By: Matt ErnColumnist
The Walking Dead - “Say the Word” Grade: A- In the months since Rick woke up from a coma, finding himself in a world full of zombies and desperate survivors, his only goals have been to preserve his family. First it was just to find them, searching against all odds that they’d still be alive. Then it was protecting them, maybe finding salvation at the CDC; finding a safe place for Lori to give birth. Now now all that’s gone out the window, as Lori’s dead and their son had to be the one to ultimately pull the trigger. And Rick isn’t taking things very well. Rick’s mental breakdown in “Say the Word” is beautifully dark. He runs through the halls of the prison hacking apart walkers until he makes it to the room Lori died in. At this point he’s covered in blood and has a look in his eye of a man with nothing left to lose. The Walking Dead has been vicious as of late, playing fast and loose with characters’ lives and emotions. Just as Rick was finally settling into his role as a leader, the one who will make the tough calls he was unable to make, he lost everything. And it’s really great to watch. Things are picking up over in Woodbury as well. The Governor got more terrifying each week. From the early scene with his walker-daughter, Penny, to the closing moments in the gladiator fight, we see his depraved side on full display here. The scene with Penny is so completely unnerving in an understated and simplistic way that speaks to the dark depths The Walking Dead has been delving into lately. Everything about The Governor is menacing at this point. His rhetoric is designed to keep the citizens of Woodbury under his control. I can’t help but be reminded of the Others from Lost when watching the Woodbury scenes unfold. Like Ben Linus, The Governor manipulates his people by talking about how he’s protecting them. Woodbury even looks a lot like the Others’ barracks; they’re both gated communities that pretend to offer some protection from the dangers outside. The Others were an interesting early antagonistic force to the crash survivors on Lost, and I’m eagerly awaiting the first encounters between Woodbury and the prison here.
Parks and Rec - “Ben’s Parents” Grade: B+ “Slight speed bump, everything is going terrible,” a panicked Leslie says around the episode’s halfway point. It’s a very Leslie reaction to Ben’s parents ruining the engagement party: it’s delivered with such positivity despite the situation and sums up “everything going terrible” as only a slight speed bump. The theme of the episode is that Ben and Leslie are two people in love who are going to roll with the punches and get each other through anything. Ben’s divorced parents start fighting at the party because his dad Steve shows up with his new girlfriend. Things spiral out of control from there and it seems that not even Leslie’s unity quilt could rectify the situation. Ben and Leslie never stop trying to help each other, though; he’s upset his parents are ruining the party Leslie worked so hard for while she’s upset that her fiancé had to grow up with such crazy parents. It’s really touching that by the end of the episode Ben and Leslie leave in a cab together, warning the driver about the level of making out that’s about to unfold. But they don’t leave before Ben has a big moment and stands up to his parents. Ben takes a lot of grief that comes his way, but he draws the line when it comes to people compromising Leslie’s happiness, in this case her wedding. He tells his parents that they’re going to be there and they’re going to be civil. The other important development this episode is a huge character moment for Tom, who realizes that it may be time to grow up and ditch Jean Ralphio’s slacker lifestyle. “Sometimes you have to work a little to ball a lot,” Tom sagely puts it. Tom’s entrepreneurial spirit is often the source of humor derived from his character. So many episodes feature Tom listing off idea for new products and styles, and yet that spirit is actually one of Tom’s strongest attributes. Ron is one of the few characters that really believes in Tom and recognizes that strength, and I’m looking forward to seeing the two of them in business together.
Homeland - “The Clearing” Grade: B+ “Homeland” is reaching the halfway point of its season, right around the time in the first season when an already good show got better and hit its stride. So many different threads came together in “The Clearing” that it’s not hard to see how the second half of this season is about to go completely nuts. Dana’s hit-and-run subplot came to a head this week and I have to give the show credit for doing it in a fulfilling way. I was really worried about this development, which felt a little like it came out of left field, but the way it was handled is perfect. Naturally Brody and Jessica want to go to the police and do the right thing, but the Waldens won’t risk it hurting the campaign. And because Brody’s only useful as a CIA informant while he’s close to Walden, Carrie has to step in and stop Brody from doing the right thing. This season has put Brody in a remarkably stressful position as a double agent for both the most notorious terrorist in the world and CIA, all while trying to keep his damaged family together. His work with the CIA has forced a few wedges between him and Jessica and Dana because of its secretive nature, and having Carrie around only complicates Brody’s position.