Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 601: First Time Again

Editor's note:  Commencing with this review, all episodes will receive a score from zero stars (should never have been on TV) to five stars (this episode changed my life).  I am going to be adding a bit more commentary regard plot, acting and theme going forward.   My preparedness content will not suffer, but I wanted to go in a slightly new direction.

Episode 601: First Time Again

Score:  ***1/2

Spoiler Alert!!!  

Morgan:  Michonne, back when you were in that place, where I lived, did you take one of my protein bars?
Michonne: No.
Morgan:  See, I could've sworn there was one more peanut butter left ...
Michonne: That's how it is isn't it?  You always think there's one more peanut butter left.

Synopsis: The fallout from the tragic events of the Season 5 finale play out, as Deanna begins to trust Rick completely in all security-related matters for the Alexandria community, but some members of the community -- Carter, a man who helped build the walls, and Ron, Jessie's oldest son who hates Rick for killing his abusive dad -- are not on board. Morgan begins to fit into the community, but challenges Rick to be the man he was when he woke up. In the midst of burying Pete out side the walls, Morgan, Rick, and Ron, who followed them, discover a herd of thousands of walkers trapped in a quarry by semi-trailers. The road to the quarry is crumbling under the trucks, and to prevent the herd from being unleashed Rick devises a plan, with help from Deanna and Carter, to divert the horde into the opposite direction. Carter plans a mutiny but it is cut short and he agrees to work with Rick. The problem is that the road is more eroded than thought, and the day they arrive at the quarry to conduct a dry run, the ground gives way and the walkers get out. Rick decides to go through with the plan right then, over Carter's objections. Carter is bitten and Rick is forced to kill him to silence his screams, but everything is working until a horn begins sounding in the direction of home, drawing them toward the community.
First Time Again is a massive, complicated episode, so bear with me. The story is told through a
series of real time scenes coupled with flashbacks broadcast in black and white as an homage to the comic book and to help the view keep track of the action. The device works, but I think a straight storytelling might have been better as the impact of last season's finale is somewhat blunted by the disjointed narrative.

The episode opens with Rick at the edge of the quarry explaining the plan to take care of the walkers and discussing team assignments. The road at the top of the quarry gives way, and Rick gives the go order early. Carter protests that they are not ready, and Rick tells him to head home because it's happening whether he likes it or not.

Carter:  Glad there's red on that shirt.
An Alexandrian moves a truck from the lower entrance, Daryl jumps on his bike to lead the walkers in the desired direction through a gauntlet of abandoned cars that channel the herd down one road. Sasha and Abraham jump in a car to meet him at the first checkpoint, and Glen takes off with newcomers Heath and newly rehabbed Nicholas to handle a small herd in a tractor store that could pull the bigger group in the wrong direction. Morgan, Michonne and Rick race to the next danger point, an intersection where the the team has erected a wall to force the walkers to turn right.  The groups send up flares to draw the herd's attention.  The race is on to get the walker herd out of the area before they can turn and attack the Alexandria settlement.

That's just the first three minutes.  See what I mean?

Note:  this recap won't be exactly as depicted on the screen, but it will be close.  Flashback and current scenes will be combined as needed to weave everything together.

Flashback:  Deanna is still are the location of the fireplace meeting at the end of the last episode where Pete killed her husband, and Rick shot Pete for the deed, sitting next to her husband's pool of blood and considering her hands, which are drenched in Reg's blood (there's a bit of symbolism for you).  Father Gabriel approaches, and she tells him he was wrong about Rick.  He agrees. Abraham carries the bodies of the two dead men to the graveyard for burial the next day, and gets drunk sitting there regarding Reg and how a good man can still die senselessly.  Jessie is at home with her sons, trying to make sense of what happened right in front of her, but her oldest son, Ron, is inconsolable.

Rosita is seeing to Tara in the infirmary when Nicholas and Glen stagger in wounded.  Glen and Maggie embrace, and he claims they were jumped by walkers outside and the bullet wound from Aaron's gun was a ricochet.   He covers for the man who tried to kill him, showing mercy when he could have burned him.  Eugene enters, and is overjoyed to find Tara awake, and she says he is freaking her out and Noah needs to protect her.  They have to tell her that Noah was killed on the run on which she almost died.

Enid is sitting on a patio roof, and Carl climbs up to sit with her.  She takes his hand, which Ron witnesses from the shadows.  Cue music for Ron to do something stupid in 3 ... 2... 1...

