The Walking Dead—Episode 1.04: Vatos

 Posted by on November 22, 2010 at 12:01 am  The Walking Dead
Nov 222010
 

Oh, man. This is going to be a hard one to write. This episode was intense, and they weren’t kidding with the Viewer Discretion Advised.

The Walking Dead: Vatos

AMCtv.com

It took me a while to get around to watching it the second time, just to do this recap. I never get nightmares from horror right before bed. H.P. Lovecraft is frequent bedtime reading for me, and he’s all about atmosphere. After watching Vatos the first time, I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare taking place post-zombie apocalypse.

This episode has Heaven and Hell. It portrays a little of how the world used to be, and shows it as a paradise. It even has a garden. And it shows the true horror of how the world is now for these people. Maybe after last week’s theme of “People don’t need monsters to be monstrous,” we needed a reminder of just how horrifying these walking dead are.

Spoilers below the fold, and I’m starting with a huge one.

Previously on AMC’s The Walking Dead:

Heartfelt Reunion! Love and glee and puppies! YOU HANDCUFFED MY BROTHER TO A ROOF AND YOU LEFT HIM THERE?
(Shot of T-Dog dropping the key down the drain, which somehow hasn’t magically become plausible)
Rick: “It seems to me what you really need most here… are more guns. And a psychotic gun nut who’s a danger to himself and others back in your camp.”
My other brother Darryl: “MERLE! MERLE! NOOO! HE LOVED THAT HAND! CALLED HER ROSY!”

Ahem.

Amy. Poor, poor Amy. I mean, I could have seen it coming. I really didn’t. And after Ed got et, my first thought wasn’t “Ohmigod Amy’s next,” it was “Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod.”  We open the episode with some character development for both Amy and Andrea. Andrea’s the tough one, Amy’s the gentle one. The gentle one, whose birthday is tomorrow. It’s like when a police officer is about to retire, or when the soldier shows the other guys in his unit a picture of his pregnant wife. It’s fiction-savvy code for “this character is about to die, let’s make the audience more sympathetic towards her first.” Yet I didn’t see it coming by a longshot. Honestly, I really wasn’t a fan of this character. I already knew she was the gentle one. A bit immature; Carl seems to have more wisdom than she did. I have no idea how she survived the apocalypse in the first place. She wasn’t cut out for survival. She’s just too nice.

Yet I felt so bad for her. Mostly for Andrea, actually. And the heartbreaking scene of Amy dying, her last words “We’re out of toilet paper?”…I felt bad for her. I was distracted while watching it by “Andrea, you idiot! Don’t get infected!” They wore gloves to chop up Wayne Dunlap for a good reason, you know. Small cuts and such on your hands and skin are much more common than most people realize. I hope Andrea doesn’t wipe her eyes before cleaning up thoroughly. Yeah, I know. Distracted by petty details like that during a big emotional scene. Still, no one deserves to die that way. I can’t decide whether it will take Shane’s callousness or Rick’s goodness to make sure she doesn’t turn into a walker. I really hope it isn’t Darryl’s cold pragmatism that does what needs to be done.

When that nameless red shirt got eaten, I was terrified it was Morales. Who, wonderfully, turned out to be quite the badass this episode, beating away zombies with a baseball bat. Let’s talk about the rest of the episode now, though.

I like how each episode opens with a little, almost-standalone piece of characterization. Rick getting gas, Lori and Shane’s tryst, Merle Dixon on the roof, and now Andrea and Amy fishing. As far as the plot goes, each could be cut out seamlessly. But these are some of the best show-don’t-tell moments. The fishing trip is all about Andrea and Amy; you learn a little about their father, and how he raised them. Somehow, you can see it reflected in who they are.

We get our answers to the questions that have all been on our minds: Why wasn’t there that much blood on the roof? Why did Merle cut off his hand instead of through the cuffs? We see the blood, and we hear Darryl’s answer that the hacksaw was too dull for metal.

