EPISODE REVIEWS: The Walking Dead: “Secrets” (Season 2, Episode 6) and “Pretty Much Dead Already (Season 2, Episode 7)

Flabbergasted

I was doing family stuff last week, so the final two episodes of the first half of Season Two (don’t you just hate split seasons?) are reviewed now. Together, they’re a slow burn with a gut punch at the end. This is a show about perspectives and reactions, which gratifyingly refuses to simply demonize anyone.

We open “Secrets” with one of Hershel’s women folk breaking a chicken’s foot and putting it in a bag. No, it’s not a sadistic new recipe. It’s how you feed the walkers you’re keeping in the barn. We follow through to feeding time as the unlucky fowl are dropped into the barn from above.

Secret One on deck. Glen watches the barn full of walkers through binoculars. Maggie tells him he has to keep this secret. Poor Glen responds that he sucks at lying. He’s not even good at poker because it’s too much like lying.

Secret Two on deck. Glen tells Lori she’s crazy to be keeping her pregnancy a secret. She has a medical condition, needs vitamins, drugs and rest. Lori doesn’t take his concern well.

Young Carl asks Deputy Shane if he would teach him to shoot. Shane says that’s his parent’s decision to make. Then, having been a cop, he figures out Carl is already packing and narcs on him. This leads to an argument between Rick and Lori that finds Carl doing the heavy lifting for Rick. And pretty much everyone does need to know how to shoot for safety in this world. With the most unusual NRA commercial you’ll ever see over, Lori relents.

Glen gets caught in a lie by old mechanic Dale who covers for him, then pins him down. To his credit, Glen seriously does suck at lying. Before Dale can even start a decent good cop routine, Glen spills his guts: “There’s walkers in the barn and Lori’s pregnant.” So while everyone else takes Shane’s gun class, Dale goes to see Hershel. Hershel believes the walkers have a disease that may be curable, says killing them is murder because a paranoid schizophrenic is a person, too. For the first time, he admits the obvious as well—his wife and stepson are in that barn.

Andrea is sufficiently talented in gun class that she’s getting the advanced course. That’s moving targets swinging on a rope. And Shane’s a tough taskmaster in graduate school. He badgers her, yells that she has to shut down her emotions and focus. She retorts: “Like you.” Shane whips out a gun and hits the target in midstride, says he’s got muscle memory. He can be pissed off and hit the target. She can’t.

Lori gets sick at the sight of Dale cooking, so he tries his luck with her. When she acts surprised that Glen revealed her secret, Dale has a good line: “What did you expect? The boy has no guile.” He tries to cheer her up. Her pessimism ultimately triumphs when she asks him to look her in the eye and say this child has any chance at a worthwhile life. She then forgives Glen before asking him to make a run into town for medical supplies.

Maggie goes with Glen. She’s pissed that he let her secret slip to Dale. She’s pissed that he keeps calling the walkers “walkers,” too. Glen asks what she calls them, and her response is painful: “Mom, Sean…” A litany of names follows. But in the pharmacy she gets grabbed by a walker. Fast-thinking Glen takes a shelf board and swings for the cheap seats, almost decapitating it. When it insists on getting up anyway, he finishes the job with a knife. It’s gruesome. It’s also pretty obvious at this point that Maggie knows Glenn is right about the walkers.

Shane and Andrea drive over to a suburban housing development along a subsidiary creek Sophia could have followed. The one house they go into is nasty, complete with burned remains. Suddenly, walkers start pouring in under a gap in the garage door. Outside, the streets are filling up. Shane says he’ll clear the car while Andrea covers him. Her gun jams and the old professor starts shouting about focus again. She clears it, the switch Shane was looking for snaps into place, and she starts taking walkers down right and left. She even stops at the car to take out one she doesn’t have to. In fact, she’s so into it that down the road a ways, she gets the car stopped to have her way with Shane. Goodness me, but these post-Apocalyptic romances can get complicated.

Glen finds that out as well. After Maggie yells at Lori for risking their lives, she yells at Glenn about how smart and brave he is and how he lets these people risk his life for peaches and abortion pills. She’s pissed, kisses him and stalks off. Meanwhile, Lori is downing the abortion pills Glen delivered on request. But second thoughts kick in so she gags herself to vomit them back up. Dale and Shane go at it over Andrea and Rick while Rick discovers the empty abortion pill package.