Rick and Morgan are discussing his arrival in the improvised holding cell Rick was just released from in a matter-of-fact manner.  Rick seems to be apologetic.  He doesn't take chances anymore, and Morgan was not in a great state of mind when they last met.  He tells Rick the former deputy was right, that the world wasn't over and that people can come back from the edge.

The Present:  Abraham and Sasha are speeding down a narrow lane lined with abandoned cars, taking out the odd walker along the way.  Other Alexandirans run  behind them, firing more flares. 

Flashback:  Daryl is fixing his bike outside Morgan's house/cell.  They discuss the implications of the trap that almost killed Daryl and Aaron, and the men with the letter "W" carved into their foreheads who attacked Morgan.  Rick decides to fortify the perimeter and wants to stop the recruiting missions to the outside, but Daryl disagrees.  Rick says people out there will have to take care of themselves. 

The Present: Abraham wants to know if she still wants to die, but she doesn't.  She says attempting to do something this big is trying to live.  They arrive at the first checkpoint marked with red helium balloons and Daryl acknowledges he is almost there, slowly trailing an army of walkers behind him.

Flashback: Morgan is practicing with his staff, and Rick asks where he learned it.   Morgan says a friend taught him after their last meeting.   Lennie James and Andrew Lincoln are amazing in this scene.   Morgan says they have to get to know each other again.

Eugene is manning the gate for Holly, who had to use the bathroom, when Heath, leader of a long range scavenging run, arrives and convinces him to let him inside in an hilarious exchange.  Josh McDerrmitt, who plays Eugene, has a deadpan delivery that is comedy gold. Heath, and his teammates Scott and Annie, departed before Team Rick arrived, and they have no idea what has transpired.

Rick explains the situation with Alexandria and that the original inhabitants had never had to survive.  Rick tells him he will have to talk to Deanna.  During this conversation, he sees father Gabriel and Tobin digging graves for Pete and Reg.  Rick tells him they will not bury Pete, a killer inside the wall, and Deanna backs him, telling him to take him outside down the road a few miles.  Ron is watching from the forest.  As Rick and Morgan load the body into a car, Rick explains he had no choice.  Morgan reminds him they have  cell, and they he, Rick, and everyone that has had to survive are all killers.

The Present:  Morgan, Michonne, and Rick arrive at the next choke point -- an intersection blocked by cars and a wall to force them into a right turn.  Morgan questions Michonne about swiping a peanut butter protein bar the last time they met.  It's a very funny bit delivered with complete conviction by those involved that adds needed comic relief.

Flashback:  Ron, Pete's son, has tracked Morgan and Rick to the burial location.  Rick wants to just dump the body, but Morgan starts digging a grave.  He tells Rick that isn't who he is.  Rick hears the sound of a large herd, and they investigate, where they found the quarry in the opening.   There are thousands of walkers there, and more falling into the pit every day.  Cue Ron, who is being chased by more walkers and nearly runs off the cliff until he is tackled by Rick.  He and Morgan dispatch the walkers.  Ron wanted to know where his father was to be buried.  Rick explains he is not prepared for the outside world, and that he will teach him, but right now they have to get back.  He and Morgan realize that the reason the settlement has remained safe is because the walkers are trapped in the quarry.  Rick realizes he was not caring enough to consider the feelings of Pete's family, and helps Morgan bury Pete.  You just know Ron is going to do something really stupid soon.

You may be cool, but you will never be Daryl trolling a pack of walkers on a bike he built by himself cool.
 The Present:  Daryl is dragging the walkers behind him.   Sasha and Abraham pull out ahead of him, and the convoy head out.  Glen, Heath and Nicholas arrive at the tractor supply store, and decide to force open a door, let a couple of walkers out at a time, then close it back so they don't get overrun.   Health is unsure, but Nicholas tells Heath that Glen knows what he is doing; he and Aiden did not.  It is good to see Nicholas has lost all of the false bravado and is now willing to learn, like Father Gabriel.  There is a security roll-down door inside, so they are forced to go to the front and break a floor-to-ceiling window and take the walkers as they emerge.  Things get dicey, but Nicholas, who has initially been ordered back out of the way, comes in and saves the day.  Rick and his team use flare pistols to shoot flares in the direction away from the barricade, and the herd makes the turn.

