This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 2
So far in season 11 of The Walking Dead, the biggest weapon in the arsenal of the survivors hasn’t been a gun, but the brain. Specifically, the power of observation. Princess used it to good effect to nearly get the group out of Commonwealth processing prison, and now Yumiko is taking the information Princess and others have gathered on the people around them, churns it through her lawyer-trained mind, and comes up with a line of patter so effective it makes Ezekiel’s summation of lead guard Mercer (who I can only call the Pumpkin King due to the color of his armor) look like me taking notes on a television show.
Yumiko, Princess, Ezekiel, and Eugene were all put into a no-win situation, and figured out a way to get out of it with everyone intact and at least as sane as they were going into it. The subterranean survivors, when faced with a difficult choice to save or abandon a member of their group, took the easy way out and decided that some people can be discarded when their usefulness has ended. Or, more accurately, when the process of saving that person puts the group at risk.
The cliffhanger ending of “Acheron Part 1” echoes one of the show’s most polarizing (read: bad) choices, season 6’s fake-out death of Glenn. However, rather than forcing Maggie to do the physically impossible by sliding under the world’s tallest dumpster, the show takes an easier way out and has her just disappear under the crashed subway and crawl along the undercarriage until she finds an escape hatch to pound on and willing ears to hear her struggling for readmission to the Yellow line service to DC from Alexandria. This way works better, because unlike season 6, there’s not a drawn out psyops campaign designed to make us all believe that Maggie is really dead, it’s just a cliffhanger between two episodes and we just saw another person, Daryl, do the same act of slithering under the train to chase after his dog.
The second part of Jim Dowling’s episode works well because it’s so competently set up by the first half, particularly in the subterranean scenes. Negan is given a choice between risking himself for someone he knows wants to kill him or walking away and letting her find her own way out of the situation. He chooses the method he chooses, and when Maggie returns to confront him, he points out that she threatened to kill him not 5 minutes prior to that moment, so why would he break a sweat to save her? Once again, Angela Kang and Jim Barnes put forward a frustratingly good point for the character.
It’s put himself at risk for someone he doesn’t like versus Maggie making the choice to allow Gage to die in a horrible manner to avoid potentially putting the group at risk. She leaves him, locked behind an emergency door, to get the full Captain Rhodes treatment while everyone watches, horrified and helpless. Except for Maggie, of course; she could have chosen to try to save him and didn’t. Negan knows that no matter what he does, he won’t change Maggie’s mind, even if he is the reason anyone from Alexandria survived the Whisperers. Maggie leaving Gage to die, on the surface, feels like much the same choice Negan made at the burning of Alexandria; do you try to stop something and blow your mission or allow a person/people to die in service of a greater good? Or, perhaps, allow someone to die because saving them might be too inconvenient.
Inconvenient or not, it’s a harrowing moment. Jackson Pace hasn’t gotten a lot to do on the show throughout his time, aside from hassle Carl and Lydia, but he does a solid job of portraying Gage’s desperate betrayal in the last moments of his life, and the defiance with which he plunges his knife into his own chest is a pretty memorable way to go out. Lauren Cohan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are always solid, and there’s just enough bravado in Maggie’s reasoning behind not saving Gage that it’s a little see-through that she’s not quite as blasé about letting him die as she seems.
In the Commonwealth clearing house portion of the episode, Josh McDermitt does a phenomenal job as Eugene, and Kang and Barnes do good work in scattering little bits throughout his section of the episode to show just how the Commonwealth breaks people down during the intake process via gaslighting Eugene while he waits on the bench as Yumiko and Princess disappear into the ether. McDermitt does a great job of handling Eugene’s embarrassed admission when talking to Mercer, and Eugene’s nervous patter grows faster and more insistent as he becomes more and more mortified by his admission, and by the truths about himself he has to tell in the process.
It’s essentially a take to camera with a few reaction shots, but it’s really effective and smart of Dowling to sit back and just let McDermitt do his thing without much interruption as he does with Gage’s horrific death and Daryl’s hero moment near the end of the episode. Certainly, less can be more, and when you have a good performer or a good special effects crew doing their thing, it’s always a good idea not to get too cute. Steady and solid, with a good handle of the performers, and good pacing throughout the episode, building to their respective climaxes steadily.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Escape one bad situation by the skin of your teeth or by baring your soul, and stumble headlong into something else that might be more dangerous. Maggie, Negan, and the rest know what they’re walking into by the end of the episode, but Yumiko and company? Uncharted territory. At least with an armed mob approaching you threateningly, you know where you stand.