Tuesday, December 30, 2014

5 Best Books of 2014 - Aka: You Need to Read These

The year started off weak.  Admittedly, I ended with a terrific ‘bang’ last year, as I eagerly devoured the last few pages of George Saunders’s brilliant Tenth of December only minutes before the ball dropped.  This year I was preoccupied with planning my wedding and accidentally led myself astray by haphazardly downloading a bunch of random novels onto my Kindle just before boarding a 10-hour flight to Hawaii.  In what I will term a ‘First World Tragedy’, none of the books I had downloaded were captivating and I was stuck with sub-par reading material for ten excruciating hours.

After I returned from my honeymoon I became choosier with my reading selections, and it paid off.  From August to December I went on a fantastic run of books that hit my literary sweet spot.  Many of those books are mentioned below, and my sole purpose in rambling on about them is so that you'll read them.  Because, you know, sharing is caring.  And no one wants to get caught on an airplane without a good book. (Some that didn’t make the ‘Top Five’ cut but are also definitely worth your while include Unspeakable by Meghan Daum, Life Itself by Roger Ebert and Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.)

In compiling this list I attempted to stick to books that were released in 2014, but as you will see I ended up deviating from that format a bit.  Why?  I don’t generally stick to new releases published in any one year, and 2014 was no exception.  I don’t claim to have read even a broad sampling of the books published this year, but I strongly feel that the five following books deserve to be applauded and enjoyed for a cornucopia of reasons.

Get it here. 
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is structured much like Jennifer Egan’s fantastic A Visit From the Goon Squad.  The plot leaps around in time, following a tangentially related cast of characters that includes a jaded paparazzo, an aging film star, and a scrappy, knife-wielding girl in a traveling theater.  The central conceit of the story is that society has collapsed following the outbreak of a particularly deadly virus called the ‘Georgia Flu’.  As Mandel weaves the tapestry of her world, her tone is playful but sincere.  She generously peppers her story with pop-culture references, grounding her characters in a fragile world on the verge of collapse.  The non-linear form of the story spans over approximately forty years in time, from twenty years prior to the ‘Georgia Flu’, to twenty years after the outbreak.  If nothing else, the book is worth reading for nostalgic passages focusing on a ‘Museum of Civilization’, a showcase for relics of the world that we as readers currently know and enjoy.  Mandel asks the poignant question of what’s left in this world without technology, and doesn’t presume to present us with an answer.

Get it here.
The Martian by Andy Weir is a novel that centers on one man and his fight for survival after being left for dead on Mars.  According to Wikipedia, some have called it a mash up between ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘Cast Away’, and I feel that this is an apt categorization.  Given that description, it’s no coincidence that the novel has been fast tracked for a feature film, but the more amazing story may be how it was published at all.  Weir self published his book in 2011 as a serial online.  Shortly after the novel was published in its entirety his readers requested that he publish it in Kindle format, so he did, setting the price at the lowest denomination, 99 cents.  Over time the book became a self-publishing behemoth, and finally got its due as a properly published novel in early 2014.  (For more on this amazing underdog story, heres a link to a recent article from Entertainment Weekly). 

I couldn’t put this book down.  Weir writes his main character, astronaut and botanist Mark Watney as if he is the funniest, most intelligent and level headed guy you know.  As Watney documents his struggle to survive in the inhospitable Martian climate, I found myself smiling, laughing and almost talking back to the book at times.  And as an extra bonus, I have it on good authority that the astoundingly complex science in the book is totally on point.  I cannot wait for the movie, and whatever offerings Weir sends out into the universe in the near future.

Get it here. 
Yes Please is comedienne Amy Poehler’s publishing debut.  On the day the book was released, I was geeking out so hard that I woke up a few hours early just to wait for the UPS lady.  Once I heard the knock on the door, I grabbed the cardboard packaging and shuffled over to the couch, digging in before I went to work.  (Did I mention I work at night?  Did I also mention that maaaaaybe I was a little late to work that day because I couldn’t put the thing down?)  Poehler’s honest, slightly self-deprecating preface hooked me right away, as she openly ruminates on what it is to write and be a writer.  Subsequent chapters that focus on her experience as an extremely prego lady at SNL, her dogged devotion to comedy, and her obligatory childhood stories are indelibly entertaining, revealing and have a humorous and familiar light touch.  If Poehler’s aim was to write a book that makes the reader want to be her BFF, she’s succeeded with flying colors.

