AMC’s The Walking Dead JSS TV Show Review. The Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 2: ‘JSS,’ continued to play around with chronological angles; but beyond a revelatory flashback opening, remained focused on events parallel to the previous episode. As heavy as those events were, however, they somehow served to support the tiniest, most subtle detail from that flashback, rather than being set up by it.
The flashback formally introduced Enid (Katelyn Nacon) to life on the road, and to Alexandria; but brought a bit of context with her – not just to how her time as an Alexandrian began, but also to how it may have ended, and to all that heavy stuff, in-between. As far as time skipping devices go, we were spared the most gruesome details of her journey, to great effect; and introduced to a mantra that the balance of the episode would support, instead of the other way around. Ozzie & Harriet parents’ death, Walker dodging & shelter eviction, going Walker on Tortoise: all J.S.S. scenarios.
That one sequence, along with how the episode (eventually) tied itself around it, left Enid’s character with a memorable place on the show. Still too short a role for Carl (Chandler Riggs), I imagine (unless another girl his own age pops out of the background, the poor guy seems doomed to be Cougar bait), but at least she can now be considered as something more than just the resident Carl match/ mistake mystery girl.
The slow build of the episode introduced us to Denise (Merritt Wever), as an exercise in lowering expectations, and made it official that Eugene (Josh McDermitt) makes for a much better annoying tag-along, than unbearable savior. For what was to come, both played to that set-up, quite effectively, with a valuable assist from Tara (Alanna Masterson).
Given the gravity of the previous episode, the purpose to the slow build, going into the second, should have been a no brainer. What could have been a reset episode, priming subplots & characters for the next round of crazy, wound up matching (if not surpassing) the last; and a big part of the reason: the show has wasted no time in bringing together its two ‘most improved’ Roadies.
Carol (Melissa McBride) has been playing the role of ‘Wolf in Sheep’s clothing’ with (at times delightfully) ruthless efficiency, from the moment the Roadies came to town. When the actual Wolves came to town, she became a Sheepdog among the Sheep (for those who don’t know, Sheepdogs like the Komondor are large & shaggy enough to blend in with the herd, but also large enough to kill any Coyotes/ lone Wolves that get too close).
If I had to compare Carol to any one animal, it would not be any of the usual suspects. No Canines (Wolves got that covered, anyway), no Felines, no Raptors, or Reptiles, or Sharks – none of that. Carol’s an Assassin Bug. I won’t go into the science of it all (use your Google-fu & Wiki-shu), but what makes the Bug, pound for pound, one of the most dangerous animals on Earth: its ability to become whatever it takes to get what it wants.
In her Sheep disguise, Townies have been given just the right amount of hint – to the danger us fans have come to delight in – to make them susceptible to her ‘suggestions.’ It may just be me, but I’ve seen Carol as regarding the Townies with a mix of contempt & pity – pity that may have informed an otherwise pragmatic mercy killing, once the killing started. For all her ruthless efficiency, however, that mercy killing did the most to demonstrate that there is still some human feeling to her character – even if so subtle as to be missed, amid her other kills. Somewhere between the letters W & A, it may take some doing for Carol to get back to her harmless homemaker role. Appropriately enough, it was during her ‘regard’ for a Townie that the hatchet fell. Setting an egg timer to Carol’s thoughts is a ticking time-bomb – clearly enough – but having the ‘boom’ literally come out of left field (and in a much more primal fashion) was a kick. Sorry if I sound morbidly amused, but I’m not (sorry, that is).
Morgan (Lennie James), on the other hand, was less contemptuous of the Townies’ weakness, and more interested in saving lives, than eliminating threats. He also took the time to school some Wolves; but one of them had a potentially costly take away from the Monk’s lesson. On the upside, Morgan did get to settle some business with a previous slow learner.
As for the shaping of a Morgan-Carol dynamic, I’m hoping the two fall into some sort of mutual orbit. Not to speculate against her history with Daryl, or anything; but, frankly, Morgan may be the only character that can actually keep up with her – and I don’t mean as a bad-ass (and if I did: Morgan is clearly the better fighter; but Carol is a winner – the one who brings a gun to a stick fight). Assassin Bug Carol has not just shrouded the minds of the Townies, she has been manipulating Rick & Daryl for some time – in some ways making her the secret head of their secret circle. Morgan, on the other hand, has that ‘eye of truth’ thing going for him. While that will most likely be applied to keeping Rick from going off the deep end, ‘JSS’ at least opened a door to an ongoing test of will & world view, between Morgan & Carol. Warrior Monk v Cold Warrior match-up going full Jedi v Sith? I don’t have enough digits to cross.
The Wolves didn’t just deliver the Townies from their complacency; they “cleared the pantry.” Once the initial shock (of just how many Alexandrians were killed) wears off, fans may find themselves wondering if the show dynamic will be better off for having less dead weight to it. On the other hand, I have to wonder if less Red Shirts will mean fewer deaths for the Alexandrian Team.
When a series is as character driven as TWD, falls from grace (Shane) & redemptions (Merle) are to be expected. That said, I want Ron (Austin Abrams) dead. What? He’s just the sort who can never get over themselves fast enough, to prevent more useful/ likeable characters from dying either for them, or because of them. I called it for that brat, on The Strain, and I’d hate to see a similar scenario play out on TWD. He’s worse than dead weight – he’s killing weight. At least no one useful has died on Gabe’s (Seth Gilliam) redemption trail, adding some pro to the pros & cons of his rescue, this episode. Heck, Gabe’s experience may even add some incentive to his training with Carl – Carl now having one less thing to occupy his time, and all.
So about that JSS mantra. With barbarians past the gate, and the world outside being hacked, slashed, and burned, it all boiled down to Enid & Carl having a moment (mercifully uninterrupted by Ron’s killing weight). Carl should have known better – the girl was a runner from day one – and been careful about what he wished for. While the meaning to J.S.S. was passed directly from Enid to Carl, it was the overall moral of the story for the whole town. ‘JSS’ was the wakeup call that should make Rick’s job that much easier… but no guarantees, with killing weight attached.
While not as meaty, or complex, as ‘First Time Again,’ ‘JSS’ was certainly more intense. The Wolves have lived up to the hype – not just in terms of representing the most feral of survivors, but also in providing better antagonists. Ever since the Prison arc, the show has established that Humans were the principal threat – Walkers amounting to a hostile environment, overall. Not since the Claimers, however, have we been presented with a Human threat so seemingly devoid of humane consideration. Case in point: Tara remains proof of the moral complexity to the Governor’s troops, allowing for some remorse to their deaths (no new love interest for Tara, since); but nobody’s going to miss the Claimers. Even the Terminans had some context to them; so with no real mitigating factors presented (there were the beginnings of a philosophy from one Wolf, before Carol ‘interrupted’), the Wolves provided us with the most satisfying kills in a while. Just ask Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge).
Two episodes in, at this pace, and I expect comparisons to season 5 to start coming in. Specifically, big start, maybe a big mid-season finale, then a hit-or-miss follow through. As it looks as if our re-introduction to the series isn’t even done yet, I’m encouraged to think that the Alexandria arc might be enough of a break – in both style & substance – to buck the trend. Forget the road – the Roadies have put their stake in the town. Forget domestication – the Townies have seen more than enough of what the World is, now, to even want it for themselves (let alone the Roadies). Forget the old formulas – TWD has set up something that, if not new, is at least somewhat incompatible with those formulas.
“It happened; now it’s done.”
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