Nov 21, 2019
WALKING DEAD: Torture Is Good, Government Is Bad
We open on a guy who is trying waaaay too hard to be Idris Elba. He’s impeccably dressed. His voice is suave and commanding. Everything about him screams “cool” so loudly you almost can’t hear what he’s saying.
What he’s saying is, “I am a closer.” Okay, great, somebody get him some coffee. He claims he can sell anything but insurance, because only total dickless girly-men buy insurance. He then launches into an extremely sexist rant against trying to protect your wife and kids with a piece of paper, so we can only assume Mutual of Omaha isn’t a big advertiser on the show.
His little speech is some truly bizarre bullshit, but it does the job: reducing Doug, who was having some mild anxiety issues about the whole zombie apocalypse thing last episode, into a cartoonishly weeping and wailing puddle on the floor. Why would he do that? Shits and giggles, apparently. Mr. Cool just wanted to watch Doug fall apart. Cool guys are like that, you know.
Mr. Cool and Doug are both prisoners in a small chain-link cell in a giant room filled with hundreds of other cells. This is where the army is warehousing all the civilians they swept up last episode. Mr. Cool turns to his attention to the third person in the cell… recovering heroin addict Nick. “So then, who the hell are you?” he asks.
Back in the safe zone, barber’s daughter Ophelia is throwing bottles at a chain link fence, completely failing to intimidate the soldiers on the other side. She’s also shouting at the other civilians in the nearby houses, encouraging them to rise up against the soldiers. None of them appear to be impressed with her efforts either.
Eventually, one of the soldiers decides to arrest Ophelia out of boredom, but Ophelia’s soldier-boyfriend finally volunteers to go talk some sense into her instead. After all, she just wants to know where they took her poor, injured mother. Some random soldier in the background is moved by Ophelia’s plight and announces he’s going AWOL, which, pro tip, you’re less likely to be successful at if you announce it.
At home, other son Chris demands to know what Dad’s plan is. Dad answers by recapping last episode in case anyone missed it, which is totally my job, dude, back off. Chris storms off in a huff, which finally motivates Dad to announce that he’s off to retrieve his ex-wife. “And Nick,” adds Mom with a glare.
Ex-wife is stitching up a patient at the makeshift military hospital. The sexy government doctor comes up behind her to tell her what a good job she’s doing, but Ex-wife immediately launches into a litany of demands: I wanna talk to my son, take me to Ophelia’s mom, what happened to all the other nurses… Pfft, ex-wives, amirite? Actually, all of these questions are totally legitimate, of course, but the government doc blows her off anyway, exactly like no one outside of a TV melodrama would ever do.
Back home, Mom is in… Alicia’s bedroom, I assume? And she discovers… the mysterious note Alicia found last week, I think? Which leads her… to her zombie neighbor Susan’s empty house, maybe? It’s not really clear why Mom heads off to explore the dark, scary basement of wherever it is she goes, but it also doesn’t matter. What’s important is that she walks in on Mr. Barber and his daughter Ophelia, and they’ve got her soldier-boyfriend tied to a chair.
“What is this?” she asks. “Some sort of kinky Game of Thrones shit?”
“Ew, no,” says Mr. Barber. “This is how we bring my wife and your son home.”
We head to commercial… and when we get back, Mom and Ophelia have inexplicably switched roles. Let’s see if the audience notices. Ophelia is now the one freaking out about kidnapping a low-level, know-nothing soldier. “He didn’t have anything to do with it!” she insists.
Mr. Barber puts Mom in charge of keeping Ophelia in line and out of the way, and Mom is totally cool with that. They leave him alone in the basement with soldier-boy.
Dad, apparently having taken a three-hour detour, finally arrives to talk to the military about his Ex-wife (and Nick). The head soldier says he can’t concern himself with “civvie problems,” such as people wondering where he’s abducted their loved ones to and if they’ll ever come back. After all, he’s got morale problems to deal with. His soldiers have been up 50 hours straight. Civilians don’t abduct themselves, you know.
But Dad turns out to be more convincing than you’d have any reason to expect. Hinting that a riot just might be eminent, Dad talks the head soldier into rounding up a few of his lackeys and taking him on a tour of the medical facility.
In the basement, soldier-boy is singing like a canary. The medical facility is two miles away. He’ll draw a map. Heck, they can carpool. Mr. Barber pretty much ignores him, calmly inspecting his straight-edge razors. (Although how he got his barber shop equipment here is beyond me.)
Outside the safe zone, Dad, the head soldier, and a couple of grunts are cruising down the street in an armored Humvee. They spot a zombie, so they pull over and everyone gets out. One soldier sets up a sniper’s rifle and aims it. But head soldier wants Dad to pull the trigger.
This is obviously what the whole trip to the hospital is really about. Head soldier gives a stirring speech about how zombies aren’t human, how the soldiers aren’t murderers, how they’re the good guys, and how Dad needs to accept the new reality.
Dad seems to get it. He steps up to the rifle. He looks through the scope. He puts his finger on the trigger. But then he can read the zombie’s name tag, and he can’t go through with it. He steps away, and the head soldier takes the shot.
And thus we wrap up a genuinely emotional and compelling scene, perhaps the first of the series. A clash of mindsets, neither of which is 100% right or wrong, leads to an internal struggle for one of the characters. More like this, please.
Cut to the hospital. A wounded soldier is brought in, and government doc discovers he has bite marks. She knows exactly what that means, so the soldier is wheeled away never to be seen again. End of scene. Oh goody, we’re back to be pointless banality we’re used to.
