The Walking Dead Recap: “Strangers” (Season 5, Episode 2)

Together again at last. But how long will it last? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

My copy of last week’s season premiere was missing a crucial post-credits element: a masked man on the tracks follows an X carved into a tree just after Rick and crew pass; he takes off the mask to better see his surroundings, and it’s none other than Morgan. A blast form the past, looking considerably less nuts than last time we saw him. So far in season five, it appears everything’s coming full circle.

In this week’s edition, our newly reunited crew of misfits look on from a “safe” distance as the fire burns at Terminus; billowing smoke fills the sky. From the opening moments, the pacing feels a little off. The cameraman trains his focus on the Good Guys as they walk – always walking – and then slows everything down. While this could be used to indicate the repetiveness, the monotony, of their lives on the road, it’s not terribly effective. Tara’s breasts bounce in slow-mo, and the expression we’ve all come to associate with Rick, his stone-faced, hollow-eyed stare, carries our crew forward through the woods. Exciting it is not.

The opening minutes of the episode feature people talking and not talking; they’re not yet revealing the things hidden beneath the surface. Tara hasn’t told Maggie she was with the Governor at the prison, and it’s eating away at her. Rick admits he shouldn’t have banished Carol “to this,” and now they’re joining her in it. Carol gives a tiny smile and nod at his genuine apology and gratitude. She saved their lives, and her actions have redeemed her…to everyone but herself, it seems.

Tyreese, who now considers Carol an ally and confidante despite what she did to his lover, tells them he’ll talk to the crew and make sure everyone accepts her. “They don’t have to,” says Carol. But Tyreese insists they do have to accept her. Unity is important, understanding and respect even moreso, in the new world. However, he doesn’t want to tell anyone about the girls – about what happened to Lizzie and Mika. “I just need to forget it,” he sighs.

Carol repeats this assertion to Daryl as they stand watch in the night. He’s eyeing her, waiting for her to speak. “I can’t. I just need to forget,” she tells him. Daryl hears something (or feels it), and leaps to his feet to check it out. Even though his skin is crawling, he decides it’s nothing – but a silhouette passes in the darkness.

On the road the next morning, Bob and Sasha play a word game: she names off the hardships of their new lives, and Bob counters with the sunny side of it. “No privacy,” Sasha says with a sly grin, and Bob replies, “A captive audience!” and kisses her. Bob’s constant optimism is getting threadbare, though. He was only a minor part of the last season, but we know from his early behavior – from the way he risked everyone’s lives in order to chug some booze – that he’s no angel despite what he portrays to everybody else.

Jesus can't help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Jesus can’t help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Suddenly, screams for help pour from the woods. The crew follows them at Carl’s insistence and saves a priest, perched on a boulder surrounded by walkers. The last time we caught sight of any religious iconography was before Beth disappeared, and that’s no coincidence. The priest’s name is Gabriel, and he vomits everywhere to show his gratitude. After checking him for weapons (despite Gabriel’s protests that “the word of God is the only protection I need,” to which Daryl murmurs, “Sure didn’t look like it”) Rick asks him the three key questions:

“How many walkers have you killed?” None.
“How many humans have you killed?” None.
“Why?” “Because the Lord abhors violence.” Read more

The Walking Dead Recap: “No Sanctuary” (Season 5, Episode 1)

In the season opener, we get all the epic portraits of our badass characters. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The Walking Dead has never really been about the dead. It’s about the living, and the myriad ways in which people adapt (or don’t) to a new world order, one that thrives on chaos and death. Even the credits in season five reflect the new world; candles dribble wax and axes drip blood, buildings crumble under nature’s influence, crows light in trees waiting for corpses to rot. There’s no nostalgia for the past here, no remaining love for order and beauty. As a wise person utters in this episode, “It’s time to return to our regularly scheduled shitstorm.”

The opening sequence of the season five opener calls to mind a haunting statement from the final episode of season four: “The more people become part of us, the stronger we get.” In a flashback, Gareth (whose name I apparently spelled incorrectly last season) and Mary, trapped inside the cargo container and flickering in dying candlelight, desperately ask themselves what they are now – who they’re becoming. As in season four, nobody really knows who they are in this post-apocalyptic mess, and as people flail, scrabble to get a grip on normalcy, things get messy.

Back in the present, our band of increasingly morally ambiguous outlaws prepares to fight its way out of the shipping container. They’re ready to go out swinging, but aren’t prepared for a smoke bomb dropped through the roof. It incapacitates them just enough to allow the cannibals to bind and carry Rick, Glenn, Bob, and Daryl to the killing trough, along with four others who don’t belong to us. As the eight men kneel, prone, in front of the metal trough, burly men in plastic raincoats first knock them unconscious, then slit their throats, gushing blood into the trough. First one, then the next, creeping ever closer to Glenn. The viscous fluid pools around the drain as our quad of men watches, helpless. Just as the butcher reels back to take a mighty swing at Glenn’s head, Gareth shows up to ask for their shot count. “I’m sorry, it was my first roundup!” the second butcher says, distracting everyone for long enough to save Glenn’s life. In the midst of chaos, it is in fact bureaucracy, red tape, a “required quota” that saves our protagonists.