We see a whole new level of toughness in Rick. In the standoff between T-Dog and Darryl, he whips his gun out like lightning. His lack of hesitation in pointing right at Darryl’s head lends credibility to his statement that he “won’t hesitate” to shoot. And though I know he wouldn’t like to shoot, he’d do it. It’s nice to know that Rick is Good, not stupid. It’s amusing how Darryl says “You got a do-rag or somethin’?” to T-Dog, and he pulls out… a regular blue handkerchief. It even has paisley. Glenn’s face as Darryl stuffs the hand into his backpack is nicely subtle.

Couple of meta notes: We actually saw T-Dog go back and get the toolbox–good. They needed to show that. On the other hand, there being an additional staircase down from the roof raises more questions than it answers. How did they get through it? How did the zombies not get through it? Why weren’t we made aware of its existence before so it didn’t seem to come out of nowhere?

It’s good to finally get some background about who the hell Jim is, as well as learn his name. He’s still creepy looking, but now he’s also psychic? And sees the future in his dreams? I thought this was harder science fiction than that.

Darryl: “Toughest asshole I ever met, my brother. Feed him a hammer he’d crap out nails.”

Quote of the episode, right there. Feed him a hammer, he’d crap out nails. That should be on a T-shirt.

So the fab four follow the trail of blood and chewed scenery to try and find Merle. The first zombie they kill goes down comically, like a pratfall. Guess Merle missed that one.

“Ladies, because of you, my children will eat tonight. Thank you.” – Morales.

So, let’s see. Darryl brings the camp squirrel and fails to bring venison. Amy and Andrea? Bring fish. Lots and lots of fish. Post-apocalypse, meat is really hard to come by, and the only ones who manage to bring in a lot of it? Women. It’s the women who are Mighty Hunters. None of the male characters, so far as we’ve seen, have brought in anything as good for the camp to eat. And based on everyone’s reactions, this is their first yummy, filling meal in a long time. Pity they don’t have any butter.

It really bothers me that we haven’t gotten much back story for Dale. He seems like he’s practically the camp leader at times. He has the RV, he’s observant, he has a bunch of tools and fishing gear, he’s probably retired, whatever. Who is he, and who was he before the apocalypse?

While we’re on the subject of Dale, I want to take a moment to clarify something that came up a lot in the comments last week: It’s really hard to hide a tryst in a group that small. Everyone who isn’t oblivious probably knew about Shane and Lori. Jacqui, Andrea, Dale, and Jim almost certainly all knew. Ed, Darryl, and Merle almost certainly didn’t. Morales, T-Dog, and Glenn more likely than not knew. Sleeping with someone shows in your body language, and Shane probably threw in a double-entendre here and there where he shouldn’t have. He’s the type.

When I saw the still-burning flames in the kitchen or whatever it is my first thought was “Oh my God, he cauterized the wound.” Then I saw the metal thing Merle did it with and I knew he cauterized the stump. Then Rick said “He cauterized the stump.” Did we really need that spelled out? I know I didn’t, but mostly because cauterizing is all over the place in fiction.

I love the confrontation between Rick and Darryl when they see that Merle, like Elvis, left the building. Darryl is growing on me as a character, in terms of the writing if not in terms of the person. In response to Rick’s, “But only if we keep a level head,” he says “I can do that,” and that sums it up. He isn’t stupid. He comes from a redneck background and isn’t particularly educated. He’s hotheaded and racist, but he isn’t a caricature or one-dimensional like Merle. Merle is crazy, stupid, and evil, although some of that might be the drugs Merle was on when we met him. We’ve only seen two sides of Darryl so far: Level-headed/competent, and machismo/angry. But, that’s more than we saw of Merle; more than we’ve seen of a lot characters, actually.

T-Dog: “Only if we get the guns first. I’m not strolling the streets of Atlanta with just my good intentions, okay?”

Nice line. Not very realistic dialogue, but well-written nonetheless.

All the characters ganging up on Jim to stage the intervention feels kind of creepy, but then so is Jim. His PTSD must be horrible.