Back in the Humvee, the soldiers once again get sidetracked from their trip to the hospital. This time, they’re diverted to an active combat site with a shitload of zombies. But don’t worry, we get to stick around with Dad alone in the back of the Humvee rather than following the soldiers into battle. Dad listens to screams and static on the Humvee’s walkie-talkie, although why the soldiers are bothering to broadcast their screams over the walkie-talkie when they don’t otherwise seem to be using it for actual communication during the battle is an open question.
In the basement, Mr. Barber’s arms are covered in blood. He’s waxing nostalgic about his days as a torturer during the El Salvador civil war, although he does eventual remember to ask a question. “What’s ‘Cobalt?’” he says. He’s heard the code word enough over the military’s walkie-talkies to know it’s important. Soldier-boy doesn’t answer, so it’s back to the torture. The really painful stuff this time, Mr. Barber assures us. We even get to see a bit of gore to assure us he means it.
Say, anybody curious what’s happening with Alicia? When last we saw her, she was narrating creepy notes to her dead boyfriend and getting all poetic about God in a junior high goth sort of way. There was even some hope she might be turning eeeeeeeeeevil.
Well, you can just hit pause on all that. This week, she has nothing better to do than hang out with Chris and try to cheer him up by raiding a rich neighbor’s house. Eventually, they start smashing shit just for the fun of it. It’s painfully superfluous and exists only to give her something to do this episode.
Mr. Cool and Nick are chilling in their chain-link cell. Soldiers come around and take everyone’s temperature, and Nick has a slight fever. That’s good enough for the soldiers to want to haul him away, but Mr. Cool proposes a “transaction” instead. “Let me have the boy,” he says, and he offers up a pair of fancy cufflinks in exchange. Seriously? What the f&%k is the soldier supposed to do with cufflinks? But apparently this particular soldier has a black-tie soiree tonight after K.P. duty, because he accepts.
Back at the Humvee, the two grunts return rather urgently. The head soldier isn’t with them and he ain’t coming back, they say. They declare themselves done with the army and ready to skip town, but they’ll drop Dad back off at the safe zone on their way out. Got a few bucks for gas money?
Torture time is over, and Mr. Barber returns to the house. Ophelia sees his bloody arms and flees. Mr. Barber tries to unburden his soul to Mom, but she’s got more practical things on her mind. “Did he tell us what we need to know?” she asks.
Of course it did! This is TV, where torture always works! The victim always knows something so spectacularly evil that it justifies the heroic torturer’s actions, and the heroic torturer always knows exactly when the victim has told the truth.
But the big reveal will have to wait a few more minutes. Meanwhile, Ex-wife is secretly exploring the medical facility and comes across the giant room of chain-link cells. She basically shrugs it off and continues to her search. Finally, she discovers what she’s looking for… Mrs. Barber. The government doc shows up at exactly this moment and tells Ex-wife that Mrs. Barber is about to die from septic shock.
Dad arrives at the house to find Ophelia distraught in the front yard. He barges inside and demands to know if Mom knew what Mr. Barber was planning to do to soldier-boy. The look on her face says yes, but her lips say nothing.
Cut to the basement. Mr. Barber is back, and soldier-boy is babbling about locking thousands of still-living people in some sort of gymnasium or arena after a deadly stampede for the exits created a chain reaction of zombies. Dad slams open the basement door, ready to rescue soldier-boy, but Mr. Barber is unperturbed. He simply instructs soldier-boy to tell Dad all about “Cobalt.”
Cobalt is the name of a secret military operation that happens tomorrow morning. It seems the soldiers are going to humanely execute the entire civilian population of the safe zone, then abandon the region.
Yeah, it’s laughably evil and stupid plan on its face.
If this was a better, braver, more interesting show, the entire Operation Cobalt thing would turn out to be total bullshit that soldier-boy made up to get Mr. Barber to stop torturing him, because clearly Mr. Barber wasn’t going to be content until soldier-boy admitted to supervillain levels of evil.
Back in his cell, Nick is barfing. Mr. Cool is, well, cool with it. The barf masks the smell of urine, he says. Then he launches into yet another monologue about how “The game has changed. We return to the old rules.” Mr. Cool has clearly been waiting his entire life for civilization to collapse and finally justify what a total asshole he is. He compliments Nick on being a heroin addict, the highest level of the addiction game. For some reason, this makes Nick valuable. “I’m going to require a man with your talents when I make my move,” says Mr. Cool… and reveals he’s holding a key.
Nope. As always, the show continues blindly stumbling on past it’s dramatic beats. Instead, we return to Chris and Alicia, who are walking home after curfew, confused why the soldiers in their Humvees aren’t bothering to arrest them. And that’s that whole scene.
We never get to see Alicia return to her pseudo-religious goth girl ramblings, so Mrs. Barber feels the need to pick up the slack. She’s rambling in Spanish about seeing the true face of El Diablo. And then she’s dead. The government doc picks up one of those No Country for Old Men cattle-killing guns to make sure Mrs. Barber doesn’t rise up again. Ex-wife takes it from her… then pulls the trigger herself. Does the show recognize the parallel with Dad’s refusal to pull the trigger earlier? Apparently not. Wasted opportunity.
But the show’s still not over.
Mr. Barber is alone, staring at the door of an unknown building. From the noises and rattling, it’s clear there are hundreds, if not thousands, of zombies trapped inside. It’s the arena soldier-boy was talking about earlier. Is this Mr. Barber’s master plan to stop Operation Cobalt?
And now, finally, credits.
Join us right here next week for the Season 1 finale!
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