This fucking guy. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

This fucking guy. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Bob tries to talk Gareth down – he’s the nice one. Rick, on the other hand, eyes him with utter rage and contempt. Gareth is after the bag of guns they stashed in the woods, and as he holds a wickedly sharp knife a millimeter from Bob’s eye, Rick gives him the info he needs. It contains some AK-47s, an arsenal of other weapons, and a machete with a red handle. “That’s what I’m gonna use to kill you,” he tells Gareth – and you know what? I wouldn’t fuck with Rick at this point. The man is hardened and he’s not kidding.

And suddenly, the world explodes. Read more

In Transition

Back in July, I decided to use my newly acquired professional certification to start searching for jobs elsewhere. I applied for jobs throughout Virginia, North Carolina, California, and various other places. (When I’m angry, I get shit done.) Within a few weeks of sending applications, universities throughout Virginia were asking to interview me. It was a bit of a slap in the face – to be professionally valued is unfamiliar to me. I interviewed at Virginia Commonwealth University on the way to the Outer Banks to camp with friends by myself, and within a week they offered me a position.

A month later (and one week ago yesterday), I moved away from Harrisonburg, which is where I’ve spent much of my adult life, to Richmond, Virginia. Honestly, almost everything has fallen into place perfectly. We found an apartment right away. We were able to schedule the POD knockoff so that I had a few days off work to pack, move, and unpack. A few days wasn’t enough, but you know.

On top of this, in August my partner in crime was injured (I saw bone) while we were hiking only four days after his car broke completely. So here I am in Richmond, on day four of a new job, trying (successfully, I must say…but that’s because I’m not driving much) to be a one-car family while the gent searches for a job and a new automobile.

I’m now in day four of a new job, and it’s bizarre: I feel like I know what I’m doing, and like other people KNOW I know what I’m doing. How has it taken eight years since college to get to this point? Oooohhh, right. Liberal arts major. And no, I don’t want to talk about what I’m doing. It doesn’t make for a catchy soundbite, but it pays the bills.

Needless to say, I’ve fallen behind on my writing. I feel it every day, but I’m exhausted mentally and emotionally. American Horror Story started yesterday, and The Walking Dead begins on Sunday. I’m genuinely hoping to write recaps, if not weekly then at least occasionally. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll be dragging the dude to see Gone Girl with me. I’m stoked for a bunch of other movies this fall. Frankly, though, my musings on media have fallen by the wayside in this transition – which is a close second, in terms of upheaval, to moving out to Virginia in the back of a friend’s pickup during the recession with no job and two cats. I don’t want to lose the writing part of me, the part that takes pleasure in analysis and media, and I don’t intend to; my break may just be longer than I’d hoped.

In other news, this is the view from the park a block away from my new apartment.

From Jefferson Park, the city looks calm. You can see the building where I work in the right of the frame.

From Jefferson Park, the city looks calm. You can see the building where I work in the right of the frame.

You guys, I feel like such a grownup right now. It’s really disconcerting. A little bit sad. But mostly exciting.

SSDD

I have been redirecting my mental efforts toward what has become an actual, viable career path for me. That has proven far, far less fruitful than I hoped. I need to turn back to writing, and frankly I don’t know how well that will go since I’m no good at the SEO, clickbait-headlines, algorithmic nonsense.

I turn 30 years old on Wednesday. I will have been in Virginia for five years on Thursday. I’ve been really trying, mostly successfully, not to lose it, to remember to reset benchmarks, to give myself credit for the progress I’ve made. But there was some bad news yesterday and some more today, and I’m teetering on the edge. I need to thoroughly examine where I am vs. where I want to be – and walk the fine line between self-preservation and selfishness.

A friend once told me I “don’t fuck around with excellence.” I guess that’s true, but I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of messing around recently. I call this “flailing.” “Shadowboxing,” perhaps, if I want to give myself more credit.

Things are going to change, one way or another. Part of that change may be taking a break from social media. Part of it may be kicking a job search into high gear and actually trying to leave, the way I’ve been saying I would for…five years.

Anyway, thirty is going to be a year I don’t fuck around with excellence.

More to come, perhaps, in the coming months.

The Personal is Political: Speaking about media and feminism while female

I wrote professionally for the online magazine California Literary Review for four years. My piece defending Hit Girl garnered something like 90,000 views. It (and some of my others) got some nasty, threatening comments – but you can’t see them anymore since my editor wisely deleted them. When CLR closed down, I began writing for PolicyMic. My first few pieces at the publication for millenials were about Mad Men (my forte) and Game of Thrones (with which I am nerdily, happily familiar – and about which I have very strong opinions). 

Silenced: Woman with Duct Tape

See bottom of post for more. Image courtesy Reductress.

