One of my biggest qualms with heavily serialised television is the tendency to structure episodes with the assumption viewers will watch them back to back. Whenever I complain about this aspect of AMC’s The Walking Dead, my friend always points out she catches the show on DVD. Well, of course she doesn’t mind the haphazard pacing if she watches the season as a single narrative. However, the show is originally broadcast on a weekly basis, with months-long hiatuses no less, and when the wait’s that long, you sort of need to climax every now and… Wait. Were we talking about The Walking Dead or long-distance relationships? I may be remembering this wrong.
At any rate, “18 Miles Out” is the first episode to feel like it’s got a beginning, middle, and end (more of this please). Only two threads are featured: Rick’s macho squabble with Shane in the school parking lot and Lori’s catty debate with Andrea over whether to let Beth kill herself. Both reach new heights in terms of shameless melodrama. However, the first subplot proves decidedly more compelling than the second. In fact, I’m starting to wonder whether Robert Kirkman and crew can write modern female characters with any semblance of believability, but we’ll get to that later.
For now, let’s discuss Deputies Walsh and Grimes’ wrestling match, which Lori instigated last week because she’s a woman and, according to The Walking Dead, women are evil. One good thing to come out of it is Shane finally confessing what happened with Otis. I love that he can’t look his friend in the eye. This hints at his true moral core. I love even more that Rick doesn’t judge him, focusing instead on the nerve it takes to make this sort of sacrifice. Acknowledging that the decision helped save Carl’s life, he foregoes self-righteous indignation in favour of his partner’s rehabilitation.
Mind you, they still act like childish nincompoops, picking a fistfight in an unsafe area. The point remains though: their bond must survive the pressures of the zombie apocalypse. Unconvinced? Consider this heavy dose of symbolism: the two uniformed walkers they find in front of the school show no scratch or bite mark. The corpses may serve as foreshadowing for major complications regarding the plague, but I think they mostly represent an alternate path for Rick and Shane, one in which our favourite deputies have shut each other out and just let themselves become monsters. I love a good bromance.
I also appreciate a good female bonding story, but the ladies’ half of the episode strikes me as the exact opposite, by which I mean Lori and Andrea antagonise each other and very little of it proves any good. For one, as someone who’s witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of depression, I don’t buy the notion of attempted suicide as an empowering rite of passage. As a result, every word coming out of their mouths felt like hallow platitudes to me. Mind you, I did enjoy someone finally telling off Queen Bee Grimes, who does indeed “take it all for granted”.
The subplot truly falls apart when Lori accuses Andrea of “working on her tan with a shotgun on [her] lap”, blaming the woman for doing men’s work instead of taking care of laundry. Now, I’ve got no issue with a female cast member succumbing to institutional misogyny, but the writers have to acknowledge her backward mindset for it to work as a character trait. Are they suggesting that our heroes have adopted more traditional gender roles in reaction to civilisation falling apart, that we instinctively revert to a more primal way of life when the chips are down, or that Princess Grimes is a time-traveller who grew up in the early nineteen hundreds? All strike me as worthy ideas (even time-warp Lori), but we require context to decipher them.
As such, “18 Miles Out” turns out somewhat of a mixed bag. At least the focus remains on the characters. Even newcomer Randall, whose sole purpose here is to provide an ethical dilemma for Rick and Shane, manages to get a bit of his personality across (he comes off as an insecure parasite). The character depth: that’s what I like most about heavily serialised television. When I praise this aspect of AMC’s The Walking Dead, no one disagrees.