Get it here.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart wasn’t technically released in 2014, but it did earn the distinction of being the Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction in 2014, so I’m kind of still within my aforementioned 2014 parameters.  I knew very little about this book when I picked it up, save for the fact that it is written from the perspective of a young boy who has recently lost his mother.  I’m reluctant to tell you anything more as I feel my lack of information heightened my experience with this particular work.  I will say that Tart’s prose is so gorgeous it will actually have you thinking about the world in a richer, more refined way.  The story itself is captivating, heart breaking, mysterious, and compelling.   I have heard that some people do think the book is overlong and labored, but I emphatically beg to differ.  I truly enjoyed and savored every sublime sentence.  The Goldfinch has won its way into my heart and mind and has a permanent spot on my list of favorite books of all time.

Get it here.  Now.
The Stand by Stephen King is where my selection goes completely rogue.  First off, I had read this book before.  Secondly, this book was published nowhere near this decade, or even this millennium.  Yet, oddly enough, almost 40 years after it was originally published, The Stand is still captivating and relevant and certainly belongs on this list.  If you haven’t read it, go get it.  Now. 

Yes, right now.  I’ll wait.

I’m not kidding.

Did you get it?  Hint:  The Amazon link is embedded above.

Got it?

Good.  Let’s move on.

The Stand is the granddaddy of all American apocalypse novels.  Hints of King’s influence live on in the generous pop-culture references sprinkled throughout the aforementioned Station Eleven, and also in oodles of other novels and television shows, such as The Walking Dead.

The plot of The Stand focuses on a world ravaged by a killer disease called ‘Captain Trips’ which makes quick work of 99.4% of the population (yes I know I have a ‘thing’ for this genre, but I can’t help it if the stories are so damn fascinating!).  Led by supernatural dreams, the survivors pool into two camps, and good is eventually pitted against evil.  I picked this tome back up in 2014 because there’s a series of films in the works, to be helmed by one of the ultimate Stephen King fan-boys - director Josh Boone of The Fault In Our Stars fame.  Boone recently spoke to Kevin Smith about his vision for the films, and ZOMG am I excited.  I have a more detailed post in the works about my everlasting love for this novel because it is one of the best books I have ever read, and certainly one that touched my mind and heart.  Now go read it.  You did get it, right?  Right?!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

5 Reasons Why Mixed Nuts Is The Best Christmas Movie You (Probably) Haven’t Seen

Mixed Nuts has been my favorite Christmas movie since I was a wee tween. (For more proof, scroll to the end of a post I wrote back in 2010.) My yearly present wrapping ritual is not complete unless I watch it in its entirety.  It’s magical.  One year, I was at college and had forgotten my VHS copy of the movie at home. I was upset, but set to the task of wrapping my pile of gifts as I halfheartedly flipped through the channels.  To what did my wondering eyes appear?  Motherfucking Mixed Nuts.  Starting in ten minutes.  Like I said.  Magic.

Upon its release Mixed Nuts was a complete and utter bomb both commercially and critically.  The delightfully talented Nora Ephron was coming off the wildly successful love story, Sleepless In Seattle.  Due to this success, she was given free reign for her next project, so obviously she decided that her next move would be to write and direct a broad comedy set at a suicide hotline on Christmas Eve.  This definitively proves that Nora Ephron is my type of woman. 

As this year is the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, I felt compelled to express my undying love for Mixed Nuts, as it’s most certainly an underappreciated gem in Ephron’s oeuvre.  Here are 5 reasons why you should add it to your Christmas viewing list ASAP.

One – The plot is unique and surprising.  Steve Martin is the head of a struggling suicide hotline on the verge of eviction on Christmas Eve.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers since in all likelihood you haven’t seen it yet, but I can say that the script is wonderfully odd and full of madcap twists. The inclusion of a transvestite as a main character, and the conceit of centering a holiday film on heavily flawed characters may seem common now but remember that two decades ago, back in the world of VHS, these ideas were relatively untested. Mixed Nuts was ahead of its time in many ways, and in my opinion the plot has only gotten better with age.  In fact, I think it would make for a fantastic stage production, but that’s a topic for another post.

Two – The ensemble cast is a veritable treasure trove of gifted comedians cast in offbeat roles.  Aside from Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, and Madeline Kahn who play the employees of the aforementioned hotline, a famous funny person embodies each supporting character to perfection.  Liev Schreiber plays a prissy, misunderstood transvestite, Adam Sandler is a goofy songwriter with a ukulele (so, basically he’s just playing Adam Sandler with a ukelele), Gary Shandling is a heartless landlord, and Juliette Lewis is a pregnant makeup artist.  For good measure, Jon Stewart and Parker Posey pop up in brief cameos throughout the film as a preppy roller blading couple obsessed with finding the right Christmas tree.

If this picture doesn't convince you to watch this movie, I don't know what will.
There's so much going on!  WTF is up with that guy in the Santa suit?
Why does Adam Sandler look like an unemployed gondola operator?  Watch and find out...

