AMC's The Walking Dead is officially a hit, and fans no doubt went into the season finale, "TS-19", with an equal mix of anticipation and frustration; Anticipation to see what Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors uncover in the mysterious bunker at the Center for Disease Control - frustration at the fact that this sixth episode of The Walking Dead is the last in what now feels like a first season cut painfully short, just as a promising new show is hitting its stride.
Well, "TS-19" delivered a story that was at once moving, rich with new possibilities, thick on ominous foreshadowing and yes, slightly pointless in terms of its resolutions.
This season we've witnessed officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awaken from a coma after a shootout gone bad, only to find himself in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. After help from a kind stranger (Lennie James), Rick set off for Atlanta to find his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs). Atlanta did not provide the salvation Rick hoped for; instead he found a metropolis overrun by zombies and would've perished if not for the help of fellow survivors Glenn (Steven Yeun), Andrea (Lorie Holden), T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and the not-so-friendly Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker). Rick made it out of Atlanta alive, only to find his wife, son, and best friend/cop partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) waiting at a survivors camp in the woods. The happy reunion didn't last long: Rick's group was forced to leave a drug-crazed Merle behind in Atlanta, and little did Rick know, Lori and Shane had become lovers since Rick was presumed dead - an affair Lori is having trouble keeping under wraps.
Merle's brother Daryl (Norman Reedus) isn't at all happy to hear his kin was abandoned, so Rick takes a group of men back into the city to find Merle. The group doesn't find all of him, just the hand the hillbilly sawed off to escape. As the Merle search party returns to camp with a fresh supply of firearms, zombies attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the survivors, including Andrea's sister, Amy (Emma Bell), who Andrea is forced to put down when she rises as a zombie. Andrea is understandably traumatized, with only surrogate father-figure Dale (Jeffery DeMunn) there to comfort her. Rick and Shane have it out about what the next best move is for their group, and after secretly pointing a gun at his best friend's back, guilt-ridden Shane concedes that the group should follow Rick to the CDC facility in Atlanta in hopes of finding rescue. When they arrive at the CDC, the group is spotted by a lone doctor still operating the facility - the doctor opens the door and survivors enter into the unknown...
"TS-19" REVIEW (Contains SPOILERS)
"TS-19" was a fairly good season finale episode. First and foremost, the episode dangled some new plot points to drive storylines for season 2 forward on both the over-arching and subplot levels. What was it that Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich) whispered in Rick's ear just before the explosion? That question will likely keep fans busy for the next year, pitching speculation across chat room forums. (Was it a word of hope or a warning of doom? I'm betting doom.)
There's also the bubbling, soon-to-be-boiling subplot of the Rick-Lori-Shane love triangle, which took a pretty drastic turn this week during Shane's drunken assault/attempted rape of Lori. Flashback to one of the first scenes of the pilot - Rick and Shane's talk about how to deal with women - and the Lori/Shane confrontation becomes an even more poignant foreshadow of what's to come. We know Shane isn't a man who gives up what he sees as his territory - and when Rick finds out that his best friend left him for dead (a great scene that kicked off this episode), slept with his wife, and has since tried to sleep with her again since his return... needless to say, the fallout is going to be epic, and bloody.
This season 1 finale also touched on a fantastic theme that I hope becomes the undercurrent of this show: how one sustains the will to live in the midst of hell. As much as I care about these characters, Dr. Jenner's argument about how and when one chooses to die was deep enough to make me totally understand if Rick's group just decided to end it all there in the CDC, rather than once again face the hell waiting outside. Total head trip. When Andrea stayed behind to die, broken by tragedy and hopelessness, and Dale plopped himself down in a chair committed to die with her, for a second I thought that Darabont and Co. might actually do the unthinkable and kill off two of the best characters, just as they were beginning to develop. Thankfully that was not the case. While I was sorry to see lovely mother-figure Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) go, I think that we can all admit by now that Jacqui wasn't really doing much besides taking up space (you too, Morales), so it's understandable that she would be written out. I'm keeping fingers crossed that Jacqui's departure is an indication that in season 2 the African-American female character slot will be filled by a rather popular name from The Walking Dead comic books ;-) .We'll see.
Finally, the computer image of "Test Subject 19" (Doctor Jenner's scientist wife turned zombie) and Jenner's speeches about the nature of humanity - while equally hammy and syrupy - made for some compelling television that at least tried to say more about the world than most other zombie tales do. And a big shout out to alcohol, which played a major part in this season finale! It was something that totally felt real to me: if I was stuck in the zombie apocalypse and had one night "off" from scrounging and surviving, I too would be boozing as much as I could. I also liked seeing Rick (in his private confession to Dr. Jenner) be something other than captain positivity and hope; it was good to see that deep down he's human and real, just a guy scared out of his mind trying to get through each day. That type of complexity is freeing for writers, in that there are no "off limits" areas to explore with a character like Rick. He can truly keep us guessing.
However, for all of its positive aspects, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that "TS-19" and the whole CDC detour was a clunky bit of Deus Ex Machina, which didn't even do a good job of resolving anything. In terms of the overarching story, The Walking Dead still hasn't really defined itself as anything more than a vague survival story about the human condition - at this point it could be a serialized drama or an episode of the week, major twists at sweeps horror series. This first "season" was truthfully more like one long pilot that left us off in a place where not much ground has been covered, yes, but the road ahead is long, dark, winding and ultimately inviting.
It's going to be a long wait until The Walking Dead season 2 premieres in Fall 2011, and in exchange for fans' patience, I hope the writers take time to inject some more objectives into their story, so that we can get more episodes like "Guts", which feel streamlined, focused and less meandering. However, in turning the zombie-horror sub-genre into the framework for one of the better dramas on TV, The Walking Dead has been nothing short of a miracle, and a refreshing one at that. I may nitpick, but you can be sure I'm one of those Dead-heads already chomping at the bit for season 2.
How did you like the Season finale of The Walking Dead? Have you enjoyed the season/show overall - or was it too short for your liking? What do you want to see in season 2 (which will premiere in Fall 2011)?
If you haven't already seen it, we've put to together an all-star team of TV personalities who could survive The Walking Dead. It's a great list. If you want to check out the show again in its entirety, keep a lookout for The Walking Dead season 1 on DVD/Blu-ray in the spring of 2011.