The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 9: “18 Miles Out”
Written by Glen Mazzara and Scott M. Gimple
Directed by Ernest Dickerson
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
“Triggerfinger” was emphatically not good television, with its many illogical character beats and frustrating sense of arrested development, so it;s no surprise that “18 Miles Out” is an improvement, if not exactly a miraculous one. It is, hoever, plainly at least a partial product of the show’s widely publicized budget woes: second-season showrunner Glen Mazzara co-penned the episode, which features only about half of the principal cast, some of whom are referred to by name as though they’re in the other room. It’s not exactly pulled off with grace, but it at least means that some of the interpersonal pitfalls we ran into last week aren’t allowed to crop up again.
The pared-down cast list means we’re dealing with only two real situations at once: the “home” scenes and the “away” scenes. As per the show’s usual, the scenes on the farm revolve around the female characters preparing food and being a danger to themselves. Despite the plot’s heavy reliance on Beth, a character we finally, firmly establish the precise identity of this week (she’s Maggie’s sister) yet we’re meant to care if she lives or dies, it’s still a much more effective stab at the question of post-apocalyptic suicide than the last time a tertiary character considered opting out. (That was the season one finale, if you needed reminding.) It also provides for one of Andrea’s better scenes in recent memory, as she finally puts Lori in her place for the many, many stupid things she says and does. Way overdue.
Out where the men play (seriously, no other show on TV is as rigid in its traditional gender-based roles), Shane and Rick finally have a mano-a-mano talk about their feelings. This is a nice move too, but it’s difficult to argue that what occurs between the bookending conversations is really of much import. Rick begins the episode reluctant to simply sacrifice the stowaway, and he ends the episode with that reluctance unchanged. He claims he wants to air it all out, but kind of tunes out in the middle of Shane quite reasonably recounting where it all went “wrong” with him and Lori hooking up. Besides the apparent reconciliation, there’s not nearly as much going on here between these characters as it may initially appear. It’s a conversation’s worth of character development spooned out over an episode. (Oh, and the shooting-another-zombie-through-a-zombie moment? Unfortunately, Justified beat them to that punch a couple of weeks ago, albeit without the zombies. Obviously.)
The show could really stand to toy much more with style and form. What does it say about the show that the most effective, evocative moment of the episode is its last? Wye Oak’s moody “Civilian” scores a simple scene of Shane looking out at the stray walker he keeps eyeing, each time opting not to speak up. It’s wordless and free of action, but it threatens to tell us more about Shane’s state of mind than any chunk of exposition. More of that, please.
After last week’s incredibly disappointing “Triggerfinger”, The Walking Dead returns with the show’s strongest overall episode this season. I say overall because while “18 Miles Out” came with a few minor flaws, (for example, the pre-credits opening which took away any potential surprise from the walker attack), the episode did offer some memorable moments. When looking back on season two, there has been a few dozen or so unforgettable individual sequences: Take for instance Shane’s escape from a high-school overrun by walkers while narrated by Rick’s bedtime story to Carl. And what about the mid season’s barn massacre which finally revealed Sophia’s fate. Hell even Tony and Dave’s Western shootout a couple of weeks ago in the bar was a fantastic scene in an admittedly below average episode. Regardless of how strong or weak each individual episode is, the series still manages to leave us with a pleasant surprise week after week. “18 Miles Out” is no different.
Its become clear that the show runners are taking inspiration from some other hit TV shows. If “Nebraska” recalled Graham Yost’s Justified, than “18 Miles Out” recalls one of Breaking Bad’s best episodes titled “4 Days Out”. Using a similar structure, the show’s two leads go on a long road trip, have a pointed conversation about their their differences, turn on one another, and then hit a major roadblock in which they have to swallow their pride in order to work together to stay alive. Rick and Shane standing at the crossroads made for one of the show’s most compelling moments yet, and one which didn’t require the threat of walkers present. Later we’re treated with another wonderful scene in which the two come across two dead officers laying on the ground side-by-side. Much like looking at a reflection in the mirror, the dead men dressed in similar uniforms that Rick and Shane once wore, speak volumes without words. Building to the moment we’ve all been waiting for, Rick and Shane are pitted against one another, and we finally have our chance to see who really has what it takes to take the lead. Rick, or Shane? Not only did we get our answer, but we were treated to one hell of an action set piece. Nicely done.
But it wasn’t just the men in the spotlight this week. Along with the trio of Rick, Shane and Randall, writers Glen Mazzara and Scott Gimple intercut their scenes with a trio of female characters back on the farm (Maggie, Andrea and Lori). The decision to leave out Glen, Carol, T-Dog, Dale, Daryl, Herschel and even Carl helped “18 Miles Out” to focus more on the characters onscreen and their specific present situation / problems. In truth, the episode might have been stronger had the entire hour been devoted strictly to the road trip, but thankfully the women make their mark as well. Andrea’s heated quarrel with Lori brought their issues out on the table while simultaneously sparking passionate responses from viewers. Do you side with Lori, or does Andrea make a point? Is Lori as self-righteous and hypocritical as Andrea is irritating and borderline psychotic? (I can already tell this will spark off some debate on tomorrow’s SOS WD podcast). I mentioned minor flaws above: is anyone invested in any way with Beth’s character? For someone whose name we only learned of last week while in a coma, I was sort of disappointed in her failed suicide attempt. Call me twisted, but does the show really need anymore dead wight to carry along? She slits her wrists horizontally no less. Has she never watched Heathers? It’s a horrid sequence that’s completely botched by an even worse performance.
Still, for any small criticisms, “18 Miles Out” featured something very rare in the series: interesting discussions and excellent writing between the characters. One can only hope that the dialogue stays strong and that we are introduced to more characters like Randall who may just be potentially more interesting than those who have been standing in the sidelines for far too long. (I’m looking at you T-Dogg.)
As Simon already mentioned above, you have to love the final moment with the great use of the song “Civilian” by Wye Oak playing while Rick and Shane drive away and observe lone walker stumble through the fields.
Shane noticed the zombie guards didn’t have any bites on them. I wonder what this means?