. Daryl, however, doesn’t get any sleep. Instead, the two talk about wanting fresh starts. Daryl is trying, but he wants to pick apart Carol’s mind first. What’s eating at her? In Carol’s eyes, they don’t get to save people anymore. Daryl asks what Carol would have done if he hadn’t found her by the car. She doesn’t know.

A noise springs the two into action. It’s just a few walkers rapping on the glass outside. Carol goes to kill, but Daryl stops her, saying that they don’t have to.

The next morning, Carol awakens and finds spots smoke. She heads outside and finds Daryl burning a wrapped body.

Consumed- Flashback to The Grove, Carol and Tyreese bury bodies

And after this, the episode then flashes back to “The Grove” as Tyreese and Carol deal with the aftermath of Lizzie and Mika’s deaths. As Carol looks up, she spots smoke in the distance which, I presume, comes from Beth and Daryl’s direction.

Consumed- Daryl and Carol sneak past walkers into parking garage

Back in the present, Carol and Daryl figure they need to head to the top of a building in order to spot the car. They find a parking structure, but roamers block their path. Daryl lights a notepad on fire and tosses it. The walkers are drawn to it, giving Carol and Daryl the opportunity they need to slip into the parking garage. They make their way up and find walkers in sleeping bags and tents. After heading through a chained door, they enter a fancy office. Also, Carol and Daryl do not appear to be alone…

Consumed- Looking outside office

Once again, the two wonder aloud how they ended up where they are now. Carol also remembers that Daryl hasn’t asked what happened to her after she met up with Tyreese and the girls. Daryl figures things could not have gone well since Lizzie and Mika aren’t around anymore, but, as we know, it was much worse than that. Why, Carol asks, should they start over? Daryl’s response: They have to. Something grabs Daryl’s attention and he looks through the scope of Carol’s sniper rifle. He spots a white van with a cross on it sitting very close to the edge. That’s their next destination. They stock up before leaving. Minor side-note, it bugs me that they didn’t take the computer. Not that they could do anything with it, but still. Also, Carol and Daryl have very different tastes in art.

As the two head back, Carol goes through the chained door first. However, she immediately tells Daryl not to follow her. Why?

Consumed- Noah tells Daryl to put down his crossbow

Because there’s Noah, who has changed his wardrobe since we last saw him. He’s also a bit more frantic since “Slabtown,” as he immediately demands Carol and Daryl drop their weapons. He’s not out to kill them, though. He only needs their weapons and figures that these two strangers can take care of themselves. Hell, he even says please. But then he cuts open the tents and leaves them for the walkers. Carol and Daryl make quick work of the walkers and Carol prepares to fire one shot at Noah, but Daryl stops her from potentially killing him.

Consumed- Daryl picks a lock, Carol talks about being somewhere else

Daryl gets to work picking a door’s lock with his knife. Carol has three bullets left in her gun. She asks Daryl if he thinks she really would have killed him. After all, she claims she only aimed for his leg. Daryl isn’t swayed. It was just some random kid and the two can find more weapons. Carol, however, admits that she doesn’t want anyone to die, but she can’t stand around and watch it happen. That’s why she left. She had to be somewhere else. But, Daryl counters, she’s right there. She’s trying. If she’s going to Hell, at least she’ll pull off what she has now for as long as she can.

Consumed- Flashback, Carol burns Karen and David's bodies

The episode then flashes back to around the time of “Infected,” as Carol watches fire consume the bodies of Karen and David.

Consumed- Finding truck on bridge

Back in the present, Daryl and Carol walk along the bridge and approach the van. The two get in just as walkers approach. They soon must contend with the roamers. The two put up a decent fight for a moment, but they’re outnumbered and must retreat back into the van. Time to buckle up! They strap in, Daryl hits the gas and the van heads right over the edge and lands hard on the ground below. In real life, I’m pretty sure this would knock out anyone else for a considerable amount of time, but since this is television and we’re talking about Carol and Daryl, they’re ready to go in a few seconds. Just watch out for falling walkers.

Consumed- Recovering after car crash

After this, the two stop for a bit to regain their strength. Carol looks a bit worse and has some nasty bruises, but she insists she’s fine. They only have about three more blocks until they hit Grady Memorial Hospital. For now, they need to find a place close by. Carol inquires what the two expect to learn just by watching. But hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Consumed- Daryl and Carol eat chips

The two enter another building. Without his crossbow, Daryl makes due with a machete next to a nearby walker. The hospital is right across from them, so time to start hospital-watching.

Daryl then returns to Carol’s point about how he’s not who he was before. What did she mean and what was he before? Back then, she says, he was like a kid. Now he’s a man. As for Carol, she and Sophia stayed at that shelter for a day and a half before she went back to Ed. Even then, she still got beaten. Life went on and she prayed for something to happen, but she didn’t do anything. Who she was back then, she got burned away. At the prison, she got to be who she thought she should have been, but then she got burned away, too. Carol needs to keep away from fire.

We ain’t ashes, Daryl says. True. A noise gets their attention. They find a walker pinned to a wall with one of Daryl’s crossbows. The walker is still alive, but Daryl finishes it with a machete slice right down the middle.

Consumed- Noah pinned under bookshelf, Daryl refuses to help him

Further on, after following the sound of gunshots, they find Noah struggling with a walker. He pushes it onto Carol, but Daryl kills it. They stay in pursuit until they see Noah unable to move the bookshelf used to block the door. Daryl rushes in and tackles Noah, causing the shelf to fall right on him. The walker behind the door continues to struggle forward. Noah pleads for help, insisting that he was just protecting himself, but Daryl isn’t a fan of being followed. Daryl swipes a carton of cigarettes from Noah and lights up. Carol wants to help him up, but Daryl reminds her that she almost died because of him. She didn’t, though. The walker gets through and almost gets Noah, but Daryl downs it with an arrow.

Consumed- Flashback to No Sanctuary, Carol removes the poncho and cleans herself up

The final flashback takes place during the events of “No Sanctuary.” Carol removes the poncho and uses it to clean herself up. Oh, so that’s how she did it.

Consumed- Daryl asks Noah about Beth

Carol and Daryl move the bookcase and Noah is now free. He looks out the window in horror. Noah needs to keep moving since he’s certain others will be after him after hearing the gunshots. When Daryl asks who these people are, Noah tells him that people from the hospital are searching for him. Daryl then asks if he ever saw a blonde girl with them. Identifying this blonde girl as Beth, Noah reveals that Beth helped him escape from the hospital, but she’s still there.

A station wagon pulls up. Time to go. Noah leads Carol and Daryl toward a clear building next to them, but his limp causes him to fall.

