This review contains spoilers.
If you had told me in season two that some of the best episodes of The Walking Dead would prominently feature Carol and Beth, I would have thought you were a crazy person. After all, three seasons ago, Beth was cutting her wrists and lurking in the background of scenes like a ghostly-white female T-Dog, and Carol was pretty much waiting to be killed off in a cast change. How much things change in the course of a couple of seasons. Beth hasn’t quite become a Carol, but she’s become a useful member of the ensemble, thanks to Emily Kinney’s singing voice and her chemistry with Norman Reedus in the excellent Still and Carol has pretty much been the MVP of both season 4 and season 5.
That said, Beth has some serious work to do in order to carry an episode all by herself. Since she went missing at the end of last season, the only lead we’ve gotten is last week’s cross car, which Carol and Daryl go chasing after. We know they’ll eventually find Beth, but we don’t know just how long that might take or where Beth has been. Turns out, like the rest of the gang, she hasn’t gotten too far from home; she’s back in Atlanta. Injured and woozy, Beth wakes up in a hospital where, as she finds out, everything has a price.
From the very beginning of the episode, it’s pretty clear why Beth was rescued, and it seems like it’s pretty clear to Beth why she was rescued, too. All the talk of prices and wagers and payment arrangement… in the brutal world of The Walking Dead, Beth obviously hasn’t been kidnapped solely to mop floors and dump bodies, though she does prove herself to be an able nurse when given nursing to do. It’s pretty clear that Beth is there to be an object for the male cops to toy with, and the ersatz leader Officer Dawn Lerner (Christine Woods) is willing to look the other way to keep things safe and secure around the hospital. Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Alexander (Cullen Moss) is clearly willing to swallow his distaste for the things going on around him in exchange for keeping his own hide intact, in spite of his kindness towards Beth. Meanwhile, Noah (Tyler James Williams) is there to show her the ropes, so to speak.
It’s not subtle, but it works very well because Emily Kinney is a perfect actress to put into a fairy tale story. Beth is surrounded on all sides by monsters of various types, and poor, sweet Beth is just doing her best to keep her head down and keep going with her dignity and presumed virginity intact. She’s pretty and vulnerable, but there’s steel beneath the velvet, like all good fairy tale heroines. When she’s given stuff to do, Emily Kinney can be surprisingly effective; she’s the glue that holds this episode together, and that’s quite an achievement.
She’s helped quite a bit by the situation crafted for her by writers Channing Powell and Matthew Negrete. No, it’s not particulary subtle, but The Walking Dead isn’t good at being subtle. Officer Gorman is just a straight-up sexual predator from the very beginning, and the characters with more nuance, particularly Dr. Michael and Dawn, are rendered a little bit better, though they’re still pretty stock characters. Michael’s defensiveness about his own situation makes a whole lot of sense, as does Dawn’s unwillingness to clamp down hard on her underlings. There’s a lot of fear to both of them, and it’s pretty reasonable fear considering they’d both be easily discarded were they not important to the compound. Their feud, such as it is, has a little extra weight given they’re both in the same situation—rats on a sinking ship, or the last two guards in an asylum turned savage and desperate.
Director Michael E. Satrazemis makes great use of the open spaces of the hospital, like long corridors with sun streaming through the windows. He’s also able to build up a lot of suspense during the episode, just using shadows and light (and one amputee-woman-turned-zombie played by Keisha Castle-Hughes). The elevator escape is simple, but very effective, as is the body chute/elevator shaft/zombie basement escape. The strobe effect—and exploding heads—is a lot of fun, as is the ringing sound to replicate the loss of hearing that comes with firing a gun in a concrete tomb. Even the use of slow-motion works, and that’s typically an effect I’m not a huge fan of.
Another group of survivors, another group of people willing to submit to terrible things (or do terrible things) to survive with some twisted version of morals intact. Everyone contributes, everyone eats, everyone survives… and everyone pays. Consider the hospital versus Terminus; both ways of living are pretty terrible to those not in power, but which is worse to potential outsiders? It’s kind of a push, to me. One side will eat you if you don’t go along, and the other side will let you die unless they can use you in some horrible way or another.
No doubt that’s this year’s theme, but to use Beth in such an environment works way better than expected. Wonderfully, it looks like we won’t be lingering too much in this particular environment, either. After all, we’ve got another group we can follow next week, then return to Rick and the gang, and so on. There’s plenty of ground to cover, and plenty of time in which to cover it… so long as we don’t get bogged down again.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is not going to reveal the crazy twist at the end of the episode, but man, what a crazy twist. Fingers crossed it all works out in a good way, not a bad way. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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