Shane doesn’t tackle Jim until Jim swings the shovel at him. Looks like he’s trying harder not to resort to violence than he did with Ed. Jim’s comment, “That’s their marriage.” is… Well, it’s a point of view. One that attempts to justify Genovese Syndrome, but it’s a common point of view nonetheless. My point of view is that assault is assault, whether or not the people involved are married to each other.

Darryl: “Hey kid, what’d you do before all this?”
Glenn: “Delivered pizzas. Why?”

For those who don’t know, “Ayudame,” which the Latino kid yells, is Spanish for “HELP!” “Vatos” means “dudes,” and “Vatos locos” is, I believe, a kind of Latino gang. I think that “vatos” can refer to members of the gang, and that’s how it’s used in this episode. Or it’s used the way we’d use “guys” in English. If anyone in the Brain Trust speaks Spanish, I’d appreciate your help in the comments.

Jim says Rick is “tough as nails” and Shane answers “Oh yeah.” It says a lot. It looked like he was saying “I’m not looking forward to him finding out about me and Lori,” but maybe that’s just me. We know they’d been partners for a while. Shane certainly knows about Rick’s tough side.

Jim’s whole speech…Frank Darabont is heavy-handed. This is not news. This whole series seems to be saying, and I need to give credit to my mom for noticing this, that you need law. You need order. Other zombie fiction has it that the police aren’t any more helpful than the zombies. This show is an interesting contrast to that. Morales’s building up the rock wall is imposing order. Even Jim, while tied to a tree, recognizes the need to maintain order.

[Mom jumps in to add: Here's a quote from a movie blog I frequent; I don't want to take credit for an idea I actually lifted:

I think my fundamental problem with The Walking Dead is how safe it seems. Darabont and company, like Kirkman before them, hang the series on the strong lawman archetype, and in doing so, ground the whole project in a kind of conservatism. Say what you like about the Romero films, but in every one of them, law enforcement is shown to be every bit as much of a problem as the zombies.]

Meanwhile, Rick and Darryl are playing Good Cop/Psycho Not-cop with the kid that they took prisoner, whose name is Miguel. “I wouldn’t name my dog Merle,” he spits. Lovely. “You wanna see what happened to the last guy that pissed me off?” Darryl retorts, and throws his brother’s hand at the kid. I still can’t figure out why he took the hand. It’s not like they’re going to be able to reattach it.

The actor playing Guillermo twitches his head every time he talks. This is really distracting when he’s giving exposition and heavy-handed lines about not judging by appearances, which is The Theme Of The Episode. Abuela (Spanish for grandmother) showing up is a pretty blatant deus ex machina, but the episode makes up for that later on when the fab four get back to camp. As Rick follows Abuela, we see a garden. We see light streaming in. We see a little of how the world used to be. This is the paradise, the Heaven I mentioned at the beginning. We also get some commentary on Katrina—doctors and nurses leaving patients behind was something that happened when the levees broke. When Guillermo says, “The people here, they all look to me now. I don’t even know why,” it emphasizes the parallel between him and Rick. We know Rick’s the protagonist. We know from the show’s description that Rick is going to end up the leader of this group of survivors. What Guillermo said could be foreshadowing, or it could be something that makes Rick realize something about himself. He isn’t his group’s leader, not yet.

Glenn: “Admit it. We only came back to Atlanta for the hat.”
Rick: “Don’t tell anybody.”

I don’t understand why Rick and co. don’t take the bus that’s right there back to camp instead of walking. Maybe they took it partway? It’s hard to keep track of the passage of time respectively between camp and the Rescue Rangers; It seems to be passing differently as it’s filmed. Speaking of which, I also don’t understand why we spent so long listening to Dale quote Faulkner. Did that serve some purpose?

“Ed, she wants to join in.” Well, at least Carol began to learn to stand up to him a little before Ed got et. Dead Ed means no messy domestic abuse for the writers to deal with. This is also where we make up for the deus ex machina earlier on: Rick and co. don’t arrive just in the nick of time. They arrive well past the point of…. Of…

Ye Gods. This isn’t any easier to watch the third time. Amy’s death is horrific, heartbreaking, and terrifying. Glenn shooting that gun is impressive. Morales swinging that bat is badass. But there’s just. So. Much. Death. So much horror, and human emotion. Rick screaming and running for his wife and son. Andrea breaking down so nakedly.

