The Walking Dead has debuted to smashing numbers, based solely on CHUD.com’s business-altering preview piece.
kid. Frank Darabont is the man and television is the better for having
him creating horror shows for it. We will be doing Tag Teams of the show
(as we do with Boardwalk Empire and possibly more shows) as we go onward…
Episode 4: Vatos
Directed by Johan Renck
Joshua Miller: Well, The Walking Dead happened to television again Sunday night with its fourth installment, “Vatos,” written by the comics creator, Robert Kirkman. Picking up where we left off last week, we follow Rick, T-Dog, Daryl, and Glenn into the city on their mission to rescue Daryl’s racist brother, Merle (the as yet under-featured Michael Rooker), while the collective back at base camp troubles themselves with the terrors of hole digging. Complicating matters for Rick and his team is the discovery that Merle went all Saw on himself and escaped. Then complicating matters even further, Glenn gets kidnapped by an after school special gang of cholo non-threats, derailing the episode into a hokey tangent of unnecessary melodrama.
This episode really solidified how truly uneven The Walking Dead is. Beginning with an absurdly clunky cold-open between our two blonde sisters, featuring some of the most laughably subtext free dialogue I’ve heard on an AMC show, I was sure this episode had already gone in the toilet. But once again the show proved that when it doesn’t have to deal with bothersome things like character believability or dialogue, and can just focus on action, it delivers. The series of clue-finding reveals that told us the story of Merle’s gruesome escape from the rooftop was both clever and well done. If Walking Dead could keep this level of creativity going at all times, the show would be amazing. But this upswing in quality went right out the window when the Latino gang arrived. “Vatos” was a fitting title for this episode, as the word was repeated by the Latino gang leader so many times I began to suspect that The Walking Dead was in fact a vast conspiracy perpetrated with the sole purpose of getting me to kick a hole in my TV.
Nick Nunziata: Your TV wouldn’t have been alone. I would have kicked, punched, head-butted, and done a spinning clothesline to my set if I wasn’t such a pussy.
I was flabbergasted when this tough talking group of ‘Vatos’ showed their true colors (RIP Robert Duvall’s character), and many of my gasts were already considerable flabbered before then when the supposedly smart and family-centric Rick treated the whole hostage transfer situation like a third grader would. To put his crew in danger and to deprive the people at base camp the majority of their ‘muscle’ over a ruse was bad enough. When (SPOILER I GUESS) the gang all of a sudden turned out to be janitors with hearts of gold my eyes rolled so hard Indiana Jones retreated into Belloq’s arms. What the fuck kind of idiots does Robert Kirkman take us for? The heavy-handed prose and simplistic approach to situations doesn’t even fly on the black & white page, but to see it blown up to this size and with this amount of wattage truly surprised me. Especially with a genius like Darabont on board. What a horrible twist. I’d rather they just shot the whole crew full of holes, kept the guns, and spent the last two episodes of the show playing The House of the Dead: The Latino Years rather than insult the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
The majority of our leads were saved from certain death because an old lady showed up. Literally.
Also, what happened between episodes where Rick’s wife made it very clear she didn’t want his two-faced, man-beating ex-partner nowhere near her boy to have the guy being around him the whole episode and entrenched as the camp’s problem solver? I’ve read the comic. I know what they’re setting that character up for, but at least TRY to be consistent.
David Oliver: This is the first opportunity I’ve had to chime in on the show. I came into the experience cold, not having read the comics beforehand. Generally I was pretty satisfied by Frank Darabont’s opening for the show, especially the scale. It’s understandable that that would have to be downsized for the subsequent episodes. And I do agree that when the show has to rely on characters and character moments, it tends to thud just a wee bit. It’s disappointing that in four episodes, and dozens of characters, I’m finding less people than I can count on one hand that I care whether they end up as zombiespam or not. As for the goings-on back at camp, yeah, another dud opening dialogue. And I’m sorry, but just don’t expect me to care whatsoever about a love triangle. I’ve seen enough Smallville to never need to see one of those ever, ever again.
Also disappointing is the fact that the show has made with the arche(stereo)types it has. Specifically I’m talking about Michael Rooker as Merle. Love me some Rooker, but when I saw he was saddled with the boilerplate Southern racial aficionado caricature, the love got snacked on like a pancreas in this show. And then the vatos. Oh, man. As a resident of Los Angeles, all I could do was laugh. I was half expecting Fat Joe or Smiley to put in an appearance. And they even had the Impala handy. So nice to see that, even in a zombiepocalypse, you’re not going to separate a Latin stereotype from his coche, ese. If we’re going that route to that degree, the least they could have done was have Noel Gugliemi’s character ask Rick if he’d ever had his shit pushed in.
