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The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a drama about a zombie apocalypse. It is based on the 2003 Image Comics series. AMC 2010-???

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Episode 4 - Slabtown

5 November 2014

Credit AMC

Synopsis: Beth wakes up in a hospital in Atlanta. The building is run by cold police officer Dawn while kindly Dr Steven Edwards tends to the wounded brought in. Beth is asked to work to pay off the cost of her rescue and care but is quickly disenchanted with the bleak morale of the staff and the harsh discipline. Things get worse when creepy cop Gorman makes it clear he has intentions with Beth. Fellow sufferer Noah plans to escape and Beth helps him but is caught herself. She realises that even Dr Edwards can't be trusted and prepares to kill him when Carol is wheeled in.

The Good: Early on it was clear that the producers of The Walking Dead wanted to avoid comparisons with Lost and so avoided single character episodes and flashbacks. This despite the fact that the show was crying out for both. I'm pleased that Scott Gimple has managed to reverse both policies and applaud the attempt to once again make Beth a character we should care about.

The Bad:
But sadly I thought this failed at everything it attempted.

The transition from the last time we saw Beth to her waking up in the hospital was not handled well. Most viewers will have forgotten the exact circumstances of her "abduction" (413). But the impression we were left with was that she had been taken. The car sped off in the dark with no Walkers anywhere near the spot where she'd dropped her bag. So the story we are confronted with when Beth wakes up in the hospital was unhelpfully confusing. It made me question whether the hospital staff had only rescued her later, after she had been kidnapped by someone else.

Worse though, Beth takes in her incarceration in Atlanta with stoic reserve. The Walking Dead has so far presented very mixed messages about how much of humanity has survived the zombie apocalypse. Based on what we've witnessed so far the survival of a working hospital surprised me. But Beth didn't seem shocked. She never once referenced her experience of life out on the road. She never asked about how the hospitals generators still functioned or asked if they had contact with anyone else. This silence robbed the hospital of proper context and Beth of any helpful statement of who she is and how she sees the world.

Instead we were immediately thrown into the politics of this institution. The insistence on what people owe, the creepy power of the police and their somewhat futile attempts to patch people up. The characterisation was either drab or ham fisted. Christine Woods (Dawn) never rose above the material to add any depth to her conflicted leadership role. Her slaps and stabs at Beth felt entirely contrived. Though even they were subtler than Gorman's creepy rapist persona. Somehow he managed to make the role dull or at least predictable when another actor might have delivered more plausible corruption.

The plot dynamics didn't help them. Admittedly Joan arrived in scrubs and clearly had a history of some kind with Gorman. But it wasn't until after the episode that I was able to fully appreciate that she was another member of staff who had tried to escape Gorman's regime of rape. In a way I applaud the writers for not spelling things out too obviously but this was not clear enough and frankly if you are going to deal with serial rape as an issue then I think it needs more attention than this. As a result of these issues the suicide in the office felt like a convenient way to get Beth near a Walker rather than an organic plot point.

Dr Edwards was a little better as a character but the conclusion to his story was a mess. Beth seemed to jump to quite the conclusion in working out that the man she unknowingly killed was a doctor. Perhaps I missed another clue. She then decides to kill him for this crime (only to stop when Carol appears). What possible good would that have done? By killing their only doctor she would condemn many others to dying of small, treatable wounds. She would almost certainly be killed herself for doing it. Was life really so horrible in the hospital that death was her best way out? I didn't feel like we had come to that.

The sense of time passing was poorly handled. It seemed like Beth had only been at the hospital for a day when she was being asked to carry out tasks that nurses spend years learning. Her cheek wound didn't seem to have healed by the end and yet there were hints that she had been there for longer. So again it was hard to guage at what point she would have given up on escaping and finding her friends.

Her escape plan with Noah was a disaster. It made her character seem utterly foolish. Their plan to climb down the elevator shaft made little sense. They clearly planned to leave when they did and yet if Beth hadn't unleashed a Walker to distract the rest of the staff then what exactly would have stopped someone from discovering them in mid-climb? They also made their drop into an area that was clearly open to Walkers and yet they took no weapons with them (Beth taking the gun off Gorman was not part of the plan). They also had no supplies and no sense of how they would get past the guards standing along the walls with rifles.

I really can forgive bad plot dynamics. We all have to from time to time. But what this episode was crying out for was a speech from Beth about how "it doesn't have to be like this." She needed to reference her own experience. She needed to talk about how there are still good people out there. And how even though no one is coming to the rescue, tolerating rape and brutality is not necessary. She needed to plead to Dawn and reveal to us the person she's become inside. Instead Beth somehow came across as more naive, foolish and blank than she has done for two seasons. She grins with happiness for Noah as he escapes and yet surely she should know that a limping man with no supplies will be dead in a day? What a letdown.

