If you told me we were getting another Andrea-centric episode this close to the season finale, I would have said that is a surefire recipe for disaster. Add some wishy-washy subplots with Tyreese's group, and essentially never spending any time at the prison with our protagonists, and you are digging an early grave (zombie pit?) for season 3. Forums and comment threads will be full of Andrea hate, and people will proclaim that the show has reverted back to its season 2 malaise. Yet, with some style and genre touches, the antepenultimate episode of season 3 is one of the season's best.
Before I start praising the episode let's get one thing out of the way-- I don't like the character of Andrea. There has been plenty of ink and keyboard thwacking over these three seasons to detail why this is a popular sentiment. Mostly it's due to her being a completely different character than she is in the comic book, and that's a very valid reason to be sure, but personally it has more to do with the fact that the writers just don't seem to know what to do with her. Readers of the female persuasion, I feel for you, this is not the first time, nor the last, that writers of a genre show will pass the duties of understanding a female character around the writers room like a hot potato. "Ahhh... Mmmmm... Uhhhh... You take her!" "Ohhh, Mmmm... Jeez... Your turn!" "Rmmmm... Ummmmm... we could... have her jump back and forth between two camps, and she could never make a decision even though the choice is obvious...?" "Brilliant! We did the same thing with Kate on Lost, and it lasted for years!"
Prey doesn't solve the problem of how Andrea has been written, but it does put her in a level of peril and suspense that made me actually give a damn about her from scene to scene. The reason is rather brilliant on the writer's part-- they drop Andrea in the middle of an 80's slasher film, and suddenly we're rooting for her like we would Jaime Lee Curtis or Linda Hamilton. The Governor is playing the part of Michael Myers, The T-800, or, keeping his car in mind, Stuntman Mike. If the Governor just sent his thugs after Andrea it would have been business as usual, but when he decides to go after her personally, we are suddenly in different territory. The world this show lives in makes the hunter/hunted idea even more interesting, as they have literally dropped a slasher story in the middle of a zombie film. Both characters have to deal with the hazards of the post apocalyptic world in their pursuit and escape. The stark and abandoned landscape also gives the cat and mouse the proper atmosphere (side note: when did it become fall?). It's interesting how they slip the Governor into the role of stalking psychopath. He's got the eye patch, the black coat, the menacing car and a whistling calling card he uses to frighten his prey. When he's alone, chasing Andrea, we see the true Governor, the driven madness he hides away when sweet talking the people of Woodbury. He drives off road in hellish pursuit, he smashes windows in anger, and when faced with a flesh hungry obstacle, he just splatters his way through a zombie horde.
Te best moment is when Andrea finally reaches the prison. She's relieved, the music changes, everything is gonna be alright... and like any good slasher, Jason pops out of the water and drags her into the depths of Crystal Lake. The shot of Rick, silently keeping watch, but missing Andrea by a hair, was a fantastic touch. In the end Andrea finds herself strapped to the very thing that spurred her to Warn Rick and the others in the first place. It's a nice full circle moment, and possibly might make some of us actually feel for the character.
The rest of the episode felt a bit like going through the motions. Milton is really starting to grow on me. He's coming out of his shell to take a stand, but the more obvious he makes it, the less believable it is the Governor lets him waltz around scot-free. Tyreese is so kind and moral it almost feels out of place in this world-- he actually admits they let Andrea go. The fight he gets into with Allen doesn't really work, as it's based on events we've never completely seen. Perhaps the episode could have used a flashback for them as well. The one we do get, however, is a reminder of simpler times. One where Andrea isn't needlessly ping-pong-ing between two worlds. Given her current situation, she was probably better off staying on the road, and heading in a steady direction, instead of in circles.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.