Jeremy G. Butler: Well, so far it looks like the show, at least in my estimation, is following a one up, one down pattern of quality, which, I suppose, doesn’t bode so well for the finale. But that’s neither here nor there…
“Vatos” was definitely on the “one down” side of the scale. Predictable to a painful degree, almost (ALMOST) completely free of drama or tension, no REAL surprises…no teeth, as it were. On the whole, I like the show. On the whole, I’m excited for a second season. I expect there to be some hiccups with something like this and I’m okay with that. Well, relatively okay. There are enough good moments sprinkled throughout the season that it earns its existence and I willfully offer up my goodwill and optimism, but fuck, man. This was just not good television. I don’t wanna beat a dead horse (especially when it’ll probably come back as a zombie – and oh holy shit how I would capital-L LOVE it if that were to happen), but I completely agree with everything said so far about the Vatos thing. Just lazy, lazy storytelling. And the “payoff” of those teency little dogs? I mean yeah, it was cute, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect better. Something with more…meat, to completely overuse a metaphor.
That said though, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention a few things that DID work for me. When Rick stuck his shotgun in Guillermo’s face? Chills. Those few seconds were intense. Joshua already mentioned it, but the see-and-say way they chronicled Merle’s escape was also handled very, very well with the cauterization payoff. There was a lot of chemistry and overall warm-fuzzies with the campfire bonding, which I appreciated and even though the dream bookends cheapened it as a whole, the Jim subplot was, I thought, handled rather well.
But the fact of the matter is that these are isolated things and, when viewed as such, are worthy of some good words, but because of the things by which they’re surrounded, the praise becomes empty because the dumb decision that came before anything good almost always undermined the good that we saw.
Again, I’m not down on the show – hell, if I was, I probably wouldn’t even let this shit bother me because my expectations would be too low to be unmet – but last night’s episode was a Master Class in how NOT to do it. Take note, Darabont. You only got two episodes left before we have to let this season marinate for an entire year. Make this shit count, sir.
Elisabeth Rappe: I’m going to be the dark horse and say that I actually liked this episode. But I think that was relative, because when that fishing conversation between Amy and Andrea creaked along, I screamed at the television. In comparison to Misogynist Ed, Racist Merle, vibrators and the passive-aggressive Lori, the rest of the episode felt like it poured from the pen of a poet.
Well, not all of it. Andrea’s frantic search for wrapping paper was a new low for the female characters. Yes, this is exactly what women fuss over in the apocalypse: wrapping paper. Don’t tell me that priorities get out of whack and people do silly things under stress. This was just dumb. I never thought the original comic was a feminist tract, but the mere fact that Andrea and Amy just sort of existed — no drippy moments that screamed ” I AM A GIRL” — makes it seem like it was written by Susan Faludi or something.
Again, this is how I actually enjoyed the “Vatos” twist. When you have characters talking about wrapping paper and fishing lures, I made the natural assumption that we were actually going to have to endure The Warriors by way of The Walking Dead. I thought Rick and Company were really going to fight a gang of scrappy ethnic caricatures. It would be watching a train wreck as Rick Grimes and Company came out to play, abuse, and ruin the premise of the show. And I had to admire that after two episodes of the most hamfisted examples of Ugly Humanity, you had a gang of characters playing on racial stereotypes to scare the white people and protect themselves. I think it’s worth noting that this episode was written by Kirkman, and it struck me as a really odd clash with Darabont. Darabont spent three episodes telling us how much people suck, and then Kirkman comes in and forces a “People are all right!” story. It’s almost like they felt compelled to backtrack a bit.
Part of that backtracking seemed to include Shane & the Campers realizing they should set some guidelines, but man, did that come off as odd. This is a group that tolerated spousal abuse and racism, but a man acting creepy? Scarin’ folks? That stops the train in its tracks! Shane’s gonna get involved then, and to a ridiculous extent. Why did Jim have to be tied up to the tree for the entire episode? He was all right once he was hydrated! Talk about overkill. (Who else loved Lori’s guilty face when he told her to keep a close eye on her son? Yes, Lori. He could have been eaten a dozen times over by now!) And did anyone else pick up a creepy molesting vibe from Ed after all? Come and keep daddy company? What the hell?
But I did like it. If only because it had lured us into such a sense of security that the attack was a real jump…and also I had to laugh because Andrea clearly killed Amy by using the toilet paper to wrap up the mermaid necklace.
Oh and Rick with a Magnum 44 … subtle! But I ain’t complaining.