Consumed- Carol doesn't look both ways before crossing the street

While Daryl helps him up, Carol rushes out and forgets to look both ways before crossing the street, because she runs right into the path of the station wagon and takes a hit head on. Daryl tries to rush out and save her, but Noah holds him back. He says that the men can help her with medicine, machines and a doctor. If Daryl goes out, he’ll have to kill them and then Carol won’t get any help at all. What will it take to help out? A lot. The folks at Grady have guns and a lot of people. Lucky for Noah, so does Daryl.

Consumed- Daryl and Noah drive off

Another fire, another distraction for the walkers as Noah and Daryl make their getaway in a truck.

“Consumed” was a strong episode for Carol and Daryl and a nice way to fill in some of the blanks established in previous episodes. A lot can come out of conversations. As I’ve said before, The Walking Dead is strong not when it’s about killing walkers, but just ordinary folks talking about their situation, and “Consumed” is a good example of that. While not a lot actually happened this week- after all, it was mostly Carol and Daryl walking around- we got a lot of quiet moments for the two to just discuss what they’d been through, what they will go through and how they’ve changed.

This was a well paced episode and I never felt like it moved too fast for the sake of getting to the next scene. There were few direct walker encounters and the ones we got, Daryl and Carol made quick work of them in no time. Each time we flash back to Carol in previous episodes, the scenes are brief and to the point. They serve a purpose and help explain how Carol found herself where she is now.

Consumed- Daryl tells Carol that they ain't ashes

A big point of this episode came from the two acknowledging their shortcomings. These are not the same Daryl and Carol that we met in Season One. Carol isn’t a battered housewife and Daryl doesn’t just wait for Merle’s instruction or try and respond to a situation with violence. Ever since Daryl took it upon himself to look for Sophia when everyone else had grown tired of the hunt, we saw the first sign of his devotion to Carol. Not in a romantic way, but just to strengthen their bond. But they’ve seen their share of heartbreak and disappointment. Daryl had to force himself to kill a reanimated Merle, but hesitated at killing this creature that was no longer his brother. His world had been shattered and he had to make the difficult, but necessary choice. And remember back during “Still,” when Daryl admitted to Beth that he hadn’t been strong enough to stop the Governor. Daryl has grown, but he still knows that he can’t save everyone, even the people closest to him.

That’s what makes Carol’s line about not wanting anyone to die stick out so much. They’d love for everyone to survive for as long as possible, but that’s just not possible at all, no matter how young. Even if they refuse to accept it, the ones they love are going to die. Sometimes, people like Carol and Daryl have to be the ones to deliver the killing blow. Or, to go back further, look at Carl when he had to take it upon himself to kill his own mother. They do what’s necessary in order to survive, but they come out of these experiences as different people. An exception to this would be the Governor, who kept his transformed daughter alive. Same with Morgan, who kept his son chained up- in the comic, anyway. It’s hard to let go of the people close to you, but when they pose a threat, you do what you have to do.

Consumed- Daryl asks Carol what she would have done if he hadn't been by the car

The Walking Dead, as both a comic and television series, gives us a world with no straightforward good or bad decisions. There are necessary decisions to be made, but in a bleak world where people are willing to kill to survive, these people are still able to question not just their choices, but their humanity as well. By committing these murders, they lose parts of themselves. Carol and Daryl lose more of the people they were, but in the process, they’re reborn as they come to terms with the murders they commit. Could Karen and David have lived, as Rick believed, if Carol left them alive? It’s possible, but Carol took it upon herself to make a hard choice for what she believed was a greater good: saving everyone from the further threat of disease. Carol had good reasons, but, as was the case with killing Lizzie, she lost some of herself in the process.

Each day is all about surviving until you can make it to the next one. In a sense, Carol and Daryl will always have a chance to start anew. Dwelling too much on the past makes them unable to look forward.   Rather than mull their decisions all of the time, the two grow from them and understand that this is part of their humanity. As Daryl told Carol during one of their exchanges, she wasn’t somewhere else at that moment. She was there, with him, and trying. They’re both being proactive and trying to make a difference. It may not always be a difference for the better, but still some form of change.

As has been the case before, there’s a good amount of humor and light hearted moments sprinkled throughout the episode to balance against the drama. Whether it’s Carol taking the top bunk and leaving Daryl the bottom one with pink sheets because she thinks it’s more his style, Carol liking the office painting and Daryl thinking that a dog wiped its ass on it, the fact they made a conscious to drive over the edge of a bridge to get away from walkers- with the walkers then slamming down hard on the dashboard- or even Daryl taking Noah’s cigarettes and smoking one right in front of him, there were a few moments that did make me laugh.

Consumed- Flashback, Carol cries in car

But let’s talk about Carol. We know what she’s been through and how it’s hardened her. As much as Carol tries to maintain a tough exterior, the flashbacks show that she’s still disturbed and haunted by what she does. We see her and Tyreese bury Lizzie and Mika- two deaths that will stay with them forever. Carol has a lot of demons that she keeps in because, as of recent, she’s not one to open up. In a way, that makes her a perfect match for Daryl because he never pushes the situation, but he’s slowly able to get her to talk without coming off as patronizing. If I had any issue with the flashbacks, and this is more of a missed opportunity since the show explained so much, I wish we’d seen how Carol managed to meet up with Tyreese, Judith, Lizzie and Mika during “Inmates.” She just appears with the girls. It’s minor and doesn’t change my opinion of the episode, but if the flashbacks filled in what Carol had been doing at certain points, why not there?

Consumed- Carol talking about becoming who she wanted to be

But Carol’s biggest change since we first met her is how proactive she’s become. She no longer allows herself to be a victim. She started off Ed’s punching bag. On the farm, she grew angry at people not taking her seriously and treating her like a casualty after Sophia’s death. She’s making the choice to assert herself and show some backbone. This is her redemption. Or her rebirth from the ashes, since this episode liked to play with fire. As a result, she’s turned into a strong survivor who will do whatever it takes to, as she says to Daryl, keep pulling off what she’s doing as best as she can in the event that she’s going to Hell.

Consumed- Daryl tells Carol that she's trying

Though the forces of Hell would have to go through Daryl, too. While Carol is more prone to showing emotion, Daryl tends to keep his feelings bottled. He does have moments where he opens up, mind you, but not as often as the other characters. He’s opened up to the likes of Rick and Beth, but he has a true bond with Carol. Daryl is more practical when it comes to moving forward. He doesn’t mince his words or beat around the bunch when trying to make a point. He tells Carol that they aren’t ashes after she talks of being burned. When Carol spoke about needing to be somewhere else, Daryl told her that she was right there and trying. Either that or Daryl is just a man of few words.

