On the season finale of The Walking Dead — "TS-19" — the survivors become acclimated to their new home, but something's not entirely right in this would-be paradise. Spoiler a-go-go!
PRO: The episode opens with a flashback of Shane trying to extricate a comatose Rick from the hospital. It's a total shitshow — the military is executing patients, walkers are eating the military, and Shane is desperately trying to slap his coma victim pal awake. Shane finally gives up when Rick's monitors break, and he can't hear a heartbeat. We see that he really damn did try to get his friend out, and that he wasn't lying to Lori about Rick's "death." It's good to see they're not making him a stock character here.
PRO: Shane's jury-rigged plan for keeping quasi-dead Rick safe? A bed in front of a door. Hey, it worked.
CON: Jenner (Noah Emmerich) allows the survivors in, with the caveats that A.) they submit to a blood test and B.) the doors stay shut. The survivors discover that Jenner is the last survivor of CDC's "Zone 5," and he treats them all to food, a copious amount of booze, and hot showers. This is fine, but it turns into a CON because of the super-cheesy Vidal Sassoon montage.
PRO: Shane takes a "disco shower."
PRO: Rick finally drops his hero routine in front of Jenner, who gives him this creepy moonfaced look. Something's not entirely right with this guy.
CON: Shane squander all the goodwill he had as a character. In light of what we saw at the beginning of the episode, Lori's prior dismissals of him seem overly harsh, but then he gets all Stanley Kowalski and drunkenly attempts to rape Lori. She scratches Shane, and he plods away, looking somewhat ashamed.
CON: Almost all of the cast is hungover. They are good apocalypse survivors but terrible house guests.
PRO: Jenner gives them a National Geographic-style tour of Test Subject 19's zombie brain. We learn a couple facts, namely that the zombie infection spreads to the brain like meningitis, resurrection can take anywhere from 3 minutes to 8 hours, and that the infection affects the brainstem. Jenner's unsure of the infection's origins — "it could be viral, microbial, parasitic, fungal." He later mentions that he's been in the dark for a month, and that the French were close to developing a cure for the outbreak before running out of power.
CON: Jenner also failed to mention that facility-wide explosive decontamination will occur when the generators run out...in 60 minutes. After investigating the sapped generators, Jenner strolls into the main computer chamber and seals the blast doors. He's signed everyone up for his suicide pact without consent. Thanks, Jenner!
PRO: I really like the dreadfulness of this final scene. Jenner is going to die in 30 minutes, so Shane and Darryl's threats of violence carry no weight. Furthermore, he sees himself as the good guy — why continue living in the Hobbesian hellhole outside when you can get flash-fried painlessly? He may be loopy and suicidal, but he's no monster. After Rick learns that TS-19 was Jenner's wife, the scientist is shocked to his senses enough to open the blast doors...with four minutes until the explosion.
CON: Jacqui decides to stay. You were an urban planner with give or take 30 lines. We'll miss you?
PRO: On the way out, Jenner whispers a secret in Rick's ear as if he was Slugworth from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I'm assuming Jenner was peeping on Lori and Shane's stand-off in the rec room or he discovered that Lori was pregnant from the blood samples.
PRO: Hey look, the grenade was used! But why was Carol running around with it in her purse? Who's in charge here?
PRO: And that was the CDC. Happy end of Season One, Walking Dead! See you next October!
VERDICT: I was initially dubious of the trip to the CDC — I thought its reveal would cause the survivors to hunker down or the show would branch off into some medically suspect "let's find a cure" subplot. Thankfully, this digression served to showcase how absolutely screwed the survivors are next season. Not only did this episode destroy their chance for long-term shelter, it highlighted how alone they are. They went to most classified level of government only to find that there's nothing to see and no one out there. With all their pie-in-the-sky hopes shattered, it looks like Season 2 will swing the focus back to sheer survival.
What worked here? "TS-19" did a great job of focusing on how zombies are rarely the prime threat in The Walking Dead. Only a handful of undead appeared at the end of the episode, and the entire cast was almost killed by a well-meaning but batty government scientist. Mind you, Jenner isn't an evil guy. He sees himself as an agent of mercy. In his mind, wining, dining, and blowing up all the survivors is the nicest thing he could do. On the flip side, there were certain clichéd moments that marred an otherwise enjoyable episode — think the slow-motion grenade jumps, Jacqui's who-cares death, Darryl and Shane getting restrained every 5 minutes, and the giant digital death clock.
So what subplots are unresolved for Season 2? We haven't seen Rick's helicopter since the premiere. Merle Dixon is still on the loose. There's still the mystery of Jenner's whisper, and Morgan and Duane are unaccounted for. And of course, there's still the Lori-Shane-Rick debacle that's just waiting to happen. Only another 10 months until we get some answers!