Three – Madeline Kahn free-style raps.  Using a children’s toy microphone.  While trapped in an elevator.  And it’s wonderful.  That’s all you need to know.

Four – Given this talented group of actors, physical comedy abounds.   Steve Martin waltzes around a cramped apartment with Liev Schrieber as a broad-shouldered transvestite. At one point Schrieber even tosses Martin into the air in a hilarious pirouette move.  Haven’t you ever wanted to watch Steve Martin dance with a transvestite twice his size?  Why am I even asking? Your answer to that question should be yes.

FiveMixed Nuts has the funniest fruitcake in film history.  In a possible homage to Johnny Carson’s running joke that there’s only one fruitcake in the world and that it just gets passed around from family to family, the fruitcake in this movie is like the re-gift from hell.  The shiny red tin pops up numerous times throughout the movie in situations each more comical than the last.  

Fun Drinking Game Alert: Drink every time a character mentions "fruitcake".  Merry Christmas to you.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Walking Dead - Crossed Recap

This week served as a Cuisinart for all the story lines we’ve been following this season, blending the diverging storylines together into a big stew of confusion.  Hopefully next week’s episode will be the oven, cooking this mess into a cohesive dish of a narrative.  Sorry about the weird cooking analogy, I just have food on the brain.  Happy Thanksgiving, people!

Before I get into the episode, I wanted to take a minute to step back and look at how time is passing in the WD world.  Time seems to be going in super slo-mo on the show, as a little less than two weeks have passed since the Governors attack on the prison.  Two weeks for them, but it’s been almost exactly one year for us.  In that time, the gang has survived the prison attack, a lonely week of separation on the road, the Terminus outbreak, and the massacre at the church.  Now the hostage exchange at Grady looms large.  Rick and Co has been quite busy kicking ass, and they definitely deserve a little down time.  But I don’t think they’re going to get it without losing some of their crew first.  (Please not Carol, please not Carol, please not Carol….)

The episode starts with small snippets of life back at the church.  Sasha angrily hacks into a church pew with an axe while Tyreese and Daryl dismantle the organ.  Daryl carries an armful of the pipes out to the front of the church, anchoring them in the ground as spikes.  Gabriel asks him snidely if they’re going to take the cross, and Daryl responds matter-of-factly, “if we need it.”

As the rest of the crew board up the windows, Rick and Michonne have a family meeting.  Rick will go to Atlanta because he owes Carol more than anyone else, and Michonne will play stay-at-home-mom with the kiddos.  No one mentions anything about rescuing Beth.

After the church is secure, Rick gives Judith a kiss and hands her over to Michonne.  He hugs Carl and leaves, and Judith promptly starts to wail.  Gabriel notices the Termite bloodstain on the hardwood floor and starts to scratch at it with his nails, and then with his palm, sweat on his brow, crazy in his eyes.

(Side note - There are brief cuts to the church throughout the episode but here’s the brief synopsis of what happens there:  Carl gives Gabriel a machete, Michonne makes flirty eyes at him as she tries to console him, and then he runs away.  Why?  Who knows?  IMHO he’s super annoying and I presently don’t care for his character.  Previews show that we’ll be seeing more of him next week so I won’t spend too much time speculating on what’s going on with him in this episode.)

Back on the road, Tara dubs the group ‘GREATM’ based on the initials on the tops of their water bottles.  Other configurations include TARGEM, MEAGET, and my personal favorite, GR-TEAM.  You can’t spell GREATM without GR-TEAM. 

They'reeee GRRRRREAT-M!!!!
(Sorry, I had to do it.)
Tara tries to keep it light, staying that she’s going to get GREATM tattooed on her knuckles, but in other news, they’re out of drinking water.  They talk about going back to the church, but they fear that moving Eugene may make him worse. 

Rosita tries to force water on Abe and he whacks it out of her hand.  She yells in his face, trying to get him to look at her, when he stands up and starts to come at her.  Just then a click of a gun is heard off screen.  It’s Maggie, doing her best cowgirl impression, aiming a pistol at Abe as she growls, “sit down or I’ll put you down.”  Abe softens his gaze, and silently folds himself back onto the ground.

Elsewhere, the Grimes gang strategizes in an abandoned warehouse in Atlanta.  Rick wants to go in, guns blazing, but Tyreese proposes another option.  He wants to kidnap a few cops and do an even trade.  Rick protests, but Daryl quickly agrees with Tyreese’s way of thinking.  Oddly enough though, the more ‘merciful’ option allows the hospital to remain under Dawn’s oppressive regime, and the rest of the wards would remain prisoners.  I guess Tyreese and Daryl aren’t really thinking of anyone other than their own people.  To be fair, I don’t think Rick is either.