Consumed- Daryl lights up while Noah remains pinned under the bookshelf

Of the two, Daryl seems more willing to trust, but with hesitation. He didn’t know Noah at first, but even after losing his weapons, he didn’t want Carol to kill him. He stopped her from dealing with walkers outside the building since she didn’t have to. But once they found Noah again, after he threw a walker to Carol, Daryl figured that he had given Noah one chance too many, so why not let him die? He seemed genuinely angry that Carol would consider rescuing Noah after he almost got her killed.

Consumed- Carol grabs Daryl's hand before they drive over a bridge

I like these two as a pair because they seem so similar, but different at the same time. For my money, I think Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride might have the strongest chemistry than any other pair I’ve seen on the show so far. The two come off like long friends who can open up and tell each other anything without feeling like they’re being judged.

Consumed- Noah holds up Carol and Daryl

It doesn’t look like Noah covered much ground, but he did manage to find clothes that fit him. He’s motivated by his desperation to escape, but also because he knows that he left Beth behind. As we see, he doesn’t want to rob Carol and Daryl of their weapons, but he’s doing what he feels is necessary to survive.

Consumed- Noah tells Carol and Daryl that Beth helped him escape the hospital

Given how “Slabtown” ended, we knew that Noah would run into Carol and Daryl, plus we’d get an explanation as to how Carol ended up in the hospital. And I think it’s safe to assume that Noah is the person with Daryl after he returned to the church.

I really enjoyed this episode. It helped develop Carol and Daryl’s bond while also expanding on their need to progress instead of always looking back at their conflicted lives. The flashbacks helped explain some of what Carol had been up to during the time she had been separated from the group. As with the two episodes before it, “Consumed” takes place at a different time, but is still building toward the same finale. Again, in the long run, not a lot actually happened in this episode, but I prefer a slower paced episode with some time for character development than rampant running and shooting with little room to breathe.

A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 5, Episode 3: “Four Walls and a Roof”

So Bob did get the last laugh after all. Last week’s “Strangers” introduced us to both Father Gabriel and The Hunters, ripped right from the pages of The Walking Dead comic. The group is split apart for the moment, but no time to relax now that they’re about to have a reunion with their old pals from Terminus.

Four Walls and a Roof- Bob laughs while The Hunters feast on his leg

The episode begins right where we left off with Bob and The Hunters. The continued threat of walkers threatening to break through the glass of the school behind them is enough to make them tense, but at least they have food for the time being. Gareth is ready to head out, but there’s nothing to head back to. He tells Bob of how bears survive: the bigger ones eat their cubs. That way, if they survive, they can just have another cub. Bob, however, finds this entire situation pretty damn hilarious. But he hasn’t lost his mind.

Four Walls and a Roof- Tainted Meat

He’s just been bitten! Oh, the poor bastards are feasting on tainted meat.

Four Walls and a Roof- Rick, Sasha and Tyreese search for Bob

Back at the church, concern grows over the disappearance of Bob, Carol and Daryl. Sasha goes inside and throws the blame on Gabriel. After all, he just showed up- technically, they found him- and now three of their people are missing. Rick asks if he’s working with someone. Also, what’s with the foreboding message of “You’ll Burn for This?”

Gabriel swears that he has no connection with the recent disappearances, but he does reveal something he’s not proud of: since the breakout, he continued to lock the church doors. Yes, this kept him safe inside, but it also kept the congregation goers outside. Night after night they would beg Gabriel for shelter. Even as the dead approached, the people continued to scream and beg for mercy. They damned him all while being consumed by walkers. When the screaming stopped, Gabriel buried them all. Now he feels that these people have come to exact revenge as a punishment from God.

Four Walls and a Roof- Finding Bob

A noise from outside grabs everyone’s attention. They find Bob sprawled out in the grass, but more than that, an “A” has been painted on the congregation wall.

Four Walls and a Roof- Bob tells everyone how The Hunters abducted him

Inside, Bob tells the others about The Hunters feasting on his leg like they were proud of it. No sign of Carol or Daryl, though, but he remembers that The Hunters camp near a school. He also finally reveals his bite mark that he did, indeed, get while at the food bank.

Rick asks Gabriel about the location. The closest would be an elementary school that’s about a 10 minute walk from the church. The others discuss Bob’s condition and how soon it could be until he turns. After all, Jim lasted two days before everyone left him.

Four Walls and a Roof- Argument over leaving for Washington or staying to help fight

But, of course, Abraham wants to just leave for Washington. Now. There’s a threat to Eugene and he needs to be extracted. Rick isn’t about to leave and the two almost come to blows until Glenn intervenes. Everyone needs to stay together, he says, and he suggests that Abraham, Eugene and Rosita remain one more day. Tara even offers to leave with him if they stay and help them fight. No dice. He wants to head out right this second by using the bus they fixed up. Rick isn’t about to let Abraham take the bus, but Abraham challenges Rick to stop him. For a moment, Rick does nothing, but he soon approaches and the two almost clash again. When Glenn stops another fight from breaking out, Abraham eventually agrees to stay and help them fight, but only for 12 hours.

Four Walls and a Roof- Sasha with Bob

Bob attempts to humor Sasha by telling her that getting kicked in the face by Gareth made him forget about the pain in his leg. He didn’t tell her about his bite because he knew that she would focus more on his final moments. Bob wants to focus on the middle.

Four Walls and a Roof- Planning to strike back against The Hunters

The others prepare for their confrontation with The Hunters. Rick wants to make a move before they do. Sasha wants to be a part of the battle, though Tyreese advises her to stay with Bob in his final moments since she won’t get that time back- the same time that Tyreese didn’t get to spend with Karen. Sasha reminds Tyreese of how he reacted when he learned what happened. In spite of that, Tyreese found forgiveness. Sasha is clearly insulted at the idea of forgiving someone for what they did to Bob, but the decision is hers. She hands Tyreese a knife and tells him to put it through his temple when he stops breathing. Yup, that’s it. Not even a final goodbye or anything.

Four Walls and a Roof- The Hunters enter the church

Later, while one group leaves, The Hunters approach the church, which they find almost empty. Gareth isn’t taking any chances, though. He knows who is inside and who left. No need to hide, he says. As The Hunters get close to the altar, they have two choices on which door to enter. They don’t know which one everyone is hiding behind, but they get a pretty good clue when Judith begins to cry.

