TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
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In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
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Okay, so the title of this recap may prove to be divisive, and sure, Merle isn't exactly right about everything. Like, for instance, the racism and the sexism and I would say homophobia but there are no gays on this show, so. Regardless, I'm sure Merle is homophobic. Anyway — Merle isn't right about everything, but he knows an enemy when he sees one, and has survived this long by using his animalistic instincts to tear those enemies down. But now poor, brilliant Merle is stuck with the dumb dumb heads in the Grimes Gang led by King Dumb Dumb Head Rick Grimes, so no one will listen to him when he says they should just go in there, shoot the Governor, and be done with it. Sounds like a great plan, no? Quickly eliminate the terrorist who has already proven himself to be a brilliantly strategic sociopath who wants nothing more than to kill you and everyone you love?
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But this isn't Zero Dark Thirty and Jessica Chastain was eaten long ago, so logic and reason did not prevail during tonight's installment of The Walking Dead. Even Michonne thinks they can bargain with the Governor now, which may just be because she's finally trying to fit in, but still. Despite what Andrea the sudden optimist thinks, you can't reason with a hellbent-on-revenge sociopath, and now the Governor has the upper hand, again. Rick thinks that by turning in Michonne he can save his people, but everyone with one tenth of a brain (Merle) should realize that the Governor would ruthlessly murder everyone except maybe Baby Asskicker (whom he would raise as his own to replace the child Michonne/Walkers killed) if he caught the Grimes Gang pants down. Fight the dead, fear the living, you guys. At least Glenn and Maggie got some hot sexy time in before the end of days.
Most of the episode took place in and around the random shack where the two fearless leaders decided to meet. We had Rick and the Governor in the shack, and a really engaging B-plot outside of it. Hershel drove them over in the Grimes Hyundai, and we got a nice shot of him examining the knife attached to his stump in the driver's seat before he left the car. You guys, how great is Hyundai? Even when the world burns, even when your leg is nothing but a horrid shell of its former self, you can still drive a beautiful looking Hyundai through the wreckage. And somehow, someway, everything will be okay. That's what Hyundai does.
Hyundai also set the stage for some serious commentary on the state of modern warfare. While Rick Grimes and the Governor tiptoed around their assured mutual destruction (or, well, the destruction of those around them), Daryl and Hershel were standing outside, bonding with that Martinez everyone is talking about and Milton, respectively. Because that's what war is all about — petty squabbles between two leaders that end up needlessly ruining the lives of everyone around them. It's kind of like that scene in every war movie where the American guy gets stuck in the trench with the German guy and realizes — hey, this guy is just like me! Why the f**k are we fighting, again? But then he blows his brains out because A, kill or be killed, and B, this is an American movie so the Germans can't win.
But just like most of the Germans in that movie (the non-Nazi ones), when it comes down to it, the citizens of Woodbury aren't all that bad. That Martinez guy everyone keeps talking about (overrated) once had a wife and a family. Milton is just a big ol' nerd, and had they not been on opposing teams, him and Hershel probably would have been good buds. It just shows, once again, the insanity of the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead — don't these people realize that strength comes in numbers? In a logical world, the Governor would realize that the capable fighters and young people with functioning reproductive organs could help turn Woodbury into a genuine second hope for society. Just like it was stupid for Rick to turn down Tyreese and his crew, it's stupid of the Governor to hate the Grimes Gang so much — but then again, Woodbury is more about his own ego than anything else.
Anyway, back to the show. Rick showed up to meeting HQ, and the Governor appeared from the darkness with his eyepatch and that s**t-eating grin he always sports because he knows that he's smarter than everyone else. So smart, in fact, that he knew Rick would disarm him, so he taped a gun to his side of the negotiation table. "We have a lot to talk about," he said. And talk they did. They talked about the weather, they talked about the Grimes Gang getting out of dodge before the Governor killed them, they talked about the Governor's past — heck, they even skimmed over what happened to Maggie! (Andrea, who was allowed in the room for approximately three minutes, did not enjoy this part. She will probably still have sex with him later.)
"We're here to move forward," the Governor proclaimed, with his signature southern charm and that stupid grin that somehow manages to feel like nails on a chalkboard sounds, if that makes sense. Rick proposed a relative truce with location boundaries, but the Gov then pissed off both Rick AND Andrea when he revealed (duh) that he was there for one thing and one thing only: Rick's surrender. He even brought whiskey, that's how confident he was in his mentally-torture-Rick-Grimes-skills — he could do it drunk. Burn!
