TV Episode Review: The Walking Dead "Bloodletting"

Rick carries carl to the farmhouse

TV Episode Review:  The Walking Dead “Bloodletting”

“Bloodletting” begins with a pretty superfluous flashback which reveals the moment where Shane tells Lori that Rick had been shot (and hangs his head shamefully while mumbling it’s his fault).  It’s not a particularly interesting or compelling scene—largely because Shane and Lori aren’t interesting people—and its purpose seems even more mundane than its emotional resonance.  Carl weeps openly at the news his father has been shot, and Lori can do no more than provide strength to her son and hope for the best.  Tonight, of course, is Rick’s turn to play that role as Carl is treated for a bullet wound (with five shards of bullet causing internal bleeding).  The parallelism is structurally sound but hollow; what do we care if Carl went through this same misery before the world fell apart?  Does it change our understanding of his suffering or Rick’s?  Do we really require such background knowledge in order to appreciate Lori’s fierce (and comparatively more emotional) attack on Rick when he keeps trying to flee the room where their son is fighting for his life?  The writers seem to think so, because the only alternative explanation is to surmise that the scene is meant to flesh out Shane’s feelings for Lori and Carl, dating to well before Rick was hospitalized.  Considering that plot would play better if it just went away, I’m hoping for the former.

On the bright side, once we get through the heavy-handed flashbackery, we’re hit with another in a growing sequence of painfully compelling moments of agonizing tension.  Rick clumsily runs through a golden field of grain, constantly readjusting Carl’s limp body, blood covering both of them as Rick grunts and roars with the agony of muscle exhaustion, fear, and rage that something so awful has come from a moment of serenity.  The show hasn’t quite convinced us that it’s willing to let “anyone” die yet, but with Sophia going on a third day on her own in the woods, it does seem more and more likely that one of the kids might not make it through all of this.  But that’s really not the dramatic tension that makes Rick’s lunging, agonizing, endless trek to the farmhouse of Dr. Hershel so hard to witness.  Rather, it’s the pain of watching a parent face their ultimate impotence in the face of a deadly world:  Rick can’t stop a bullet, nor the damage it’s doing inside of Carl as he carries him to the best help available.  For Rick, though, his body’s refusal to carry the extra burden of his son’s weight without growing exhausted, his arms’ inability to heft Carl easily so that he can shave a few precious seconds from the time between Carl’s survival and doom, are what drive him to the brink of rage by the time he carries his son into the farmhouse.  It’s a scene almost overwhelming for a parent to watch without feeling the pressing weight of panic in one’s own chest.  It’s the sort of moment that this show blasts us with fairly commonly, setting it apart from anything else on the landscape despite its myriad flaws in other areas.

For example, the complicating factor that Hershel is actually a vet is both predictable and dull, but something in his character seems to show some promise.  All of the characters in the farmhouse seem to hold the potential to spark new life into a rag tag group that, let’s face it, hasn’t produced a lot of compelling human drama thus far.  Hershel has the trappings of an intelligent elder--where Dale is reasonable but almost marginal by his nature, Dr. Hershel carries the dignity of a medical background, the gray hair that always symbolizes wisdom and patience on shows like this, and something of an edge to him that could develop into any number of personality types as we get to know him better.  His daughter who goes to get Lori seems a rough-and-tumble woman who can ride a horse like the wind and doesn’t need a Rick or Shane type to protect her from walkers or anything else, and Otis, assuming they don’t go the old “I’ll pay for the boy’s life with my own because it’s my fault he’s dying in the first place” route, seems like an interesting mix of quiet human dignity and farm-bred simplicity (in lifestyle, mind you, not intellect).  

Suddenly, in fact, I don’t miss the idea of finding the fort so much.  The farmhouse is isolated in an interesting landscape--a church nearby, a medical facility (infected with walkers though it is) within driving distance, and good lines of sight in all directions.  The fact that it’s kept them isolated enough that they still think a cure is on its way speaks volumes about how self-sufficient they’ve been able to be.  If the gang (what are we calling this group?  Recommend something catchy in the comments.) has to stay here for long, as it seems they will out of necessity for Carl’s recovery (which I’m still going to assume to be the most likely plot development), I find the possibilities for storylines and complications to be laden with possibility.  Most notably because Rick may not take well to a man like Hershel rising, however quietly, as a rival authority figure, and Shane and Andrea may not take well to a sedentary lifestyle on a farm where there’s little to do--on most days, mind you; this isn’t Green Acres--but sit and consider how little the world has left to offer either one of them (not counting the fall harvest of fresh okra).  