Four Walls and a Roof- Rick delivers his promise to Gareth

Shots are fired as the other members of the group enter the church. They force The Hunters to their knees. The Hunters are only alive because the others didn’t want to waste the bullets. Gareth is outmatched and knows it, but he tells everyone that Terminus used to be a good place. They used to help people until ‘they’ came in. People like Rick have no idea what it means to be hungry. The Hunters can just walk away, but Rick is certain that The Hunters would just eat anyone else they meet. Plus, he made Gareth a promise, so everyone goes to town on The Hunters. Well, that was painfully short.

Four Walls and a Roof- Saying goodbye to Bob

Everyone says their goodbyes to Bob, though he asks Rick to remain for a moment so he can thank him. Before the prison, Bob didn’t know if there were any good people left in the world. But Rick took him in.

Sasha then enters and asks why Bob is smiling. He just had a quick dream where she smiled back at him. All of a sudden, he goes silent. She removes her blade, but Tyreese enters and demands she hand over the knife. She does and then leaves so Tyreese can do the deed himself.

Four Walls and a Roof- Abraham gives Rick a map with the route to Washington

Abraham hands Rick a map of the route to D.C. that they’ll be taking. They’ll stick to it as long as they can. If not, Rick at least has their destination. So after the groups split up again, Rick finds that Abraham has written a note on the map, telling him that the world needs more Rick Grimes’. He then goes to help Tyreese with digging holes.

Four Walls and a Roof- Michonne and Gabriel talk about hearing voices

That night, Michonne sits alone on the church steps until Gabriel joins her. He’s still hearing the voices of the congregation. The voices won’t stop, Michonne says, but they won’t be calling for him all the time. She hears a noise and heads out to investigate.

Four Walls and a Roof- Daryl returns

Luckily, it’s Daryl. When asked about Carol’s whereabouts, Daryl just motions for the person behind him to come on out.

So after all the talk of not splitting up, the group is even more divided than they were last week. I can’t say I was disappointed in this episode, but I will say I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Maybe that’s because I had such expectations based on last week’s episode.

Four Walls and a Roof- The Hunters wonder why Bob is laughing

I did not expect The Hunters to be dispatched of so quickly. It doesn’t help that the Terminus folks aren’t all that competent. I wonder how they managed to round up as many victims as they did back at Terminus. But after last week’s episode officially introduced us to this group as The Hunters, I thought they would be around for at least another full episode or two. They make rookie mistakes like sending their entire group to the church all at once. If Rick’s group has one advantage from being so big, it’s that they can divide tasks and people while still making sure each batch of people has muscle. Not so with The Hunters. At least, these versions of them. They’re small, disorganized and live to feast. Had they not even had a vendetta against Rick and company, chances are they would still be alive.

The Walking Dead #65- How to deal with The Hunters

Look, I know that the “Fear the Hunters” arc in the comic book wasn’t long, but we at least got to learn more about them and what they did to survive. Here, it’s all told through Gareth’s perspective for the sake of just explaining how they became hunters. In the comics, we learned what these people went through, who they ate and how they did feel some level of remorse. They also seemed a tad bit smarter. In the comics, Dale is left out as bait while The Hunters watch from the woods. The same could apply here since Gareth did know who was and wasn’t at the church, but I just find the television version of The Hunters to be less cunning or ruthless as their comic book counterparts. Plus, given how we got brief flashbacks of them being imprisoned, coupled with Gareth’s speech about what they must do to survive, I figured they would stick around for longer than they did.

The Walking Dead #66- Andrea, Rick, Abraham, Michonne and Gabriel after disposing of The Hunters

I was also surprised at how they were killed. In the comic, Rick threatens to eat them. Of course, he doesn’t, but The Hunters are still butchered and burned. The bludgeoning is still cool to see, but not as visceral as I would have liked.

Four Walls and a Roof- Abraham dares Rick to try and stop him from leaving

The Hunters aside, I did enjoy a lot of the group interactions this week. We got a taste of Rick and Abraham’s warring relationship, which was very prominent in the comics since Abraham pretty much served as the second-in-command. He’s still new to the group, but is under no obligation to remain. His priority is still getting Eugene to Washington, so he feels no need to fall in line with Rick’s orders, the way most of the group does. And when Glenn told Rick that choosing who gets to leave isn’t Rick’s call to make, you see that not everyone feels that Rick always makes the best choices. Rick is used to people challenging his decisions, yes, but I doubt he’s used to being dared to fight another person’s decision. The standoff between the two was well done.

Four Walls and a Roof- Gabriel reveals that he always locked the doors and kept his congregation out

Speaking of tense moments, I also loved Seth Gilliam’s performance when he confesses to letting his congregation die while he listened to them condemn him to damnation. Gabriel is a man with a lot of inner demons that eat away at him. He tries to hold onto his faith, but his resolve isn’t as strong as it once used to be. We watched him unravel as he let go of the guilt he’d been holding onto and it was a great scene to watch. I do wish the writers found a better way for Maggie to say the episode’s title, though. I hate when television shows do that.

With Bob gone, we’re one character short, but at least he got to go out peacefully. Ever the optimist and even when facing death, Bob managed to make the most out of a horrible situation. Not everyone can be an optimist during a zombie apocalypse. But with Gabriel on the scene, that’s probably one Negro character too many, if the past is any indication. Seriously, The Walking Dead, it’s all right to let a few live at a time. Plus, Bob did get to say the “Tainted meat” line, which just made me smile.

Four Walls and a Roof- Rick speaks with Gareth

My favorite sequence in the episode had to be The Hunters entering the church. It was well-paced, Gareth said just the right things to get under your skin and it had a great payoff when Rick and company revealed themselves. I did notice a slight nod to the comic books during this scene. Gareth’s finger is shot off, the same way one of The Hunters loses their finger when Rick reveals he did not come to confront them alone and has Andrea shoot off his finger from a distance. Again, I’m disappointed that The Hunters are already gone, given that we just got to know them as this group at the end of the previous episode, but now the door is open to find out what happened with Daryl and Carol in their search for Beth.

So The Hunters are through, Bob is gone and the group is divided once again. There was a lot of tension throughout this episode as the group tried to determine their next and hopefully best move. Again, while I like the action sequences and walker killing moments, The Walking Dead can be just as strong during character interactions where people are just talking about their situations. With the group’s resident optimism now dead, spirits won’t be as occasionally high as they were before. Despite being separated, I’m certain that everyone will find their way back to each other soon. For now, though, we’re left to find out next week just what in the world happened to Beth.

A Look at The Walking Dead- Season 5, Episode 2: “Strangers”

Everyone’s back together, so that means tons of walking around and looking for nothing, right? Not quite. After last week’s fast paced action, we slow things down with “Strangers.” The group has beaten one nightmare, but now they’ve got to deal with multiple situations on multiple fronts.

