For a Walking Dead episode with comparatively few zombies in it, this managed to be, overall, more disturbing than Guts.
Maybe that’s just me. Maybe it pains me more because zombies? Fantasy. Not gonna happen to me. Not something I’m gonna have to deal with. Hacking someone to bits is unpleasant and disturbing, but it isn’t real.
Tell It to the Frogs is about the violence that people do to each other, and the ways we justify it. I suppose, in the end, it shows that it’s really about the violence we do to ourselves. This episode, twice, shows horrible things done to characters we’ve been made to understand are, well, evil, for lack of a better word. And you know what? The most horrible, gut-wrenching things in this episode are the horrible things done to the villains. You feel for them. You get that these are horrible human beings, but they’re still human beings. That is not easy for a writer or director to accomplish.
Spoilers below the fold.
Previously on AMC’s The Walking Dead:
“All I am anymore is a man lookin’ for his wife. And his son. And his bag of guns. But mostly his wife. Who’s shagging his best friend.”
“We survive this by pulling together, not apart! We especially survive this by pulling Merle Dixon and the roof pipes together, not apart!”
“She’s my sister! This fact is really relevant for some reason!”
“DON’T LEAVE ME! NOOO! I’M TRAPPED ON THE ROOF BY STUPID WRITING!”
“Where’s Glenn?”(Cut to Glenn driving the sports car recklessly and fast, screaming WOOHOO [really] while his stereo blasts hardcore rap music [not really]: I got 99 Problems and this car alarm is one!)
I may make this “Previously On” pastiche a weekly thing if you guys want.
Ahem. Back to serious. We open with a scene of Merle Dixon on the roof. Clearly not mentally stable to begin with, he has started talking to… Himself? A hallucination? Someone he’s imagining? He’s telling a story. He started a fight while in the military, because he is a racist and the other person (an NCO) wasn’t white. And he punched the guy’s teeth out. Got put in the military version of prison for over a year (“hard-time”), but he says it was worth it just to see that guy spit his teeth out. How charming. He tells this story and when it’s over, he notices (remembers?) where he is, and starts straining against his handcuffs. And then the walkers go back to straining against the padlocked door. Merle sees them get it barely open. “Please Oh Jesus Please. I know I’m being punished. I know that I’ve been bad. Help me God show me the way oh please God” (Rough transcription.)
Man, they make you feel bad for the douchebag. And maybe the talk of God punishing him is a writer’s way of explaining the handcuff key falling down the drain?
Merle goes back to trying to reach the hacksaw he wanted last episode. His belt, which he uses to try and extend his reach, is already off–Clearly he’s been trying this for a while. Partway through he starts raving, something about not begging. And the walkers crack open the door a bit.
Cut to credits.
Post-credits: Rick’s driving the truck back to camp. The rest of the group is in the back of the truck except for Morales, who is riding shotgun: “Don’t worry, nobody is going to miss Merle. Well, except his brother.” -Morales. Glenn zooms by in his cool car still shouting WOO-HOO and blasting the car alarm. “Least somebody’s having a good day.” – Morales again. We’ve barely seen anything of this character and I like him already. The actor is warm and mild, and refreshingly, I can understand what he says. I’m not used to Southern accents, which makes it hard to understand a lot of what’s said on this show.
Back at camp: Lori (Rick’s wife) is giving Carl (their son) a haircut (he needs it). Shane (Rick’s best friend and former partner) is cleaning his gun. Shane tells Carl he’s gonna take the boy frog-catchin’. Apparently it isn’t enough for him to fuck his best friend’s wife–He’s looking to replace Rick as a father figure too. And still getting in misogynist digs at Lori while he’s at it.
Look, I’m aware that there’s talk about whether or not the show is misogynist. I’m planning a post to address that point. Shane, though: Definitely misogynist. Definitely an unreliable narrator in that conversation. Definitely thinks of himself as a good guy.
I can’t decide if the right animal metaphor to describe Shane is a weasel, a snake in the grass, or something else. I’m leaning towards snake in the grass.
Right. Frog conversation. Shane’s trying to convince Lori and Carl that frog legs aren’t gross food. “We’ll feed these folks Cajun-style Kermit legs!” he says. Lori says: “I’d rather eat Miss Piggy. [beat] Yes, that came out wrong.”
Help me out here, guys. You’re my Brain Trust. Came out wrong how?
And then they hear the car alarm, and Glenn drives up. Prompting everyone but Glenn to freak out because it’s really loud and noise draws the zombies they went up on the mountain to escape. Amy (pink shirt teenager) freaks out because her sister (Andrea) isn’t in the car with Glenn. Truck drives up. Morales has a wife and kid at the camp. “Told you I’d be back.” Morales has his heartfelt reunion, Amy and Andrea have theirs, and then Rick, his wife, and son, have one wonderful tearjerker of a heartfelt reunion.
