Sunday, November 9, 2014

Walking Dead - Slabtown Recap

Oh, there’s Beth.

This episode of the Walking Dead promised a big reveal, and wow did it deliver.  Beth is alive and well, sillies!  She was just kidnapped by a psycho group holed up in a hospital in Atlanta! But it’s no biggie because they totally have lollipops!

This week we follow Beth’s experience as the insane and sadistic leaders of the hospital abuse her in every way possible.  To Beth’s credit, her sunny disposition never waivers, and she goes about proving beyond a doubt that she can certainly take care of herself.  Daryl Dixon would totally be proud.

The ‘Slabtown’ episode raises a lot of questions about power, control and leadership.  We encounter our first female leader in the Dead world, but she’s super disappointing.  Much like Rick Grimes, Dawn Lerner was a police officer ‘before’, and continues to tenaciously hold onto that role despite the fact that the world is crumbling around her.  However, all similarities to Rick Grimes end there.  As a female, Dawn uses other women’s bodies as a kind of sick currency.  She uses these women to entertain and soothe her troops so they can remain happy and continue to work toward some imaginary ‘greater good’.  Dawn perpetuates the stereotype of woman as victim, instead of trying to protect and empower her own gender. And, oh yeah, she's also a prime perpetrator of serious physical abuse and emotional mindfuckery.

As this season progresses, the topic of control and dependence has been prominent in the two different groups our gang has encountered since leaving the prison.  At Terminus, the original denizens of the compound fought back, but became cannibalistic control freaks in the process, feasting their way through the untrustworthy masses.  In Slabtown, they are doing something that seems counterintuitive.  They recruit only weak, seemingly dependent and damaged individuals.  In a world that’s basically just one long abusive relationship, Slabtown is the epitome of that beat down.  And it’s no coincidence that our poor Beth is trapped there.

The episode opens with a clear homage to the opening shot of the entire series.  Beth opens her eyes in an empty hospital room. She bangs at her locked door, and two newbies walk in.  They introduce themselves as Doctor Steven Edwards and Officer Dawn Lerner.  They blatantly lie and say that they found her alone on the side of the road with a fractured wrist and a head wound on the side of the road.  (Side note - When did that happen?  When we last left Beth, she had a twisted ankle, and a few scrapes, but certainly no broken bones.)

Dawn drops the hammer as she goes on to tell Beth that because they saved her life, she owes them.

Cut to a different day.  Beth is dressed in pale blue scrubs and is helping the Doc on his rounds.  He terminates a patient because Dawn has ordered him to do so. Resources in ole Slabtown are precious, and the odds were not stacked in this guys favor. 

Beth helps Doc wheel the body down the hall and carefully observes her surroundings.  There’s a uniformed janitor mopping the far end of the hall, and a few patients are hanging out in their rooms.  Even though there’s a weird feeling here there’s also a semblance of normality, which feels novel in a world where most people are scrambling for survival.  The scene is scored to some forgettable music that should’ve totally been a mournful cover of ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin, but who can afford the rights to Disney classics in this apocalypse wasteland?

As Doc and Beth walk down the hall, he explains to her what they are doing with the body.  They use the recently dead as bait for random ‘rotters’ that have worked their way into the basement.  During this exchange, the doctor also makes an interesting comment about the state of the hospital.  He says, “Some of us started here, some came as patients.  We all have a job.”  This is basically a rehash of the Greene family motto, as decreed by Hershel.  Even though I know that hard work and delegation of responsibility must be a common sentiment in the apocalypse, it’s a bit shocking to hear someone else who’s not Hershel say it in the WD world.  Also, I miss Hershel.  **Sniff**

Beth heads down to the cafeteria, which looks like it has a pretty well stocked buffet.  She encounters a cop with super skeevy eyebrows.  He introduces himself, but since he’s so clearly creeptastic I’m going to willfully ignore his name and just call him ‘Officer Eyebrows’.  Officer Eyebrows reminds Beth that she should be grateful to him as he saved her life.  Be nice to him, or he’ll start writing down everything that she’s taking for lunch.  He sneers, “Everything costs something, right?”