You know, I figured those were graves Jim was digging.

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  13 Responses to “The Walking Dead—Episode 1.04: Vatos”

  1. The final sequence was as hard-core as it gets on mainstream cable. That was incredibly tense and beyond belief disturbing.

  2. Nice wrap-up, Arthur. (And thanks for last week’s shout-out!)

    After having watched the episode twice myself (AMC’s “encore” airing of the ep immediately following the last scene made that one easy), I’m struck by a few things. My good friend who got me hooked on TWD pointed out that this episode was written by Kirkman himself. At first I was fired up to hear that. Then, when we were mired in the depths of the confrontation with the Vatos, I thought, what is this doing? The author himself wrote in a sequence not in the book, AND one that doesn’t seem to advance the storyline? Thumbs way down. But I see now that it did have its place. My take on it was that it was one more way to show us that things (and people) are not always what they seem. That’s a good lesson to learn in a world where you probably are initially glad to see anyone new coming toward you who doesn’t stagger and have half their face hanging below their chin in a bloody mess. My mom’s take on it was that it had something to say about what a leader really is — that Guillermo has internalized this lesson as his group’s leader, and that Rick, while he may intellectually understand it already, is not yet living it out. Nicely done, Kirkman — I’ll give you a little more trust next time I see your name in the credits as the episode’s writer.

    “Ed, she wants to join in.” My take on that wasn’t so much Carol learning to stand up to Ed as it was preserving Sophia’s safety, but I could be wrong. My gut tells me that we could plausibly take away that Carol knows what Ed is capable of, and while she might have tolerated being knocked around herself (and surely Sophia has seen THAT happen a few times), perhaps Ed abused her in even more (and more horrible, and more private) ways as well, and Carol wasn’t ABOUT to leave Sophia alone with Ed, nuh-uh, not even for a minute. Instead of giving us a glimpse of Carol’s backbone, I think I felt more like I’d seen even more of Ed’s blackened soul. It’s almost like the show said, if you felt sorry for Ed last week, don’t worry — he’s still an evil jackass you can hate without impunity. I didn’t really feel bad when that walker got him, and I think that scene helped me take that step back. (Though I will admit his nasty bruises were a good reminder of Shane’s vicious unloading, as if we needed it after Jim’s reaction to Shane earlier in the ep.)

    I came away from this heavy and painful episode with a new appreciation for Laurie Holden’s casting as Andrea. To date, I hadn’t been a huge fan — I loved Holden in “The Majestic,” a quiet dramatic gem seen by far too few, but she seemed wrong as Andrea. Too bouncy with each line, too much like she was wringing every bit of drama out of every word of dialogue assigned to her. It was an impression I got IMMEDIATELY when we met her, and it only strengthened with each scene I saw. But she shows her mettle while Andrea hovers over a dying Amy — there was confusion, horror, pain, desperation, denial, and a gripping, paralyzing grief that was no less impactful for me the second time around. I love Andrea in the books, so I’m hoping for more steel and less bouncy drama moving forward from Holden, but whatever she shows us, I won’t soon forget that scene.

    Nice bit of acting on the part of the young man who portrays Carl — overwhelming relief at seeing his dad again, horror unleashed at what he’s just witnessed, and a kid’s natural reaction to seeing a member of camp dying in front of him — he sobs and buries his face in his dad’s body, wanting desperately to have a shield from all that’s around him. It was a real moment, and I continue to be impressed by the dynamic that Rick and Carl share.

    Re: Rick’s hat – anyone else have an “Indiana Jones” vibe from that? Seemed strange.

    And I figured those were graves Jim was digging, too. Jim talks SCADS more on-screen than he did in the book’s pages, but I guess that makes sense for film. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, though, even if I like Jim.