Even though Rick is terrible at the art of war, he did come prepped with some of his best zingers. "You're the town drunk who knocked over my fence and ripped up my yard," Rick said. "Nothing more." But then the Governor hit below the belt, kind of literally, by bringing up Baby Asskicker's ambiguous parentage. So this round, again, goes to the Governor. The Governor continued to prove his brilliant, egotistical insanity when he gave his reasoning for wanting to slaughter the entire Grimes Gang: if he didn't, Woodbury would think he was weak, and everything would be destroyed. "This fight, it's a failure of leadership," said The Governor. Both men feel that they need the respect of their constituents to effectively "govern" (hah) their way to safety. I, for one, do not think that this is true. Maybe I'm being a little too Andrea right now, but I'm sure most of the folks at Woobury wouldn't mind a new friend or two, especially if one of those friends is Daryl.
But, I digress. The Governor got into some exposition, revealing — as we always suspected — that he was some low-level corporate schlub before the outbreak. What's worse, he was a low-level corporate schlub with a dead wife, because she died in a car crash on a day when he didn't return her call. The story was sad, but it was the Governor, so it's hard to care too much. While he was telling his epic sad tale Rick just sort of sat there silently, because what the f**k was he supposed to say? What do you say when your mortal enemy tells you a really sad story about his wife dying, when your wife just died too in an even more horrific fashion, and like, this is the apocalypse so everyone is dead? "Sorry, bro?" Rick said nothing, which was the wise move. I'm not sure why they included this scene.
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So, anyway — threat threat threat, meaningful Grimes stare meaningful Grimes stare meaningful Grimes stare. In the end, the Governor revealed that he only wanted one thing (I think his fingers were crossed under the table): Michonne. If Rick would deliver Michonne, he'd let the others live. He even removed his eye patch for dramatic emphasis. "Is she worth it?" Gov asked. "One woman, worth all those lives at your prison?" Rick seemed a bit flabbergasted at this request: "You've obviously got big plans," he said. "You'd waste it all on a two-bit vendetta? You could have a statue of yourself in the town square. Killin' Michonne is sorta beneath you." Then Rick just threw out some more meaningful stares, but he was clearly considering the Governor's offer. Stupid Rick Grimes. Didn't Morgan tell you that you should always clear?
After that, negotiations were over. The Governor walked into the sunset with Martinez, Milton, and (gag) Andrea, and Rick drove back to the prison in that beautiful, wonderful Hyundai. The Governor said he'd be back in the same place in two days, at noon. If Rick would bring Michonne, there wouldn't be a battle. Riiighhht.
While all of this was going on, we were treated to several scenes of the B-Team first arguing, then semi-bonding over their shared interests. For Hershel and Milton that meant science, for Daryl and Martinez, killing things. When Milton first showed up, Daryl snickered: "Great, he brought his Butler." Zing! But Martinez fired back with an even better one, referring to Daryl as Rick's henchman. I mean, it's true...
Anyway, as the two gents in the shack sorted things out, Milton revealed that he'd been keeping tabs on everything that happened everywhere, ever, since the outbreak, since his words would eventually become the boring history texts that future children would read, skimming over to the parts with the highlighted vocabulary terms. Hershel though this was a real swell idea. Then some Walkers came around, and Daryl and Martinez had this cute, badass, totally sexy kill-off. It was a draw, and thus respect was earned. They even called each other "pu**y" and "douchebag" as signs of mutual admiration. Our enemies — they're just like us!
These bonding scenes were pretty sad, because all four men knew that they might kill or be killed by their new buds. It's like the early scenes in The Hunger Games, when they make the kids train together. When Milton, for morbid curiosity/scientific purposes asked to see Hershel's stump, he reacted with mock disgust. "I just met you — at least buy me a drink first," he laughed. It was sweet. It was refreshing. It would be short-lived, because the two psychos running this show were mere feet away, plotting their destruction.
Andrea was outside too after "Philip" kicked her out, and she asked Hershel what had happened to Maggie. "He's a sick man," Hersh said. She looked crushed. "What am I going to do now?" she cried. "I can't go back there." Hershel gave her a VIP pass to re-join the Grimes Gang, but added that (duh) that once she went back with them, she could never return to Woodbury. Needless to say, she went back to Woodbury. The Governor must be insanely good in bed.
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Meanwhile, back at the prison...