Strangers- Tara and Rick pound it out

The episode begins with everyone regrouping before getting ready to head out. Rick lets Tara know that he’s aware of her saving Glenn’s life, after he saved hers. That’s just the way it works with Rick and pals. Oh, and Tara wants to pound it out. Why? I have no idea. The plan is to head out at sun-up.

Strangers- Carol and Tyreese talk

Tyreese asks Carol if she talked to Rick more about what she did at the prison. She hasn’t, and Tyreese feels that she should since the others will accept her for what she did. Carol feels that they don’t have to, though. What Tyreese isn’t ready to discuss is Lizzie and Mika. That, he’d rather forget. Well, all right, I guess. Later that evening, Rick does admit that he owes Carol everything. I guess Karen and David are behind them for now.

Strangers- Daryl talks with Carol

Then it’s Daryl’s turn to talk to Carol. In fact, he does most of the talking since Carol doesn’t want to talk about what happened. She can’t. Not just yet. She just needs to forget.

Later on, Daryl returns to the group with food in tow, but he can’t shake the feeling that someone may be watching them. Everyone will keep moving forward until they find a vehicle to commandeer. But the sound of a man’s scream grabs their attention. They eventually head to his aide.

Strangers- The group rescues, and then questions, Father Gabriel Stokes, played by Seth Gilliam

We cut to a Negro preacher atop a rock as he tries to fend off some walkers. Rick and pals arrive and make quick work of the roamers before bringing down the preacher. This is Father Gabriel Stokes, played by Seth Gilliam. Rick immediately begins questioning the man: does he have any weapons? How many people has he killed? How many walkers has he killed? But, Gabriel says, the good Lord abhors violence and he apologizes for his sins every day. Though Rick still has his suspicious, Gabriel takes the group to his church.

Strangers- Group emerges after checking church

They arrive and check inside, but find little out of the ordinary. Abraham found a short bus around back that doesn’t work, but could still be fixed. Supplies are necessary, but Rick isn’t about to split everyone up, and the others follows in line behind him.

Strangers- Gabriel tells Rick how he survived for so long

Back to being questioned, Gabriel tells Rick that his supply of can foods came from a local can food drive. When he ran low, he began scavenging at most nearby locations except for one that has been overrun by roamers. Gabriel offers to draw up a map, but Rick forces him to come along.

Strangers- Rick tells Carl that he doesn't trust Gabriel and asks why Carl does

Rick then speaks to Carl alone. If it wasn’t obvious already, Rick doesn’t trust Gabriel. But then again, Rick doesn’t trust a lot of people. He wants Carl to stay on his guard, but Carl doesn’t think that every single person they run into is going to turn out bad. They don’t have to be afraid or hide. More than that, they can still help people in need. Regardless, Rick advises his son to stay alert, protect Judith and- this is important- keep in mind that he is not safe, no matter how clear things may appear to be.

Strangers- Bob is optimistic, Gabriel leads group to food bank

So Gabriel leads the group of Rick, Bob, Sasha and Michonne to the food bank. Bob is optimistic that Abraham’s plan to get to Washington will pay off and the world will return to the way it was. They may be living in a nightmare, but nightmares end. Rick is more cynical, accepting that the world around them is their reality. He also hasn’t decided on whether to go along with Abraham’s proposal yet.

Strangers- Daryl and Carol find abandoned car

Daryl again tries to pry Carol open, but she’s still not looking to talk. Daryl tells her that everyone can start over. After all, she saved their lives, but Carol tells him that she just got lucky. As the two check their surroundings, they spot an empty car and decide to leave it alone for backup. For now.

Strangers- Glenn found some silencers

Glenn, Tara and Maggie do their own exploring. After tripping over some boxes and a mop, Glenn manages to find some silencers in a mini-fridge. That’s one way to hide them, I suppose. Why didn’t they take the mini-fridge? Surely it couldn’t be that heavy.

Strangers- Rick and company find the food bank and walkers

Gabriel and company arrive at the food bank and find a swarm of walkers wading around in water. Surrounding them are shelves filled with canned goods. Probably not good canned goods, but they’ll take what they can get. There are holes in the ceiling as well, meaning water has been leaking in for quite a long time.

Strangers- Group uses shelves to block walkers

They wade in and use shelves to block the walkers while grabbing supplies. One particular walker spooks Gabriel to the point where he backs up against a wall. Bob is dragged underwater by one walker, but Sasha quickly kills it.

As they head back, we learn from a quick talk between Rick and Michonne that she never even owned her former sword. She just found it and got plenty of practice when it was just her and the walkers. She still misses Andrea and Hershel, though.

Strangers- Carl observes markings on the walls of Gabriel's church

Back at the church, Rick finds Carl observing scratch marks and cuts on the walls, as if someone was desperately trying to get in. Oh, and a not so cryptic message of “You’ll Burn for This.” Someone had plenty of time to carve that in.

Strangers- Abraham toasts to the survivors

That evening, the group feasts upon the food. Abraham toasts to them: the survivors…but he asks: is this all they want to be? Living day by day? They have plenty of strength, but just living as they are is another form of surrendering in Abraham’s eyes. If they get to Washington, they’ll find infrastructure and refuge. They can restart their lives and be safe. By Judith’s motion for unanimous consent, everyone is on board for Washington.

Oh, and Tara tells Maggie who she really is and how she was in cahoots with the Governor.

Strangers- Rick still doesn't trust Gabriel

Rick thanks Gabriel for his hospitality, but then quickly says that he knows Gabriel is hiding something and that if he puts Rick and his folk in danger, he’ll kill him. Rick, quit being an asshole for one night, huh?

Strangers- Daryl and Carol hide as car passes by

Carol is back at the car with Daryl not too far behind. A car rushes by and Daryl immediately recognizes it as the one that apparently made off with Beth. The two hop into the car and take pursuit.

Strangers- Bob weeps

Bob takes a moment to weep outside, but that moment is short lived, as he’s soon knocked out.

Strangers- Bob awakens before Gareth and The Hunters

He awakens to find himself surrounded by Gareth and other familiar faces from Terminus. Gareth tells Bob that he didn’t want to hurt him, but Rick and the others took away their home. Now they’re out on their own and trying to survive. Essentially, they’ve devolved into hunters. What they did isn’t personal, though. They would have done it to anyone. At the end of the day, they have to eat. If it’s any consolation to Bob, however…

Strangers- A man's gotta eat, The Hunters feast on Bob's leg

…he tastes a lot better than Gareth imagined.

Hell yes! Enter The Hunters!

