Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thoughts on The Walking Dead, The X Files, and Better Call Saul

The Walking Dead--”No Way Out”

Opinion looks split about Sunday night’s episode. Some have expressed great excitement about the episode, calling it the best of the show in awhile. Others have expressed great hatred about the episode, mostly paid bloggers and critics. The primary gripe of the paid bloggers and critics is the lack of a central drive/narrative in The Walking Dead. What’s it all for? The question seems silly to ask six seasons into the show. Early reviewers must’ve mentioned the comics--specifically the comics commitment to unending stories of agony and suffering. I see both sides of the reaction to “No Way Out.” I liked parts of the episode. I didn’t like other parts of the episode. The Walking Dead writers proved they can distract its audience with zombie-killing and gruesome character death fireworks.

The most common complaints were about the red shirt deaths of the Andersons, another Glenn fakeout, the survival of every single important character, Rick’s plan, and Daryl’s zombie torch party. No one understood why Rick and the gang didn’t decide to torch the quarry instead of lead the zombies twenty miles away. The most common compliments were about the the deaths of the Andersons, another Glenn fakeout, the survival of every single important character, and so on. All of the reviews, the message boards, and the comment sections are based on opinion and taste. Some loved the exact thing others hated.

As for the central narrative problem, it’s always been surviving. People want to know what’s there to look forward to at the end of the series. If the writers had courage, it’d be the same thing until the end of existence. The writers have shown consistent reluctance in taking any narrative risks. Any death is ‘safe.’ The death of the Andersons won’t disrupt the narrative. Carl will now look COOLER because he’ll have an eye-patch. Two major things stuck out for me: the bungling of the Wolves, and the hesitance of Negan’s cronie. The Wolves, potentially, had a cool backstory that could’ve enriched and layered the Alexandria story. They were the ones Deanna exiled. Instead, they were another group of undefined villains only defined by their violence. The opening scene of the episode teased the deaths of Abe and Sasha. Daryl saved the day with a rocket launcher. To play armchair head writer for a minute: I’d introduce Negan in the scene (because why does every TWD Big Bad need a delayed introduction? Why do we always meet the SAME minions every time); he’d immediately shoot all three dead and take their weapons. Negan, then, wouldn’t be immediately neutered.

Anyway, what did I learn from the reaction to the new episode? People, basically, like TWD when it’s complete chaos. The quieter stories that make up most of the show’s texture don’t appeal to the audience quite as much. I saw more than a few references to Chekhov’s Gun, which has long become an overused crutch for anyone reviewing TV, whether it’s Chekhov’s Rocket Launcher, or Chekhov’s Carol Scaring Children to Death, or Chekhov’s Unstable Teenage Male Character with A Gun Who Wants to Shoot Carl for Walking with His Girl. I’ll use something different from Chekhov, a quote. “Any idiot can survive a crisis; it’s the day-to-day living that wears you out.” Everyone, no matter the qualms, likes a wild crisis episode such as “No Way Out”, but the week-to-week experience of watching characters living day-to-day wears them out as it wears out the characters in the world.

The X Files--”Babylon”

Chris Carter wrote a few of the best episodes of the series, and he wrote some of the worst episodes of the series. “Babylon” is not the worst Chris Carter episode, but it’s far, far from the best. Mulder’s shroomed out experience in the country bar already is among my least favorite sequences in the series. Carter seems to believe X Files fans want him to use his show as a platform to grapple with all that ails the United States. The premiere grappled with the state of America because of an Alien conspiracy. “Babylon” grappled with radical extremist terrorism, why it happens, the toxic dialogue happening all over talk radio and 24/7 news channels, and the tower of Babel. Mulder wondered would anyone speak the same language again. Trying to ask and answer such a question in 42 minutes is daunting and not worth it. Chris Carter’s responsibility isn’t that; his responsibility is the story. The story of the episode, which was Mulder and new character Einstein, along with Scully and Einstein’s partner Miller, trying to accomplish the same objective in fundamentally different ways. The pair of agents engaged in a duel of ideas and ideology, much like the ideology of the suicide bombers motivated them to blow themselves in the teaser, and much like the differences of ideology between groups of people will ultimately prevent anyone from reconciling and coming to peace. Mulder succeeded in spite of Einstein’s skepticism, as he succeeded for years with Scully’s skepticism. So, no, Carter didn’t have the pages or the time to make his ambitious theme worth it. Maybe it would’ve been better for an X Files movie.

Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose joined the show as Special Agents Miller and Einstein. FOX wanted a potential spinoff weaved into the mini-season. It’s a retread of Doggett and Reyes, though. Doggett and Reyes were good characters, defined as something other than ‘Mulder II and Scully 2’. Miller and Einstein were more extreme and younger versions of Mulder and Scully. Ambrose was great. Amell finally broke free from The CW. FOX will want additional X Files next year. Gillian and David won’t sign on for more than 6, I don’t think. FOX could order 13. The X Files could tell 7 Miller/Einstein stories and 6 Mulder/Scully stories.

Better Call Saul--”Switch”

Tremendous episode. Jimmy turned down a job offer from a prominent firm, spent his days lounging at a pool, scammed Ken Whins with Kim in one of the highlights of the episode, and then took the job offer because of Kim. Better Call Saul is great. The writers have shown that the narrative journey of a character means more than any fixed ending. Jimmy’s going to wind up in the Omaha Cinnabon store. His life will become a grey dumpster room. Jimmy’s arc is only part of what makes Saul a great show. The writing and the structure is spectacular. TV’s overrun by episode structures that limit scenes to 90-120 seconds and acts to seven pages. AMC lets Better Call Saul write wonderfully long scenes. “Switch” had the aforementioned great Jimmy/Kim scam Ken scene, and, also, the scene when Daniel calls the cops about the break-in and they quickly deduce he’s involved in something bad. Plus, it’s a beautifully shot show. New Mexico, man. And like Breaking Bad, every detail matters. What one may think is a one-off scene will become a multi-episode thing. Wonderful.

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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.