The confrontation between Rick and Lori is relatively subdued. She says he can yell if he wants. Rick says they can make this work. Lori says he can’t even protect the child they have. What’s he going to do with a baby whose every cry could put the entire group in mortal danger? They sort of wind down together. Then Rick asks if there is anything else he should know. Lori tells him about her and Shane knowing one another in the Biblical sense back when they thought Rick was dead. Rick’s response is a nice surprise: “I know. Of course I know.” It’s a deftly written soft touch.

The best line of this episode? Shane has it for a change. Earlier, when they were arguing, Dale said he knew what kind of man Shane was, that Shane would even kill Rick. Shane talks about how much he loves Rick. Then he adds, rather nastily, “Well, maybe we ought to just think that through. So I'm the kind of man who would gun down his own best friend? What do you think I'd do to some guy I don't even like when he starts throwing accusations around my way.” The look on Dale’s face was worth a very dry chuckle.

On to “Pretty Much Dead Already.”

This is the mid-season finale, so two things are obviously going to happen. The barn situation is going to come to a head. And the Rick/Shane philosophical divergence is going to become a fault line. Basically, Hershel represents full denial of reality. His desire to protect the humans he loves and remain true to the old world is touching but naive. It has enough valid human elements in it, though, to deserve the basic respect the writers show him. Shane represents full surrender of reality, down to the point where you stop remaining true to anything but survival of the herd. Again, the show gives us reasons to validate that response. And Rick represents an attempt to bridge the gap. Ultimately, it’s a pathetic attempt, as perhaps it must be. To paraphrase, the wheels of circumstance grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.

We open with Glen. In the distance, Maggie stands on the porch, shaking her head “No.” In the shade where the group is eating, Dale shakes his head “Yes.” Glen stands up and spills his guts: “The barn is full of walkers.” Needless to say he gets everyone’s attention. So we’re off to the barn.

Shane is incredulous. Rick talks about how they need to work this out with Hershel. Shane isn’t having it: “We either go in there and make things right, or we just go.” And the hard part is I personally thought Shane was correct. You either trample over Hershel’s world view and remove the threat, or you respect it and leave. There is no middle ground. Middle ground is inevitably going to collapse into one of those two options, and probably do a worse job of it than a clean choice. But then Rick’s got a little secret that’s gnawing away at him, doesn’t he?

Perspectives and reactions. Rick goes to talk with Hershel. Shane just walks around that barn, pokes at the wood to see how solid it is, checks those locks and chains. Gets disgusted when the walkers push on them. Rick has a philosophical discussion with Hershel, who wants them to leave by the end of the week. Rick tells Hershel his wife is pregnant and begs him not to send them out. Obviously, this conversation would sound very different if Shane was having it.

Maggie has this week’s cutest bit. She’s harvested the morning’s eggs and is heading back to the house, still angry at Glenn for spilling the beans. He walks alongside asking her to talk to him, to say anything. She finally relents and asks for his hat. When he hands it over, she plops an egg into it and smacks it back onto his head.

Shane is still on point when Rick returns. He wants a decision: “What’s it gonna’ be? Which way does this thing go?” Rick equivocates. Shane is relentless: clean it out or go. Rick finally tells him that they need a safe haven because Lori is pregnant. He says they need to stay. Shane’s response is clear: “We need our guns.” This episode does a marvelous job of juxtaposition. Rick, the man the audience intuitively wants to be, is unfocused and ineffectual; Shane, the man we’re not supposed to want to be, gets it and is chomping at the bit. And just like with Otis, he tries to offer a choice: clear it out or go. Only no one else is willing to decide.

Perspectives and reactions. For Shane, Rick has given the answer and just won’t admit it. If they can’t leave because of Lori… Do the math.

Hershel and Maggie talk. Hershel tries to justify the morality of what he’s doing. Maggie balks. When Hershel says he’s helped them and they aren’t his responsibility, Maggie quotes scripture: "A new command I give to you: Love one another, as I have loved you.” It’s what Hershel told her in her hellion teen years. He tries to divert her by asking if this is about the Asian boy. Her response is equally pointed: “His name is Glen, and he saved my life yesterday when one of those things tried to kill me. Things aren’t like you think.” Before Hershel can respond, one of the young men comes in and says they have a problem.

