TV Talk: THE WALKING DEAD 3.12: “Clear”

Why the best episode of the show in years is making Devin think of quitting.

This week’s episode of The Walking Dead may have been the best episode since the pilot, and it may represent the best that this show can be.

Which is why I’m thinking of quitting.

This isn’t a case of wanting to go out on a high point; my relationship with The Walking Dead is so muddled that it just doesn’t matter. This is more of a case of understanding that if even the best the show can do leaves me essentially unsatisfied, this may never be a show for me.

Clear finally brought back Morgan, the guy Rick met way back in the very first episode. It brought Rick and Carl back to their hometown. It was all an attempt to show us just how much everything and everybody had changed, and it worked. It worked well enough to make me realize (again) that I don’t really like any of these people.

The confrontation between Morgan and Rick - once they represented a kind of sanity for each other, and now both are mad - was well done but also exhausting in that particularly grim The Walking Dead way. I believe this show has now fully proven to us that life in the zombie apocalypse is hard and terrible, and I no longer know what’s to be gained from hammering that home. I’m hoping that seeing Morgan crazy, and having Michonne give him some comfort about his own craziness, will help Rick rebound; that the rest of the season will be an upward trend for him, because I couldn't be any less interested in seeing him keep falling apart.

It was nice seeing Carl and Michonne bond a little bit as well. This was the first episode where my reaction to Michonne wasn’t simply seething annoyance, so that’s a big step forward. And the episode had about the closest thing I can remember to a joke on an episode of The Walking Dead - Michonne grabbing some ugly cat statue out of a restaurant full of walkers.

All of this was well done, by the standards of the show. The episode worked because it was a smaller group and they were engaged in a mission that allowed each of them to have a goal beyond just surviving to the end of the episode - Carl wanted a picture of Lori to give the baby, Rick wanted to make things right with Morgan, and Michonne seemed to finally understand that she needs to actually get along with these people if she hopes to stay with them. And the zombie business was handled well, without being too intrusive in the general storyline.

But what’s the point? I don’t feel like all the sadness and madness and ugliness is in the service of anything bigger. I don’t see any deep insights into the human condition on this show, I don’t see any thematic elements that speak to me about who we are or what we do. I have to give the show a lot of credit for being one of the most uniquely bleak pop culture things EVER, but that bleakness no longer feels like a statement and more like a pose.

This was the best episode of the series since the pilot, and yet I didn’t feel like it told me anything. I disliked Michonne a bit less than usual this episode, but otherwise it felt like the usual grimdark, just done really well. Even the bit with the hitchhiker didn’t surprise me or leave me shocked - this show would clearly consider it a betrayal of its core values to feature any sort of basic human kindness.

I’m not one of those guys who needs uplift in my entertainment. I like when stuff gets really brutal. I like when the good guys lose. I like when all the characters are kind of assholes. But I like when there’s some meaning behind all of that. I like when that comes from a cynical place, from a creator who is saying something really pessimistic about humanity. The Walking Dead isn’t saying anything profound, it’s just acting like a 14 year old goth, reminding us how dark it is.

So here’s my final decision: I’ll stick the show out through the end of the season. I think that Glenn Mazzarra, who was recently bounced from the show, at least has made it entertaining to watch - a huge step up from the tedium of season two. But maybe that’s where I drop out, because I get it already: life sucks in the zombie apocalypse. I totally get it, The Walking Dead