S1:E6 We’ve come to expect a certain level of awesomeness from a season finale, especially one on AMC. Unfortunately for last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, that level was a little less than what I think we’d all hoped for. That being said, it wasn’t uninteresting or a bad episode, it just didn’t hit the mark of our high expectations.
Part of the reason is that the show continues to focus on the emotional distress of the survivors, but usually without sacrificing the zombie action. This time around, we see maybe 10 seconds of anything walker-related and they spend the majority of their time in the CDC building under lock down mulling over their views on life now that the world is ending. Though it starts off slow, the episode does accomplish its emotional endeavor, but I fear it will be at the expense of viewers who tuned in to see brains being smashed. Personally, I think one of the great things about this show is that it doesn’t have to rely solely on its gory premise. It actually has some emotional and existential depth, however, in a finale you expect a little more of a bang (and I mean other than the CDC building being blown to bits).
The episode goes back to the time jump we experienced in episode one, taking us back to the day Shane left Rick in the hospital. Despite the picture Lori’s anger painted, we find that Shane attempted to save Rick, but there was a full-on massacre in the hospital between the overzealous soldiers and the unbridled walkers. He feels for Rick’s pulse but can’t hear a thing, so he says goodbye to his friend and barricades Rick’s room from walkers as he escapes. This whole time, we’ve thought Shane was nothing more than an opportunistic prick, but once again the show turns everything on its head and shows us that life’s a little more complicated than that.
Back in present time, the survivors are admitted into the CDC headquarters and Jenner immediately asks if any of them are infected. They must submit to blood tests in order to stay. He warns them that once the doors shut, they won’t open again. They accept and he seals off the doors and takes them into the basement. They get down to his lair and find he’s the only one left. He has been shouting out commands, but that turns out to be a computer system that controls the building through voice commands. As he checks them all for the virus, he emphasizes that he’s breaking the rules ( to which I immediately replied: HELLO. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. How many times do I have to say, “There are NO RULES?”) Of course that strict adherence to the CDC rules in a world that’s completely broken down doesn’t bode well.
Jenner’s oddities continue to show has he treats them all to dinner and wine. The doctor seems almost willfully left out, refusing to smile or join in the merriment. While Rick wants to thank their gracious host, Shane wants to cut to the chase – he asks why Jenner is the only one left. Jenner explains that most people went to find their families, but there were a few that “opted out” – or committed suicide – he says he stayed on alone, hoping to continue working and try to do some good. Glenn, nearing inebriation, calls out Shane as a buzzkill and truer words were never spoken.
As he leads them to their sleeping areas, he warns them not to use too much electricity and to go easy on the hot water and as they all buzz with excitement over hot showers, it becomes obvious that this happiness cannot last. Every time something this good happens in a zombie movie, people die, which can only mean, someone’s going to die. We then enjoy (?) a contrived montage of everyone taking hot showers for the first time; Lori and Rick save hot water by showering together while Shane uses his as his own private bar. Andrea’s hoping the hot water will wash her clean of the memories of her sister’s death and seems to be the only one who sees this positive time as a sign the end is nigh. She and Dale argue over what lies ahead. She builds her post on the side of pessimism, saying there’s nothing left and it’s all over but Dale sees it as a new start. Thus, we learn the big question that they’ve been building to all season; should they celebrate what life they have left or should they accept that they’ve got only a little time left and give up. It’s a bit of a tired question that permeates our everyday lives as well, but what better time to ask it than in this situation?
While Rick drunkenly talks to Jenner about the inevitability of death out in the real world and the hope they’ve found by finding the CDC center, Lori browses the books in the library. Shane is completely drunk and startles her, demanding a conversation. He explains the scene we saw in the first few minutes of the episode and says if she thought for one second that Rick was still alive, she wouldn’t have left, so he essentially saved her life. We have a flash of sympathy for Shane and then he unravels that by grabbing her, yelling that she loves him, and trying to force himself on her. She scratches at his neck, scaring him off and she returns to her room where Rick comes holds her, saying they’re finally safe. Clearly, we can tell the opposite is true. Besides, if they were all happy and safe in this fortress forever, there would be no show, so it’s pretty obvious that it’s all about to unravel.
The next morning, they’re all holding their heads praying their hangovers will disappear. While they’re grateful for breakfast they shrug off their morning ailments to see what Jenner has discovered in his underground lair. He shows them his research on the brain and what happens to it once it goes all groany and flesh-craving. The extremely cinematic, sparkly visual of synapses (how we connect to everything we think, feel, and understand) takes over the screen as he shows the stages of the walker virus. The first event sees the virus invading the brain like meningitis and shutting down the body, then the second event reignited the brain stem, but nothing else, resulting in the mindless flesh drones. Andrea can barely take the explanation, still stinging from Amy’s death (it’s only been two days in their reality). Jenner seems to understand as he explains that the visual came from Test Subject 19 – someone who was bitten and volunteered to be studied. He’s barely able to explain how he had to shoot TS-19 once the experiment was through – we later find that the subject was his late wife so it finally makes sense why synapses and brain stems get him all misty.