Zombies and Laboratories Don’t Mix

Alien CorridorThe Facility: a place of sterile environments, long hallways, specialized equipment and fluorescent lights. Doors open and close with the hiss of automation. Sometimes, the central computer system will speak to you in an emotionless voice.

Inevitably, these secret places of scientific pursuit will suffer a breach. The brilliant people who labor there will fly too high and suffer for their hubris. Let me count the ways: Portal, Lost, Alien, Doom, Moon, Half-life, The Thing, et cetera.

An environment constructed for efficiency within strict space constraints is, by its nature, highly ordered and secure. If you introduce chaos into that system, whether it is a space ship or an arctic research station, the potential for isolation, paranoia, fear and disaster become apparent immediately and grows exponentially.

Unfortunately, the potential for boredom is just as great – that is why, as the blast doors of the CDC opened and flooded the survivors of AMC’s The Walking Dead with a wash of blinding white light last week, my heart filled with a dread that had nothing to do with flesh-starved undead.

Walking Dead CDCThanks to George Romero’s mediocre Day of the Dead and the ridiculous Resident Evil franchise (both the videogames and the movies), I can’t help but think that it is only a matter of time before any given zombie story winds up inside a lab. Unlike other types of horror, zombie stories don’t go to a facility to promote claustrophobic terror, they go to give me an explanation I don’t care about.

The scenes from zombie movies that made the deepest impressions on me are all outside and all about keeping on the move: the gas station scene in the original Dawn of the Dead or the attempted rescue of Andy the Gun Guy in the remake or the tunnel scene in 28 Days Later (I am already aware that they aren’t technically zombies, thanks, no need to correct me in the comments). They are scenes about necessity, desperation and the drive for survival even in the face of a hopeless situation.

Meanwhile, the whys and wherefores of a zombie apocalypse are uniformly uninteresting. Wrath of god, virus, alien parasite, yellow musk creeper, military experiment – the only things that changes with the origin of the outbreak are the variations in how the zombies act and how the infection is transmitted, things that can easily be explained elsewhere. It doesn’t change that fact that the world is effed. No, the only thing this kind of narrative detour usually tells me is that the writing team is too in love with their own mythology.

The Walking Dead finale shambled into that minefield but, by some miracle, managed to shamble out without blowing its legs off.

Walking Dead ZombiesIt was a nerve-wracking trip and the easy comparison between the introduction of Dr. Jenner in the previous episode and the introduction of Desmond in the beginning of the second season of Lost did little to inspire confidence (the heartbreak of watching Lost‘s spiral from being smartest show on television down to the stupidest is still too fresh).

We did indeed get a vague explanation of how the infection works (yawn) and flashes of that old gag about human beings worse than the zombies (zzz). But what we also got was an anxiety-filled allegory for shutting down in the face of adversity – as the CDC closed itself off from the world, so too did some of the survivors, but whether they laid down in acceptance or defeat is left up to the viewer to decide.

Most of them, however, fled back into the wide open world, where a zombie story of this scope can truly shine. And the facility? A smoking ruin, just as it should be.

Let’s just hope it is the last time Walking Dead flirts with disaster.

~

Addendum: The Walking Dead finale may have dodged the bullet with the CDC situation, but that doesn’t mean it gets a pass for its other bullshit maneuver.  Having a important scene in which one character whispers in the ear of another character but with no audible dialogue isn’t a clever way to creating a talking point for a cliffhanger finale – it is lazy and insulting. Bad enough audiences have to wait nearly a year for a new season, jerking them around with cheap narrative tricks is just salt in the wound.

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  • Dave Trainer

    Thank god Bill got out.

  • Dave Trainer

    Damn iphone Dale not "bill"

    I still have many questions for instance, where did that helicopter come from? Never mentioned again, also what happened to Morgan and his son? Questions I have to wait till october to find out…

  • Ian Gonzales

    What I liked most about the finale, and it didn't hit me until late last night, were the scenes between Dale and Andrea (Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden, respectively). They echoed the last project the actors worked on with Frank Darabont, The Mist.

    Both projects dealt with the hopelessness of civilization’s fall. The actors’ Mist counterparts (Dan and Amanda) took a much more fatalistic approach to the end of all that was. The Walking Dead characters don’t succumb as easily.

    Taking this episode (and the whole series, actually) in context with the rest of Mr. Darabont’s work is quickly enhancing my appreciation of it (Lost references aside).

    @Dave Don't blame the iPhone for your Freudian Slip.

  • Stu Horvath

    Don't get me wrong, the only thing so far that the Walking Dead has gotten wrong was that whisper.

    I agree with you Ian. There are definitely echoes of the Mist in there, as well as a lot of other movies and stories. I would just be a whole lot comfortable if the show slowed the pace and started exploring new territory instead of re-examining older tropes. That's risky business.

  • http://agentfenris.tumblr.com Kurt Christenson

    After a few lackluster episodes, I thought this one was bringing it back. Though the whole bringing in survivors just a day before the whole place blows is kind of hokey. But it really did drive home the point of "why bother?" I mean, how is this series going to end that'll bring any satisfaction? They all die or whoever's left winds up on an island where they can re-populate the earth?