This was a damn good follow-up to “No Sanctuary.” While I enjoyed the fast, frantic paced action, The Walking Dead, I feel, is stronger during its more human moments. With the group almost completely reunited, this episode could have easily settled into the groove of everyone just wandering around and exploring. Luckily, this episode doesn’t do that and there are a lot of elements of “Strangers” that I enjoyed.

Strangers- Michonne doesn't have a sword anymore

Robert Kirkman himself wrote this episode and his influence is apparent in the dialogue. Like the comic, we got some very brief moments of character development and growth through brief conversations. They never dragged on too long and while there were some I enjoyed more than others, we got the gist of what characters felt through their exchanges, such as Daryl trying to get Carol to open up or Rick asking Michonne about her sword. By the way, I did get a chuckle out of Michonne instinctively reaching for her sword and not having it anymore.

This episode was about second chances, a fresh start, hitting a reset button, so to speak. Everyone has spent so much time apart that the main priority is to stay together. Sure, they want to move forward, but they don’t want to split up again, even though, by episode’s end, that’s exactly what happens anyway.

After everything they’ve been through, I will admit it’s nice to see everyone just interacting. Sure, some of these moments I find a tad bit sappy, but it’s a change of pace from the carnage and walkers.

Strangers- Rick doesn't trust Gabriel

One constant theme of the show is trust, and the group has constantly been tested on that. Who can they trust? How suspicious should they be? Who can’t be trusted? And is everyone bad? This came through in Rick’s conversation with Carl. Rick has every reason in the world to be suspicious of every new person he meets. Hell, in the pilot, Morgan didn’t even trust Rick at first, even though Rick knew absolutely nothing about the zombie apocalypse at the time. Trust is not something that comes naturally for anyone in this world. It’s earned, and in Rick’s eyes, it’s a hell of an uphill climb to earn his trust not just because he’s naturally suspicious, but because he wants to protect his family. You can never be too careful.

Strangers- Carl trusts Gabriel

And Carl knows this, but he’s more optimistic and doesn’t immediately label everyone as a target or threat. Plus, even though he knows Gabriel may be hiding something, he’s more willing to give people a chance.

The world has hardened Rick. When Bob talks about the world returning to the way it was, he speaks to Bob as if he were delusional. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to hold onto some memory of the world before the apocalypse.

Strangers- Gabriel looks at photo

That’s what Gabriel has managed to retain with his faith. Sure, everyone else may not fly that way, but he has something to hold onto. The fact that he’s such a straight arrow gives Rick even more reason to suspect him.

Strangers- Rick knows that Gabriel is hiding something

In fact, Rick seems to have comfortably settled back into the role of leader after questioning it in previous seasons. He asks Gabriel question after question even though, for the moment, Gabriel has nothing to hide. He never lets his guard down, even when he thanks Gabriel for letting everyone stay in the church. Again, Rick has a reason to be suspicious. He analyzes a situation, assesses it and, when he’s ready, he’ll make his move- making him an ideal choice for the leader. But perhaps he’s a bit too distrusting. He wants to protect everyone, but they’ve proven more than capable of handling themselves. I just wish he wasn’t so quick to assume the worst of Gabriel. He’s not always cold, though, as evidenced when we see him playing with Julia.

Strangers- Maggie forgives Tara for some reason

By the way, I call foul on both Rick and Maggie accepting Tara as quickly as they did. Sure, Tara saved Glenn’s life, but she was still part of a group that was responsible for Hershel’s death. Given how big of a deal it was when the Governor cut off Hershel’s head, I would think Rick and Hershel’s daughter would show some sort of reaction other than welcoming them with open arms. I mean, they didn’t even hesitate.

It is strange how Tara chose this moment to talk to Maggie about what she did. I would think Maggie, knowing little about Tara, would have questions for her. Similar to Tyreese forgiving Carol for killing Karen and David, I think Maggie forgiving Tara came too quickly. She doesn’t know Tara that well, but she does know that she spent a lot of time with Glenn while they tried to find her. Wouldn’t that warrant questions as to where she came from? It just seemed like a convenient way to put Tara on good terms with everyone else. Also, I question how she blindly falls in line with the others and follows Rick’s orders to stay together, even though she barely knows him.

Strangers- Daryl throws water to Carol

I appreciate Daryl trying to get Carol to talk about what she’s been through. Ever since Daryl went out of his way to look for Sophia, it’s clear that Carol is the one person he cares the most for. It makes sense that he’d want to know what she’s endured, but he isn’t being forceful, either. He’s taking his time because Carol isn’t quick to let people in. But at least the two have a hopeful shot at finding Beth.

Strangers- Optimistic Bob

And speaking of hope, if The Walking Dead– whether comic or television show- has shown anything, it’s that optimism means something bad is about to happen. Bob was a lot happier than usual in this episode.

Strangers- Bob has a moment with Sasha

He has lovey dovey moments with Sasha and talks of the world going back to the way it was. And now he’s lost a leg. Now, given how this all played in the comics, I get the feeling that Bob may end up getting the last laugh against Gareth and company, but I won’t spoil anything. Let’s save that for next time.

Strangers- Gareth likes the way Bob tastes

Meanwhile, I’m so happy to finally see The Hunters take center stage as the current antagonists on the show. I thought Joe and the marauders from last season would turn out to be The Hunters, but given the cannibalism witnessed at Terminus, this makes a lot of sense.

Strangers- Comic book Hunters Part 1

Strangers- Comic book Hunters Part 2

And Gareth’s dialogue to Bob about him tasting good is pretty much ripped from the comic. We know how big of a threat the Terminus folks are and we know what they lost as a result of the group’s actions, so I’m interested to see how the show will handle them. And I’ll admit, it was damn gruesome sight watching The Hunters feast on Bob’s leg. Oh, but we’ve only just started with these people. And it looks like Tyreese didn’t turn into a killer after all…

All in all, this was a very good episode penned by the series’ creator. It had its share of tense moments and times where the characters could just be people. The introduction of Father Gabriel is a welcome addition, though he seems a bit more timid than his comic book counterpart. With Bob’s fate left in the balance while Carol and Daryl leave to find Beth, the group is once again scattered while The Hunters prepare to feast. Color me excited.

A Look at The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins- Poster

The Skeleton Twins works on almost every level. It was made with a lot of passion through the prowess of director Craig Johnson and some very strong performances by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who don’t let their Saturday Night Live alumni status inhibit their ability to deliver great work in a film that made me laugh, tense and even hold my breath at times.

The film begins as most films should: with attempted suicide!

Skeleton Twins- Milo says goodbye

In one corner, we meet Milo Dean, played by Bill Hader, who writes a letter and drops a photo into a fish tank. He rests in his bathtub and slowly waits as blood begins to fill the tub.