Nighttime. The gang is sitting around the fire. Rick talks about his experience after waking up in the hospital. Gods, I hope this scene isn’t foreshadowing to an “All a dream” ending. Rick: “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you, Shane.” Dale: (Clear indication the whole camp knows Shane’s been fucking Rick’s wife.) Ed: (Puts log on the fire.) Shane: (Starts argument with Ed because Ed’s an idiot and they don’t want the smoke to draw walkers.) Ed: (Loses fight). Ed’s wife Carol apologizes for her husband’s egregious behavior. Huh. Then the group gets to talking about how they tell Merle’s brother Darryl the news.
Everyone is in character this scene. That isn’t easy to write when the lines are this short. Rick and T-Dog show themselves to prefer doing the right thing over doing the smart thing, which is a trait I share and like to see in people. Glenn, who is growing on me as fast as Morales, points out “It might sound better coming from a white guy.” Rick, T-Dog, Glenn, Amy, Andrea, Dale, all weigh in. Andrea, along with Jacqui, is the strong female character this show lacked its first episode. Jacqui helped with the very worth-pursuing sewer idea last week, drawing on her city Zoning board experience. Wouldn’t surprise me if her knowledge of the city was extremely useful during survival looting runs; Might explain why she went along. Anyway. T-Dog points out that the zombies (“geeks”) couldn’t have gotten through to Merle, so he’s still up there unless he found a way out. You know, I was really questioning why he locked that door.
Next scene. Rick in the tent with his wife and son. We see Rick has a fresh bandage on his wound. I love how the actor’s been showing that he still has that wound—when he ran in episode two, he clutched his side—one of the little things TV shows often forget about. Rick mentions the photo albums were how he knew they were alive, and Lori pulls one out to look at. “Baby I really never thought I would see you again. …I’m so sorry. For everything.” She’s not just talking about Shane. The last time they spoke it was to have a fight. He notices she has his wedding ring. “Do you want it back?” “…Of course.” Interesting. I think she needs to… Be re-accepted by him. Sort of, re-marry him. Something like that. They go back to kissing. Rick’s hand wanders, a little. Not much. He looks at Carl. Lori says “He won’t wake up.” Eww. That means she knows from prior experience. Rick’s gentleness contrasts with the opening scene of last week’s episode. Shane makes a great foil to the protagonist.
Post-commercial break Glenn complains about them stripping his cool new toy car. He gets that they need the supplies but wanted to play with drive it a few more days. Rick says “Maybe we’ll get to steal another one someday,” which I really really hope is foreshadowing. ‘Cause, cool car. Rick goes to ask his wife permission to let him go rescue Merle. Carl screams: There’s a zombie in the woods, eating a deer with a couple of arrows in it. Cue beatdown ending with Dale beheading it and everyone making oh-man-that-stinks motions. “They never come this far up the mountain.” Enter Darryl Dixon, pissed at the zombie for stealing his kill. He pulls his crossbow arrows out of the deer. “Think we can cut around this chewed-up part right here?” This is not a person who paid attention in high school biology. But he doesn’t argue when Shane says it’s not worth the risk, and at least he got a good number of squirrel. Darryl has a point, though. When you’re surviving, venison sounds mighty good. Meat is hard to come by. The zombie’s severed head starts moving around, and Darryl shoots it through the eye. “Don’t y’all know nothin’?” Well, he may be as poorly-educated as his brother (Using the same arrows to kill zombies as you use to kill food? And then wiping them on your jeans?) but at least he appears to be significantly more mentally stable. Which bodes well for Rick, something he may well be thinking as we watch him watch Darryl walk back to camp.
So, the attempt to tell Darryl what happened to Merle goes as well as expected. Which means, Darryl turns it into a fight. I gotta say, a bunch of squirrels tied together make a very poor projectile. Maybe it would be a better projectile if they were alive.
The plan to get Merle back is made. And sold to the reluctant others. Lori saves Rick the trouble/dignity of volunteering himself to go with Darryl. Rick asks Glenn to go with them, which is smart. Glenn, who’s been there and seen the horror recently, agrees. T-Dog, being T-Dog, insists on going with them. Darryl: “My day just gets better and better don’t it?” T-Dog: “You see anybody else here steppin’ up, to save your brother’s cracker ass?” Darryl: “Why you?” T-Dog: “You wouldn’t even begin to understand. You don’t speak my language.” That language being significantly North on the alignment chart from Darryl and his brother.
