There’s only three more episodes to go in this half-season of TWD and I’m on the fence about The Big Scary U. While I enjoyed parts of the episode, there were scenes that I certainly didn’t care for, and the whole thing ended up feeling like an hour-long scottish shower, so let’s just break down the good, the bad and the ‘meh’:
- However tiresome these brief flashbacks and wonky timeless are getting, I actually enjoyed the opening scene with Gabriel praying right before the war. Asking God to spare him a “fruitless death” and to give him purpose is pretty much on par with his character, and what sold it best was the quick cut to Gregory (and the subversion of the obvious inference later on in the episode).
- You’d think Negan’s habit of acting completely calm and then exploding into a fit of rage would have gotten old by now, but for my money, it’s one of the few character traits that keep him interesting. So I was totally on board with his little monologue about people being a valuable resource and “the foundation of what we’re building here“. There are various points throughout the episode where this theme is repeated, and it’s easy to buy that he believes what he’s saying, even if he has no respect for the people and just considers them exactly that, a resource.
- The most interesting part for me was his comment to Simon about backsliding. I’m sure there are already plenty of theories out there, and I don’t know if this is answered in the comics (or if the show will diverge from that story), but I like the fact that it makes you wonder about the history between those two. On one hand, it would be like Negan to keep as his right hand man someone who potentially tried to undermine him at some point; Dwight is another example. On the other, it’s hard to imagine Simon, who, so far, has been Negan Lite in every aspect – his speech and mannerisms, his general attitude and outlook on the status quo – ever crossing Negan or openly challenging him. Add to that the maybe-hint about the Sanctuary’s previous leader, and it’s easy to imagine a much deeper history between Simon and Negan.
- There were plenty of good moments in the Negan/Gabriel scenes, not least of which was the hilarious name-calling in the beginning. I like Gabriel’s little speech about having purpose, and the twist of trying to take Negan’s confession was unexpected and quite clever. It was as nice a way as any to learn some of Negan’s back story – and if this trend continues, instead of giving us the almost inevitable standalone Negan-flashback episode, then I’m all for it.
- Although the Rick and Daryl scenes were mostly meh this week, I definitely enjoyed the callback to Shane with Rick’s “chokehold’s illegal” line. But what I mostly liked is that the writers are actually trying to be consistent with Daryl’s character this season, slowly building towards this conflict between the two “philosophies” since Daryl’s brutality when he escaped the Sanctuary and the swift execution of that Savior a couple of episodes ago. It was also handled beautifully: the scuffle really did feel like two ‘brothers’ fighting, and then just going back to normal as soon as the fight was rendered pointless.
- I’m as tired of Eugene’s weird dialogue as I am of Negan’s penchant for dick jokes, but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the “primo cukes from my private stash” line. Half the time I don’t even understand what he’s saying, but his obsession with pickles is hilarious every single time.
- Even though Negan’s revelations about his past life weren’t earth-shattering by any means, they stay firmly in the good pile, if only because it’s nice to learn something about the Big Baddie other than the fact that he “has a leather jacket, he has Lucille and his nutsack is made of steel” (I actually laughed out loud at this little rhyme). I half expected him to say he used to work with animals, since he’s so into treating his subordinates like dogs, but children would have been my next guess if we’re talking about unlikely professions. So was he a teacher? It would make some sort of sense, given the theatricality often required when trying to capture the attention of the class, and the fact that he’s obviously quite at ease addressing an audience. Plus he has a thing about teach people lessons, so yep, I’d say it tracks.
- Negan’s strong vs. weak monologue also stays in the good pile, because not only did we learn something new (he had a sick wife, he was weak in that he couldn’t put her down when she died) but also because, for once, the writers didn’t go for the cheap redemption arc – or at least a few redeeming features – to make Negan likable: he lied and cheated on her, which sounds about right. On top of that, that little info we got about the previous leader of this place before Negan took over was definitely interesting. How did he allow for weakness? How did Negan manage to oust him? Is there any validity to the Simon theory?
- I also liked how Negan framed his philosophy about how his regime works. In true delusional narcissist mode, he rationalizes his weird brand of communism and the methods he employs to stay in power: the workers aren’t slaves, it’s an economy; no one’s hungry, which you couldn’t say before all this, no one’s killed who didn’t need killing. Whether he actually believes that or not is open to interpretation, but it’s interesting to see that even when he’s not at his strongest, he doesn’t stray from the party line.
- Sometimes TWD does a brilliant job of using minor details as significant plot points, and this was the case with Dwight’s DIY chess set. We’ve seen him work on the pieces on several occasions, and every time we spotted one, it was important; Daryl traded one back when we first met Dwight and Sherry, Dwight left a message on one after the attack on Alexandria last season, and now we finally see the set complete, which ties in nicely with Dwight’s decision to end his arc with the Saviors and join Rick & co to take Negan down. The fact that the paint was what gave him away to Eugene was just icing on a well constructed cake.
- There was a lot of dialogue that felt cumbersome during Negan’s meeting with his lieutenants and Gregory in the opening scenes, but at least we got a fairly new tidbit of information about this group: they “kill one and save hundreds more“, hence the Saviors. To be fair, it wasn’t some mind-blowing revelation – more like a ‘duh’ moment, but it was at least nice to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
- Of course Negan is no dummy and suspects that Gregory is playing both sides. But seriously, can we stop with the dick jokes already? “A thin-dicked politician threading the needle with your thin, thin dick” may have been funny last season, but at some point dick jokes and obvious puns become as unoriginal as Negan’s constant posturing. Still, this stays in the ‘meh’ column solely because I liked the detail of Negan’s side of the table looking completely gouged by Lucille.