    One more totally random observation, and then I’m off to cook breakfast for my husband and two kiddos — Darryl with that crossbow reminds me of Legolas in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He’s lethal with it, uncannily accurate. While he’s no Elven prince (or prince of any kind, really), there’s an easy competence with the weapon that reminds me of Legolas, especially the way both men have to retrieve arrows from their victims out of a sense of cold pragmatism. Anyone else? I don’t think that goes anywhere, just a thought. :)

    Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!

  3. WS, I agree about Sophie. Carol is quietly steering her daughter away from abuse when she can.

  4. I’m pleased to see that my other brother Darryl is growing a second dimension. He still has a way to go to be a fully realized character. Jim was a little talkier than you would expect from him, but it was moving and well-done. The zombie invasion was horrific, but falls a little episode TV/B movie short of ‘good’, verisimilitude-wise. What’s with Jim’s assembly of the tin-can warning line [and having Dale, Sean and others stand watch in the night] if not to avoid just this surprise – and after the zombie/deer incident just outside the camp, no less! One added scene – the assembled campers hearing the jingle of tin cans – after Amy left for the RV – would have set up the invasion scene, with some respect for the survivors’ watchfulness, without spoiling the surprise, or the sacrifice of Ed and sweet Amy. On Ed – our post-modern anti-male [puerile and perverse] fascination/obsession with sexual abuse leads to too much speculation down that path, IMHO [a la Sally and Grandpa Gene in MM]. Its bad enough that Ed smacked his wife and kid, an offense for which Shane made sure he paid dearly. I read the Ed/wife/kid tent scene for two things – Ed’s humanity in seeking some comfort, in his shame, from a daughter he loves [though he might have hit], the daughter taking comfort in the group, and the wife wanting to allow her that comfort while also keeping her close for protection from what lurks outside. Remember Jim’s advice to Lori to keep Carl within sight? Very good TV horror, but I hope for better. I think Dale quoting Faulkner was a nice touch, though the quote was convoluted and wordy. His dialogue has always shown that he is a literate, educated man. This was an opportunity to display that.

  5. Honestly, this show is starting to lose me a bit. I found the opening scene to be too obviously telegraphing Amy being a red shirt. But they still had to hit us over the head by making it her birthday to boot. And the vatos/nursing home deal really didn’t work for me. They’re playing a little too broadly with racial and ethnic stereotypes for my taste. Every week we have some cracker or skinhead or yoyo playa to deal with. The first episode did not have these cliches and clunky ideas, but the subsequent episodes have not lived up to that promise, imo.

    I do love the zombie action sequences, tho. As sociological/psychological commentary, it’s subpar, but as a horror show, it’s excellent!

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  7. Thank you for this thread otherwise I may have made the mistake of watching this way-too-creepy-for-me show. However, my husband simply loves this kind of stuff and can’t get enough of zombiods, demonettes and other weirdonks.

    I don’t know how he’s missed this so far. Record on.

  8. Hey! Just wanted to let you know that YES your spanish is legit haha
    and thanks for quoting me! “I wouldn’t name my dog Merel”hahaha

  9. Thanks for the recap Arthur. Just when I was, “oh, it’s ‘G’ for this week’s one-note stereotyped scenery-chewing character,” Abuela shows up. Got me! I LOLed. Then, I thought, “oh, a little Eden in Hell-on-Earth” when I saw Abeula’s courtyard garden. Thanks for the Katrina inference…I couldn’t place why this elders-left-behind scenario seemed likely.

    I liked the opening scene (and your observation that we get different characters developed each epi in the opening scene), although I felt they told us after they told us (they said the same thing twice about dad suiting their needs in case you didn’t get it–never mind “it’s her birthday”). Another scene featuring the quarry. I’d say that’s the camp’s little Eden (when wife-beaters aren’t getting a beatdown). I didn’t let myself surmise where this scene was leading (red shirt alert), although I certainly was expecting the camp to be invaded (which we knew from the previews) while the Gang of Four was in Atlanta. When else? So during the long walk back I was on the edge of my seat, and I knew Amy was a goner when she announced she was leaving the campfire. But still found it thrilling. I too thought Morales was done for, and I was pleased to see his athletic abilities. I congratulated myself for knowing we’d get a zombie attacking a tent—I’d been waiting for weeks! I thought Ed reacted slowly—deer in headlights? Still weak from the beating? I’m with # 4 Don’s Love Child on Ed’s motivation in wanting his daughter to stay with him.