Flashback: There is a group meeting at Deanna's house, where Health explained he saw the quarry
The battle of the Tractor Works.
earlier, but there were only 12 walkers in it.  Someone had made camp inside and they had all died and turned. Rick proposes leading the herd out of the area in the opposite directions, but Carter argues that maybe they could reinforce the road.  Rick replies that the next rain could cause the road to collapse completely. Carol, who is still playing Suzie Homemaker, voices her support, and Deanna approves Rick's plan, while asking for volunteers.  Gabriel asks to help and is turned down by Rick flatly.  Carter doesn't believe Rick, and calls him on his earlier erratic behavior, but Deanna silences him. There is a subtext where Glen tries to warn Nicholas not to volunteer, but he does it anyway.  Carter makes him run through the plan again.  As Rick goes through the plan, Eugene suggests building the wall at the turn, to address Carter's concerns.  He helped build the walls, so he can help make it strong.  They have the raw materials, they just need the design and building team. He agrees to help.

The Present:  The barricade is taking a beating but holding.  Rick's team continue to fire flares in the direction of the turn.  Zombies are hitting the wall, smashing their heads, and getting trampled.  The herd moves on.

Flashback:  The team is building the wall, and things are going smoothly.  Rick is leading from the front, digging, and he trades a look with Jessie.  Daryl tells Rick going out and finding people as Rick wants stopped, is taking care of ourselves.  Carol and Rick trade a conversation, and he instructs Carol to stay back and get a feel for the community when they execute the operation.  She tells Rick Deanna may be in charge, but Rick is the real power now.  Maggie and Tara now know the truth about Nicholas and his actions that got Noah killed and nearly ended Glen.  Tara is furious, but Maggie points out Glen has chosen to forgive him and help him.  She is going to follow his lead, because it is the same thing Glen did for Tara outside the prison, and now Tara is one of the most important people in Maggie's life.  Tara agrees to not say anything to the group.  They both lost sisters, and now have become an ersatz family.

 Morgan gets a drink of water from Carol, and Morgan asks if she was a cop.   She asks why, and he points out she is always watching, and always ready to handle things. Gotcha, Lady MacBeth.

Abraham saves the day.
The Present:  Some of the walkers are distracted by a mylar blanket in a tree, so Abraham bails, kills a few, grabs the blanket, and circles back to the car and dives back  in, satisfied with a job well done, at which point Sasha questions his sanity, especially after he casually discussed being covered  in gore when Pete was shot.

Flashback:  The crew  is erecting the wall.  Rick pays his respects to Deanna for Reg's demise, and Deanna wants to know what else they can do to remain safe.  Walkers emerge from the woods, and Rick orders Carter and the Alexandrians to take them out, but they on on the verge of breaking and running when Morgan runs in, prompting the rest of the crew to attack.  Morgan points out he supposedly doesn't take chances anymore.  Rick is not happy.  Carter is cleaning out his pants and is having none of it.

Later, Eugene is in the store, and overhears Carter plotting to kill Rick and trying to get others to get involved. They catch Eugene, and Carter has a gun to his head, when Rick, Daryl and Morgan walk in and stop him.   Carter is going to "take his place back from Rick" but Rick disarms him and Carter tells him it was just him, and he should leave the others alone.   Rick relents, and asks Carter to help them and each other survive. 

The Present:  The herd moving along, and Glen and Ricks group meet up.  Carter is there, and tells Rick he was right.  They shake hands.  They fan out to keep the walkers from leaving they road, but a walker stuck in a tree surprises Carter and bites his face.  He is screaming, and Rick is forced to kill him to silence him while the rest of the crew fire their guns and herd the walkers back.

Flashback: At the settlement, Rick invites Morgan to stay with him.  Morgan tells him his act of mercy with Carter displays Rick's true character. He tells him he is still the man he met in King County.  Rick confesses he wanted to kill him, because then he wouldn't have to worry about what Carter would do next, because the man should already be dead.  Rick considers him dead anyway.

The Present:  Rick wants Morgan to head back, but Morgan wants to grab Carter's body.  They end up leaving it, and move out to catch up with the others.  The plan is to hand the group off to Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham in a few miles and let them lead the herd further out.

Mr. Papagiorgio, your table is waiting. Google it.
Flashback:  Rick and Jessie have a conversation.  Her feelings are divided, and she tells him Ron told her what happened, and that he cannot talk to Ron light that or grab him.  She explains if its coming from Rick, he won't listen.  Rick wants to teach the family to learn how to use guns, but Jessie has already asked Rosita to teach them.  She wants nothing to do with Rick. She understands he means well, but they will never be together.

The last run-through showcases little character moments.  Glen tells Nicholas he is not ready but will be soon.  He thanks Glen. Abraham asks Sasha if she wants to die, and she says "no."