A bit down the road at the hospital, Beth’s mop has given her the power of invisibility.  She rolls her bucket around freely, popping her head into Carol’s room, and then makes her way down the hall where Dawn is having a conversation with another officer.  They discuss sensitive topics such as Noah’s escape and the state of the patients.  When the male officer suggests that they pull the plug on Carol, Beth jumps into action.  She’s super ballsy, getting in the officers face and yelling at him about his selfish priorities.

Not one to be told what to do, Dawn orders that the machines be turned off, and the officer walks out with a smirk.  Once they’re alone, Dawn swivels around to Beth and changes her tune.  She tasks Beth with saving “that woman” and hands her the key to the drug locker.  Beth face is all like “whaaa?” and she asks Dawn why she’s trusting her with the key.  Dawn responds by saying that she thought Beth was weak, but she’s proven otherwise. 
Beth springs into action, and goes to powwow with Doc Stevens.  She consults with him and asks what meds he would give the woman in Room Two.  I have no earthly idea why she’s trusting him at this point because the last time he gave her a prescription it killed a man, but I guess there’s no one else she can trust, and she certainly can’t Google it.  He deduces that Beth has the key, and gives her an order for a 5mg epinephrine drip.  However, before she goes he cryptically refers to Dawn saying, “if she gave [the key] to you, she didn’t do it out of the kindness of her heart.”  What does this mean?  What possible motive could Dawn have to save Carol?  Is she trying to frame Beth for theft?  What is going on?!  Dawn is psycho, that’s what’s going on.

Back with GREATM, Glenn, Rosita and Tara go get water while Maggie volunteers to stay with Abe and Eugene.  She nabs a ladder and blanket from the truck, creating a makeshift shade for Eugene’s lifeless body.  After she secures the blanket, she stalks over to a mute, motionless Abe, snapping at him to get over himself.  She lets him know that he’s “not the only one who lost something today.”

At the creek, the water is murky but Rosita MacGyver’s a filter out of some rocks and a piece of her shirt.  She notes that Eugene showed her this method.  The group chats for a bit about how Rosita met Abe, and Glenn spots a fish downstream. 

The MacGyver spirit continues as Rosita and Glenn strip some windbreakers off a few walkers and tear the netting out.  Tara unearths a backpack and inventories the contents as Glenn and Rosita succeed in catching a pretty large fish with their net.  Rosita shares that she has some pretty sweet fish gutting skillz, and Glenn smiles at her.  He tells her that they’re going to need her, wherever they go.  In a sweet and genuine moment, Glenn steps up as the new leader of GREATM, asking Rosita if she’s “in”.  She gratefully accepts. 

Back in Atlanta, Noah draws the cops out.  He lamely limps around some brick buildings when Dawn’s officers approach and quickly disarm and cuff him. They’ve drastically underestimated Noah, and are not paying one iota of attention when the Grimes gang comes out from hiding and quickly surrounds the two officers.  Rick takes charge of the situation, saying, “you do what we say, we don’t hurt you.”

The officers drop their weapons and dutifully kneel on the ground.  The male officer asks if Rick used to be a cop, and Rick stands there in silence looking nothing like a cop, but definitely like a deranged lumberjack.  But despite his silence, Rick’s mannerisms give him away and the cop has the answer to his question.  Noah identifies the cop as ‘Lamason’ and tells Rick that he’s one of the good ones.  Before he can elaborate, another car races over and scoops up the two officers, guns blazing.  As the vehicle tries to make a getaway, Sasha shoots out one of the tires and the gang turns the corner in hot pursuit.

Just around that corner is a hot mess of destroyed city.  A literal field of walkers, melted to the ground from the Atlanta bombings stretches out before the group.  Our gang fans out, searching for the officers, careful to avoid the charred and goopy skeletons that dot the scorched pavement. Daryl takes point on the disabled car, but no one is in it.  He moves over to a bombed out FEMA trailer, and a bald cop ducks out and tackles him. 

After wrestling for a few moments, the cop pins Daryl to the ground and shoves his head precariously close to one of the melted walkers.  Daryl fumbles around, hands seeking something, and he barely escapes getting his fingers snapped in a walkers deadly chompers.  I gasp and scream at the TV, “What the hell is he doing?!” when his plan becomes clear. 

Daryl wins best DIY weapon of the season, hands down, as he grasps the walkers skull like a bowling ball.  Squishing his fingers into the walkers jello-y eye sockets he wrenches it up and slams the cop squarely in the head.  Steeee-rike!!!  Daryl rolls away to recover as the cop starts to retaliate, but it’s too late for baldy because Officer Grimes steps onto the scene.