Elsewhere in the hospital, we meet a young Chris Rock WD newbie Noah.  He picks up Dawn’s clothing as she jazzercycles her way to fitness.   She comments that she wants her uniform washed separately and pressed.  

Beth brings the doctor his food.  He’s listening to a record in an office decorated in what can best be described as ‘hippie college professor style’.  She sits down and he offers her a bite of his guinea pig, which she accepts.  Apparently the denizens of Slabtown aren’t eating people, so there’s that.  The two have a chat about art and transcendence.  Beth notes that she still sings, and this brings a small smile to the docs face.  Dawn bursts into the room, breaking up this sweet moment as she summons the doc.  Damn you Dawn, you are SUCH a buzz kill.

A new guy named Trevitt is wheeled in, mangled and unconscious.  Dawn barks orders at the doctor, telling him to use whatever resources it takes to save this random dude.  The doctor and Dawn argue, and she quickly gets agitated.  What does Dawn do with her anger?  Oh, just openly whacks poor Beth in the face.  Totally makes sense….IN CRAZYLAND! What did Beth ever do to you, you crazy bitch?! Dawn makes a cryptic comment about “the stakes” and then storms out.

Back in Beth’s room, Doc sews up her face and gives her a new shirt because Dawn “likes things neat”.  The doctor leaves, and Beth goes to change.  She finds a green lollipop in the pocket and beams. Score!  Maybe Willy Wonka will save her.  Probably not.   

Who are we kidding, Wonka would definitely be alive in the zombie apocalypse. 
It’s a regular episode of ER up in this piece as a crew drags another body in.  It’s a curly haired girl named Joan who was mentioned as missing earlier in the episode.  Joan has a big juicy bite on her forearm.  Dawn screams that they’re not going to let her turn, and Joan forcefully objects, saying she doesn’t want their help.  Officer Eyebrows comes in and is generally creepy and unhelpful as he caresses Joan’s calf and calls her a whore.  Dawn shoves him aside, and Doc starts sawing off Joan’s arm with a wire cord.  The visual here is graphic, and is the sound of the wire cutting through flesh and bone is unnerving. 

Still reeling from her amputation assist, Beth walks up to the laundry room and officially meets Noah, who introduces himself as the lollipop fairy.  He’s pretty chatty with her as he divulges that he’s been in Slabtown for about a year, after being ‘rescued’.  He tells her that he came from a compound in Richmond, Virginia, and that they “had walls” back home.  Noah knows that the crew thinks he’s weak, but he begs to differ.  Oddly, Noah goes on to share his plan to escape with Beth, who is basically a perfect stranger.  (Not to be confused with Perfect Strangers.)

Larry and Balki would totally be doomed in the apocalypse.
Later that evening, Dawn brings Beth some food.  She gives Beth this strange little pep talk, saying that she is just trying to keep things in order until they are saved.  It’s odd, because this is the same sentiment that Abe, Rosita and Eugene have been espousing since their introduction on the show; only Dawn is not being very proactive about the situation.  She’s controlling what she can control, and just waiting for rescue.  Dawn’s theme song should totally be ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’, from Sleeping Beauty but damn those pricey Disney rights.

Beth rounds out her day by humming a little ditty as she mops up blood from Joan’s amputation.  Joan stirs and tells her that the humming is nice.  Beth expresses genuine sorrow for what happened to Joan.  She takes a chance and asks Joan what Officer Eyebrows did to her.  Joan responds that she knows Dawn can control her troops, but “she doesn’t because it’s easier.” 

(Side note – Well, we all guessed it, Officer Eyebrows is most definitely a sexual predator.  The kind of guy you wouldn’t want in charge before or after the apocalypse.  Further eroding Dawn’s credibility is the fact that she is complicit in the abuse that he is perpetrating.  She is allowing it to happen, and in letting these indiscretions go unpunished, she is undermining her own authority as a woman.  Taking the easy way never pans out.)

In the next scene, the Creep Factor cranks up to 11.  For me, this was one of the most uncomfortable scenes to date on WD.  And on a show with flaming zombies, heads in fish tanks and rampant cannibalism, that’s certainly saying something. 