I’m wondering, in fact, whether the group is already starting to show signs of stress-fracturing away from Rick’s leadership--Lori has had to challenge them directly about Rick’s role in Sophia’s disappearance, T-Dog is ready to pull up stakes and take off with Dale without any of them (I don’t think that was all fever talking--Dale just wanted to change the subject), and Glen, though not ordered to do so by Rick himself, clearly chafes at the request that he resume the role he’s always given under Rick’s command.  For now, Carl is more than enough distraction to keep Rick from worrying about any of this, but when (if, but seriously, when) he’s well enough to travel again, I suspect the farm’s front steps will be the site of a lively standoff between Rick and whatever plan he has for the group and a rival faction led, perhaps reluctantly or unofficially, by Hershel’s quiet reason and experience.

rick and hershel"I hope you and your kin like sweet potaters. We got a lot'n sweet potaters...a lot'n..."

But before we can get to any of that, Otis and Shane need to get back to the farm with the respirator and other goodies from the makeshift medical facility.  Which seems as impossible as Rick’s entrapment in the tank in the series premiere last year, given that tonight’s episode closed with them locked behind a disturbingly unsecure security gate as hordes of walkers rattled it on its hinges.  I don’t for the life of me understand why they didn’t take extra flares with them to help aid their escape (they might have at least provided brief distraction to allow them to gain some ground), but their plan seems hopelessly front-sighted, so to speak, given that they basically barricade themselves inside a facility in order to obtain supplies without any thought of how to get those supplies back out when the flares die out.  I’m also a touch disappointed that the show stole so blatantly from Romero’s underseen, underloved Land of the Dead wherein walkers stare slack-(or detached-)jawed at the sky every time the human survivors launch “sky flowers” (fireworks) into the air to draw their attention.  It’s clever and simple (a bit more so in Romero’s work, since the suggestion is that the walkers haven’t lost all of their interests in human pleasures), but it felt much less so when it turned out to be step one of a three part plan tonight that turned out to be entirely lacking a step three (in its place, a blank space labeled “insert escape plan HERE”).  

So we’re left with a cliffhanger tonight born of stupidity, or, to be more fair, lack of foresight bred of desperation.  It’s a cliffhanger nevertheless; one of them, at least, must get free somehow, possibly through the intervention of more new characters (that’s how Rick gets out of the tank), but we’ll see.  Amazingly, we’re also left with Sophia’s life on the back burner as attention turns towards Carl, who, I guess, is in more direct danger than she is.  I’m not sure I buy her mother’s lack of panic and desperation at this late stage in the game--I get that she’s a woman who has spent most of a lifetime being stifled and beaten down, but know your parental emotions, writers.  Eventful as it was, tonight played like a good second episode, introducing new factors and fleshing out (wah wahhh) points of conflict from the premiere so that next episode can launch the season into full survival mode against a new landscape and with new players potentially changing the rules entirely.  

Overall Rating:  8.6/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, Whatnot, and Occasionally What-Have-You:

Lori explaining how reasonable Rick is when they fight was particularly thin characterization--haven’t we observed this often enough for ourselves without having to be told through dim dialogue?

They do a nice job making Lori look more feminine and soft with makeup in the same scene.

Interesting moment when Shane wipes blood off of Rick’s face like a father cleaning his son off.

“I just keep hoping and praying she doesn’t wind up like Amy.” Oof.  I like that Daryl is becoming the resolute, level-headed binding force in Rick’s absence though.

The shot of a bloody baby seat is...yikes.

Nice touch that most of the zombies at the FEMA center are wearing military garb (or FEMA jackets).

Nice moment between Shane and Otis as they stare at the gun that shot Carl:  “It’s the only one I got.”

T-Dog’s speech about “I’m the only black guy.  Do you realize how precarious that makes my situation?” played a bit odd--I’m not sure if it was meant to be meta-commentary on survival shows in general with “token” minorities, but it certainly didn’t play quite that cleverly.

I liked Hershel’s entire take on this latest plague, though I’m not sure his optimism is merited in this situation.  Things seem a bit more complex than, “We get our behinds kicked for a while, then we bounce back.”

Lori’s reaction as she sees her son near death is harrowing.

“I’ll take that under advisement later.  For now he’s the idiot who shot our son.”