This moment is tense, as Rick has his pistol trained on the cops face.  The cop snarls, “you win asshole” to Rick as he gets to his feet.  Rick is about to pull the trigger when Daryl stumbles over.  He stops Rick, making an interesting point as he says, “three is better than two”, and Rick reluctantly drops his gun.  At this moment, I can’t help but think of the immortal words of Pretty Woman – Big mistake.  Huge.

As the crew marches back into the warehouse, the lady cop starts to protest.  She reveals that there’s about to be a regime change in ole Slabtown as most of the cops don’t like the way that Dawn’s been running things.  They want Dawn out, and Lamson in.  Dawn is probably hip to this, so she won’t be too keen to trade for his safety.  Despite the fact that this sounds super logical, Lamson tells lady cop to shut up.  I’m not really loving Lamson, but Noah vouched for him earlier so I give him the benefit of the doubt.  For now.

Lamson lays out his strategy, saying, “you can make this work, but you have to be able to talk to her.”  He says his only interest is “peaceful resolution”, and he divulges that he’s known Dawn for eight years.  Daryl is intrigued and calls Rick over.

Inside the hospital, Beth launches Operation Save Carol.  She palms a few strawberries to a ward who looks like a sad Santa Claus.  Once his prize is in hand, he breaks into a coughing fit to distract attention from Beth.  She sidles over to the drug locker and grabs exactly what she needs.  This seems like a missed opportunity to stock up on some sleeping pills to slip into Dawn’s water or something, but whatever.  She quickly locks the cabinet back up and walks purposefully to Carol’s room.

Beth expertly administers the meds to Carol, and then tenderly squeezes her hand, saying, “It’s Beth.  I just wanted to let you know I was here.”  OMG CAROL PLEASE BE OKAY!!!! I’M HERE FOR YOU TOOOOO!!!!

Outside of the hospital, Tyreese and Sasha work on changing the tire on the officers’ vehicle.  They chat a bit about Bob, and Tyreese croons some choice lyrics from Frozen, telling Sasha to “Let It Goooooo, Let It Gooooo!”  Okay, maybe he doesn’t actually sing, but if Frozen existed in the WD world, he totally would’ve.  Despite the best efforts of her brother, Sasha is inconsolable.  She’s still mad at herself because she couldn’t stab her boyfriend in the head.  Zombie World Problems, amiright?

Before Rick leaves, Lamson is giving him some advice.  He urges him to, “know who you’re talking to.”  I would give anything to hear what Lamson had to say about Dawn, both pre and post apocalypse.  I’m thinking we’ll get a bit more background on her before she (hopefully) meets her demise next week. 

Rick plays the good host, asking if there’s anything Lamson needs before they leave.  Martha Stewart would be proud.  Come to think of it, Martha would totally be alive in the apocalypse.  Lamson says no, but asks them to call him Bob.  Sasha’s eyes go all wide and teary. 

Sasha watches after New Bob (presumably because the group has decided that Dawn won’t want anything to do with him as a hostage) and he starts to bewitch her with a sweet backstory monologue. Back before the Atlanta bombings, New Bob had been a part of a Dawn-led crew, evacuating the survivors from the hospital.  His buddy Tyler had been put in charge of the last van of survivors when the bomb hit.  Tyler has been stuck in the ground, like a “part of the street” since then.  Fully smitten, Sasha offers to help him.

Cut back to the road.  Maggie walks over to Abe and tries to hand him a water bottle.  She gently kneels down, like Margaret Mead approaching a hostile gorilla, and asks Abe if he wanted her to shoot him.  He says, “I thought I did, but I didn’t.”  She tentatively leaves the bottle.  Just then, some walker-like sounds come from the front of the fire truck.  Eugene’s awake!  Maggie jogs over to him, and we linger on a tight shot of the water bottle as Abe’s bandaged and bloody hand swoops down and grabs it.  He’s back.

Back in the warehouse, Lamson leads Sasha to the window and points her in the direction of Tyler’s body. He backs his ass up, and as Sasha goes to aim her rifle he runs into her full speed and rams her head against the glass, knocking her unconscious.  New Bob < Old Bob.

Some thoughts before I go:

- I loved that Tara got so excited by the discovery of a yo-yo.  Also, she’s definitely a welcome breath of positivity and humor on the show, and I hope she sticks around for a bit.

- Upon fleeing the church, Gabriel steps directly on a rusty old nail.  He’s totally going to get tetanus if he doesn’t get to a hospital ASAP.  How ironic.

- Please don’t let Carol die.  Please don’t let Carol die.  Please don’t let Carol die…..