Over in Cellblock C, Merle Dixon was having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. No one would listen to him! "What we should be doing is loading some of this firepower in a truck, and paying a visit to the Governor," Merle said. [Crickets.] "But we promised Rick we'd stay put!" exclaimed Michonne. "My Dad can take care of himself!" added Carl. Both of those statements were stupid. Merle tried to leave anyway, but Glenn version 2.0 stopped him. Glenn version 2.0 is super sexy, but still very wrong on this particular occasion. Him and Merle started scufflin', until Beth proved herself useful for once by shooting a single gunshot in the air. So dramatic, Beth! Now climb back into your cell and sit there silently for the rest of the episode. Thanks.
Merle tried to recruit Michonne for his mission, but she proved herself to be a tried and true member of the Grimes Gang by refusing. Then, hilariously, when asked why Merle had not succeeded in capturing her back when, Merle responded: "Must have been seduced by your sterling personality." Daryl is clearly the sexier of the Dixon brothers (by a long shot), but all of the humor in that family went straight to Merle.
At the end of the day, it was as suspected: The Governor told Martinez that, when Rick and co. would arrive in two days at noon, Martinez was to kill everyone but Michonne, so the Governor could enact his weird vengeance plot. "That's a slaughter!" Milton exclaimed in horror. The Governor pooh-poohed this immediately. "No way we can all live side-by-side," he said. Men (sigh). This was all very expected, but at least, hopefully, we'll get some traitorous deeds by Milton (or even Martinez?) over the whole thing. They didn't look too thrilled about the idea.
Rick, for his part, chose to put the fear of God in his batch of warriors: "I met this Governor. He wants the prison. He wants us gone, dead, for what we did to Woodbury. We're going to war." Alright, then. However, he then told Hershel a completely different story — one where he was considering trading Michonne for their supposed safety. Neither option is appetizing, but I could see why Rick would consider giving up the least friendly member of his tribe. Still — "I'm hoping you can talk me out of it," he said.
So, that's about it kids. Woodbury and the Grimes Gang are (still) at war, and Rick is considering killing Michonne. Something tells me that this is not going to happen. Oh, and Glenn and Maggie had sex. This wasn't very important to the overall theme of the episode, but it let us know that these two crazy kids are totally in love again. It was a sweet, steamy moment, but it raises some questions. Question 1 — are they using protection? You'd think, after knifing a baby out of Lori (and spending time with Carl), that Maggie would never want to have children, ever. Question 2 — since they're happy now, does that mean that one of them has to die in the finale?
Overall, another solid outing for The Walking Dead. I really hope new showrunner Scott Gimple takes some cues from his predecessor, because the second half of this season has been largely superb.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
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So, where would you rather be — stuck in Cell Block C with Carl and Hershel's smelly stump, or the dystopian postmodern Dharmaville set up by the Governor, his brainless gun thugs, and those creepy Stepford Wives? I never thought I'd choose hanging out with Carl over anything, ever, but after seeing aquariums stuffed with zombie-heads, I'm going to go with option A. At least it has Daryl.
Before we dive too deep into this madcap episode, I want to throw some theories out there: First, I think that the two plot lines are not running simultaneously, time-wise, and that it's still Merle watching the Grimes Gang from the prison yard. You could see from his conversations with the Gov that Merle still deeply loved (in his Merle way) and wanted to find his little brother, which seemed to be their main reason for keeping the ladies around. The other theory, and the other reason I think they want to keep Michonndrea around, is the 28 Days Later tactic — they want their fertile wombs. If that's the case, I think they picked the wrong girls.
One of the many, many reasons why Season 3 is infinitely better than its predecessors is that not only has it has cut out much of the soapy relationship mumbo-jumbo that populated 1 and 2, but it's added in the deeply human moral issues that would naturally accompany any zombie apocalypse — when normal human beings have to become killers overnight, their biggest issues usually won't be related to extramarital affairs. We've seen Rick grappling with the moral ambiguities of human-on-human violence, and whether killing other men makes him a bad person. (One of the only Rick-Lori dialogues I've ever truly enjoyed was during last week's episode, where she assured him that he was still a good man.) Now we're seeing the opposite end of the spectrum — a man who does not begrudgingly kill for a greater good. The Governor seems to have developed some sort of sociopathic God complex, (I mean, he literally said "We will rise again") and the sweet family photo on his mantle suggests that he wasn't always the type of guy that keeps aquariums full of decapitated heads.