Joshua Miller: Maybe having that atrocious cold-open was a stroke of genius, as it clearly set the bar in the dirt for the rest of the episode. There was really no where to go but slightly up.
Renn Brown: So first of all- credit where credit is due. As mentioned above, the retracing of Merle’s steps was fairly compelling, until the stupid, inexplicably scream-happy gangbanger happened. I was also genuinely impressed with the camp attack, and was pleased that there were some real chops to the action-filmmaking on display. The amount of carnage and relentlessness of the counter-attack was legitimately intense. Walking Dead hasn’t managed to spark my interest on any front other than the action, so it’s good that the show delivered there.
So those small anomalies aside, I seriously have to say the utterly dogshit business with ditch-digger Jim and the camp of nosy, irrationally freaked-out assholes just about sent me packing for good. Whoever let Kirkman get away with that shit needs to be sent away, as nothing about that scene played out in any kind of rational, much less believable manner. The end of the world doesn’t mean people are suddenly going to group up to go intimidate and play inquirer on a guy digging a hole with a little too much fervor. That whole tableau of the camp standing there, think-of-the-children poses and all was so insultingly retarded that I was vocally demanding for the episode to stop fucking with me. As Shane got more and more aggressive –to the point of cuffing the motherfucker and attaching him to a tree– all the while keeping that condescendingly calm tone, and doing so with the apparent endorsement of the entire camp, it became clear this was was engineered specifically to make me hate every character except Jim. I really don’t see how anyone got upset about the “Vatos” bullshit after the episode’s previous asinine display of nitwittedness.
Also, can we drop the cute moments where characters matter-of-factly refer to the apocalypse for levity? Tired.
I’m sure the comments will reek of the “well, stop fucking watching” sentiments, and I’d be glad to let the show go and remove one more contrary opinion from the potential echo chamber, but I’ve invested four hours and will stick with it till the end of the 1st season at least. If anything, I’m glad to see the show deviate from the comic so much. I just wished they hadn’t pandered to the comic devotees by letting Kirkman write those deviations. The reason I want the show to be less like the comic is specifically because of the shortcomings of the source material, and while I had hope that Kirkman’s style might actually translate better to the screen, it registered as silly as ever.
Joshua Miller: In a normal setting I think I would be giving up on Walking Dead after “Vatos.” But I am committed to this comically one-sided tag team review series! Though, I might haven been lured into the next episode purely by Rooker. I know nothing of the comic’s storyline, but I have a sneaking suspicion Merle had something to do with all those zombies showing up out of no where. Even if he didn’t, after all this teasing I want to see Rooker in action, pissed off and hopefully with an ax blade or something tied to his stump (that might be wishing for too much).
I’ll give “Vatos” this. They sure killed off a lot of their characters. Many of whom we’ve all been bitching about in previous weeks. No more stereotypical wife-beater. And with one of our sisters now dead they can’t have anymore terrible memory-lane fishing conversations. So that’s nice.
Are they ever going to fucking go anywhere? Or is that campsite what we’re stuck with for this season?
Nick Nunziata: Rooker’s character isn’t in the comic, which explain why he’s good. He also wasn’t in the Kirkman episode, which explains why he didn’t turn out to be a Mexican grandmother.
I’m glad they killed some characters but it was staged so poorly that it had no effect. The wife beater sat there and practically offered himself to the zombies and all the other folks who died practically had to not move in order to keep from being perfectly healthy. The kills here are dreadful. The effects are cool on a lot of it, but there is no way in hell that I feel these things are dangerous.
And that these characters are surprised when they see someone die is beyond me. They’ve seen so many die, all of their loved ones, to gawk as this shit happens betrays why they’re survivors.
And the gravedigger’s dream. Wow.
Alex Riviello: “Are they ever going to fucking go anywhere?”
Four episodes, Josh? Really? When you watched Battlestar did you constantly bitch that they didn’t jump enough?
Once again it looks like I’m going to be the sole voice of reason here. Was this a perfect episode? No- as stated by many the beginning boat scene might have well have been shot on Exposition Lake but it’s Kirkman after all. It did its job, at least, and mirrored the tremendous ending. And yeah, loved that ending- a beautiful zombie chowdown scene. That female zombie with the teeth gave me chills…
The vatos thing, while it did get a bit silly, worked for me. It was a way for Rick to feel vindicated, to meet someone who’s doing the exact same thing he’s doing (even at the expense of his family) and feel that it’s still right, no matter how much pain this sets him up later.