- Can we talk about the other lieutenants while we’re at it? That Regina chick is just plain awful. Bad dialogue, bad acting, and would have landed in the bad pile except she’s completely uninteresting. Gavin’s given a few more lines than usual this week, but he’s still utterly bland. Eugene looking nervous is nothing new (but he also looks conspicuously guilty for no reason), and although these scenes weren’t as unnecessary as the ones in the beginning of the episode, they were definitely meh.
- Whether Negan’s ultimately successful attempt to get Gabriel to help him was sheer manipulation or not, I felt that this whole sequence could have been stronger. I liked the fact that they used the ol’ zombie-gut trick once again to get out of a sticky (har har) situation, but Negan’s whole spiel about “needing” Gabriel was a bit too much for me, particularly the part where he wants to make him his new ‘special project’. There’s a thin line between laying it on thick and asserting power, and instead of showcasing Negan’s ability to talk himself out of a bind, it just painted Gabriel as gullible and weak, not least because he kept asking for Negan’s confession and, in the end, he was the one confessing his own sins.
- Also, as much as I appreciate the overarching theme of purpose for Gabriel’s arc this week, in the end it just fell flat. I liked the juxtaposition of his confession about his congregation and Negan pointing out that he saved a double crossing coward, but then the thread was lost along the way: if Gabriel’s purpose was to get a confession out of Negan, then he pretty much failed; if it was to die a purposeful death, then why not try to kill Negan, which he had several opportunities to, knowing he would die too?
- For a group of people who take pride in calling themselves Negan, the lieutenants don’t seem to garner a lot of respect from their underlings AT ALL. A couple of hours with the power off and the workers are already about to revolt, and nothing Simon says seems to assuage them. This, plus that awful Regina person shooting a worker, plus Negan’s impeccable timing and whistling, plus Gabriel actually kneeling along with the rest of the Saviors, plus a random Savior saying “thank you Negan, thank God for you”??? Ugh. The only thing saving this scene from going straight to the bad pile was Negan’s funny rhyme.
- The entire scene with Simon bringing Gregory breakfast and going through the details of whatever wasn’t shown on screen between Gregory’s decision to betray the Hilltop and our group’s attack on the Sanctuary felt mostly unnecessary: we had already surmised what had gone down, and this needless exposition dump offered no new insight into the situation.
- The following scene with Negan meeting with Gregory and his men was also largely unnecessary, but for a few minor details. Still, that “Big Scary U” quote definitely belongs in the bad pile, especially since the writers felt it was good enough to name the entire episode that. It wasn’t.
- This episode marks the third time we hear about Negan’s plan to capture Rick, “The Widow” and the King alive and make an example out of them. We get it! I’d be okay with it had we spent some time hearing about the plan we actually care about (Rick’s), but so far all we’ve gotten is confusing action in multiple locations and we have no idea what’s going on half the time, so the choice to repeat Negan’s plan is just baffling.
- In fact, between Gregory and the rest of the reduntant exposition, we wasted 10 minutes of this episode, which could have been better spent on Negan and Gabriel or Rick and Daryl.
- I know I touched on this when we last saw Gabriel and Negan trapped together, so I won’t go on another rant about the multiple opportunities Gabriel had to kill Negan this week. Obviously his plot armor precludes such a random death, but damn it, writers, at least try and make it plausible! Don’t give Gabriel a gun, don’t leave those two alone while only ONE of them is armed, don’t make Gabriel such a wuss when it comes to killing Negan when you’ve spent two seasons trying to redeem his character and make him into a badass!
- Meanwhile, the Rick/Daryl fight would have been much more poignant if we actually knew what Rick’s plan was to begin with. We know Rick still values human life; we know Daryl’s too far gone, and has been for a while now. We also know that a lot of people died in order to get those damn 50 caliber machine guns, so as much as I can appreciate that Daryl would feel justified in taking the situation in his own hands now that they know about the Kingdom snafu, I can’t really get behind their ‘shit happens’ attitude when their little scuffle results in the guns and explosives blowing up.
- The obvious one is: WTF was that helicopter? Was Rick imagining it? He did have that dazed look about him – same one he had in the prison days when he kept hallucinating Lori – but I’d like to hope that they’re not going to that cheap bullshit again. So who’s on the helicopter? I assume that if Negan had one in his possession, he would have used it by now – or we would have seen it at one of the outposts. Is this some completely separate group? Are they friends or foes? So many questions, and hopefully we’ll get an answer this season.
- What will Eugene do? Obviously he’s smart enough to put two and two together and figure out Dwight was the one who gave the guns to the workers, so it stands to reason he’d also be the rat. He’s also smart enough to keep quiet until he can assess the situation, and hedge his bets until he can pick the winning side. So will he flip again? Honestly, I don’t really care at this point. I’m ready for Eugene to redeem himself and then die. Or just die. Either way, his odd speech patterns are grating at best, and we’ve seen zero development for his character in months, so maybe it’s just time to say goodbye.
- Going back to the whole ‘purpose’ theme of the episode: was Gabriel’s purpose to send the OBGYN back to the Hilltop? If that’s the case, is he faking being sick? The mere fact that this all comes down to whether Eugene will choose to help him or not is a bit irritating, but hopefully Gabriel does have some kind of plan, otherwise his missed opportunities to kill Negan were all in vain.
- Somehow the show manages to confuse me even when it features little action and very few locations. Where is Daryl going? Where is Rick, for that matter? How does the fact that they lost the guns affect their plan? Why the hell do we still not know what the freaking plan is?
Hopefully all of this will be answered sooner rather than later. Until next week!