But let's go back to the beginning: Thank God that helicopter crashed — even though it resulted in the half-man who is officially this year's Well Walker — because if it hadn't, Andrea would probably have been a goner. We knew it would either be her constant puking or the rumbling of Michonne's Walker-pets that would attract the Gov and his men's attention, and it said a whole lot (as we learned later) that Michonne would rather cleanly and quietly decapitate her Walker-friends than trust new people. (Michonne isn't really a talker, so her character exposition will probably be an "actions speak louder than words" type of deal.) But in the end it was the long-lost Merle that got them: "How's about a big old hug for your old pal Merle?" he said, with a s***-eating grin, and weaponry for a hand. I'm surprised Andrea fainted, because I would have thrown up again. Daryl got all the looks/charm in the family.
NEXT: Welcome to Woodbury, where the women are soft and the men are psychopaths.
The ladies' ride to Woodbury, seen from Andrea's sickly perspective, was dark and foreboding, and I loved the Nightmare Before Christmas-esque "Warning Walker" hanging from a tree. Too bad it didn't sing! Laurie Holden's acting in the sickbed scene with Merle was stellar, as she tried to quietly quell his anger towards the Grimes Gang and get him on her side. Even better was Michonne's silent scowl, which she pretty much maintained throughout the entire episode. Though Merle obviously still hates Rick (and T-Dog, right?), he seemed giddy at the prospect of Andrea being in his debt, and, of course, having a lead on Daryl. Another key moment in this scene was the Governor telling the ladies the same truth Rick told the Gang seven months ago, that everyone becomes a Walker when they die. Wonder how he figured that out?
The next day was such a stark contrast to the night before, it was almost eerie. Scratch that, it was totally eerie. The town (pop. 73) could have been a Norman Rockwell painting, and all of the women wore these pretty, floral dresses that made them look more Revolution than Walking Dead. You could tell right away that the women in Woodbury have a much different role than the women in the Grimes Gang, who are equals. "Those men put their lives at risk every night to protect this town," said the pretty brunette tasked with showing Michonndrea the town.
The only guy we met this episode who didn't seem like a total prick was the town scientist, who does experiments on Walkers because he thinks that they might have some recollection of who they once were. God, that would be awful. He learned that Michonne's pets (whose heads were kept alive) became docile once their arms and jaws were removed, and we learned over a nice breakfast that the same Walkers somehow protected the gals over the last several months. This eventually led to an awkward conversation between Michonndrea, when Andrea confronted her pal for not telling her the story of her pets, or letting her know anything else about her, really. Michonne definitely doesn't seem like the "sharing" type, which is a welcome relief after two years with the Grimes Gang.
Now, to the main(ish) event: We knew something was off about the Governor the whole episode, and his conversation with the helicopter's pilot — the crash's only survivor — seemed too good to be true. The Gov literally waved the white flag as he approached the pilot's friends on the highway, offered them a safe haven, then had his men ambush and brutally slaughter them for their weapons. My guess? The Governor's God complex, and his adorable little town, has no room for additional alpha males. If that were a group of women, things probably would have gone a lot differently.
When the Gov and co. got back to town, he addressed his disciples from up high, spreading lies about the men having already been attacked by Walkers. "We'll honor their sacrifice, but not take what we have here for granted," he said. The only ones who didn't seem to buy into this load of crap were Michonne, and the scientist. Michonne (wisely) wanted to get the f*** out of Dodge, but Andrea was definitely walking right into the Governor's trap. At one point, it even seemed like she was flirting with him. First Shane, and now Governor? Daddy. Issues. The fact that he refused to tell Andrea, or anyone else, his real name should have been a huge indication that he was insane, but Andrea didn't seem to mind.
We ended with a peek at the Governor's homestead: Not only was there the aforementioned family photo and secret room full of decapitated heads — which now included the poor helicopter pilot, natch — there was also a woman passed out in his bed, who may or may not have had a stump for an arm. I rewound and freeze-framed that sucker several times, but still couldn't tell. It looked stumpy to me.
So, what did you think of the episode? I loved this introduction to the Governor/Woodbury, and Michonndrea getting their own episode. There was way too much information to process to merit cuts to the Grimes Gang. But seeing how Merle reacts to the info on their whereabouts should be a thrill (and so should the inevitable Merle/Daryl reunion), and I can't wait to slowly unravel the mystery that is Woodbury. The pacing of Season 3, to date, has been stellar.
Oh, and finally — what is in that tea?!
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: AMC]
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