Shane talks with Lori. He’s concerned that Rick isn’t built for this world. When Lori argues, Shane simply asks how many times Rick has saved her life. By his count, Shane himself is up to four while Rick is still at zero. Shane thinks the baby is his, too. Lori says it’s not, that even if it was it will never be his. She misses the point. It’s not about who has her. It’s about who is going to protect her and that child if they can’t leave the farm.

Glen and Maggie argue cute. Glen tells her he told the group because what Hershel is doing is dangerous. If he has to choose, he’d rather have her alive and pissed at him than liking him and dead. She likes him for that. Boy gets girl again with a kiss, at least for the time being.

Hershel tries to meet Rick halfway by asking for his help on a walker retrieval operation. There are two stuck in mud at the creek. And so help me God, Hershel is going to retrieve them with a tether pole straight out of animal husbandry. This is Rick’s initiation to prove he can live peaceably with the barn. They succeed in getting the walkers on leash. It’s a dangerous operation, but relatively safe once you’ve got the leash around the neck and the pole to guide them.

Shane’s at the RV looking for the gun cache. Dale has taken it off to hide it because he doesn’t trust Shane. Of course Shane tracks him down. Dale wants to continue the argument they had about humanity last week. Shane doesn’t: “Just shut up and give me the guns.” Dale takes aim at Shane with his rifle and asks if that’s what it’s going to take, for Dale to shoot Shane? Shane looks annoyed like he’s just rousted a petty thief, walks up until the muzzle is pressed into his chest and says yeah, that’s what it’s going to take. Shane gets his guns.

Back at the farm, Shane is all business. He tosses a rifle to Darryl: “You with me, man?” He distributes guns, including one to Carl, who he tells to keep his mother safe. Maggie tries to argue with him, but he says Hershel just has to understand. They can’t go, and they have to find Sophia. That’s when Hershel and Rick show up at the edge of the field with their tethered walkers. Shane, as you can probably guess, blows a head gasket.

The group reaches the walker parade on a dead run. Shane circles while Rick tells him to please back off. Hershel gives his spiel about the walkers being people. Shane’s cross examination is simple, brutal and effective: “Could a living, breathing person walk away from this?” He pumps three rounds into the chest of a walker. The walker keeps going. Shane does it again, same question. Rick misses the point: “That’s enough, Shane1”

“Yeah, you’re right. That is enough.” The next bullet goes through a walker’s head. Hershel slumps to his knees while Shane heads for the barn. Rick is stuck holding a walker on a tether; he repeatedly asks Hershel to take it so he can go after Shane. Hershel is out of it as his world collapses around him. Shane has a pick axe and is taking care of the locks while Rick shouts for him to stop, even calling him brother. A bit of a Cain and Abel vibe there.

Shane backs away from the barn, gun drawn. When the walkers head out, Andrea races to his side, gun also drawn. Darryl and T-Dogg follow close behind. It’s a shooting gallery, horrifyingly and wonderfully filmed like something out of a Sam Peckinpah movie. There’s even a snazzy little flare of fire from the muzzle of Darryl’s rifle in a head-on look as he shoots. Glen finally asks Maggie, and she says go. The whole gang is shooting now. Midway through, Shane looks back to where Rick is stuck with his walker. He flashes a great “what is wrong with you” look before shooting it.

The walkers litter the ground. Hershel is devastated. Everyone is thunderstruck. That’s when the final gut punch comes. The last walker out of the barn is Sophia, the girl they’ve been looking for. She even still has a little color, unlike the long dead walkers, her eyes still translucent. Darryl tackles Carol as she runs for her daughter.

The sense of horror is palpable. Rick, the pathetic guy stuck holding a walker on a leash, the guy who tried to find middle ground, draws his revolver. He walks up to Sophia as she advances and fires.

Perspectives and reactions. They come and they go, but we’re eternally stuck with the choices they leave us.

Will Conservatives Like These Episodes?

Yes. If you like guns, you’ll like this episode. Lori balks at aborting her child, too. Another good feature is how Shane, perhaps the more real politic conservative, is not simply presented as a brute sociopath. The writers make a conscientious effort to give legitimacy to his questions and concerns. Nice little bits of religion scattered here and there as well.

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