Sad fact: There aren't many stories left for The Walking Dead to tell. Sure, there are all the plots of the comics, but if what we've seen in the TV series is any indication, they're all variations of the same themes with characters replacing other characters or slight twists in morals to make them feel fresh. How far is too far for survival? Do you become the killer to avoid being killed, or do you hold on to your humanity in hopes for a civilized tomorrow? Is killing a bunch of jerks justifiable if you get fresh produce out of it? These are some of the stories available to a zombie show that purposefully has no definitive end or goal, but instead wants to deeply explore the complex thought process of surviving in a world where the dead eat the living and society has been blasted back to survival of the fittest.
Which is why it was refreshing to see "Twice as Far" tell a new story, or at least one that hasn't been told too often. This one was all about the wimps. Because we've been in the apocalypse for so long, life in this wasteland has inched toward relative normalcy for the brave. Saw a walker in the first week of the outbreak? That was an underwear change. Now? Ugh, hand me a hammer and let me take care of this inconvenience. But for cowards, that timeline has stretched out and they're now just getting the nerve to face their fears and fight for their lives. It's just unfortunate that "Twice as Far" wasn't able to tell this story subtly or naturally, and instead was like "HEY, LOOK AT THESE WIMPS TRY AND BE TOUGH!!!" It also purposefully avoided a happy ending to remind us that we're going to miserable forever if we continue to watch this show.
The wimps of the hour were Denise (Merritt Wever) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), the reluctant doctor and the liar, and their roles in the series have been clearly defined by repeated scenes of them hyperventilating, screaming like little girls with their arms over their head, and hiding behind big toughies like Carol (Melissa McBride). Okay, slight exaggeration, but these two were big scaredy-cats who didn't have the foggiest how to carry a machete (both have been corrected on it this season) and the show went to great lengths to show us that.
So good on them for giving zombie-hacking a shot and standing up for themselves, because this was the kind of character development that didn't feel repetitive like every other character in The Walking Dead. This journey felt earned and was potentially life-changing (and life-ending, oops) for both Denise and Eugene. I totally dug this idea.That's the positive part of the episode.
The bad part was that the episode wasn't all that engaging, and some of their courage also came with a heaping side of stupidity. Both wimps were paired with tough guys; Denise went on a drug run with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Eugene went to find a shop to make some bullets with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). But in an effort to prove how brave they thought they were, both voluntarily put themselves in immediate danger, which spilled into everyone being in danger, and then they had the nerve to get upset when the tough guys asked why they were acting so stupid.
Did Denise really need to go into the dark room where squishy sounds were coming out of on her own without telling the others she was doing so? Girl, it's okay to have a study-buddy on your first try. Fortunately, all she found was a walker with a leg cast in really bad shape who drowned her baby and OH GOD THE HORROR. But seriously, a simple "Yo, D. and R., I'm gonna check out this spooky place all by my lonesome" would have been the wise move there, especially since she hadn't been off the reservation since forever.
Eugene similarly rushed things by taking Abraham's help on a lead-helmeted zombie as an offense to his manhood. First of all, a zombie with hardened molten metal poured over its head? Awesome. Second, that's not a good subject for Intro to Zombie Killing 101 and Abraham had every right to step in and save his ass. Eugene's reaction? To scold Abraham and tell him his services were no longer required, which sensitive Abraham took too harshly and left Eugene to find his way home on his own.
I wanted to root for both Eugene and Denise while they sacked up, but their stubborn lack of common sense made it hard, and that weakened what should have been a moment of triumph for both. Didn't you want to see Denise succeed? Didn't you want Eugene to honestly make it to the next level? One of the frustrations with The Walking Dead is that there are far too few personal victories for its characters. Yeah, Carl (Chandler Riggs) got that pudding that one time, and that was cool. But the general rule of thumb in the show is that life almost always sucks. That's why watching them both fail--one fatally--was a bummer, when it could have been an opportunity for some badly needed positivity.
