‘The Walking Dead’ Stumbles Into New Lows (TV REVIEW)

[rating=1.00] “The Next World”

The pendulum has swung the other way, and after a promising start to the back-half of The Walking Dead’s sixth and wildly uneven season, one where even I reluctantly admitted to the mindless, pulp-saturated soap opera. After it was established that zombies are no longer a threat in this universe, and that everyone (including fucking Eugene) is capable of hitting an invincibility streak not seen since the last 30 minutes of Commando back in 1985. With that now established, the group has only to look upon each other’s incredibly poor decision making to be their ultimate undoing. Based on this week’s episode, it’s not looking good for them.

First, there’s a time jump, though it’s mysteriously absent the usual clues, given that it’s not filmed in black and white, nor does it have any title cards that read “THEN” or “LATER” or “EVENTUALLY (ISH).” Instead, the show actually trusts viewers to follow along and pick up on this. It’s a huge leap of faith, just as I was growing to accept the fact that I needed to suspend far more than my disbelief. Still, some time has passed, and things seem cheerful and domestic. There’s a stereo playing in the somewhere in the house, and we’ve again established that Rick has the most “Dad” taste in music ever.

The obvious downside here is Carl’s fully recovered, meaning we get a story involving him, meaning Enid. Because if there’s one thing that this show needs more of is disaffected teen melodrama.

Then there’s Michonne, who, while on guard duty, not only leaves her post, but leaves her high powered, military-grade assault rifle behind (because nothing like that has ever cost anyone their life on this show before). Following Spencer into the woods with a shovel, we get all the earmarks of the show at its most inane—characters back-talking one another over personal agendas, zombies that are silent up until they’re within range of you, and, who could forget, walking through the fucking woods. Top it all off with Spencer finding a zombified version of his mother (ignoring all logic of the prior two episodes concerning how she died and how they supposedly rid the city of all zombies), because we need to see this played out for the hundredth-fucking-time.

Though the bulk of the episode involves Rick and Daryl on a supply run, like a Crosby/Hope movie set in a zombie-filled wasteland. It’s worth mention that with the entire first half of this season has taken place over a couple of days, this almost feels like a fresh storyline. Or, at least a novel one we haven’t sat through in a while. Before long, the two of them find Jesus, who emerges from total silence to body check Rick while he and Daryl crack open the only vending machine in the world to specialize in either chilled potato chips or warm orange soda. There’s a brief conversation/standoff before Jesus runs off, warning them about the pending herd of the undead looming nearby.

Rick then reminds all of us he’s a cop, by observing he seemed relatively clean with a well-kept beard to be drifting through the apocalypse without a camp. Seriously, he literally reminds everyone he’s a cop. Out loud. At the same time, he also reminds us he’s a bad cop, because while Rick was giving him carefully thought-out style points, he neglected to realize the guy had stolen the fucking keys to the truck full of supplies. Classic Rick.

So, Jesus makes off with the truck, complete with the world’s most eclectic vending machine chained to the back, and Rick and Daryl run after it. They run. They don’t use the other car that had gotten them to the truck, they run. Of course, they find him, a fight ensues (Jesus is really good at fighting AND keeping his beard trim, it turns out). Rick and Daryl win, then tie the guy up and then leave him behind in a baffling move that’s gone unjustified all the way back to the second season when they spend entire episodes arguing back and forth about its justification.

Anyway, they get the truck back, then, as they’re driving to a barn (lots of callbacks to the second season this week), then find out that Jesus has climbed on top. They find this out thanks to all the noise he’s making, which leads to him being thrown off the truck. What follows the most utterly stupid chase/fight scene involving some guys, a vehicle, and a lake since Michael Scott took his GPS entirely too literally. They fight Jesus some more, but at the expense of the truck full of supplies they scored, which slides into the lake, and is on the fast-track to becoming the defining moment of my life when I most desired a ‘sad trumpet’ sound effect.

Once again, they tie Jesus back up, magically reacquire their initial car, then drive back to Alexandria come nightfall, resurrecting yet another trope that everything in the universe of this show always seems to be a day’s drive away. Rick has shown another compartmentalized show of compassion, where he wants Jesus’ head examined (not because he fell off a fucking truck, mind you, but because that last punch Daryl threw), but he doesn’t want him to stay. Okay, fine, whatever. It’s fine. Really. This show has never been big on establishing a consistent moral center in any of these characters, least of all Rick.

So, his head gets examined, apparently while he’s still unconscious, then placed in that same cell where they kept the Wolf those few episodes. Because that worked out so well for everyone involved. Rick goes home, he and Michonne discuss who’s going to talk about their day — neither do, but that could’ve been the sole redeeming moment of this episode — and then have sex. Which was little more than further pandering to petulant fan-base that created a subculture of fan-fiction so adamant it had its own hashtag (which was #Richonne).

After Rick and Michonne wake up, both baring a little bit of side-ass, Jesus has found them, despite having been dragged to Alexandria unconscious and thrown in a cell. Still, he was able to find not only Rick’s bedroom, but slide in completely undetected—just in time for the cheap cliffhanger that all but dares you not to tune in next week, and I will, but only because I have to.

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