The Walking Dead season 4 episode 3 review: Isolation

Moral ambiguities abound in this week's episode of The Walking Dead. Here's Ron's review of Isolation...

This review contains spoilers.

4.3 Isolation

One of the enduring questions posed by The Walking Dead is a pretty simple one, and one we’ve all considered at one point or another. Just what, if anything, would you do to survive? Would you kill an innocent person if it increased your chances of living another day? Would you root through garbage to find food? For vast swaths of the world, these questions aren’t hypothetical, but in most places, these questions are merely flights of fantasy. That’s why they’re the perfect sort of question to be asked by a show about zombies.

In extreme situations in the real world, otherwise normal people are capable of amazing feats. Or, at times, abhorrent feats. The Walking Dead has delved into the world of moral quandaries before. In the first season, Jacqui was left behind at the CDC to commit suicide. In the second season, Shane’s abrupt dismissal of poor Otis while retrieving medical supplies for gut-shot Carl caused a lot of debate among fans. In the third season, Andrea and Merle had changing allegiances across the season, with both characters finding redemption – in their own way – despite some shaky behaviour on both parts. Good people can do bad things, and vice-versa.

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Given the abrupt ending for Karen during last week’s episode, it’s not surprising that Isolation picks up that plot thread immediately upon the beginning of this episode. It’s interesting. It’s cold-blooded murder (or at least it’s sold like cold-blooded murder; for all we know Karen and David had already turned when they were dragged out and burned), but they were suffering from a horrible disease and were actively spreading it among the other survivors with every sneeze, cough, or hot shower. Even the feverish dead turn to walkers when they die, as does everyone in this universe. Given that the suspected murders take place after the massacre in Cell Block D, is it fear of another zombie outbreak in the camp that drove the drastic actions taken by Carol?

Can someone do a terrible thing for the right reason, or does performing terrible actions make someone become a terrible person? Like, say, in a vain attempt to prevent an outbreak of fatal zombie flu, what if you kill two innocent people and burn their bodies using precious gasoline? I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Carol is a terrible woman; she’s just a survivor. She’s been victimised enough and helpless enough that when she sees something that she thinks the group needs done, she does it. From ignoring Rick’s directive to ensure the flow of clean water to teaching children how to knife fight and even killing two people in a misguided attempt to save people from a plague, I think Carol is doing what she thinks is right, even if it’s morally wrong to Tyreese.

Kudos go out to Melissa McBride for the performance she puts in today. It hits all the right notes to make the character still likable, even knowing what she did to Teen Wolf‘s mom. There’s a layer of remorse in her interactions with Tyreese, and the right amount of defiance in her interactions with Rick. She’s become one of the show’s better performers, and her character must be striking a note with the writing staff, because Robert Kirkman (who wrote this week’s episode) and company have given her a pretty plum character arc. Also worth pointing out is the great job Chad Coleman does as the group’s angry, pacifist conscience. It’s nice to see someone going through the Rick crazy story arc and having a totally different reaction than Rick did, and Coleman was stellar in both his scenes with Rick and his scenes with Carol.

The script gets a little ponderous for its own good (uncomfortable hints at the second season’s moralising abound), but when it hits, it hits pretty strongly. Kirkman’s script hammers home certain points pretty strongly—everyone has a job to do, nobody should be weeping and crying—and then decides to hit those points a few more times, just for emphasis. The ideas are much more interesting than the execution within the dialogue.

Director Dan Sackheim has a pretty good history with other quality shows (The X-Files, House), and while he’s not the most dynamic director in the show’s lineup, he does a pretty solid job this week. There are a few spectacular gore scenes, and when it’s time to have humans get menaced by zombies, he does a good job of making it appropriately cluttered with walkers and tense. He telegraphs the episode’s big reveal a bit too much for my taste, but otherwise it’s a solid, entertaining episode with one really cool set piece.

I can only wonder what will happen to the prison crew when word gets out just what Carol’s done. We all know Rick at this point, and there’s no way Rick can keep any kind of a secret from anyone (even if he didn’t tell everyone about Carol’s story killing hour). She’s become an integral part of the community and it seems like Carol is one of the few characters capable of making really hard decisions in a really prompt way. After all, even Daryl’s urgent trip to the veterinary school pharmacy seems to require a whole lot of preparation.

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Trying to stop a potent strain of the flu requires quick action, even if it’s too little, too late. Say what you want to about Carol’s methods, but as we saw from the council meeting in this episode, there needs to be a place where the buck stops, and apparently Carol has decided that in the power vacuum, she’s going to become the new boss.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Infected, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is totally on board with Carol taking over as the new warden of this particular prison. Perhaps she needs a cool hat; maybe a psychopath Walter White bowler? Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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