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Walking Dead - Consumed Recap

What was touted as ‘The Adventures of Carol and Daryl’, ultimately turned out to be a relatively slow moving and serious episode focusing on identity and rebirth. Not gonna lie, I thought this episode was a serious bummer.  I'm not blaming it on the lack of action, but given the themes of ‘Consumed’, I now truly believe that something horrible is going to happen to Carol.  Soon.

Fire and smoke became important symbols in this episode, connoting specific life altering moments in Carol’s recent life.  There has been a great deal of focus on Carol in the first half of Season 5, and I can’t help but think that she’s doomed. 

The episode is punctuated with Carol flashbacks, filling in small gaps of time for the viewer.  We begin as Carol drives away from Rick, exiled after killing Karen and David back in the first half of Season 4. (Side note – This happened over a year ago for us, but in WD-time it’s only happened a few weeks ago.)  Carol drives out onto a main road, and allows herself a brief moment of grief, sobbing at her steering wheel.  She collects herself and then drives into a small town, setting up shop at a small law firm.  Settling in for the night, Carol clutches her gun tightly to her chest.

The next morning Carol gets up and sets to work creating a makeshift camp.  As she hangs plastic bags from the windows as rain catchers, she glimpses a plume of black smoke rising in the direction of the prison.  Panic on her face, she hops to it.  She gets in her car and flies down the road.  As she approaches the prison, a blazing inferno is reflected in her windshield.  Damn, they totally could’ve used Carol.  Would she have taken the Governor out?  Probably. There’s a good chance things may have gone another way in that situation if Carol had been there.  Rick has terrible timing. He’s kind of the worst sometimes.

Now we know how and why Carol came back.  Just about a day after the exile.  She wasn’t on her own for very long at all, and even though Rick shut her out she remained loyal to all the people there and rushed to their side when she saw danger.  If Carol’s only thoughts were for self-preservation, she would’ve stayed as far away from that situation as possible.  But she didn’t. 

Back in the present, we pick back up with Carol and Daryl as they pursue the mystery car.  Daryl notes that the car is running low on gas, and Carol suggests that they run the car off the road.  She’s kind of like a wild card here.  She has definitely proven herself to be a bold risk taker, but in this case she’s not thinking too far ahead.  That is what makes her and Daryl such a great team.  

As the duo soldiers on, the camera pans back to show us a brief shot of Atlanta at night.  It is eerily black, silent, and foreboding in the distance. 

The white cross car stops at an intersection, and Carol and Daryl park their car and watch from a distance.  A passenger gets out, and Daryl asks, “Is that a cop?” with a bit of surprise in his voice.  (Side note – its interesting to note that Daryl doesn’t say its someone ‘dressed like a cop’, he immediately assumes that the person is a cop because of the uniform.  Those societal mores are powerful, and Dawn of the Walking Dead knows it.)

A walker starts to claw at the car window, potentially giving up their position.  Both Carol and Daryl stare at it with disgusted indifference, like “be cool, dude, just be cool.”  

After pulling what appeared to be random debris off the road, the cop passenger gets back in the car, and the car drives away.  Daryl tries to turn the key, but it’s a no go.  Carol says she knows a place they can “hole up”.

They make their way into a building as a small contingent of walkers starts to wobble down the city street like the lamest Thriller video knockoff ever.  As they make their way into the building, Carol finds a key ring on a body lying in the hall.  They barricade the door and make themselves at home.  Daryl asks Carol what the place is, and she explains that it’s temporary housing.  She and Sophia came there before the world fell apart, but they didn’t stay. 

Carol flops on the bed next to Daryl and the two have a heart-to-heart about their lives and what it means to have an identity in this new world.  They both seem to agree that they’re trying to start over, and trying to still believe that what they’re doing matters.   Daryl asks Carol what she would’ve done if he hadn’t shown up at the car earlier, and Carol says she doesn’t know.  But we know.  Gareth and the Termites would’ve grabbed her and made a delicious feast out of her lady leg.  (Side note - It’s kind of interesting that as this conversation takes place, the rest of our gang is hard at work taking out the Termites.)

There’s a noise out in the hallway, and they go to investigate.  Two walkers press up against the frosted glass.  A large, adult sized body appears next to a smaller body, presumably a child.  Carol goes to take care of it, but Daryl stops her, telling her she doesn’t have to do it.  The next morning Carol wakes up to see a fire burning outside.  Daryl has covered the bodies with sheets (definitely Beth’s influence) and is burning them.  Carol gets a sad but hopeful look on her face, and thanks Daryl as they watch the curls of black smoke rise into the sky.