    #2 Write Softly, I took the Rick-retrieving-his-deputy-sheriff-hat business as 1) a little levity (notice Glenn was part of that scene), 2) another demo of Rick trying to hold onto his humanity (a visual and tactile reminder of his old life), 3) writer/director establishing Rick as group leader (not sure Rick was thinking that himself).

    I rested my brain during Dale’s Faulkner bit; as he said last week, words come up short. Maybe this is supposed to show a bit about his character. Andrea’s college education was mentioned, as was Glenn’s job as pizza deliverer, so we’re getting teensy bits of info. I like the tidbits—please WD—no flashbacks! No long exposition!

    (Isn’t Steven Yeun terrific as Glenn? I love his expressive face.)

    I think Jim is off-putting for some because the actor’s eyes don’t focus well for the camera. I was creeped out by the intervention, but I suppose it was necessary. (I didn’t let myself put it together that this was the epi where the camp was going to be invaded, but too I knew those where graves Jim was digging.)

    I’ll say it again. Merle lives.

  10. About Jim: I am disappointed in the way Kirkman chose to translate the character to TV.

    In the comic, he was a man so shell-shocked by his experience in Atlanta that, well, he’s been shocked into silence. He barely speaks, doesn’t really interact with anyone, apparently helps, but otherwise, a shell.

    Too bad he was turned into a talkative creep.

  11. Any thoughts on Dale’s “paraphrasing” of Faulkner? My only thoughts were, “of course TWD would quote a southern author,” “I couldn’t force myself to read The Sound and the Fury,” and “it kind of reminds of Proust…time and memory…another author I could never force myself to read.”

    A quick Google reveals that the paraphrased quote is indeed from The Sound and the Fury:

    “Quentin, I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reductio ad absurdum* of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his fathers. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”

    Questin, a character in the novel, breaks the watch, which seems to reject the message contained in this quote. Anyway, I found Dale’s (Faulkner’s) words a bummer. In the TWD scene, everyone seemed very thoughtful (big close-up of Shane nodding to himself), but I have no idea what the characters might be thinking.

    Thoughts anyone?

    *“Reductio ad absurdum is a mode of argumentation that seeks to establish a contention by deriving an absurdity from its denial, thus arguing that a thesis must be accepted because its rejection would be untenable. It is a style of reasoning that has been employed throughout the history of mathematics and philosophy from classical antiquity onwards.” (From http://www.iep.utm.edu/)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. I’m a big fan of irony. What if Andrea wrapped Amy’s gift with the last of the toilet paper?

    On a serious note, Vatos = Homeboys = Homes. Good to see the writers got one thing right – Hispanics look after their own. No way they abandon Abuela and her fellow patients. I do loathe the typical stereotyping of Latin males as gang bangers. It is logical to the assume urban gang bangers would be well equiped to survie in a post-apocalyptic world.

    Last thing, I know I was being manipulated but I liked when G identified himself as the “custodian”. “Janitor” would have been a natural choice of words but there is something genuine about “custodian”.

  13. Patroadtrip, thanks for explaining the Faulkner reference. I hadn’t placed it and didn’t make the effort to look it up. I assume the speaker is Quentin’s, Caddy’s and Jason’s father, a bit of a pretentious twit, as I recall, who fell far short of his own father [General Jason Compson]‘s pioneer/Civil War heroics. Again, writing from memory, I believe Mr. Compson also makes an appearance as one of the narrators describing Thomas Sutpen’s life in Absalom, Absalom!, my personal favorite Faulkner [aside from 'The Bear']. Drilling down, the quote puts Dale in a less-than-favorable light, inconsistent with the way the character has been presented so far. Maybe that’s the only Faulkner the writers knew/remembered. Donnybrook, I’m with you on the tawdry stereotypes. As has been said before, this ain’t MM …….

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