    And the widening of the scope of the problem was a nice touch, so if France has fallen, well hell, where could possibly be safe?

    And yes, that god damn whisper will be the plaguing question until next season, which, if it's anything like that grenade, they won't play until we've totally forgotten about it.

    I don't love it, but it is consistent.

    K

  • Ken Lucas

    I think you make some valid points. I think the whole CDC thing could have been based on the possibility of not being renewed for a second season. Maybe that was the best ending they could come up with it if it was, indeed, the final episode. There was definitely a number of awkward scenes towards the end (the grenade, the whisper). This episode also probably had the least amount of zombies. I'm sure they will tighten up on their second run.

  • George Collazo

    Anybody else feel that Darabont was doing a full on nod to the Andromeda Strain? I kind of feel that he's kind of working the angle of the show as being constant throwbacks to science fiction and horror movies, just like the close encounters shot at the end of the previous episode.

  • http://gwar.net Joe Ott

    Guys– give the show a chance. I have recently spoken with and interviewed Robert Kirkman, creator of the comics, and he directly supervising/writing for Season Two. He is involved a lot more than he lets on to the press. So, just hold back on the negativity for now, unplug your tv, and read a couple of the books.

  • George Collazo

    @Joe I definitely feel that the show is pretty awesome, and the fact that it could have easily dropped the ball, but he manages to always stay one step ahead rules!

  • Stu Horvath

    @Kurt: "I don’t love it, but it is consistent." This is exactly what I hope I am not saying at the end of next season.

    @Ken: I didn't mind the grenade. I almost got annoyed at Daryl for continuing to hit things with his axe that wouldn't break or die, but then he got the decapitation at the end, so, good on Daryl.

    @George: I was thinking about Andromeda Strain when I wrote this last night (it is actually the first "Facility Horror" flick I could think of outside of the original Thing) but if I included it, I would have been up all night. Each episode seems to be riffing on a different movie or trope. Which is cool. But man, it also makes me nervous!

    @Joe: I am not a big fan of the comics. They started out interestingly enough but wound up leaving me cold before too long. I'm watching the TV show because I have faith that Darabont will ultimately iron out the problems I had with the source material. So far he has, but he's also wandered into dodgy territory of his own making. He thankfully wandered out mostly unscathed, as George points out, but the danger was still there…

  • Ian Gonzales

    @Ken and @Stu Daryl's unwillingless to relent is what makes me love that character. He won't stop fighting, even against the inevitable. Mark my words, I think he's going to be the stand-out character next season.

    @Joe I like the show quite a bit. I did stop reading the comic after the Governer came back though. His return just felt silly to me. Does it get any better after that?

  • Stu Horvath

    @Ian: Wait…the Governor comes BACK? Ugh.

  • Kevin J. Raineri

    @Joe Ott: I miss you buddy.

    Interesting note: Executive Producer Frank Darabont has apparently fired the entire writing team of Season 1. The 6-episode series was written with a team of writers in a writing room with one writer assigned to collect all the thoughts ideas and scenes and piece together the episode. Darabont the "polishes" the script. He now wants to go with freelance writers instead of his team.

    AMC just wants season 2.

  • http://japanesedudegirl.blogspot.com Chuck

    This seemed like it was added to explain out the fact that there is no answer for the why. Lets get the why over with. When you see the facility actually blow up I felt like that is the moment when the series was beginning.

    I predict that the rest of the show will follow the group in a similar fashion to the way the original Battlestar Galactica plot line went, always searching for Earth.

  • Stu Horvath

    @Chuck: I totally agree. I think that everything that happened in this episode needed to happen. It could have maybe happened better, but regardless, we got it out of the way and now we can move on.

  • Stu Horvath

    Test!

  • Rob Roberts

    The addition of Jenner and the CDC was a necessary segway between season one and two. Prior to getting to the CDC, the group was still living with some small—albeit unconscious—hope that civilization might still have a chance. Jenner served the purpose of killing that hope, and not just with opinion, but with scientific confirmation. I thought Jenner’s line, “This is our extinction event!” was perfect. I think that’s what they needed to hear, and there’s no better illustration of this than Andrea’s reaction.

    In season two, the group will exist simply as hopeless survivors in a dead world. That’s the contrast that Jenner and the CDC injected into the story. I don’t think the episode would have worked as well if the group had just hit the road right away.

    I have to admit, my two favorite elements of the episode were the whisper and the TS-19 animation. I thought the whisper move was excellent. Rick looked like Jenner punched him in the stomach. I think it’s going to be a great revelation, and I’m perfectly happy waiting for the right moment to hear it. The usual move would have been for Jenner to speak loud enough so that we could all share Rick’s “Oh sh*t” moment. But by not knowing, we’re almost in the same boat as the rest of the group.

    And when it comes to zombies, sometimes I prefer thinking that the dead are returning and who the hell knows why. But, every now and then, I do like when certain stories throw in hints or suggestions of a cause. I loved TS-19 because it didn’t even do that. Jenner didn’t explain why; he just showed what happens. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that used before.

    I think season two’s going to deliver. My only question is: Where’s Merle?