review by Thom Yee
I don’t think what I’m feeling about last night’s midseason-ending episode is schaudenfreude, a sense of pleasure from the suffering of others, because it’s not the suffering that I’m enjoying, and I don’t think it’s survivor’s guilt, because it’s not my survival that superseded other real people. But I am very glad about who died in “Coda”, and I do feel a little bit guilty about how hard I’ve come down on that person in the very recent past.
So the big news this week in the land of the walking, roaming, lurking, biting geeks is that Beth is dead, killed almost by an accident largely of her own doing as our heroes went through with their plan to trade the two cops they were holding hostage for Beth and Carol instead of just killing everyone like they should’ve. That’s two cops because Lamson, the third cop (and former Hydra agent), ran out on our group after tricking and knocking out the still-grieving-over-Bob Sasha last time on The Walking Dead. The opening sequence of “Coda” is incredibly strong as we follow Rick’s pursuit of Lamson, Rick on foot and Lamson a bit ahead trying desperately to sever the bonds tying his hands behind his back. Initially we only see body shots of the characters, obscuring their identities, and especially if you’re the type that has to be reminded of what happened last episode, that’s a canny choice of direction, kinetic, impactful and confident, and it’s the kind of opening that almost feels like it’s from another show, a show that really knows what it’s doing. And then bang, Lamson’s dead because Rick doesn’t have time for his crap.
Meanwhile, in the deliriously deluded world of Father Gabriel, Gabriel’s further examinations of the state of zombieland also prove to be unexpectedly entertaining rather than the big annoying downer the character usually represents. Wandering to the local school, Gabriel finds the remnants of the Terminites final campground, Bob’s decomposing leg and all, and his presence causes the building full of walkers to finally break out and go after the beleaguered preacher and his janky, limping just-stepped-on-a-nail foot. After a mild, shambling chase, the walkers overtake the church until they’re trapped inside by Carl and Michonne in a sequence where we really get to see just how good Michonne is with that katana. Again, the strength of the scene almost feels like it’s from another, better show.
All of the above typifies the significant strides The Walking Dead has taken this year in moving away from tired, overdrawn and often poorly conceived concepts and toward fresher material that doesn’t overstay its welcome. On the other hand, there’s the hospital.
The biggest problem with the whole hospital/hostage thing this season is that it fails to set up a compelling villain while also failing to set up a sympathetic opposition. The best villains are the ones you agree with, usually through equal parts charisma and a compelling viewpoint. Failing that, villains should at least be people you understand and can understand why others would support them. In taking a decidedly middle-of-the-road approach to hospital leader Dawn, you have neither. It’s true that Dawn may not have been a real villain so much as she simply fell on the wrong side of our heroes’ adventures, and it’s also true that that may be more realistic than the megalomaniacal Governor or the cannibal cult of Terminal, but this is fiction, and the last thing most works of fiction need are moderate characters with mixed, wavering beliefs. I didn’t get Dawn and I didn’t like her. You can talk all you want about her values or the system she set up or how she was just trying to hold things together, but in the end she wasn’t compelling or sensible or charismatic or likable. Her defining words were, “In this job you don’t need their love, but you have to have their respect.” But what job is that? Prison warden? Prison warden in a boring, depressing, and abusive prison?
And that’s the odd thing about the episode as a whole. We didn’t particularly want to see these people die, we were just bored of their crap. And yet somehow, in that boring, depressing, crappy world we’ve had to live in for parts of one of the strongest seasons of The Walking Dead so far (and just like Bob before her), we found a reason for Beth. In the face of everything opposing her, in the face of all the crap she’s endured at the hospital, including mind games and multiple unexpected [and honestly undeserved] slappings, Beth calls Dawn out for her crap. All along, Dawn’s convinced herself that everything she’s done is for the greater good, that she’s just holding the line and doing her best until they get rescued, when in truth everything that the hospital’s become, all the abuses and power games, are a reflection of her and the world she’s enforcing. But Beth calls her on it, confronting her and telling her “You keep telling yourself you have to do whatever it takes just until this is all over. But it isn’t over. This is it. This who you are…”.
It’s in that moment that “Coda” and the entire series so far finds its truest and most meaningful message: that we can’t make excuses, that most of us aren’t going to get a second chance, and we need to be responsible for who we are now. Then, like Emilio Estevez, the better Sheen brother, Beth senses that the people have tired of her and she exits the public spotlight. And she takes Dawn out with her, one character who didn’t make sense and was annoying killing another character who didn’t make sense and was annoying. And so the circle is complete.
I liked “Coda” more than I’ve liked almost any episode of The Walking Dead since the very first, and it’s going to reverberate through at least the rest of this season in meaningful ways. I like the emotional toll the events of the episode are going to take on the group, I like that Beth is dead, I like that Dawn is dead, and I like the fittingly sour, down note it ends the midseason on. It’s all winner, no filler.
The Walking Dead “Coda” final score: 9
Items of Note:
- So was Maximiliano Hernandez’s death worse here or in the Winter Soldier?
- So Maggie forgot about Beth all this time because she assumed she was already dead? I don’t buy it. She wanted her dead just as much as I did.