The Walking Dead: JSS

Morgan: "You don't have to kill people."
Carol: "Of course we do."

You think maybe Rick was right that everyone in Alexandria should be armed and trained?

To kill

One of my favorite things about The Walking Dead has been Carol's transformation from a frightened battered wife in season one, to an anguished parent who had to endure a loss that would have destroyed most people, to the action hero who took down Terminus pretty much singlehandedly. Since the group arrived in Alexandria, Carol went undercover in a flowered cardigan, baking cookies and delivering casseroles.

This was quite possibly Carol's most fascinating transformation of all. With most of our group's best fighters out in the field dealing with the Incredibly Enormous Quarry Horde, Carol acquired a disguise and became a one-woman SWAT team. She was quiet, fast, efficient and brutal, a wolf in wolf's clothing. She killed eight Wolves herself, got to the armory, distributed weapons, and argued tactics with Morgan. But she didn't do it like an automaton. She expressed grief after Erin died in her arms, and looked upset as she was killing. When it was over, she sat on the stairs, glanced at the letter A Sam had put on the riser, cried, and looked very much like she was considering taking up smoking again, even though it kills you.


This episode was bookended by one of Carol's casseroles. Right after she put it in the oven, a man with a machete attacked and killed Shelly Neudermeyer across the street, who was standing outside having a smoke. (Even on The Walking Dead, that was a shocker.) In the end, the timer went off and Carl, being Rick's practical son, took the casserole out of the oven. Life goes on.

Or not to kill

This series is about what people have to do to survive during an apocalypse, and Rosita told Deanna's confused son Spencer that living for each other was the point of it all; Tara told Doctor Denise pretty much the same thing. Carol didn't hesitate to kill in order to protect her people -- she even walked up and killed one of the Wolves that Morgan was carefully restraining -- but Morgan was determined to protect everyone without killing at all.

Like Carol, Morgan was all kinds of awesome in this episode. He defeated five Wolves at a time alone with just his staff and even psyched them out to the point where they gave up and left. Was Morgan wrong to let them go? Should he have killed them all so that they couldn't come back and attack Alexandria again? Did Morgan change his mind about mercy and kill that guy from the fifth season finale who was waiting in his house?

What's up with these Wolves? It was like they were brainwashed, or on acid, or both. "We're freeing you. You're trapped. You need to know. People don't belong here any more." What does that even mean? (And no comic book spoilers, please! If I ever read the comic, it'll be after the series is over!)

That is the question

Another thing I really liked about this episode was how certain Alexandrians self-identified as noncombatants. Eric did not rush after Aaron into the fray. Eugene also stayed behind, and Tara protected Denise, who had to reluctantly and unsuccessfully operate on Holly. Deanna said that she couldn't fight and would only be a liability that someone else would have to save, which was true. Even Spencer realized he was out of his depth, although he was the one who kept the truck from destroying the wall.

But Jessie got a chance to show what she was made of. In an echo of the once-abused Carol, Jessie played dead on the kitchen floor and took out a Wolf with her trusty hair-cutting scissors. And that was after getting Sam into the closet with the latch on the inside of the door. Jessie also told Ron, who amazingly didn't get killed in this episode, that Pete's death wasn't Rick's fault, and that Rick was her friend. Good for Jessie. She did ask Rick for help, knowing what that help would probably turn out to be.

Aaron told his husband Eric that he had to try, and he did. And then he found a Wolf backpack that contained his own photos of Alexandria. I guess Rick was right about no more recruiting.

Just survive somehow

The episode opened with a flashback to how Enid wound up in Alexandria after her parents were eaten by walkers. It showed how Enid kept forming the letters "JSS" -- in the dirt, on the car window, on her dirty hand -- to remind herself of what to focus upon.

In my opinion, the point of the flashback was that Enid started out huddling helpless in a car, but she is now a possible future Carol. Enid left, after imparting her life wisdom to Carl, because she thought Alexandria was too big to defend successfully.

And she may be right. Because the Quarry Horde is still on its way. Was this just part one, the easier battle? Will the horde soon arrive at the gate?