After her long day, Beth searches for her lollipop and cant find it.  Officer Eyebrows walks in.  He waves the green gem around, opens it, and then sticks it straight into his disgusting mouth.  He advances on our little Beth, offering it to her, and she grimaces, declining the offer.  Only it wasn’t an offer.  Officer Eyebrows rubs the tainted candy against her lips, and slowly forces it into her mouth, leering at her as she squirms. 

Thankfully the doctor interrupts at this point, putting a temporary end to this horrific exchange.  However, this scene does an excellent job in illustrating what the core of sexual harassment looks like.  Unlike recent portrayals of sexual assault in popular media, such as the brutal and mercilessly extended cuts of onscreen abuse and rape at Craster’s Keep in Game of Thrones, Walking Dead does an excellent job of illustrating what is at the core of this thing.  Sexual assault is not about sex.  It’s about power and control. 

Beth bounces back from the encounter relatively quickly, and asks the doctor why he stays.  He brings her down to the ground floor.  As he drags a stick across the metal shutters, a horde of walkers quickly assembles at the window. He glumly notes that the place is overrun, and that’s why he stays.  For a doctor this guy is pretty stupid.  How do the cops get out, dummy? 

Doc brings Beth up to the picturesque roof garden.  As they chat, they are framed by a striking, eerily quiet shot of a broken Atlanta.  He shares that he was the one who suggested the barter system; medical care in exchange for service, and Dawn bastardized it to what it is now.  The doctor is clearly drunk on Slabtown Kool-Aid, because he says what many abused individuals say when it becomes clear it’s time to leave a bad relationship.  “As bad as it gets, it’s still better than down there.”

The doctor sends Beth back into the hospital with instructions to give Trevitt 75 mg of Clozapine.  She goes down and expertly executes her task.  As she goes to leave, Noah shows up to say heeeey girl just as the patient starts to crash.  Dawn charges in and asks what happened. Noah takes the blame, and Dawn’s army drags him into her office for a good old-fashioned beat down.  The sounds of Noah’s beating are audible as Beth explains to the doctor what actually happened.  She says she administered Clozapine as the doctor asked her to, and he just shakes his head, insinuating that he actually said ‘Clonazepam’. 

(Side note: First off, I have the power of the DVR, and Beth doesn’t, but that SOB M.D. most certainly did say Clozapine.  Secondly, I’m not quite sure why Clozapine would cause this patient to die, because the Internets tell me it’s just an anti-psychotic medication, but no matter….Doc Stevens is the expert in sneaky murder-by-unwitting-proxy, not me.)

Dawn goes to confront Beth, and tries to force some of that delicious Slabtown Kool-Aid down her throat.  She tells Beth that she is there to keep the officers happy, and that’s what should give her a sense of self worth.  Outside in the real world, she’s just a burden.  Dawn throws Beth’s scars in her face, reminding us of her suicide attempt in Season 2, back when Beth was still just one of Hershel’s hundred nameless children.  While this scene is also disturbing, it’s honestly another amazing example of how power and control can and is used to “keep people in their place”.  The spotless funeral home from last season has OCDawn’s prints all over it.  It was most certainly a trap for the weak and the easily controlled.  Poor limping, singing, scarred, sweet Beth was a prime target.  Dawn is clearly excellent at breaking people down and making them feel like they do not have a choice, but starting with individuals who are already weak certainly helps.

Noah and Beth talk, and she says that she wants to escape with him.  He asks her to execute the most dangerous part of the mission - go get the spare key to the elevator shaft in Dawns office.   Beth goes immediately, not wanting to spend one more second in this nightmare. 

Inside Dawn’s office, there’s a whole jar of lollipops just sitting on her desk!  In a hipster mason jar! I’m genuinely surprised that the pops aren’t color-coded.  Beth rifles through a file cabinet, and locates a wallet with some sort of ID from St Ignatius Hospital.  She turns to see a dead Joan on the floor beside a blood spattered “FUCK YOU” carved into the floor.  Apparently written obscenities are totally cool on network TV if they’re doused with a bit of suicide blood. 