I feel like I’m watching a different show that you guys…
Nick Nunziata: This is well past halfway on a short season. It’s not a typical length kind of series that’s easy to compare, but I can’t see what about any of this works for you. Every time the show seems to be trying to do something good, it hiccups, stumbles, and falls onto its sword. It feels like a fanboy got the keys to a mini-studio and made their dream zombie project with guys with crossbows and blatant attempts at philosophizing. And it looks horrible. Seriously, it looks worse than most DTV zombie flicks. Norman Reedus outclassed everyone else in this. How does something like that happen in a free country?
David Oliver: I don’t think it’s out of the question to get some immediacy in these days of quick cancellations and mythology heavy shows that can take forever to unravel (and in some cases not so satisfyingly). It’s a tangent I know, but but thinking on that made me recollect the original V. Look at everything that was accomplished in those first four hours of that mini-series. Now look at the four episodes to date for this show. Honestly, what was there to be had by returning to Atlanta rather than moving the story forward? The Merle storyline could have been resolved in less time, say, without the team returning to camp and then going back. If the entire Vatos storyline added anything, I didn’t see it. No one joined from that group. No one died, there was no zombie attack. So why did they bother? We may never even see those vatos again (I’m for that if that’s how they’ll be used). All that entire subplot ended up proving was that things aren’t always what they seem and that Rick was a man of honor by going back for Glenn. Great, already knew that.
A few cogent tweaks and most of everything that happened to date could probably have been handled in three episodes, especially minus the vatos malarkey. Rick gets stuck in tank, Rick meets Glenn and the crew, the Merle tussle happens, they abandon him, grab the guns, make it to another part of the city, find a way out of town, have second thoughts, go back for Merle, he’s gone. Shit oh, well. Team makes it back to camp, happy feelings and hurt feelings from Daryl, some downtime, maybe even some optimism, then fuck! Feeding frenzy. Gotta go somewhere else. the entire return trip to Atlanta, to say nothing of the Vatos thing was a complete waste of time and bad plot management, especially since they only have six episodes. And yes, what was up with gravedigger? Why should we care? Is he psychic? Are we looking at a Mother Abagail or something here? If we are, there had to be a better way to present it.
I know I’m heaving a lot of shit, but it’s only because I want the show to succeed. I genuinely believe it started well and has potential. But when you only have six episodes to work with, the storytelling needs to be much tighter and this shit is looser than Broadway Joe in a Suzy Kolber interview.
Jeremy G. Butler: My feelings are probably pretty similar to Joshua’s in that the commitment to this is more or less the driving force behind my making the show a priority. I don’t think I’d completely write it off otherwise, but it’s certainly not “appointment viewing” on its own. I am excited to see what happens with The Rook though. I don’t think he’ll have ended up having anything to do with the attack but I suppose we’ll have to see.
And to get off the vatos for a moment and talk about the camp attack – someone on the boards made a good point: how long ago was it that our gang found the Deer Zombie? If I’m following the timeline correctly – it was THE SAME DAY. Rick wakes up, Daryl shows up, they find the walker chowing down on Bambi, then they book it for Atlanta in the van. It was the very same night that they got attacked. How in the blue hell do you let your guard down so much in a situation like that?
I think that’s the crux of all the complaints: nothing is organic. Every single thing that happened on Sunday happened to serve a narrative push or a ham-fisted bit of philosophizing. To get back to Alex – why does Rick need to be vindicated? Why do we need to see that? We know Rick’s the Good Guy, Rick knows he’s the Good Guy. His “No Man Left Behind!” speech was the only vindication he (and we) needed to make the trip back to Atlanta, so I don’t know that the vatos thing added to his development or arc in any way. What he needed was to spend the episode tracking Merle, not being able to find him, then giving up and trying to get to camp before dark and everything else happens the same way. That’s how you start to show his character crumbling. He made a decision that didn’t payoff the way he wanted it to and he wasn’t there to help in their moment of crisis. But I really don’t wanna get into fanwanking.
At any rate, that episode was certainly much more frustrating than the show is as a whole, but Jesus. And, to specifically answer Joshua’s question, I did see an extended-ish promo on AMC today that shows the whole gang back in Atlanta. So put those fears to rest, fella.
Joshua Miller: I stand by my bitching! As Nick said, we’re over halfway through the season. Our overall arc is feeling incredibly limited and small given the epic arena the show is set in. I think a comparable complaint for Battlestar would actually have been the inverse of your example, Alex – if they never STOPPED jumping. If after that second jumping episode they just kept going and going, never stopping long enough for any kind of real development to take place. Breaking up Rick and his family the moment they are re-united for what proved to be the “Vatos” storyline just doesn’t make sense to me when we only have six episodes. That’s the kind of filler storyline I expect from 22 episode season.