The Present:  Everything is proceeding smoothly. Then in the distance a horn begins sounding, drawing the walkers away toward the direction of Alexandra.  The group doubles back to try to stop the horn from sounding as the herd heads to the settlement.

Preparedness Discussion:

Wow.  There was a bunch packed into this episode, but it took a second viewing to unload all the action contained within it.   I really didn't like the flashback format.  It's okay in limited use, but less is more.   Just because you are the biggest show on television and can take risks doesn't mean you should.

Well, onto the preparedness review.   There is something to be said about Rick's strategy, because in a long-term survival situation, going static and hiding behind walls without patrolling will allow people with ill intent to walk right up to your fence/camp/stronghold unmolested. The amount of patrolling will depend on the capabilities and numbers of your group. This was a lesson the U.S. military learned the hard way in Vietnam. The units that patrolled and moved to contact outside their walls were more able to keep the Viet Cong and arm's length than those that went static and sent few patrols outside the wire.  If nothing else, it would provide an advance warning of a walker herd moving into the area.

What would a recon patrol look like in your personal life right now?   Here's an idea:  get a dog and take it for a walk daily, weather permitting.   It's a great way to meet neighbors and find out what is going on in the world around you.  Is there a police officer living there?  Who is the home owner's association president? Can you spot evidence of fellow preppers there, like a standby generator, a large garden, etc?  Can you count on them to come to your aid in an emergency? 

Also, consider a home security system, and make sure you use it, because having more people on the perimeter and patrolling inside is also a good idea.  A security system, used properly, serves that purpose.  Also, as I discussed in my review of Episode 402, at the very least there should be some sort of fire watch.  From what I have seen this community has zero capability to fight a house fire.  Every house needs multiple extinguishers and they need to try to find an abandoned fire truck just in case.  The houses in Alexandra are pretty close, and a single house fire could devastate the entire settlement.

Then again, how many people don't have proper smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes?  This reminded me to switch the batteries out in mine and double check the fire extinguisher I have on hand, and research the best place to house a second extinguisher on the far side of the house near the bedrooms.  Investing in an auto extinguisher for each car is a good idea as well.

Morgan is going to be good for Rick.  Rick has been playing fast and loose lately, assuming he is right without thinking through the consequences of his actions.  Did he assume that Ron and Sam, Pete's kids, were just going to shrug after he killed their dad?   Likewise, Deanna orders Pete buried outside the wall without thought as to how this was going to affect the overall group dynamic.   Jessie, Ron, and Sam all know Pete was no saint, but Jessie watched Rick shoot him in cold blood.    No good comes of this.  Rick has replaced Pete with Ron.

The conflict with Carter further highlights this.  I really think Rick would have killed him in the armory had Morgan not been there.  It all worked out, and Carter was a good addition to the herd team.  It was a shame he had to go so soon.  Ethan Embry is a great actor.

As a leader, he has to keep all the potential ramifications in mind when making a decision.  Solidifying his position in the group was a benefit of the Pete situation, but his methods left a lot to be desired and opened fresh cans of worms for all involved.

Finally, it's good to know that the group can be adaptable.  While native Alexandrians were taken aback by Rick's snap decision to go immediately when the road shoulder collapsed, his original team led them through it, and everything worked out except for Carter's untimely demise, which was his own fault for not keep track of his surroundings.   In a non-permissive environment it pays not to get tunnel vision.  He knew there could be walkers straggling in to join the main herd, but was caught looking the wrong way.

As preppers, no matter how ready we think we are, we can never be ready for everything.   We have all our preps in our house, and the house burns down.  Our planned bugout vehicle drops the transmission in the first mile.  The generator won't start.  We have to rise above unforeseen circumstances and ensure our adaptability and skills can overcome the situation.  Skills trump gear.

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 601:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Walk around your neighborhood and get to know the people next door; if you have a bugout location with some neighbors nearby, get to know them.  A home security system can substitute for a perimeter guard in day-to-day situations, if you use it.
  • Be sure you are prepared for fire.  Get some extra fire extinguishers and have the numbers for fire, police and EMS programmed into your cell phone or posted in your house so everyone can see them.  Check your smoke detectors.  Have an evacuation plan and a meeting place outside the home.
  • Leadership consists of a constant weighing of all the options and making the best choice that offers the best probability of a positive result for all involved.
  • Things will go wrong.  Keep a level head, adapt, and overcome.

Next week: Walkers make it inside the perimeter, and Gabriel gets his own personal Jesus - Carl?

1 comment:

  1. Hey folks, what do you think of the new format with the star rating?