Monday, 29 November 2010

The Walking Dead 105: Wildfire

Do not enter the city. It belongs to the dead now.
Rick Grimes

In 1986 Spike Lee made a film about a bed hopping single black female. She’s Gotta Have It was revolutionary at the time: a film with an African-American female lead, a film directed by a black man, a non-accusatory film about (black) female sexuality. Lee incurred the wrath of (white) America with his pertinent Do the Right Thing 1989. He awakened ghosts, frightened the living and had to battle Warner Bros1 with Malcolm X 1992. He is the pre-eminent African-American film director in the history of motion pictures. His films for the most part challenge, provoke, entertain, involve and engage. His films are cinema.

Ernest Dickerson2 made his name during the Spike Lee years (1986-1995) as his director of photography. Having served his apprenticeship he was rewarded with a studio released debut feature Juice 1992 starring Tupac Shakur. At this point Ernest Dickerson was the next big (black) thing3.

A career in the arts is a marathon and not everyone can be Alfred Hitchcock. Dickerson floundered at features. Others have too. Allan Moyle was a notable disappointment. Richard Kelly is a notable disappointment. Television is become a refugee camp for the once promising movie director. Television is what keeps Dickerson in the visual arts.
He used to be a contender.

The pre credit scene is a harbinger. Unlike the preceding three episodes there is a point to it; Andrea now knows how to use a gun – and accepts the leadership of the cops by consent and not coercion. The immediate question raised is the genre’s pièce de résistance: the transformation from dead to walking dead.

The very first sequence after the titles displays the difference of this episode. Morales and Daryl carry a corpse towards the bonfire. Glenn accosts them. He is strident.

Our people go in that row over there. We don’t burn them. We bury them. Understand? Our people go in that row over there.

He controls himself. He is insistent. Glenn is a boy. Morales and Daryl are men. They are not chastened but they do not argue. They bury their dead.

For the first time since this series began there is consequence. The characters are to dwell in the aftermath of the machinations of the plot. This is the blitz. On some occasions when Churchill and/or King George VI visited the bombed out districts the crowds would boo them4. They had survived that night. They would have to survive this one.

After catastrophe comes chaos. Daryl declares the massacre as punishment for the camp deserting his brother. Jim begs Jacqui not to out him. She does. Shane considers murder – a sight seen by Dale. Andrea kills her sister’s walker.

Dickerson’s skill as a director is to dwell on the actors. It is the reaction shot. The actors – all of them – raise their game accordingly. The survivor’s register shock, horror, dismay, revulsion and fear at the revelation of a bleeding bite wound on Jim’s stomach. Jim pleads for his life then has to sit and wait as a people’s tribunal decides his fate.

There are bouts of sentimentality – Gale’s soliloquy and Amy’s zombie death – but these are negated by her burial. They are negated by the tribunal arguing to a near point of violence about what direction to take. The camp is to separate. The farewell scene invokes images of Somali refugee camps in Kenya and the blind choices a man must make to save his family. No actor is wasted where they hitherto have been. This is the skill of Dickerson.

For the first time Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori gives a worthy performance. Rick approaches his wife for help. She can’t give it him. She won’t give it him. These are people falling apart. They are frantic, desperate and propelled by fear. The realisation is settling in; they are living in false hope. Rick, Shane and Daryl want to defeat the enemy while Lori and Glen insist on retaining their humanity. It takes all sorts of mechanisms to cope.

Shane is given more motivation. His family are dead. That’s more than enough to tip any man – much less a self believing cop – into the insanity of jealousy. Jacqui has her best scenes yet. Jim’s demise is a good (off screen) death. In a world of 6.5 billion people what’s one more zombie in the scheme of things?
The climax to this episode rivals 101. It doesn’t supersede it but it does come close. It is action and drama. It is cinematic. It is magnificent. Ernest Dickerson is the biggest mistake of this series because he has exposed the potential of The Walking Dead. He has shown what could have been. What it should be. He hasn’t lost his talent.
He is wasted in television.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The Walking Dead 104: Vatos
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