In the other corner, we meet Maggie Dean, played by Kristen Wiig, as she prepares to down a bottle of pills before receiving a call from an unknown number. Maggie is understandably pissed since she put herself on a no-call registry, but it turns out that a hospital has called to let her know that her brother recently attempted suicide. Guess it’s good she didn’t swallow those pills.

So Maggie goes to meet her brother, who she hasn’t seen in over ten years. Milo will only be in the hospital for one or two days, but he’ll soon be discharged. Milo doesn’t want Maggie there, but she still plans to be around anyway.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie visits Milo after he's been discharged

Maggie meets up with Milo after he’s been released. She finds him reading Marley and Me and comments on how sad the book is, when Milo hasn’t finished it yet. He discards it after guessing the book’s ending, but reveals that he knew all about it anyway, showing Maggie that he still has his sense of humor. Given her brother’s situation, Maggie suggests that Milo move into her guest room in New York. Milo initially objects, thinking that Maggie is doing this because she was guilted into doing it. Plus, he still has his aquarium to think about, but he eventually relents.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie and Lance, played by Luke Wilson

At Maggie’s place, Milo meets her husband, Lance, played by Luke Wilson. Over dinner, we learn that Maggie has been taking scuba diving lessons. At the same time, she and Lance have been trying to have a baby even though, in high school, Maggie never wanted kids.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie checks on Milo

That evening, Maggie stops by Milo’s new room and the two talk about what they’ve been up to since their separation. Milo has been acting, but it’s hard to break into an already crowded field, especially without an agent. In the meantime, he waits tables and hates it. Such is the life of a customer service employee, really.

The next day, we cut to Maggie taking her lessons and meet her instructor, Billy, played by Boyd Holbrook. From the looks the two share, it’s clear that there’s a spark between them, but more on that later.

Skeleton Twins- Milo meets up with Rich

Milo, meanwhile, heads to a bookstore and meets up with his old friend, Rich, played by Ty Burrell. Rich is surprised and, quite frankly, not ready for this unexpected reunion.

So later that evening, Milo drowns his sorrows in alcohol, but unfortunately for him, he stopped by on dyke night. Unless he wants to start pitching for the other team, he’s out of luck. He gets himself drunk and rants his way all the way back to Maggie’s.

The next day, he apologizes for his behavior, saying he just needed to blow off some steam. As far as Milo’s job prospects go, Maggie has something in mind: Lance needs help on his trail project at a dam. Milo will just be helping him clean and though the job doesn’t come with a sexy outfit, as he’d prefer, it’s still a job.

That evening, Milo tells Maggie that he made a call and has a surprise for her. It’s a visit from their mother, Judy, played by Joanna Gleason. And after a longer-than-normal toast, an awkward dinner follows. Maggie is not a fan of her mother being there and makes it known by pointing out that Judy missed her own daughter’s wedding, always goes on retreats and calls her out for being a shitty mother. Well, that’s a family reunion! When dinner ends, Lance wisely offers to walk Judy out.

Maggie chews Milo out for inviting their mother, but Milo had nothing but good intentions. He honestly thought that Judy had changed. She could not have been that good if she apparently drove her husband to jump off of a bridge.

Later, Milo meets up with Rich and the two have a longer conversation this time. Again, Rich didn’t expect to ever see Milo again, especially since he’s moved on from their troubled past. Rich has a girlfriend, Melinda, and a son, Eric. Milo mentions what he’s been up to, but leaves out the part about not having an agent. Why make an already awkward situation even worse? I say that, knowing how this movie plays out.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie and Billy, played by Boyd Holbrook, get it on

Speaking of making a situation even worse, Maggie and the scuba instructor fuck.

The next day, Milo drops Maggie off at the dental office where she works. Maggie asks Milo for his opinion on whether she should have kids and if she’d even make a good mother. Milo doesn’t think she would and lets her know as such.

Skeleton Twins- Milo visits Maggie at work

After a brief talk with Lance, Milo heads back to the dental office and apologizes for pissing her off. The best way to make this up is to get high off of anesthesia. Hey, all the kids are doing it, so why not screw around?

When the two are high enough, they start sharing secrets. Milo actually went down on a woman because he was curious. And drunk. Maggie’s secret? She’s taking birth control and there’s a lot of remorse in her voice when she reveals this. Though it would be much easier to admit that she’s not ready, Maggie can’t reveal this to Lance because it would just destroy him. I wonder if that will come up later.

Milo heads off to meet up with Rich again and the two talk more about their pasts, with Milo saying that Rich didn’t do anything wrong. However, the time they spend together leads to Milo being late for work the next day. Before Milo leaves, Rich hands Milo a script and requests that Milo pass it onto his agent.

Oh, Maggie tries to break it off with the scuba instructor, but it just leads to round two.

Skeleton Twins- Jefferson Starship Duet

At home, Maggie takes her anger out on a pumpkin and then Milo for not being responsible. Milo knows just the way to calm her nerves: Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”

Following this quite amusing dance number, Milo heads to Rich’s home that evening, but Rich doesn’t want him there because his son could see him.

In his depressed funk, Milo downs some Cuervo at a bar before heading to a bridge and standing on the edge. He drops the copper whale figurine that Rich gave him and before he can decide on his next move, a police officer stops him.

When Milo is turned over to his sister, Maggie flies into a rage, but Milo insists that he would not have jumped. He thinks back to his father’s encouraging words about him blooming when he grew up after high school. Milo saw himself as happy, while he figured this one jerk named Justin would grow up to be unhappy. But it turns out that Milo did some research and not only is Justin now an electrician, he has a family and is happy. So Milo is the one who peaked. People try hard to not be disappointed with how their lives turned out, so they must find ways to deal with life.

And that’s where we’ll hold the plot.

There’s a lot to dissect with The Skeleton Twins. Despite the casting of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, I’d say there’s a lot more drama than comedy in this film. It makes you laugh, but also provides some very uncomfortable moments right from the start. Heck, you want to hook your audience at the beginning? Have the main characters both about to commit suicide and then expand on the reasons behind that. Well, sort of, but we’ll get to that.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie drives Milo to her home in New York

As Maggie and Milo are both very flawed, the film is about realizing and accepting the very imperfections that make us human. As we grow up and gain more wisdom and life experience, we see what we’re capable of, but learn to make the most of it instead of figuring that life dealt us a bad hand. This is at the heart of Milo and Maggie’s conversation when Milo realizes that he peaked early and his life isn’t as exciting as he had hoped. They expected to be somewhere else.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie helps Milo get ready for Halloween

The movie does a good job of showing what connects siblings together and how the relationship between a brother and sister goes deeper than one would get from a couple or best friends. Maggie and Milo are connected through their prolonged suffering: their mother rarely being there for them when they were young, their guidance counselor never being of much help and, ultimately, their father committing suicide. You know how people sometimes say that you know yourself better than anyone else? Here, Maggie and Milo truly know each other better than the people in their lives because, when you get down to it, they’re all each other have. This doesn’t mean that they intentionally close their lives out to other people, but that, in their eyes, no one else will really understand them.