In many ways, this scene echoes the themes of not only this episode, but Daryl’s trajectory on the show as well.  It’s no coincidence that following the scene at the shelter, the episode cuts to a flashback of Carol blankly staring at a cloud of white smoke in the distance as she and Tyreese bury Mika and Lizzie’s bodies.  Recall that that smoke is from the moonshine shack that Daryl and Beth burned down so that Daryl could leave his life as an abused and neglected child in the past.  In burning the bodies at the shelter, Daryl is very likely trying to help Carol move on from her abusive past much in the same way Beth helped him.

Ever since Mika taught Carol how to identify if a fire is still burning from afar in The Grove, white versus black smoke has been a recurring and symbolic theme in Carol’s life.  The white smoke from the shack is the only smoke in the episode from a fire that has burned itself out, indicating something is over, done, reborn.  Daryl has been reborn, but the smoke from the fires started in Carol’s past is never seen as ‘white’, indicating that she has been unable to resolve her issues and move on.  The black smoke from her past, via the flashbacks, clearly haunts her and her self-doubt is definitely still burning.

After the walker bonfire, the duo leaves the shelter and stalks the deserted streets of Atlanta.  For some reason, the streets have an overwhelming amount of loose cardboard strewn about.  They make their way through an open parking garage into the ‘Skybridge’.  Someone is watching from the garage.

They get up to the bridge, and encounter an odd tableau.  The hallway seems to have been a camping site for a small group of survivors.  It appears as if they were all stabbed to death, and then entombed in sleeping bags and tents in order to immobilize the bodies once they reanimated.  Is it a trap?  A deterrent? Or maybe it’s just a gigantic piece of performance art?  Is Banksy still alive in the apocalypse?  Maybe Daryl is Banksy.  Woah.  Anything is possible in the WD world I guess.

They make it to the end of the hall, but the door is loosely bolted.  Carol and Daryl both shimmy through the small opening to find an upscale office that looks to be untouched.  They look out onto a scorched landscape, surveying the territory.  Again, they have a cryptic conversation about evolution of self, and starting over.  Carol seems to want to tell Daryl about what happened with the girls, but then thinks better of it. 

Daryl spies something in the distance.  It’s a van, marked with a distinctive white cross, stuck in the safety rails of an overpass.  They load up on water, and take a moment to look at the piece of art in the office.  Daryl says the abstract piece looks like, “a dog sat in paint and wiped his ass all over the place.”  Carol disagrees, and says she likes it.  I’d hate to think what Daryl might say about a Pollock painting.  Yikes. 

Care Bear vomit?  Liquefied walker?  P.S. I want Daryl Dixon to interpret all abstract paintings forever and ever please and thank you. P.P.S. There should be a web series, ‘Carol And Daryl Go To MoMA’.  I’d totally watch that. 
As they shimmy back out of the bolted door, Noah grabs Carol’s rifle and holds them at gunpoint.  He asks Daryl to lay down his crossbow, and apologizes to them.  As he escapes, he says, “I’m sorry about this.  You look tough, you’ll be alright.”  Noah slashes into the tents, releasing the walkers from their vinyl cages.  Carol reacts immediately, shooting a walker, and then takes aim at Noah as he flees down the hall.  Daryl sees this and quickly whacks Carol’s arm down toward the floor. 

They start to exit the building, and Carol quickly scrambles to justify what she did. She sums up her motto of self-preservation as she says, “If I’m going to hell I’m making damn sure I’m holding it off as long as I can.” Daryl protests a bit, frustrated with her outlook on the situation.  Carol grabs Daryl’s bag, and a book titled ‘Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse’ falls out.  They lock eyes for a moment, and Daryl snatches the book away. 

Unlike Carol, Daryl is trying to deal with his past, instead of using it to fuel his future.  He is taking the opportunity for rebirth seriously, as a chance to evolve emotionally and spiritually, and not just survive. 

On the other hand, Carol is simply trying to survive and help those close to her survive as time passes.  This is illustrated with a flashback to the prison.  Carol stands over Karen and David’s bodies as they burn.  Columns of black smoke pour into the air.  What Carol has done in episodes past seems to be in the service of protecting others, not necessarily herself.  She’s still carrying the regret of inaction from her previous life, and is constantly in fight mode, counting only on herself, not permitting herself to rest even when she has others to support her.  She hasn’t learned how to balance the fight with flight yet, and this is causing her some serious stress.

We return to the present as Carol and Daryl approach the abandoned van with the white cross.  Carol wants to go in first because she’s lighter and the van is unstable, front end dangling off the side of the bridge, but Daryl shrugs her off and hops in.  They successfully ID a stretcher in the van as originating from Grady Memorial Hospital, but a horde approaches, boxing them in.  They wordlessly slide into the two front seats and as they brace for impact, Carol reaches for Daryl’s hand on the dashboard.