I does seem like you are watching a different show than us. Franky I’m envious, because I wanted to love this show. I still want to love it! It… just… won’t… let… me… *breaks down crying*
Elisabeth Rappe: I was a bit more of a negative nancy than I meant to be, but I feel like many of my complaints of last week about Rick heading back at all were basically carried out here. I just don’t think this added anything to Rick or the group as a whole. We didn’t get to know anyone before they got munched; we simply focused on the same unlikeable people and ridiculous scenarios. I feel silly defending the comic again and again, but at least I felt there was generally an organic momentum. Go back and get guns. Come back, holy shit, half our camp just got eaten. Let’s move ON. We can’t stay here. There was an onward push to the story. It wasn’t perfect, it had a lot of flaws, but at least I feel it made more sense as a whole.
In some ways, I think this episode would have played BETTER before Rick’s reunion. If you’d kept this group in Atlanta — perhaps started them on the road, and then turned them around — I actually think it would have played better. Here it just feels like treading water. I think I’d feel a lot different if I knew we were getting a full 12 episodes, but knowing we only have 6 just makes it all feel like a test run I shouldn’t be that invested in. I really expected it to be super intense and scary by this point.
Joshua Miller: I heavily agree with your second paragraph there, Rappe.
Alex Riviello: The thing is, most of these complaints could easily be mended in the next episode. It’s like the people that complained about Merle cutting off his hand instead of the cuffs- why he would have done it, wouldn’t he have bled to death, etc.- only to get answers right at the start of this episode.
We all have no idea how the vatos well play into the story at large. Maybe they’ll need medical supplies at some point, or perhaps people will want to move there and split up the camp. Plus- don’t forget that Rick now has his police radio back, allowing him to reconnect with Morgan. We’re complaining about things without setting the full picture, and I think it’s just the wrong way to go at it. Especially with a show like this that has a very methodical, smartly planned pace.
But oh the hyperbole! A DTV zombie movie, Nick? Really? I would think that the look was something we could all agree on- the super 16 is perfect for the stark look here. I’m sad that you’re all not enjoying it as much as I am, I really am. Even with its few silly parts it’s hugely entertaining, and I have a feeling the end of this season is building up to something fantastic.
Plus, I just don’t know how any horror fan could hate on a show that included a Dr. Tongue homage.
Nick Nunziata: I’ve already got the Tongue Zombie in my life in Day of the Dead! A quick shot of some jawless dame does not a successful show make. It’s not hugely entertaining to me. It’s anti-entertaining to me. The acting is often laughable, and to compare: Return of the Living Dead – way over the top acting, not GOOD acting by definition, but it helps carry the flick through its lesser moments. Dawn of the Dead – very dry and solemn acting, bland even. It serves the material so well and sells the sense of dread and despair that permeates the film but there’s that little spark of optimism at the end. This is so uneven and the writing is so ADD that ideas are presented and abandoned. And the actors (aside from DeMunn, Rooker, Reedus, and Lincoln for the most part) simply aren’t up for the task. I didn’t want to dislike this show. It was shot in my town and Frank Darabont is one of my favorites. I dig The Majestic for the love of Pete!
I just think that you like so many hardcore horror fans are giving a lot of the elements of the show a pass because it exists. If this was a theatrical flick it’d have been eviscerated. Somehow, because it’s on AMC and that it’s a zombie show with gore it’s all good.
It’s not. It’s a huge opportunity being squandered and I personally don’t think the show’s a creative success if all of a sudden the last two episodes are good. I’ve read the comics, and the big climax of Book One? Not going to save this show.
And I think we’ve seen the last of the Vatos already, and if that’s the case it’ll further make the show showcase its ADD.
Alex Riviello: It would be easy to write this off as me liking it solely because of my horror roots but it’s simply not the case. I’m as sick of zombie media as anyone else and what’s really keeping my interest here are the little character moments, the interactions they have in this post-apocalyptic world. I’m loving this ensemble piece and with a few minor exceptions am digging what they’ve done with everyone. The occasional (exceptionally gory!) zombie chowdown scene is just icing on the cake.
And I don’t see how you could think that the climax of book one, properly utilized here, wouldn’t be the absolute most devastating moment of the series so far! We’ll see if Rick starts teaching people how to shoot in episode 5…
Nick Nunziata: I personally hope that’s NOT the ending of this season, though I do want that character sent away.
With the camp devastated I’d rather they hit the road and find themselves a correctional facility to hang out in before the end of this season.
Anyway, Alex… I have a date with you next Sunday to resume this debate.
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