Notes from Talking Dead

The guests were Kevin Smith (probably because Comic Book Men premiered last night), Paul Bettany (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Katelyn Nacon (Enid). Kevin Smith said "JSS" was one of his favorite episodes ever and compared it to receiving oral sex that continued after 'completion'; Paul Bettany laughed so hard at that that he couldn't speak. Appropriately, a lot of the discussion was about what an incredible character Carol and her terrifying oven mitts had become. I particularly liked when they said Morgan was Batman, but Carol was the Punisher.

Bits and pieces:

-- Speaking of bits and pieces, that poor tortoise! I knew it would get eaten since animals never make it on this show. Enid ate that tortoise like a walker would. I'm sure that was a deliberate choice by the director.

-- Several of the characters were talking about the incomplete expansion, and that it will include the church. Maybe they're trying to symbolically bring God back on their side.

-- Interesting that this episode had practically no walkers, and even though many Alexandrians died, we didn't lose any of the characters we care about. Although it's too bad Shelly Neudermeyer will never get her pasta machine.

-- Carol led Morgan on a chain like she saw the Wolves doing. So smart. Carol also closed Olivia in the armory. I hope Olivia made it.

-- Before the attack, Carol was taking cans of food from the pantry that no one else wanted. What a perfect little character statement.

-- Enid had keys to everything in Alexandria. Another perfect little character statement.

-- Cola canned ham? Shudder.

-- Morley cigarettes. The X-Files lives on.

-- Carl saved Ron's life, and Ron was supremely ungrateful. And Ron didn't want a haircut. Forget Ron. Frankly, I desperately want to drag Carl over to Jessie's and get his hair cut. It's so awful that it's distracting. I know that teenagers like to express themselves with outlandish hair, but really.

-- Are there walkers still in the truck that crashed the wall?

-- Gold acting stars for Melissa McBride (Carol) and Lennie James (Morgan). This was their episode.

Quotes:

Shelly: "Ms. Peletier, you are an honest to goodness hero."

Carol: (to Sam) "Your dad used to hit you and then he got himself killed. It happened. Now it's done. You live with it or it eats you up."

Denise: "I'm a psychiatrist. I went to med school. I was even going to be a surgeon. But after the panic attacks, I got really interested in psychology. And... I think I’m really trying to lower expectations here."
Actually, I think Sam needs a psychiatrist. Poor kid.

Eugene: "It hams my biscuits is all."

Carl: (to Father Gabriel) "Come by around three. We'll start with the machete."
Father Gabriel is trying to make up for being a total douche. It might be too late for that.

Enid: "This place is too big to protect."

Aaron: "I need to help. I need to try."
Eric: "I know."

Eugene: (to Denise) "You don't want to be a coward. I know."

Father Gabriel: "How did you learn how to do that?"
Morgan: "From a cheese maker."
Okay. What? I hope we get a flashback that explains this line.

Was this one of their best episodes, or did I just love it because of what they did with Carol? Four out of four cream of celery casseroles,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

11 comments:

Paul Kelly said...

It's funny, right at the beginning of this episode I thought to myself: I really miss the old semi-crazy killing-machine Carol. Ten minutes later she was back, taking names, shooting off faces, stabbing brains, and being all out of gum. I'm really enjoying this season so far. Two really strong character episodes, with a compelling central threat. I wasn't a fan of them being in Woodbury. In fact, I'm not a fan of them being stuck anywhere for long -- them taking up permanent residence always seems to turn into a burden somehow -- but I'm liking them being in Alexandria, probably because Rick and Co feel like the ones in charge, and as we've spent the most time with Rick's group, we trust them the most.

Oddly enough, I laughed twice during the episode: once at the smoking kills message, and the second time watching Coral taking out the casserole. In the time it took to cook a meal the whole town had gone to shit, rallied, and then it was time for dinner. I don't know why I found it funny, I just did.

Great review, Billie. I think Carol was probably right and Morgan was wrong. People do need to die. I'm not sure what a church is going to do for the town. It seems pretty obvious that in this fictional world God either doesn't exist or doesn't care. This is no righteous apocalypse. It's a mess of unjust deaths, undeserved suffering, and the prospering of the unrighteous.

sunbunny said...