In defiance of physics, the van lands squarely on all four tires, like a cat.  Walkers begin to rain from the sky, landing with hard thunks on the windshield and roof of the van.  As they walk away, Carol is clearly injured, and Daryl holds her up. 

They continue their mission, staking out the situation from an abandoned building adjacent to the hospital.  As they munch on a lunch of stale chips, Daryl strikes up a conversation.  He presses Carol for information on how he’s changed since they met.  She says, “It’s like you were a kid.  Now you’re a man.”  Daryl then asks her to assess herself, and how she’s changed.  Even though Daryl did her a solid and tried to burn away her past at the shelter, Carol can’t seem to shake who she was ‘before’.  She ruminates on her life with Ed, saying that she kept praying for something to happen, and it didn’t. 

Carol goes on and talks about her life since then, speaking about her metamorphosis in stages, seeming to reference the things we’ve seen in the flashbacks of the episode and how they’ve changed the core of who she is.  “Who I was…she got burned away, and I was happy about that.  And at the prison I got to be who I always should have been, and then she got burned away...everything now just consumes you.”  Daryl looks at her with kindness in his eyes and reminds her, “we ain’t ashes.”

Just then, Noah fumbles with something down the hall.  Seriously, kid?  Out of all the buildings in all of Atlanta, you pick this one?  The one CLOSER to the place you’re trying to run away from?!  But I digress….Noah is battling a walker as Carol and Daryl approach.  He tosses the walker at Carol and she falls to the ground.  Daryl helps Carol and then pursues Noah, tackling him and trapping him under a gigantic bookcase as a walker starts to wriggle in through the door.  Noah pleads for help as Daryl shakes a stale cigarette out of a found pack and coolly lights it. 

Daryl refuses to help, saying, “Nah, I already helped you once.  It ain’t happenin’ again.”  Noah’s probably pretty confused here, as he didn’t know that Carol had a bullet with his name on it, but no matter.  For some reason Carol’s on his side now.  As the walker gets closer, she joins in asking for Daryl's assistance.  As the walker lunges for Noah’s throat, Carol grabs her knife.  She’s about to stab the walker when an arrow slices through the air, piercing the walker’s skull. 

Back in the past, Terminus burns, thick black smoke swirling in the distance as Carol sheds her camouflage. 

Carol and Daryl help lift the bookcase, and Noah thanks them profusely once he’s free.  He goes to the window, and says he has to go because the people at the hospital are following him.  Daryl’s eyes widen at the mention of the hospital.  “You see a blonde girl there?!” Noah’s eyes widen in kind, “Beth? You know her?!  She helped me get out, but she’s still there.”

The trio starts to exit the building when Noah trips and falls.  Daryl stops to help him up, and Carol sprints ahead into the road.  A station wagon screeches up, slamming into Carol.  Her body flies up onto the windshield and then crumples to the ground.  Daryl has a freak out, as Noah holds him back, explaining that the people at the hospital “have machines” and that they will help her.  As the cops load Carol onto a stretcher, Noah says, “We can get her back.  We can get Beth back.”

Daryl asks, “What’s it going to take?”  Noah notes that the group at the hospital has guns and people, and Daryl responds, “So do we.”

Noah and Daryl escape the city in a truck.  Noah looks at Daryl with an odd look on his face.  Daryl stares, determined, into the distance, the face of a man on a mission.

Some ramblings:

- I just simply couldn't care less about the scene where Carol and Daryl are lying on the bed.  They’re just close, ok?  They’re never going to make out, and I don’t want them to.  This is my final and only thought.  They're soulmates at a deeper level.  Also, no one ever seems to brush their teeth.  Gross. 

- Daryl’s actually one of the gentlest souls on the show at this point, and by being here with Carol he was spared from being a part of the Termite Massacre back at the church.  I can't help but think that his separation from the group at this point in time was intentional.  Same with Carol, but I think that her method of killing would be more akin to Michonne's rather than Sasha, Rick or Abe's.  She's a gentle soul too, only capable of fight when something is at stake.  Unlike some of the others, she's not in it for vengeance. 

- Obligatory Biblical reference of the episode seems to be the Mary on the dash of the van.  Very glad we didn't have to listen to any scripture this week. Thanks for that, WD writers. 

- The last two episodes reminded me of the storytelling on LOST.  Flashbacks focusing on a single character within a larger episode for the sake of character building.

- I really do think that something terrible is going to happen to Carol by the mid-season finale.  For some reason I'm holding out hope that it's amnesia, and not her death.  She got whacked pretty hard by that car, and an amnesiac episode followed by a 'rebirth' may possibly be what this episode is pointing towards.  I don't care if it's too 'Days of Our Lives', any story line that lets Carol Peletier live is okay in my book.