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Tag Archives: Episode Reviews
Imposter syndrome. Fake it till you make it. False confidence. There are dozens of phrases in hundreds of permutations that each stand for the proposition that if we can just project enough strength, if we can put the right mask on over our doubts and insecurities, then we will become who and what we hope to be. It’s the idea that inspiration can be built up from within, and eventually flow out to those we seek to lead or impress or merely comfort.
But what if you have imposter syndrome because you are, in fact, an imposter? What if you fake it with all your might, but the odds are too stacked against you for you to make anything? What if your false confidence just gets your friends and allies killed.
For a while, it felt like The Walking Dead had found a nice, consistent rhythm in its storytelling. Since about Season 4, each season would include a handful of episodes that featured everyone in the cast, but most would be smaller, more standalone affairs that focused on a narrower subset of characters. These episodes would tell individual stories and focus on small facets of bigger events that deepen our understanding of the personalities and problems at play. It gave the show a certain decompressed feeling that raised accusations of “boring,” but which also provided The Walking Dead with the space to flesh out its characters and make those stretches between the big set pieces feel less like wheel-spinning and more like an effort, however variable in its success, to make those grand finales matter.
But Season 8 has seemingly abandoned that tack. While not everyone has showed up in every episode thus far, each installment this season has felt like an immediate sequel to the prior one. The siege that began in the premiere continued in last week’s episode. And this week’s episode, “Monsters,” follows directly from there, depicting the same moral conflicts and the same lingering issues that Rick, Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel, Morgan, Jesus, Tara, and Aaron faced in the prior episode. We’re getting one giant story here, rather than a collection of related, but distinct plots that become part of a larger mosaic.
You are never going to fully get away from the “Is it right to kill?” question when you’re telling a zombie apocalypse story. One of the core aspects of the genre is forcing people to make life and death decisions in extreme situations. That’s part of what makes zombie movies and shows both thrilling and thought-provoking; they put the audience in the shoes of the characters and let us wonder whether we’d be saints or slayers when the rules of civilization no longer apply and mortal peril lurks around every corner.
But my god, The Walking Dead has been exploring these issues for seven-going-on-eight seasons at this point, and while it hasn’t dug into every possible permutation of them, it’s come close. There’s some benefit to putting new characters into those scenarios and having them vacillate between mercy and lethal pragmatism while trying to figure out the right way to live in this harsh environment. But you can only lean into this sort of “That’s not who we are” back-and-forth for so long on a television show before it starts to become rote.
Someday, The Walking Dead will end. Sure, with this premise, the folks in charge could theoretically cycle through cast members like Saturday Night Live and go on into eternity. But the practical reality is that, as the show begins its eighth season, it’s likely closer to its end than its beginning.
But it’s hard to imagine what that ending will look like. Comic book creator Robert Kirkman famously declared that his story could go on forever and that he had no clear ending in mind. The recent Robot Chicken special poking fun at the show envisioned a relatively normal future where society has been rebuilt and there’s a Walker Museum devoted to the struggle of the series (with a nice “historical game of telephone” vibe). Others have speculated about who might survive to the end, whether anyone will find a cure, and how a new civilization comes to fruition. Still, there’s no obvious place for this story to end, no clear way to reach a series-length measure of catharsis.
In one of Family Guy’s notorious cutaway gags, a character declares that he “hasn’t been this confused since he watched the film No Way Out.” The scene them flashes back to him exiting a movie theater and declaring, “How does Kevin Costner keep getting work?”
It’s hard not to feel the same bafflement about Inhumans showrunner Scott Buck. The biggest mystery left in the wake of “Behold…The Inhumans!”, the show’s first episode, is not how the titular heroes will cope with a budding coup, or what a seer’s prophecies mean, or even the vaguely-defined superpowers of the protagonists. Instead, it’s how and why studio executives keep handing Buck the keys to the kingdom after how many meh-to-ugh seasons of television have been unleashed on an unsuspecting public under his watch.
Does Buck have compromising pictures of someone important? Are television moguls simply content with the fact that he makes the trains run on time? Or is he just a really nice person?
“I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” That memorable line comes from 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street, one of cinema’s most iconic looks the intersection between commerce, doubt, and belief. “Lisa the Skeptic”, The Simpsons’ effort at addressing that same fault line sixty years later, shares more than a few things in common with its yuletide forebear.
Both stories feature a skeptical young girl trying to make sense of her doubts as well as the hoopla surrounding the very public appearance of something seemingly supernatural. But as I discussed on the Simpsons Show Podcast, while Miracle has a surprising amount of salience and grace even today, “Lisa the Skeptic” is much funnier, but also much clumsier, in the way it addresses topics like faith and skepticism.
Risk is our business. That famous line from Captain Kirk lays out the essential ethos of Star Trek — that the wild and wooly galaxy that our heroes explore is full of pitfalls and dangers, but also of unfathomable possibilities, there to be discovered. As I discussed with Robbie Dorman on the Serial Fanaticist Podcast, the premiere of the aptly-titled Star Trek Discovery embraces that franchise philosophy, giving it form in the sort of distillation and debate and that once fueled its 1960s counterpart.
Family is everything. That was Tywin Lannister’s lesson, even if his interpretation of the sentiment left something to be desired. More than the moment, more than a fleeting grievance, he tried to teach his children that the Lannister name was their legacy and that their family is what truly mattered. “The Dragon and the Wolf” plays with this idea, the concept of who genuinely cares about the blood of their blood, who’s willing to put their own ambitions above the same, and what it gets each of them.
As Game of Thrones draws to a close, the set pieces are bigger, the stakes are higher, and the conflicts are grander. Gone are the days when different characters could be forever wandering across the map while the audience waited with baited breath for them to cross paths. More and more, our good guys and bad guys are clumped together, fighting the dead, their nearest adversaries, or one another, but now doing so in big groups rather than scattered pairings.
And yet, as the show starts to reach its climax, unveiling meetings and match-ups the fans have been salivating over for ages, I find myself relishing the moments that feel more like the show’s long middles than its grand finales. Those were the days of Game of Thrones where our favorite (and least favorite) characters would schlep all around Westeros having conversations with one another, facing the occasional dust up, and wondering what it all meant and about their place in these big events.
Game of Thrones is about opposition, shifting alliances, and rivals stabbing one another in the back. But in a weird way, it’s also about teamwork and cooperation. The events that have ravaged Westeros and turned king against king against king have also produced no end of unexpected allies and strange bedfellows.
From the beginning of the series, when Catelyn Stark forged an uneasy alliance with Tyrion Lannister, to the present where warring queens agree to talk armistice, bastards become brothers in arms, and blacksmiths fight alongside the men who once bought and sold them, the series has always shown that interests sometimes align and serve to unite people who, under other circumstances, might be at one another’s throats.