The Unknown: Darryl can't have rescued Beth by the time he reappears at the church. I can only assume he and Carol have been split up and he has returned with Morgan or someone else.

Best Moment: Seeing Atlanta as a burnt out shell was interesting. As was eating guinea pigs.  

Conclusion:
There's lots of bad television in the world. What annoys me so much about this is that we know The Walking Dead is capable of much more than this. And yet I also get a discouraging sense that the writing will time and again fall back into the cliche of rape and drudgery as its fallback for what humankind has been reduced to. I do understand that the zombie apocalypse is a hard place to live. But humans have an infinite variety of coping mechanisms and brutality isn't the only one.

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  • Good: I liked the way shots were framed and lit in this episode.

    Bad: agree the explanation of how Beth was found was confusing. Walkers were conveniently spaced and placed throughout.

    Unknown: Do walkers eventually dissolve? The more time that passes on the show the more surreal the effects of such an apocalypse become. How pristine the uniforms looked how fresh some of the Walkers looked.

    I still want there to be larger consequences shown. Who's keeping power plants from breaking down? Can we finally see what winter does to the survivors and walkers alike?

    Viewer score: 50 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 04/11/2014 12:22pm (6 years ago)

  • Pretty much agree with Robin on most points.
    The whole thing felt like a webisode with a high budget to me. Breaks in the story like this just hurt the show.

    Viewer score: 43 / 100

    Posted by Rob H, 03/11/2014 8:21pm (6 years ago)

  • More unknown:

    Is it possible that NOAH is the person with Daryl at the end of S5E3?

    Perhaps Daryl and Carol saved Noah and then somehow they got separated. The Slab town runners picked up Carol on their way back?

    Posted by Fluids, 03/11/2014 8:11pm (6 years ago)

  • I'm all for devoting time to exploring other communities, like the hospital. But I have a huge issue with the lack of explanation of power for the hospital, the CDC back in season 1 had an explanation, and although I saw a bike that appeared to be plugged into the wall in one scene (manual power?), I don't buy that any hospital could survive for so long with any power, especially with those life support machines.

    It appears this season will be exactly identical in structure to the first half of season 4, with this "out of scope" story taking two episodes.

    I agree that the details of Beth's abduction are fishy, looked more like as she ran out of the house, she was just forcefully taken (aibeit offscreen) by whoever. I could buy that her injuries were caused by her captors, but it wasn't explained thanks to her "black out".

    The hospital was full of "evil", that it came as no surprise that the doctor was murderous.

    In an episode centered on Beth, she really should have said/done more than play the role of nurse (was she a nurse before? or learned from her father?), maybe not in a confrontational speech but at least confide in someone.

    The escape plan was a joke, too. This is the plan a year in the making?

    Good cliffhanger though.

    Viewer score: 53 / 100

    Posted by Ben F., 03/11/2014 4:43pm (6 years ago)

  • Good:

    • The cold start made me think for a second that Beth had dreamed everything we have seen to date when I saw Officer Dawn Turner and Dr. Steven Edwards and hear “Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.”

    • Dr. Edwards did tell Beth to administer 75MG of Clozapine not Clonazepam so he did set up Beth to kill the wounded Dr. Trevitt because he thought the other Dr would make him disposable again. This episode reminds me a great deal of the webisode entitled “Cold Storage”. That episode had a character that also felt like a king in a safe haven; wielding relative power over who lives or dies. Once that is challenged and the king feels threatened, he takes out his adversaries to preserve his kingdom.

    • There were no zombies for the first 30 minutes. I liked that a lot. This helped reinforce the illusion of how insulated the Hospital was from the Apocalypse and how the situation can turn bad very quickly with a few wrong traveling decisions.

    • Best Scene and line for me: Dawn with Beth “I saw this the night you came in. (shows Beth her suicide attempt wrist scar on her left hand) Is this bullshit, too? Some people just aren't meant for this life, and that's okay. As long as they don't take advantage of the ones who are.”

    Bad:

    • Gorman as a sexual bully for Beth (as a character and his victimization scenes) were a bit tropic.
    • Emily Kinney’s acting is getting better, however there could have been better takes.

    Unknown:

    Is Dawn insane?
    How did she ‘take care’ of Hanson?

    Is Noah okay or did he get bit?
    Will Beth escape (with Carol) and track down Noah?
    Will Rick and crew rescue Beth and Carol?
    Was the funeral parlor house set up by Dawn and her gang?

    Viewer score: 45 / 100

    Posted by Fluids, 03/11/2014 3:50pm (6 years ago)

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