We put on masks throughout our daily lives in order to mask our true emotions and keep people from knowing how we really feel. We put barriers up all around us and feel that if we put a smile on our face, no one will see us for how we really are. It’s how we cope with our own misery: by burying it. Not at all a healthy method, speaking from experience here.

On the flip side, venting, as Maggie does a lot of, helps us get great emotional bursts out all at once. This comes as a result of holding onto pain and suffering. But we don’t get bonus points for wallowing around in our own pity or wanting people to feel sorry for us. We can’t undo the past, but holding onto agony doesn’t help anyone. Venting comes as a result of burying anger deep and letting it fester into something much worse. As a result, our worst side can and will come out at the worst possible time, possibly on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie and Milo get high

Despite how serious this film can be, there’s plenty of comedy. Much of this comes through Hader and Wiig’s chemistry, but Luke Wilson is also charming in his role as the fun-loving boyfriend. The scene where Maggie and Milo get high off of anesthesia could be the closest thing to improv, but even that has some genuinely funny moments. During the awkward dinner scene with Maggie and Milo’s mother, Milo tries to break the tension by saying that he’s never taken a shit before. That’s the kind of conversation I want to overhear at a dinner table.

I liked the use of fish and fish tanks as representative of Maggie and Milo. Throughout the film, we see them getting new fish or caring for their current ones by looking for new tanks. The tanks themselves are see-through. The fish may be protected, but you can still see right through them and peer into their lives. The same applies to Maggie and Milo: they’re just going through the motions without clear direction, while we as an audience get to follow their every step.

I also think it was a smart move on the writers’ part to never show or fully explain Maggie and Milo’s father. I’m fine with this because he works better as a symbol. We know that he committed suicide and used to encourage Maggie and Milo. While I wish we got something instead of Maggie and Milo just telling us, having him only explained in bursts keeps him as a mystery.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie, played by Kristen Wiig, and Milo, played by Bill Hader

It is incredible how well Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig click together. Their time spent together on Saturday Night Live and films they both appeared in speaks volumes about their chemistry. I completely buy them as a brother and sister who just found each other again. Their arguments feel authentic and raw, as if they’ve been saving their worst insults during their separation. Both are self-destructive and needy, but it’s important to note that neither Maggie nor Milo are in competition with each other. They’re not trying to outperform or prove that their life is better since they’re both stuck.

Skeleton Twins- Bill Hader

Bill Hader in particular surprised me with his performance. Milo desires to make something out of himself, but his Hollywood career hasn’t taken off, like he had hoped. At the same time, he won’t allow himself to be babied by Maggie. He wants to stand on his own two feet, but that’s difficult because of how hard it is to make a name for yourself as an actor. Of the two, Milo is definitely the more honest, I think. He speaks his mind more often than Maggie, such as when he tells her that he doesn’t think she’d be a good mother, and he seeks out Rich, even though that just opens fresh wounds from their past. He’s more prone to suicidal behaviors and desperate for companionship, but he’s not completely needy.

Milo holds onto hope that the family can eventually work out its issues, such as when he invites their mother to dinner. He wants to lighten the mood when things are tense, proving this when he gets a reluctant Maggie to join him in a duet of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” one of the highlights of the film, if the trailer was any indication. And most important for me, the fact that Milo is gay is not one of his defining characteristics. Too often in films and television is a gay character defined by them being gay. Sure, it’s brought up, but it’s not the one thing you remember about him.

Skeleton Twins- Kristen Wiig

Equally powerful in her performance is Kristen Wiig. She’s trying to hold her life together through a steady job, a man who loves her and preparing to have a baby. But while Milo is more open about who he is, Maggie has more secrets that she hides from others, Lance especially. Now I won’t give them away because that would give away some of the best conversations later on in the film, but Maggie is not as open and honest as she would have us believe. She’s just as damaged goods as Milo is and is quicker to react negatively. She takes longer to lighten up because she wants to maintain some semblance of stability and rigidity. Now obviously the film’s opening contradicts that, since our first look at her involves her about to commit suicide, but she tries to keep a level head.

Maggie’s dishonesty is her downfall. She sleeps around and cheats on a man who, in my opinion, is too good for her. But instead of wearing her infidelity like a badge of honor, Maggie shows true remorse when she slights Lance, but doesn’t tell him about what she’s done. She wants to keep that happiness going, even if means keeping secrets.

She does truly care for Milo’s well-being. She worries about him when he shows up late for work and when he considers killing himself. Even after all of the crazy things they’ve been through, she still wants to make sure that she’s not walking through life alone.

Skeleton Twins- Luke Wilson

And Luke Wilson is just charming as ever. He’s a nice guy, but not clingy. He’s willing to step back when necessary and has quite a number of funny moments. Honestly, Lance deserves someone much better than Maggie. His undying devotion to her and unwillingness to believe that she would keep secrets shows how the trust between them is not two ways.

Again, there’s really a lot I’d love to say about this film, but that would delve into spoiler territory. I do have one minor complaint. Without giving too much away, this film goes to some very dark places. It’s very bleak. Often, writers want to give viewers a happy ending so they walk out satisfied, but others pull no punches. This is why I have such respect for programs like The Leftovers and, to a lesser extent, Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. They prove that viewers shouldn’t get too attached to characters because everyone isn’t promised a happy ending.

The Skeleton Twins almost goes in a certain direction toward the end that I thought would have been very dark, but more surprising and risky. A gutsy move probably would have alienated viewers, so as much as I love this movie, I think it took the easy way out with its ending. That’s all I’ll say on that.

The biggest strength of The Skeleton Twins comes through the amazing performances of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. They, like Jenny Slate did earlier this year with Obvious Child, shed their Saturday Night Live personalities and deliver stunning work in a complex brother-sister relationship that feels real, raw and cuts deep, both figuratively and literally. The two struggle to stay afloat in a world that’s not as exciting as they had hoped. The movie examines this dysfunctional pair and shows that, despite their troubled pasts, despite the people who abandon or who they, in turn, abandon, they manage to be there for one another. They may not be the most functional pair, but they are the best for each other. To them, that’s enough.

I highly recommend The Skeleton Twins.