The Boob Tube Review: The Walking Dead's Out, Out Brief Candle! by Alex Snider

.......Well, that was a real bummer. It took me watching three episodes of my one true love, Deadwood, afterwards to get back to my usual emotional state of "moderately tense". Anyone who has read my TWD recaps before (particularly last week's) can probably imagine that I am really unhappy with how so much of this episode went down. I'm not angry, just disappointed (and totally angry).

Remember when at the beginning of season two T-Dog said "I'm the one Black guy. Do you realize how precarious that makes my situation"? That the show was acknowledging the racial dynamics both of the group and of the South was super exciting! Plus it seemed like they were calling out the horror movie trend of killing off the Black guy immediately (Samuel L Jackson comes to mind). I saw that and was impressed that the writers were going to make social statements and subvert the genre but then T-Dog was given fewer and fewer lines until he became nothing more than a slightly more helpful ficus (not to diminish the importance of plants!). What even was that rant then? Was it just the only slight bit of personality that the audience would ever be privy too? Like, a quirk of his character was to assume racism at every corner (shockingly, it turns out, he was right!), similar to how Shane's quirk was murdering and Daryl's is shooting forest fauna for a mid afternoon snack?

For thirteen episodes, T-Dog floated in the background, offering nothing but a few filler lines and a couple "oh hell no[s]" and once had two lines in which he offered to carry a box for Lori. Not only did his few lines bring absolutely nothing to his character development but the actual dialogue, in which he engaged with other characters and they responded (yanno, a conversation), were negligible. T-Dog was denied personality but he was also denied relationships with his fellow survivors.

I mean, dude didn't even get his own episode to die.

T-Dog getting serious dialogue in the beginning of this episode, dialogue that actually shaped his character, was a pretty transparent attempt on the writers part to make his loss more profound and less of a punchline. But his character did really nail the "magical Black friend" part. Didn't look like he was going to make the cut but his wise words combined with giving his life for Carol sealed the trope. RIP T-Dog, can't say you'll be missed by your group...

Now there's a new Black guy in the group, Oscar, who while more verbal than T-Dog made his entrance to the group in an extremely problematic way: proving his worth by murdering another Black man. Why on earth would Oscar shoot Andrew? True he and Axel acknowledged earlier that they weren't exactly on the same page but this was a man he had ties to, that he spent ten months with and Oscar just shoots him because the White guy (who was basically leaving him and Axel for dead) asked him to? I don't buy it. An African American prison inmate ingratiating, through violence against another African American, himself to appease a White sheriff is skating nauseatingly close to slave/master narratives. At least we probably won't see any more Black characters dying for a couple episodes (BECAUSE THEY'VE KILLED ALMOST ALL OF THEM ALREADY).

The only bright spot in a very-dodgy-in-the-race area episode, was Michonne. We didn't see much of her but she did get lines and she challenged the Governor. Their encounter was exciting because it highlighted Michonne's savviness and intelligence as opposed to earlier episodes that show her only in survivor mode or as a mystical woman of colour who can sense evil. Still unclear as to why she's staying/protecting Andrea since Andrea refuses to listen to treat her as an equal but I'm still holding out hope that maybe, just maybe this will be a WOC character who doesn't fall into the "magical Black friend" trope.

So, the episode was really, really bad on the race front. What about the ladies? Well Andrea seems to have lost all the character development she gained in the second half of last season (once she was finally given a gun). Whereas before she was more like Michonne, questioning and street-smart, now she is like a teenager with a crush. And flirting with Merle? For real? All the female characters are only there to help move along the plots involving the men. All of the women save Maggie and Carol have been denied their agency at least once (Beth and Andrea were not allowed to commit suicide, Lori was guilted into carrying out a pregnancy, Michonne is not allowed to have her weapons). None of the women have made any decisions for themselves once in the company of men and none of them have had any personality beyond stereotypical, 1950s traits. For real, count out what we know about each female character and see how many fingers you used. Carol? She's a domestic violence survivor and shrill mother. Beth? Teenager who hates the zombie apocalypse, loves her dad. Maggie? She has a boyfriend and used birth control in college. Michonne? She's tough and guarded. Andrea? She had a sister and digs car sex (WHO DOESN'T??). Lori? She's a slutty harpy and a bad mother, terrible wife and a shitty driver. Groundbreaking!

It's actually not hard to write POC and women characters if they are treated as people and not scary others who are so, so, so alien that it's absolutely impossible to imagine their lives, motivations and personalities outside of well tread stereotypes. Look at my sweet Deadwood: they managed to have a whole bunch of women who were all three-dimensional. All the women characters on the show had empathy for one another bonding over their disadvantaged positions in Deadwood; they were all able to carry on relationships with the other women in the camp without it centring around the male characters and they were able to seek out and create agency for themselves in an extremely misogynistic society. The realistic relationships between Trixie and Alma, Jane and Joannie warm my cockles. Plus Deadwood also had a woman who opted for an abortion instead of risking her health for a pregnancy.

Which brings me to the Lori shit-show. As a woman with a uterus, who wants to one day have children, who is an advocate for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy, this episode had me in tears. Having to see another character sacrifice herself for her unborn baby is distressing enough without the whole season two abortion snafu added in. That they're in a zombie apocalypse and this baby's survival rates are lower than Andrea's standards (very next episode: "WHAT DO BABIES EAT??") not to mention the reality of walker impacts on a group saddled down by a screaming (hungry) infant is just the cherry atop the shit-sundae. And was Lori's speech to Carl at the/her end an apology for sleeping with Shane and ruining everything?? Outrageous. As Andy Greenwald at Grantland said "[t]here were plenty of reasons for Lori Grimes to die; it's a shame her capital offence turned out to be the simple act of living".

Now I understand that the arrival of the baby is an allegory for hope and that T-Dog offering up himself as a walker buffet is a sign of goodness/friendship in the world but these messages don't always have to come at the expense of women and Black men.

That all being said, Maggie and Glenn getting it on in the watch tower was pretty cute.

Alex Snider just wants to enjoy some teevee but it's hard because: the kyriarchy. Her website is What Fresh Hell is This and her Twitter handle is @what_freshhell.


Post a Comment