I haven’t logged on to PolicyMic in eight months (until just now) because I was left so fatigued by the number of people calling me a terrible person, telling me I should just give up, that I’m obviously not invested, nor do I know a thing about Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or media criticism in general. I was completely beaten down by the number of people who think sexism in media is plainly not worth having a conversation about. It’s just a thing, and we should just deal with it. And that was a monitored forum.

re: the hopelessness of media, and why I should stop talking about it:

Could anyone in this discussion actually come up with an entertaining story line that would attract an audience globally with high ratings that did not portray sexist views of either sex and that did not objectify beauty and muddy the gain of power?

re: my comment that the casting directors didn’t portray Brienne with the kind of hideous features about which Martin writes (the hideousness that excepts Brienne from my argument – women in the canon are measured by and utilize their fuckability):

I don’t think Gwendolyne Christie is gorgeous. [Ed. This is not about your dick, dude.] 

re: not expecting more from my television:

you shouldn’t expect period pieces to reflect something antithetical to the period.

re: why I should just shut up:

It seems like you’re just looking to complain about women’s issues for no good reason other than to complain.

Point: completely, 100% missed. I’m not saying you have no right to disagree; I was, at the time, asking that people listen and consider. And I was repeatedly shot down for speaking at all. This is not to denounce the commenters on PolicyMic, who all things considered are a thoughtful, respectful bunch. But you know, not all commenters. 

Gwendoline Christie

Totally hideous. Image courtesy With An Accent.

I’ve never been super active on Twitter, for which, in circumstances like this, I’m grateful. The #YesAllWomen hashtag that appeared last weekend in the wake of the UCSB shootings took a collective fist, thrust through my ribs, and grabbed me right in the heart bits. Then it squoze. (Yeah, makin’ up words. How I do.) Not because I want to complain about women’s issues just to complain, but that I have been these women.

Two very close friends of mine were assaulted in high school and college, resulting in permanent psychological (and physical) damage. The authorities were no help. An old friend’s parents wouldn’t let her walk across campus at night for fear she would get raped (which evinces an ignorance regarding stranger danger). Even as I knew this was logically fallible – that the likelihood of some guy jumping out of the bushes and raping her because she was “pretty” – it affected me as a vulnerable 16-year-old, placing in my developing brain an insidious fear of moving independently that I had trouble shaking. I have known practically from birth that I can’t leave a drink unattended in a bar. I have, without really thinking about it, developed a set of responses to and avoidance methods for harassment (i.e. if they’re in a car and yell obscenities, I flip them off and find the nearest crowd; if they’re next to me on the sidewalk I ignore completely – which often means getting called bitch, whore, cunt; if I’m in the underpopulated country by myself, I don’t get out of the car much). I’ve been cruelly ostracized by both men and women for refusing men and for not refusing men. I carry my keys in my knuckles when I walk alone, and I know to knee the groin and then stomp the foot for maximum pain. But hey, you’ve seen all of these things on #YesAllWomen, right?

So why is it that, when I try talking to men I know and love, men I know love and respect women, their first responses are to dismiss, to say things like, “I don’t have the energy for that” or “what the fuck does hashtag activism even mean?” “You like to wallow in this stuff” and “I have never seen these things happen, but if I did…” And maybe worst of all, to say, “not all men are like that.”

Point: completely missed

This is in response to a brilliant piece over on Pop Tortes, one that links to both Arthur Chu’s nerd call to arms around the roles of women in media (particularly geek media) and Ann Hornaday’s much-lamented piece discussing the role of women in media (particularly Judd Apatow media). Look at the differences in response to two people making exactly the same point. Just. Look. You guys, this is why my Mad Men pieces have been so like book reports, containing little other than observations about the show’s story. I am a film critic; I devoted my education to feminist criticism. I care deeply about my friends, myself, my autonomy, and my freedom to speak and write. And I’ve been unwilling to dive back into that sea because frankly, it depressed the everloving fuck out of me to be told repeatedly that I should just quit complaining. But look at what Hornaday endured; look what Zerlina Maxwell and Lindy West go through regularly. If you have a really thick skin, look what Erin Gloria Ryan witnessed as a fly on the wall for eight horrible, frightening hours in a pick-up artist forum. Speaking While Female is a dangerous prospect, emotionally and sometimes physically.

Peggy Olson tells it like it is.

Fuck yes, Peggy. Image courtesy HuffPo.

And hey, those of you who say that if you ever see this behavior, you’ll be valiant and try to stop it: THIS IS THE TIME. You see it. We are talking about it. Listen. Pay attention. Sympathize with your loved ones and don’t interrupt or speak over them. Realize that no one is accusing you, personally, of being a bad person who hates women. But realize just as the insidious fear lurking in the back of my mind as a result of my socialization is important to examine, that your own socialization is to be scrutinized and jostled and shaken up. And please realize that telling people it isn’t worth the conversation is making you part of the problem.

No, I won’t stop complaining, and no, I won’t stop Speaking While Female. I’m on hiatus right now for personal reasons. I was unable to be calm and reasoned about the UCSB shootings and #YesAllWomen earlier in the week, and this is me trying to remedy that. Anger is appropriate, and focused anger can get things done. More important than being angry, perhaps, is making sure we’re having the conversation. All of us. All the time. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.

 

P.S. I just Googled “woman with duct tape” because I’m lazy and wanted a simple, effective image on this post. You want more evidence we’ve got problems? Check it out.