With the two biggest new shows of 2010 ending their first season runs this week, I decided to scale back this weeks TVEye to cover the season finales of THE WALKING DEAD and BOARDWALK EMPIRE.
THE WALKING DEAD (Ep. 6 “TS-19”) Sunday’s season finale for the very short first season run of The Walking Dead was, in a word, disenchanting. Walking Dead successfully supplements drama for spectacle in a genre that has for too long relied on filler over substance. This deeper understanding of the human condition is what sets The Walking Dead apart. A world overrun with zombies leaves a lot of options to play around with, and thus far, the show has wonderfully blended the fun and surreal with the bleak and downright visceral. In episodic drama, stories tend to move along episode to episode, bringing about some minor revelation at seasons end. Characters grow, both closer and apart, from each other and reality, and the first five hours of the Walking Dead series had excelled at this. But at the end of episode five something happened, something that brought this show down quite a few notches for me. As Rick and his group of survivors walked into that brightly lit CDC building, show creator Darabont was taking a major step away from the source material, breaking down some of the strengths he has cultivated over the season. The illusion of safety the CDC represented could have been a decent mid-season excursion, but instead turned into nothing more than a pointless diversion from story, character, and originality. This was the season finale for crying-out-loud. Finales are supposed to give us something new to ponder, a tease to bring us back next season, foaming at the mouth for answers. This was like any other episode, a side note of peril that was predictably overcome. Sure, the characters thought this great white light inside the CDC was their savior, a place they could live safe and at ease. That’s a dramatic idea, and Rick, Shane, Lori, and co. had a joyous, wine-soaked dinner to celebrate. But really, we all knew that this was going to be a brief diversion, whether we’ve read the comics or not.
It was just a truly disappointing finale. There was nothing final about it at all. Having read the comics, I have a deep belief of where the season should have ended. I won’t spoil things here, but I will say that the liberties Darabont has taken up to this point have been good, but this CDC thing was just a complete 180. There were a couple of good moments from “TS-19,” like the opening flashback of Shane risking his life to save Rick, and reaching the necessary choice to leave him behind. Here’s a question; without food and water, how did Rick survive for so long? I’m probably nitpicking, but at this point I’m so disappointed that I can’t help it. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great moment, recapturing the connection we may have forgotten these two once had. There’s obviously a great deal of tension within the Rick, Shane, and Lori triangle, but this is such a small part of a much deeper connection that the show is milking well beyond the point it should be. This brings me back to the CDC. With the power running out and the HAL like computer taking over the facility, the exhausted Dr. Jenner is ready to go up in flames with the building, at first forcing the same salvation onto the others. They change his mind, making it out before the building explodes, but not before Dr. Jenner whispers something into Rick’s ear. What could he have whispered? Is this supposed to be a Lost in Translation moment where we are meant to debate this amongst ourselves? Apparently the secret will be revealed in season 2. I think I know what it is, but I won’t give away any spoilers. But for those who don’t know, this was the ONLY mystery of the episode, and a whisper is a pretty underwhelming draw to another season. I’m sticking with it, because I love where the comics go, and hope that Darabont get back on Kirkman’s tracks sooner rather than later. It was a good first season, but it should have ended great. And what the hell happened to Merle? We’ll see come next Fall, but lets hope that this zombie show gets back to the fear, violence, and unknown we all hope to see. My season 2 wish list is for less CGI blood, and more reliance on Kirkman’s vision. I’m DYING to know what you think? Agree with me? Vehemently disagree? Discuss!
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Ep. 12 “A Return to Normalcy”) There is a moment during the finale of Boardwalk Empire where Nucky drops his emotional guard for the first time all season. Speaking with Margaret about his dead wife and child, Nucky is asked how he can live with the wrongs he perpetrates. His response; “we all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.” This quote sums up the entire first season of HBO’s fantastic Prohibition era drama to a T. There are plenty of good shows on television nowadays, but few with the rich subtext Scorsese and Winter have injected into Boardwalk. Without trying too hard, Winter has succeeded at turning the show into a religious parable set in one of the most literal and real metaphors for the Garden of Eden of our time. When the season began, the inner workings of Nucky’s Atlantic City empire, and it’s relation to the Torio family in Chicago, and Rothstein family in New York were a bit ambiguous. As the season played on, it became clear that this was like a small scale Roman Epic, with factions pining for control, and skirmishes resulting from these plays of power. I’m happy to say that with the finale, the three cities have come together in one controlling interest that will no doubt have the run on illegal booze in this Prohibition “guarded” United States. But it’s Nucky whose political aspirations really run the violence and corruption in his beloved Atlantic City. In a skillfully cut montage, he addresses a press conference about the city cleaning up the violence and corruption, while his men are out literally killing off the competition. The scene reminded me of the great baptism scene from The Godfather, a juxtaposition of words and images so perfectly suited to the themes of the show. In past weeks I’ve talked about the nepotism on the Boardwalk, with everybody living out of each others pockets. Bloodlines don’t hold much importance in Twentieth-Century politics, but under his estranged father’s advice, it appears that Jimmy is ready to take what he considers his; Atlantic City. His father, the Commodore has obvious bad blood with Nucky, who he considers nothing more than a rat feasting on his scraps. By positioning Jimmy to take over, the Commodore is in a sense taking back the kingdom he attributes himself as creating. There are all kinds of currents flowing around the city, with the righteous-hypocrite Agent Van Alden, power hungry Nucky, and ready to rise Jimmy. These currents are destine to come together in the second season, causing a wave of chaos that will surely have an effect across New Jersey and the whole United States. Boardwalk Empire is my favorite new show of 2010, and I cannot wait for season 2.
Tick, tick, tick…that’s the sound of this season of Dexter running out. And what a tense crescendo it’s turning out to be. Tune in next week for a recap/review of the DEXTER finale!