Monday, October 24, 2016

Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere. . .

I don't believe in hard rules for what makes a narrative work or not. I had a creative writing teacher who used to preface criticism by basically saying "what do I know?" with regards to the basic rules of narrative, because the only thing that matters in the end is execution and whether it winds up connecting or not. Some of the most memorable stories ever told broke several rules that lead them to being imitated repeatedly to the point that the break becomes cliche. Still, there are stories that are designed to be somewhat meta, at least a little, and when those types of stories break rules, it usually ends up working really well. But if a story was never set up that way, if it was set up to make you live each moment with the characters, and then it breaks that flow, more often than not, it will fail.

I already wrote about how The Walking Dead season 6 finale failed in exactly this way and the Season 7 premiere only added to that failure. For starters, it dragged out the big reveal of who Negan killed for no reason. We get treated to close ups of Rick slowly disintegrating, then Negan taking him out to the woodshed, so to speak, for nearly half the episode. And then, even worse, they play with us by showing what I guess is Rick imagining if Negan kills everyone and when we finally get the reveal of what happened, it's now a flashback and more of a relief than it should be. You just want them to get over with already. We don't get to experience the helpless agony with our characters, instead we get manipulated repeatedly by technique that reminds us we're watching a TV show. The sad thing is, they had the elements to make this work all along. Killing two people was a good way to extend the shock, had they killed one in the finale and then the other in the premiere, in real time.

But instead, because they separated the act from the emotion of the moment by elongating it all, the act itself is less about helplessness and loss than it is just shock for shock's sake and torture porn. The extreme violence and gore of the scene would have been fine had it been anchored by real time humanity. We could have been crying right along with them. But after being played by editing tricks and media hype it comes off as little more than a sadistic spectacle. At least that's my take and I don't think it's because I read the comics.

Not that sadistic spectacle isn't called for. Negan is a nasty, scary fuck. He's a character who is vulgar to his core and that is a big part of what makes him scary. The ease with which he dispenses extreme violence is part of that vulgarity. From that perspective, everything works. He's vile and powerful and sets up a new status quo that makes the Governor look like basket of puppies. I just wish it hadn't all been about his show, so we could spend more time feeling the impact of it. It's fine line before this sort of thing wears thin or, worse, Negan becomes more like-able than the main characters.

I will say the final moments of the episode began to make up for it all, in large part to Lauren Cohan's Maggie. Her performance, her character's true to form reaction and strength, even as she's completely fallen apart is a balancing act that could have been more central to these events from the start. Nothing against any of the others. Andrew Lincoln played it right too. But Rick's break, while understandable, is obvious. I don't know. Let's hope the makers of the show can get out of their own way for the rest of the season, and not continue to make this a show about how clever they are.

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