Later in the episode, Denise would test her skills once more when finding a walker in a car with a cooler. She really wanted that cooler! She wanted to test her bravery, and I get that. But when Daryl and Rosita said it wasn't worth the bother to risk killing the walker, Denise ignored them and not only went in the car on her own, but did it when Daryl and Rosita had walked too far away to save her. The good news was that she succeeded in killing the walker herself, barely. The bad news was that her victory speech was interrupted by a crossbow bolt that went into the back of her skull and out her eye, adding her to the list of the dead. It's a shame too, because her speech was great, passionate, and exactly what I hoped for from "Twice as Far." It was like the ending of Revenge of the Nerds, and the Alpha Betas were about to join her in the middle of the quad. Instead, she was a pile of meat who didn't even get to finish her sentence about how much killing that walker on her own meant to her. Fresh off her triumph, she was senselessly killed. Her bravery was rewarded with her totally random death. What's the message here? Was it "Why bother?" Because that's what it felt like, and it's that sense of nihilism that costs The Walking Dead. Ugh, I might need to go back to watching Beth sing around the campfire just to add some light to all this dreariness.
Denise's death came as part of Eugene's failure. Eugene, on his own because he yelled at Abraham, was captured by some remaining Saviors, including Dwight (Austin Amelio)--the guy who stole Daryl's bike--who killed Denise while aiming for Daryl. That kicked off a standoff that led to Eugene biting Dwight's dick--for realsies, and it was great--which sparked a shootout. Eventually the Saviors turned tail and ran (even though they outnumbered our guys--guess those monster guns Daryl and Rosita had trumped their shotties), but Eugene took a bullet.
So here's our second character trying to grow and prove his self worth, and again, the results were nothing to celebrate. You can say he was a hero for distracting Dwight long enough for Abraham to flank the rest of the bad guys, and that allowed his side to "win," but Denise's corpse was laying there on the ground and Eugene's capture could have involved some information on the whereabouts of their camp, hence the reason the Saviors were able to ambush Daryl, Rosita, and Denise in the first place.
I understand this is a brutal world where rules are thrown out the window, but the writers are in control of this world, and for whatever reason it appears they're saying that we all have roles and that we should stick with them. OR ELSE. It's not exactly "nerds, know your place," but there was some sad cosmic intervention when Denise was killed immediately after standing up for herself and that's a bit unnerving. At least Eugene survived and made it to "Stage 2" of badass-ness, but even his attempts at bravery came with a cost.
For those of you into The Walking Dead for the romance, here's your update: Rosita was now rebound-sleeping with Spencer (Austin Nichols), and Spencer got clingy and promised to make her Beef Jerky Stroganoff while Rosita just wanted to keep it casual. Rosita, no, just no. Abraham made another move on Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and apparently it worked as she invited him inside. And Carol broke up with Tobin (Jason Douglas) because she said she couldn't love anyone because she couldn't bring herself to kill for anyone.
In fact, at the end of the episode, Carol broke up with everyone and decided to leave Alexandria on her own, according to voiceover dialogue from Carol herself. It continues Carol's abrupt character change that's hit her over the last few episodes, which I'm still having a hard time dealing with. All I can assume is that Carol vehemently disagrees with how the Saviors situation was handled, and that she feels like the bad guy now.
"Twice as Far" had a shot to be a rare feel-good episode that I think would add a lot of good will towards The Walking Dead, but happiness was snatched from our grasps when Denise was killed. It's clear this show wants to paint this world as a harsh universe where anyone can die at any point, but that's a message that's been loud and clear from the beginning. Denise's death, like Tyreese's, was pointless and a missed opportunity for a better story.
-- Morgan (Lennie James) built a jail cell and when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) asked, "Why?" he said, "It'll give us some choices next time." This is something I agree with. But also, hell of a job on that jail cell, Morgan! That's some fine craftsmanship!
-- Some interesting stylistic choices in this one too. A sequence of events was repeated over and over--Gabriel patrolling with a gun, Rosita taking over a guard shift, Sasha watching from an elevated guard tower, Morgan practicing with his staff, Carol smoking ciggies on a porch swing--that showed that life in Alexandria had hit a routine. This was interrupted at the end when Carol was no longer there, but I'm not sure all the effort behind this repetitive sequence matched its impact, which apparently was that Carol wasn't really doing the same thing over and over again, but was instead mulling a huge decision. It was a decent try, though. Also included, fuzzy out-of-focus transitions! Which represented... a bored cameraman? I'm not sure.
-- Big hand for Merritt Wever, who is probably in the Top 3 actors in the show, along with Lennie James and Melissa McBride. She finally got to expand on Denise in this episode, and we got to know her a lot better. And she was funny! Her response to Daryl asking if we would see what he had for breakfast when she almost threw up was, "Oatmeal, just so you know." And when she did puke later, she said, "I threw up on my glasses." Wever won an Emmy for her work on Nurse Jackie, where she was very, very funny. Denise's death hurts a little bit more because she just made Denise likable and because Wever's a treat.