Walking Dead: Save The Last One Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, October 31, 2011
The bad omen was there from the start this episode. I envisioned shades of Lady MacBeth as Shane stood in front of his own reflection, breathing hard and fumbling for an electric razor. He was guilty of something, we just weren’t sure of what yet.
I was reminded of Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. There was no character redemption for Travis Bickle after he went bald. It was carnage and terror brought on by self-delusion and spurned love. Of course taking a buzzer to his head was not a great idea for Matthew McConaughey either, but it’s a safe bet that dragon movie would have sucked even if McConaughey had Willie Nelson’s hairdresser. The point is, it seemed painfully obvious from the get go that Shane was not simply shearing himself because in the last ten years white guys have been able to pull off the chrome dome look successfully.
So it was interesting that the narrative of this episode started with Rick regaling Lori (for the one thousandth time) with the time Shane pulled a schoolboy prank on the principal. Rick’s retelling of one of his favorite high school memories was multi-purposed. It reinforced the long and strong bond between the two men. It also showed Shane off as a strong athlete, capable of returning victorious from a dangerous mission. Thirdly, and Rick probably never thought of it this way, but it hinted at the fact that Shane might have a problem with authority and is not always to be trusted. The fact that Rick and Shane were equal pals in school together, but years later Shane found himself as Rick’s subordinate on the police force is likely a sticking spot for a prideful man.
Of course Shane’s descent into what could become more monstrous than the walking dead who constantly stalk the survivors was only part of this week’s theme. The other, more uplifting part of the story was based on doubt and faith.
Lori had her moment of doubt when she confessed to Rick she had been thinking it might be best if Carl never recovered. Maggie (I’m not sure they’ve actually used her name yet, but that is what she is called) put doubt in Glenn’s head when he tried to pray for his first time ever, and even Dale had doubts about giving Andrea a gun, then later doubted his original doubts and handed it back to her.
In each case, faith replaced doubt. Lori’s faith was renewed when hearing the “deer story.” Glenn’s lifelong doubt in a god was almost cemented until Maggie (seriously, that’s her name. I’ve read the comics and double-checked on IMDB) double backed on her initial negativity, and gave Glenn reason for hope. Even Dale, as concerned as he is for Andrea’s mental health realized it wasn’t his place to deny her of a weapon. He had to have faith that Andrea would not end her life, thereby making the band of survivors weaker by one.
Moving on to the story itself, it was refreshing, to see Carol finally mourn for the unknown fate of her daughter. Strangely, I suspect not many of us watching this program care all that much about this little lost girl, and that’s a sign of a missed writing opportunity. Helpless girl in zombie-filled woods should translate into instant sympathy to viewers, but the writers didn’t do a good enough job introducing us to this girl. We know very little about her – other than she doesn’t stay put in a swampy cave when undead flesh eaters are chasing after her. We also don’t care much about her mother, and that surprises me, because we really could. Carol was clearly a battered woman, and it was hinted at last season that her husband may have done unspeakable things to both her and young Sophia, but so far those characters have been little more than after thoughts and missed opportunities. The same could be said for T-Dog. It’s possible he’s destined to be a great character someday, but at this point I sincerely doubt it.
One of the toughest things about writing an ensemble show is giving enough screen time to each cast member in order to make the viewers care about their fate one way or another. At this point in time, I’m not even actively hoping for T-Dog, Carol and Sophia to die, I just don’t care about them either way, and from a storytelling point of view, there’s nothing worse.
I’m already on record predicting Carol’s death because of that red shirt she found in the abandoned car in Episode 1 (Star Trek reference) and now I’m going to go back on record and saying at this point in time, I have more sympathy and empathy for the twitching zombie hanging in that tree than I do for the mother of a child who has been missing for two days and may possibly be roaming the forest alone doing her best to ward off any flesh-eating frenzies that come her way.
Which leads us nicely to some characters who are working out quite nicely thank you very much. Darryl has been a fan favorite since he first appeared midway through last season. Aside from Shane, Darryl may be the most complex and multi-layered character in this show. It would be simple for Darryl to turn into a stereotypical redneck character, but to the credit of this creative team, even though Darryl is often used for comic relief, he is not portrayed as a one-note cliché. Darryl may be as good a leader and protector as Rick, and unless he’s hiding some serious flaws of his own (which he might be) he’s a lot more trustworthy than Shane.
And this gets us back to the imperfect Shane. I’ve said it before, but in a better world, Shane is a better man. Shane may have harbored feelings for Lori for decades, and it’s entirely possible those feelings were even silently reciprocated. Neither however acted on their mutual fondness out of love and loyalty to Rick.
I believe Shane when he says he thought Rick was dead before he made his consoling/romantic move on Lori. With that in mind, it’s also possible Shane did the right thing by offering Otis up as zombie bait. In Shane’s head the two men were not going to make it out of that campus alive – which meant Carl’s odds of survival weren’t much better. It is possible to concede that Shane weighed the options, and realized that not only were they in this situation because Otis (accidentally) shot Carl in the first place, but Shane was also the better candidate than Otis is when it came down to only one of them getting the chance to deliver the medical supplies.
Forgetting how selfish it seems on the surface, Shane’s actions did drastically increase Carl’s chance of survival. Now how much of Shane’s decision to offer up Otis was based on calculated strategy, how much was based on his own love for Carl, and how much was based on pure self-preservation remains to be seen, but I contend Shane made this move base on what he felt was the best for Carl. (As well as a healthy dose of guilt.) Unfortunately, I also see this move as the beginning of the end of Shane’s role as trusted sidekick, and that intrigues me. Shane is slipping over to the dark side.
As many of you know, the character of Shane dies off early in the comic book. That version of Shane is not nearly as charismatic, multi-dimensional or conflicted. If we’re talking in pure comic book turns here, Shane shaving his own scalp might be the equivalent of the relationship Superboy had with a young curly-topped Lex Luthor. As soon as Lex lost his hair though, he became an archenemy for the ages. I for one am looking forward to, yet at the same time lamenting this inevitable shift in friendship dynamics.
Here’s a discussion topic I believe I already understand; but who thinks if the situation were the same, except it was Rick and Otis trying to make it back in one piece that Rick would have sacrificed the fat guy to save his own son? It’s possible Rick would, but so far there has been nothing in his character to point to that, and much more evidence to suggest Rick may have thought of a better way out for both men.
Ok, I’ll leave it at that for this week. The shows have gotten progressively better as many of us hoped for and believed. Faith.
Joe Oesterle is a seven-time published author. His latest book is called, “Weird Hollywood.” Follow the book on Twitter and on Facebook.
Mania Grade: B+
TV Series: The Walking Dead
Episode: Save The Last One
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Norman Reedus
Written By: Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Directed By: Phil Abraham
Series: Walking Dead