Shane (to Rick) “Why would you risk your life for a douchebag like Merle Dixon?”
Darryl: “Hey! Choose your words more carefully.”
Shane (to Darryl): “Oh no, I did. Douchebag‘s what I meant.”
Rick sweetens the deal for the others. Practically: Bag o’ guns ‘n’ ammo. Dale’s toolbox. Morally: Points out they can’t leave a man to die of thirst and sun exposure. Chained up like an animal. Tortured to death, in other words. Words Rick doesn’t use. Also, the bag has his walkie-talkie in it, and Rick really doesn’t want to let Morgan (from episode one) walk into the same trap he fell into: Atlanta was supposed to be safe.
Shane makes a good point: The walkers might show up at camp soon. Rick makes some better points and wins this one. Carl, after this scene, makes an even better point than any of the others: Rick is the protagonist. He cannot die.
Okay, not in so many words. But I love it when a character lampshades that trope in fiction.
Anyway, Rick and T-Dog ask to borrow Dale’s bolt cutter. Dale asks for something in return that Rick was planning on giving him anyway: Dale’s choice of gun. Jim, Dale’s mechanic friend whose name I had to look up on the IMDB, asks for less than Rick was planning on giving him: The truck’s radiator hose. Rick tells Jim he can feel free to strip the truck clean when they get back.
Can you imagine if either had asked for something Rick hadn’t been planning on giving them anyway in exchange for something neither wanted to lend him?
And now we spend time to emphasize that Rick only has four bullets. Please remember this for next week, there might be a test.
Entering town in the railyard. Interesting. Visually striking too. Man, these eHarmony commercials are annoying, and the DirecTV commercials disturbing. Why am I watching the commercials? Looking for zombie-themed commercials, of course. And the contest code for a shamble-on role as a zombWHAT DO YOU MEAN 21+ ONLY?
Back from the commercial. Shane is trying to make sure he’s in a father figure position in case Rick dies on the rescue mission teach Carl to catch frogs. By… splashing around and playing? Man, he isn’t even trying. Jacqui has some of the best lines in this scene: “I’m beginning to question the division of labor here.” “Can someone explain to me how the women ended up doing all the Hattie McDaniel work?” Carl only gets “Derp” as a line.
Back to Rick and co. They’re getting Merle first because that path makes more practical sense.
Andrea, Amy, and Jacqui are doing laundry the old-fashioned way and talking about what they miss.
What. Not who. Something my mom pointed out, you can’t grieve. You can’t talk about how everyone you knew, your friends, family, loved ones. Your coworkers. Your bank teller, everyone is either dead or a monster you may have to shoot in the head. Wayne Dunlap had a picture of a pretty girl in his wallet. Maybe she survived. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe one of his coworkers survived, maybe someone in his family. Maybe the waitress who served him coffee every Sunday night. I think they wouldn’t appreciate knowing that his guts were used as camouflage by these guys. And I think these guys don’t want to think about what else might have happened to everyone they ever knew. You can’t grieve. You can’t mourn. It’s too much. It’s too big. Gods. What it must be like for the survivors in Haiti, in Pakistan.
Jacqui misses her coffee maker. Andrea misses some words I couldn’t understand. Carol misses her laundry machines. Amy misses computers and texting. Andrea misses her vibrator. So does Carol.
And… Ed the wifebeating asshole comes to stare at them and toss misogynist insults. Speaking of misogynists, Lori takes Carl away from Shane’s scheming and draws the line while dropping the title. Nice to see her stand up for herself and her family. Maybe “We’re really sorry it took so long to show that this series really does have strong female characters no really” would have been a better title. Harder to title-drop though.
Andrea, gets pissed at Ed being an asshole, sitting on his ass doing nothing. Ever notice how the only people who use “uppity” are bigots? Ed gets violent. Shane, looking for an excuse to beat someone up, picks Ed. And boy, does Shane ever beat him up. Again, we’ve seen that Ed is a wifebeater and so stupid that he puts his own short-term comfort over everyone’s continued survival. He’s a hateful character. Shane beating him up, then threatening to beat him to death if Ed hits anyone ever again is not heroic. At all. This is clear. Carol cries over him and says “I’m sorry” over and over.
We cut to Rick and co. and in a truly excellent, disturbing reveal, we see that Merle Dixon cut his own hand off to escape. But the door was still bolted. So, if he isn’t a splat on the ground next to the building, I find it unlikely in his mental state and with one hand that he could survive. So the question is whether he’s dead or undead, and we don’t find out this week!
Shout-out to commenter and Brain Trust member Write Softly for successfully predicting Merle cutting his hand off.