Beth just sort of acts like Joan is a piece of furniture she has to work around.  She jimmies a drawer free and finds the key.  Just then Officer Eyebrows comes in and starts fondling Beth, telling her that they can work out a deal so that Dawn doesn’t need to know about her break-in.  OMG Daryl Dixon would stomp this assbag so hard, but Beth isn’t waiting for a savior.  She keeps an eye on the floor as Joan starts to reanimate, and lets Officer Creepy Brows think he has the upper hand.  As he starts to relax, Beth quickly grabs the lollipop jar and forcefully slams it over his head.  He falls into Joan’s waiting jaws, and she rips his neck out with her teeth.  Beth smartly nabs his gun as she flees the scene.  It’s sweet, satisfying poetic justice all around. 

Noah and Beth execute their great escape.  Noah guides Beth down the chute with some knotted bedsheets, and then he follows.  Beth shoots several walkers in the dark, flashes of light illuminating each kill.  The duo makes their way outside, and the scene is overexposed, giving the scene a bright and washed out look.  Beth passes three vehicles emblazoned with the white cross on the back windshield, and WHY DOESN’T SHE TRY TO GET IN ONE OF THE CARS?!? It might be because there’s a small knot of walkers advancing towards her.

Beth takes out a bunch of the walkers, but starts to get overwhelmed.  Noah scoots out, and a cop takes down Beth.  As the officer cuffs her on the ground, she catches a glimpse of Noah fleeing past the chain link fence.  And as a true testament to Beth’s sunny disposition, she smiles.

Back in Dawns office, it’s an OCD nightmare.  Two dead bodies, and guts everywhere.  Just a real bloody mess. Beth breaks it down for Dawn.  Officer Eyebrows attacked her, but only because Dawn is a permissive and ineffective leader who is living in a fantasy world.  Beth fully stands up to Dawn, and tells her that no one is coming.  There is no prince, there’s no way out.  Beth drops the bomb. “You let this happen for nothing.”  Dawn can’t accept this.  She clearly has some serious mental health issues.  She grabs a broken frame and slams it across Beth’s face.

A few days later, the doctor is examining Beth, her pretty, innocent face a swollen and gouged mess from Dawn’s attack.  As Doc goes to leave, Beth confronts him about the ID that she saw in Dawn’s office.  She asks, “How’d you know that Trevitt was a doctor?”  Doc says he knew him, and had to kill him to ensure his own survival, his own place as Slabtown’s resident professional.  He’s a coward, just like Father Gabriel.  And much like Gabriel, he uses religious lore to justify his actions.  He tells a story about Peter denying being a disciple of Christ so he could save his own hide.  Beth pretends to be sympathetic and understanding.   

However, Beth has other plans in mind.  She gets up from the office, sharp medical scissors in hand.  She walks with purpose, striding toward Doc.  At that moment, the crew rounds the corner, bringing in another body on the stretcher.  As it approaches, a pop of short gray hair comes into view, and then a face.  Beth’s eyes widen and a look of recognition washes over her.  OMG it’s everyone’s favorite gray haired Queen Bitch…CAROLLLL!!!!!  Yayyyy!!!


- Why was this episode not called ‘Dawn of the Walking Dead’?  It seems like such a missed opportunity….

- Where did Carol come from?  Did she plant herself as a ‘weak’ individual in order to get in to the hospital, or is she actually hurt? Beth doesn’t know that Carol is a bonafide superhero now, but she certainly knows that Carol is on her side.  However, given the general ‘abusive relationship’ feel of the hospital, will Carol slip back into her old patterns of thinking?  Probably not. 

- That person in the woods with Daryl at the end of the previous episode?  I’ll bet my britches that it’s Noah.  (You probably don’t want my britches.  Where does that saying even come from?  It’s super weird.  But I digress.) And Noah told Beth that he had been with another group of survivors in Richmond, Virginia, “with walls”.  Could this be a pit stop for our gang on the way to DC?  If so, will our group ever all be together again?  Will Beth and Maggie ever be reunited?  Does Maggie even care?  Is Maggie the worst sister ever, or what?  Will I ever stop asking questions?  

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