THE WALKING DEAD: “Still”

It’s the quiet, still calmness in the artifacts of the world gone by that birth the most terror for me in scenes from “The Walking Dead.”

We open “Still” on train tracks, a totaled car surrounded by discarded items. Daryl and Beth escape the bushes running from a horde of walkers; they jump in the trunk to shield themselves from the mob, a place of horror in the old world turned sanctuary in the new. Not a word is spoken in these opening minutes, but the quiet is deafening. Quick shots of light, a knife, Daryl’s bow, eyes fill the frame like pages from the graphic novel. Director Julius Ramsay presents an opening masterfully pieced together. The viewer might think they are in for a wild ride, another “win” to stack on the deck of a sublime season.  Hate to burst your bubble, but this episode, while full on character development for the youngest of Hershel’s daughters, is a weak link, a filler-episode light on story: unsatisfying, slightly moving, but fairly underwhelming.

Spoiler Alert: The episode should have been titled: In Which Beth Bitches and Daryl Broods.

After the walkers clear, Beth and Daryl make camp with booty collected from the car site and chow down on smoked mud-snake, but Beth is left a bit wanting. Precocious little songlet needs a drink, a “real one” as she puts it. (Get it? “Still”? As in…di-still-ery?) So in need for the hooch, she storms off, and ultimately throws a Christian Bale-sized tizzy imploring Daryl to move on from this little camp. This camp is too small for the little one, safety be damned!

Eventually, the pair stumble upon a country club, and Beth goes in search of Golfer Drink. Remind me again where all of these landmarks are coming from? I do believe the team in charge of sustenance at the prison were lax on their job if they left so many of these surrounding buildings full of provisions. But I digress…

Once inside the club, Daryl and Beth lay witness to piñata-styled hanging walkers and a makeshift camp, but no people. Wouldn’t you know it, though! Beth finds a full bottle of booze tucked away; unfortunately, she has to use it to bash in the head of one of those pesky “he-came-out-of-nowhere” walkers. It seemed whoever held this fort of excess before the two crashers arrived took down the “man,” i.e. rich, elitist members and desecrated their bodies. So you like this camp better than the train tracks, eh, Bethy? Daryl frantically gathers money and jewelry he sees lying on the floor in a pile. We get it! He used to be a Dickensian beggar who lived by street code! It’s in his nature to not leave all that lying about! Lazy, lazy writing, Peeps.

Guess the alcoholic gene runs in the family, because Beth just has to have a drink. It’s her outlet, as she puts it to Daryl: he has “bashing” in the skulls of walkers; she has brewed hops. It’s one of those tools writers use to show a character is growing up without using exposition. Clever. So, so clever.

Finally arriving on a half-bottle of peach Schnapps, Beth stares into the bottle while Daryl plays darts with the photos of the Country Club board members. She cannot bring herself to drink, however, breaking down in tears. Is she attempting to connect with her father? To grow up? Before she is able to drink, Daryl smashes the bottle. “If you’re going to have your first drink, it’s not going to be no damned peach Schnapps!” Oh, my sweet Black Knight! Find me some smooth bourbon and take me far away from this place!

Daryl leads Beth to a place he had previously discovered with Michonne (finally some recognition of having tread around this place)! It’s a compound with a distillery, perfectly positioned for Beth’s first foray into the arts of alcohol consumption. Moonshine! Is it wrong for me to wish this episode was focused on when Michonne and Daryl frequented this place instead of Daryl and Beth? That’d make for interesting storytelling!

After making sure the house portion of Moonshine Creek is clear of walkers, Bowman and Ms. Priss set up shop. Note to Production Designers: Zombies do not make it a point to mess up the house and scatter papers and lamps all over the floor. They just stumble around looking for meat. Why must the apocalypse always be accompanied by a tornado of paper? Who keeps that much paper in their house to begin with?

Though Hershel warned Beth, “Bad moonshine will make you go blind,” she downs a shot and enters womanhood. Daryl declines an offered shot from Beth, sagely wanting to keep watch. Who is this Daryl, and what have you done with the devil-may-care man from the past? He’s a real square, now! A father figure. But he regales young Beth with stories of a shanty house much like this from the former world, where he and his brother grew up with a dad who shot things in the house and had dumpster chairs and bustier ashtrays. Oh, how I love these trips down expository road, but can we gouge out some zombie eyes now?

The father act only lasts ten minutes before Daryl and Beth are passing the mason jar. And playing ‘I never’. It’s a scene full of punches, and if the whole episode was like this, I think I would have felt more positively about it.  You learn so much more from a character’s reaction to seemingly mundane questions, why must we always get the “Daddy used to take shots at me and drank a lot while my brother learned sadistic survival techniques in the corner” speeches instead of the good ol’ fashioned I never subtlety. The game spirals quickly, and we learn exactly why Daryl Dixon shouldn’t drink. Not so cute and cuddly when he’s had a few. He’s his father after all; and whiny Ms. Priss gets exactly what’s coming to her. Regrettably, justice does not involved getting disemboweled by a walker. Each must accept the truth that they are on their own. Everyone they know and love must be dead.

The episode ends with Bonnie and Clyde burning down the Moonshine Casa, a symbol of Daryl’s past. It’s all very sweet with a folksy Cat Stevens rip-off riff playing in the background, but how exactly does this not attract every walker within a five mile radius?! Looks purty, though! Symbolism! (To be fair, we get a shot of a couple shamblers…)

I get that our core characters, being separated, each have their own stories now, and believe me when I say that I enjoy hours built on character development, but I don’t feel after watching “Still” that I needed to see that hour. That it advanced the plot or moved Beth and Daryl into a new director or shone a light into their prospective plights.

“After,” the brilliant midseason premiere, was both a reintroduction to Michonne, Carl, and Rick, and an insight into where these characters were headed; “Still” is an empty retread of this tactic; the story would be better suited for a webisode or a series-extra.

If you left tonight’s episode off of the season, would I really miss anything?

 Grade: Well acted. Little substance. C+

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