'The Walking Dead' Season 5, Episode 4 Review: Adventures In Slabtown With Beth

TWD S5E4 1
poiler warning through Season 5 of ‘The Walking Dead’ on AMC.
In Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead “Slabtown” we finally return to the big city: Atlanta. It’s been several seasons since we last saw the zombie-flooded streets of the city, and it makes a welcome and overdue return.
We also discover the fate of Maggie’s little sister, Beth, who disappeared after a run-in with zombies during her trek with Daryl in Season 4.

Like Rick before her, Beth wakes up in a hospital.
Unlike Rick—who awakens to an empty hospital nearly overrun by the living dead in the first episode of The Walking Dead—Beth finds herself in a creepy but-not-as-creepy-as-Terminus community of police and medical workers and one kind janitor. She’s been cared for and is all in one piece. But something is rotten in the state of Denmark, or Georgia, or whatever.
The hospital is a weird commune of sorts, tucked away at the top of an abandoned hospital, where everyone works for food and shelter. And electricity apparently. When Beth is greeted by the head cop—Dawn—and the resident doctor, Dr. Edwards, Dawn informs her that her men rescued Beth and because of that she now owes them. It’s a sort of post-apocalyptic indentured servitude. Not a bad deal, really, except for a few disagreeable details.
One thing leads to another and we discover that yes, as always, any group of survivors not led by Rick Grimes has a dark and creepy underbelly. (Even the good farmer Hershel had some weird stuff going on in his barn.)

In keeping with the show’s running theme up to this point, we’re given a glimpse of a society in microcosm, and the way its leadership has reacted to the end of the world. Dawn means well, but she’s dangerously temperamental. Worse, she’s turned a blind eye to the horrible things that some of her male officers have done (chief among them one particularly awful cop named Gorman) in order to serve the “greater good.” Convinced they’ll be rescued and help rebuild the world, Dawn has basically given women over to be used by Gorman et alia to keep the cops happy and productive.
Basically the set-up is a collectivist, authoritarian commune not all that different from Terminus or The Governor’s Woodbury.

In Terminus, we had a cannibalistic authoritarian society where people were protected and well fed and all they had to do in return is kill and eat people.
In Woodbury, The Governor gave his people security at the price of their freedom, and doled out some bread and circuses to keep the people happy. Nobody quite knew how crazy he was except his inner circle. Ultimately both Terminus and Woodbury paid a hefty price, their citizens dying by the bushel in karmic retribution for their sins.
The moral, once again, seems to be that these exchanges aren’t worth it, that trading our humanity for security is a raw deal. We may need to stick together to survive, but that doesn’t mean we trade our individual liberty for a shallow collectivism. In this regard, it’s a very American show indeed. The Walking Dead takes pains to emphasize the difference between community and authoritarianism. True power comes from something resembling democracy, if not democracy exactly, not from the brittle infrastructures erected by The Governor, by Dawn and her weird police force, by the bandits Daryl joined ever so briefly.
Do unto others, and sometimes kill or be killed. But never make a deal with the devil to stay alive.
In any case, we’re finally privy to Beth’s whereabouts, bound precariously in a delicate situation, the threat of Gorman and imminent rape hanging over her head. She’s manipulated by one of the apparent good guys—Dr. Edwards—into killing a potential rival. And to add insult to injury (or perhaps the other way around) Dawn’s temper is ready to explode at any moment, often resulting in physical violence.

 TWD S5E4 2
After a near thing with Gorman, who she bashes over the head and feeds to a former victim of Gorman-turned-walker, Beth makes a run for it with the one decent person in the entire place, the janitor Noah. She’s caught by Dawn and her cronies, but Noah—even with his wounded leg—escapes. This brings a smile to Beth’s lips, though I imagined the hapless Noah getting taken out moments later by another round of zombies.
Then again, it’s possible Noah is rescued by Daryl. In last week’s episode Daryl returns and we don’t know who he returns with. It obviously wasn’t Carol—something confirmed at the end of tonight’s episode, when Carol turns up at the hospital just moments before Beth is going to put a spike through Dr. Edwards’ brain—and the list of other characters it could be other than that is slim. It could be Morgan, who turned up in the season premiere but hasn’t been seen again, but beyond that I’m at a loss.
Speaking of Carol turning up wounded at the hospital, it strikes me as odd for Daryl to return without her unless he had some reason to—and Noah, as a witness to the crimes being committed there and knowing the hospital’s ins and outs, would be a valuable asset.
In any case, this was an episode devoted entirely to Beth. We aren’t privy to what’s happening with Rick and the rest of the crew, or Abraham’s group. According to the preview of next week’s episode, “Self Help”, we’re going to focus entirely on Abraham and Glenn and the rest of the team headed to D.C. meaning the show is moving back to the story-telling style of Season 4. One group per episode. Oh dear.

This bothers me, to be quite honest, and I hope I’m wrong to read this in the tea leaves. I much prefer to jump between at least a couple groups of characters rather than focus on just one story per episode. It helps a lot with pacing. An entire episode devoted to Beth is way too much. Beth is an okay character, but far from a show favorite, and other than keeping us guessing there’s little reason to split these episodes up in this fashion once again. Now and again I like an episode devoted to just one or two characters, but only now and again.
I’m enjoying Season 5 quite a lot so far, and I’m happy to know Beth is alive and—if not well, at least not in the direst of predicaments. Still, I’m worried that if we head in this direction the show will suffer for it. And I’m not terribly impressed by the Atlanta crew, honestly, as they seem a hefty step down in terms of villainy from either The Governor or the Termites. Yeah, Gorman is bad and Dawn has made some horrible leadership decisions, but it’s just nothing compared to an entire community of cannibals.
On the other hand, I’m glad we’re back in Atlanta. There’s only so much forest the show can take, and honestly some of The Walking Dead’s best moments all took place in the city during the first season: Rick trapped beneath the tank. Glenn driving the sports car through the streets. Merle hand-cuffed to the top of the building. Lots of great stuff in Atlanta (even accounting for the fact that we meet Andrea there. Lord, why didn’t Rick cuff her to the building also?)

All of which makes me realize just how little ground Rick and company have actually covered. If Daryl made it to Atlanta and back in a day, the survivors remain absurdly close to where they started out.
(On a side note, the cruelest twist of fate would be the realization that the very worst infection in the country was all confined to the South, and that had the survivors simply made it out of Georgia, maybe just as far as Texas, they wouldn’t be in the predicament they’re in.)
In many ways I feel like the core story and core characters are developing exactly how they should. I hope this trajectory isn’t squandered on choppy pacing.
Then again, in the preview for next week’s episode Glenn finally asks Eugene the question we’ve all been dying to ask—”Why the hair?”—to which the mullet-sporting scientist replies “Because I like it.” So that’s a wonderful bit of dialogue and a much-needed moment of comic relief. Let’s have more of that, please.

Post a Comment