So much awesome. I love Carol. One of the things that's really great about the show and her character is that her actions aren't presented like "here, look at this heroic person doing the right thing isn't she great" it invites the audience to question her decisions at every turn. Here they were set up with Morgan as a stark contrast. To be honest, I found his "let's not kill anyone" thing really dull and frankly stupid. Rick and his group have their moral issues, but these people invaded Alexandria and were hacking innocent people up with machetes. Morgan's solution was to just get them to leave? That's insane.

Paul Kelly said...

Yeah, I agree, Sunbunz. I'm not a fan of guns, but when people invade your home and attempt to chop your head off, you shoot them. We've all seen enough TV to know that if you don't, they come back, more people die, and you wish you had. I just hope Morgan's influence doesn't rub off on Gabriel, just as he's starting to think that learning how to protect himself might not be a bad idea. If he does, I can't see him lasting the season. Not that I'm particularly bothered, I'm still miffed with him after his behaviour last season.

Scott Riggan said...

Loved the opening segment about Enid. Good, concise storytelling.

Anyone catch what Enid was saying to Carl about Alexandria having blind spots? Carl cut her off, but she said something like "That's how we were able to..." Is she connected with the Wolves? Is that how she will "just survive somehow?"

Also, I had a little Monty Python moment when Morgan explained how he learned to fight with a staff. "Blessed are the cheesemakers."

Anonymous said...

I believe Enid was talking about how she and Carl were able to sneak out of Alexandria. He probably cut her off because he was embarrassed about getting trapped in the tree together or maybe something more happened. Awkward teen years must happen even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

Patryk said...

Morgan's comment reminded me of the Cheese Man from the season 4 Buffy finale. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so relieved by this episode that I was able to enjoy it and the show once more.
Last week, I was really down. Boring useless crowd of zombies, that useless stupid plan of Rick, another bunch of we-were-always-here-weren't-we unkown newbies suddenly showing up like they belong (that can't ever not remind me of Nikki and Paolo on Lost), agh. It felt like a stupid artificially engineered episode just so they could boast and high five how they upped the zombie carnage year after year.

But, I'm right back in with this episode, thank goodness. Even though it had its own share of redshirts, they just did what a proper redshirt ought to do, die before the episode's over. Yeah, that's silly but still. Bearable. Didn't ruin my enjoyment like the previous episode.

One thing I didn't quite understand is how it was Morgan alone who rushed and made it back to the compound on hearing the truck horn. Last episode, he was right back there with Rick stink-eye'ing his remorseless murdering ways.
It was refreshing if naive how Morgan tried to not just kill everyone. How far away we are now since when Rick was all upset with Shane just wanting to murder their kid hostage at the farm. Kind of more interesting to have a dillemma than swiftly murder and murder back.

Fun fact with Billy noticing the ungainly long teen hairdos is that in the Telltale Walking Dead video game, it was a plot point that you should keep your hair short if you don't want to help zombies grab you there that much easier.

Anonymous said...

love that you included discussion from the talking dead, keep adding that to your reviews

Marianna said...

I thought the exact same thing about Carl!

I loved this episode. Carol is amazing! I was also frustrated with the rigidness of Morgan's anti-killing policy. He way was so much slower than Carol's so I have to wonder how Alexandrians died while he was trying to defeat people without killing them? If the idea behind his policy is "all life is precious," shouldn't saving lives of people being brutally stabbed to death have been his top priority? On the other hand I'm not sure if it was really necessary for Carol to kill the person Morgan had already restrained, but maybe I'm wrong.

Some more minor thoughts: I loved Carol telling the woman whom everyone is sick of hearing she wants a pasta machine that she could make it without the machine. My grandmother used to do it all the time. =)

Morgan seemed to arrive almost instantly after the truck horn started going off.

The turtle in the beginning was a Russian tortoise, which as you might guess is not native to Virginia. It should not be living in the wild so Enid may have done the ecosystem a favor. =) Also those bones were definitely not turtle bones. (This is all from my zoologist husband's commentary during the episode.)

Billie Doux said...

A Russian tortoise, Marianna? I would never have guessed. I hate it when they have animals on The Walking Dead because it never ends happily.

Heather said...

I've been loving Carol's Serial Mom vibe. Thank for the great review, Billie.