That little bit of humor is just one of the many things that makes episode two, Bloodletting, a huge improvement over the extended season premiere**. After 90 shapeless minutes, the fact that Bloodletting has our heroes taking decisive action is incredibly welcome, as is the fact that there are some character moments sprinkled in. There are fewer scenes of gore and zombies this week, but I don’t care. I know this defies my gorehound roots, but I don’t tune into TV shows just to look at gross stuff - there’s an entire internet out there for that. I want a story and characters.
This episode opened with a flashback to the day Rick was shot; there have been too few flashbacks on the show, which is a weird complaint. If the show had always included flashbacks to before the zombie plague it might have felt like a rip-off of Lost, but at this point a few flashbacks help to set up character, story and thematic elements. The way that Lori has to tell her son that his father has been shot nicely echoes Lori being told that her son is shot.
The flashback also gives us a nice look at the Lori and Shane chemistry; added to that is the scene where Shane tells Rick how brave she was while he was in a coma, which helps us see that Shane isn’t just the rapey guy but that he actually has feelings for Lori. Why he has those feelings remains a mystery, as Lori has been presented as unrelentingly awful on the show - from her first scene telling a friend she’s not sure if she loves Rick anymore to the scene where she’s giving new guy Herschel shit because he’s a vet and not the perfect surgeon she wants, Lori is insufferable.
And Shane! How is anybody NOT on Team Shane at this point. He lovingly cleans the blood off Rick's face. He gives Rick exactly the pep talk he needs. He deals with his own pain over little Carl’s shooting in a quiet, subdued way that is all about taking necessary actions. And his line, ‘This has turned out to be a pretty strange day’ (paraphrased) is a wonderful bit of understatement but also a nice commentary on how weird daily life in the zombie apocalypse is.
Then he gets to the high school and is totally cool and in charge, even if he didn’t quite think about his exit strategy from that trailer. But hey, that makes him no worse than a number of American presidents, right?
Meanwhile good old T-Dog actually gets a couple of minutes to talk about his feelings and stuff, even if it does take a raging fever to get it out of him. I can’t imagine T-Dog is long for this world - when he went on about being the only black guy he forgot to mention that white people have much better life spans in situations like this.
One complaint I do have is that T-Dog’s fears of lynching are so unfounded that they could be read as the show criticizing folks who talk about racism in the modern world. The only racism T-Dog is encountering is the fact that his creator endowed him with such a 1990’s B-Boy movie name. I like the fact that the crew is mostly post-racial in their attitudes; while I know ingrained prejudices die hard, I think a zombie apocalypse is just the thing to burn irrational hatred out of us. It might be interesting to see a scenario where the show deals with the realities of racism, ie the idea that someone in the group could be racist but explain away their fondness for T-Dog by saying he’s ‘one of the good ones.’ This is the Archie Bunker Syndrome.
While not a complaint, I do have one note of caution: while I like the way that Daryl is turning into this show’s Sawyer, I am concerned he might turn into nothing more than comedic relief. His rough edges have been all but sanded off in the last few episodes, culminating in Daryl declaring himself the only ‘zen’ one in the group this week. That’s funny, and I was thankful for it, but I hope that Daryl gets more to do than be a reliable zombie killer and one liner dispensing machine.
I was left hugely dissatisfied by the shaggy, boring season premiere, but Bloodletting gave me some hope. There was a tightness in this episode missing from the last, and each little storyline had its own point and direction. There were fewer moments of aimless wandering, and most of the characters are acting like a fog has been lifted from their brain; nobody did anything egregiously dumb this week (although Lori was egregiously obnoxious. But that’s just in character, I guess).
I’m especially excited to get to know the new characters on Herschel’s farm. I know where this storyline goes in the comics, but the show has so far proven very willing to spin existing plots in new directions. I’ve been growing steadily irritated with some of the side characters (remember when Glenn used to do ANYTHING at all?), so new blood is very, very needed. Let’s hope the show is as willing to replace characters as Robert Kirkman’s comic has been.
* Also nice: the humorous reference to fellow AMC show (and excellent user of humor), Breaking Bad, when Daryl pulls out Walter White’s signature blue meth.
** For those keeping track at home, the 90 minute season premiere was actually TWO episodes, so Bloodletting was scheduled to be third this season. I’m not sure I would have made it through to episode three.