Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer DVR Dump: The Walking Dead 1.04: "Vatos"

“He knew that you needed to catch the fish and I needed to throw them back.”

Overall, “Vatos” struck me as being very sad. Yes there was plenty of gore, but the end of the episode was just tragic. While I think a little more work could have been done to establish the characters before getting to an episode like this, it was still fairly effective. Some things in this episode, like Rick’s encounter with janitor/gang banger turned nursing home administrator Guillermo seemed a little glossed over. Since I haven’t read the graphic novels on which the show is based, I’m not sure if that encounter was just supposed to set something up for the future, or if that’s all we’ll see of Guillermo and his crew. It feels like the season is really just starting to pick up steam, so I’m not really sure how they’re going to wrap everything up in two more episodes. It seems like there should be a lot more story left. I hear this coming season should be a more traditional cable-length season, though (12-13 episodes), so it might have better pacing.

The episode opens at the quarry, where Andrea and Amy are in a canoe fishing. Apparently their dad took both of them to fish often when they were growing up, although never together. Amy didn’t go fishing until Andrea, who is twelve years older, had left for college. There’s a long sequence where the sisters compare what their father taught them about fishing, and what each of them learned is completely different down to the knots, lures, and whether or not the fish were eaten or thrown back. They realize that their dad didn’t change his fishing philosophy randomly after Andrea left. He just taught each sister in the way he thought they would respond best. This whole sequence is kind of pointless plot-wise, but it’s really an attempt at character work to make the episode’s ending more emotional.

We pick up in Atlanta where the last episode stood off, with Rick and the other guys on the department store roof, reacting to finding Dixon’s severed hand. Daryl, is of course, pissed off, and there’s a bit of a Mexican standoff when he points his crossbow at T-Dog and Rick in turn points a gun at him. That doesn’t last long, though, and Daryl contents himself with wrapping up Dixon’s hand to take along with him. Back in the department store, the group finds evidence that Dixon has been there. A gas stove is on, and it’s obvious that Dixon used it to cauterize what was left of his arm (gross). It’s also obvious that he has left the department store. Daryl starts getting belligerent again (a one note character if I ever saw one), and Rick tries to calm him down by offering to do a quick search for Dixon. T-Dog isn’t too happy about this offer, but he says he’ll go along with it if they use the search to pick up the bag of guns, too.

Back at the survivors’ camp, a man named Jim is digging holes in the ground like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a ridiculously hot day, probably along the lines of what we’ve had in Washington, DC this week, so Dale, the guy who owns the trailer at the camp and serves as lookout, is pretty concerned. Despite the heat, Jim doesn’t show any signs of stopping what he’s doing. Dale, Shane, Lori and a few other survivors end up staging a sort of intervention that turns into more of a confrontation as Jim refuses to stop digging and starts to get a bit belligerent about it. Seth ends up throwing Jim on the ground and handcuffing him while Jim taunts Seth about how Seth beat the crap out of Ed. These are such lovely people, really. When he’s calmed down a bit, Jim gives a little insight into why he might have gone off the deep end. He tells the other survivors that the only reason he’s still alive is because he ran away while the zombies attacked the rest of his family.

Back in Atlanta, Glenn has drawn up a pretty solid tactical plan. It turns out his pizza delivery boy skills come in handy when figuring out where to set up teams to cover him and where to run when things go wrong. This scene is the reason why Glenn is really the only character I’ve really connected with on the show so far. He actually seems to have a personality beyond clichés, stilted dialogue, and telling instead of showing. The plan goes well at first, but things start to unravel when a teenager approaches Daryl. Daryl tries to threaten the kid to stay away, but backup arrives. They want the bag of guns, but they settle for dragging Glenn off in their car instead. Daryl, Rick, and T-Dog manage to keep the teen hostage. They want him to take them to his leader, Guillermo, because they want to negotiate his freedom for Glenn’s.

The group goes to Guillermo’s strong hold, which seems pretty well armed, considering the world is post-apocalyptic. Guillermo drives a tough bargain. A simple exchange of the teenager for Glenn isn’t going to cut it. Guillermo wants the bag of guns, too. Guillermo threatens Rick and his crew that they can either come back ready to give him the guns, or they can come back looking for a fight. Rick chooses the second option, which is really fairly stupid and reckless, but thankfully, all the survivors, both Rick’s crew and Guillermo’s, are essentially saved by a grandmother. She cuts through all the misunderstanding, and it leads to Rick and his crew discovering that Guillermo is actually keeping a nursing home running. He was a janitor there, and along with one nurse and a bunch of Vatos gang members, he’s trying to continue to take care of the residents. Rick’s surprised to see some compassion still left, I guess, so he gives Guillermo a few, but not all, of the guns. When the group is ready to make their way back out of Atlanta, they discover their van is missing. The working theory is that Dixon took it and is heading to wreak vengeance on their camp. They start running, although I don’t think that would do much good if Dixon is driving.

At the survivors’ camp, Jim is tied up to a tree. He tries to be nice and get back in the good graces of the rest of survivors by apologizing for scaring the kids and trying to give an explanation for his digging. He says he was digging in a dream, but he can’t remember why. To add a little extra niceness to the whole package, he tries to reassure Carl that Rick will return to camp unharmed because he’s tough. After Carl happily runs off to help Shane clean the fish Amy and Andrea caught, however, Jim gets creepy again. He tells Lori not to let Carl out of her sight. I guess he remembered more of the dream than he originally let on.

Amanda roots through Dale’s trailer looking for something in which to wrap the necklace she stole for Amy. She tells Dale that it’s Amy’s birthday, and it wouldn’t do to give her an unwrapped gift. Amy’s birthday seems pretty nice considering the state of the world. The group has a big fish fry, and everyone seems pretty content listening to Dale quote Faulkner at length. Which kind of made no sense- who has paragraph-long quotes from books memorized, really? Of course this happiness can’t last for long. There’s a big old zombie attack. The first zombie kills Ed the abusive husband, which was really fine by me. But then the next victim is Amy. That just seemed extra cruel to have her get attacked by a zombie on her birthday. Blatant emotional manipulation, perhaps? The whole thing was just really, really sad. No better way to put it. Rick and his crew arrive back at camp just in time to help turn the tables in the fight, but it wasn’t quick enough to save Amy. Andrea screams in mourning over Amy’s body as the rest of the survivors look on, horrified.

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