The Walking Dead: The Cell Review
The Walking Dead, season 7, episode 3, ‘The Cell,’ was another exercise in setting up pieces, for a coming contest of communes, focusing on the predicament of house-warming hostage, Daryl (Norman Reedus). At least that’s what was presented at its surface. ‘The Cell’ was actually populated by both Daryl & Dwight (Austin Amelio) – with the focus actually falling on the more symbolic of the two confines.
The ready-made dynamic of the episode came from Dwight & Sherry (Christine Evangelista) opting to go back to the Saviors – trading freedom for security – and that decision coming at Daryl’s expense. With Daryl already having been made to regret helping them, it was now time to see how the other half had been living with that choice.
‘The Cell’ came with a slice of the old normal, as we got our first look at what ‘normal’ looks like, as a Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) salvation would have it. That normal came with the customary casual brutality of any given civilization (if civility was as standard as we currently regard it, what use would we have for the concept of Utopia?); but there were zombies in the mix, so this was a unique kind of normal, all the same.
This brand of normal came mostly from Dwight’s perspective – as both predator & prey of the system – as everything about his daily goings on (bullying henchmen, peons with some of the worst jobs imaginable, and Walkers impaled on posts) amounted to one of three choices. Considering what this meant for both Dwight & Daryl, alike, it really wasn’t much of a choice, at all.
At least, that’s the way Dwight and the self-identified ‘Negans’ of Sanctuary saw it. Daryl couldn’t know better – and that’s where his confinement was centered. Enough was made of Dwight’s ‘process’ to spoil a carelessly presented opportunity, for Daryl. When the real opportunity presented itself, however, Negan sort of blinked. He had nothing to prove to his men, of course; but he downside to the show setting up pieces, at this point, is that we have every reason to believe Daryl to be one of them. He is kind of an important as a hostage, at least; so, no, I wasn’t buying Lucille’s bluff.
Besides, I’m the cynic that checks the clock, to determine the weight of a scene; and there was still a lot of POW stuff to get in. That, and the marketing of Negan’s character (more on that, later).
Somehow, I can’t bring myself to speak of Daryl’s sleep deprivation torture. I had about having a fever dream, recently (one where lyrical variations to ‘Where Your Eyes Don’t Go,’ by They Might be Giants, was on an endless loop) so maybe I don’t have anything objective to say about it (or I’m just wary of self-diagnosing, here).
There was something to Dwight’s regard for Daryl, during the breakdown process, however.
The obvious conclusion to jump at, was that maybe Dwight had a better appreciation for Daryl’s previous offer of safety, in light of events since he spurned it. That would’ve been too easy. No, Dwight was in a permanent state of proving his worth; and getting Daryl to ‘make the right choice’ was to one more star on his ledger.
Sherry didn’t see it that way. The careless moment, that Daryl took advantage of, was clearly staged; but the fact that Sherry had been able to keep tabs on him – seemingly without the Saviors knowing about it – suggested that she was on a different page than Dwight, concerning their mutual plight, and what Daryl could mean to it.
Dwight, on the other hand, was more concerned with holding on to what he’s managed to earn, to concern himself over alternatives. This was laid out plain by his volunteering to retrieve a former peer, turned alternative seeker. What Dwight had to endure, catching up to the fugitive, said a lot about Dwight’s sense of compulsion. His solution to the runner’s resistance, however – and the inconvenient truth that came with it – spoke volumes.
So why did Dwight do it? He wanted a win. Beyond needing to maintain the illusion that his return was the right decision, there was the satisfaction of granting his former colleague’s wish – but only after forcing him to give up on it. Gordon’s place on the selection wheel was mostly settled, anyway; Dwight just wanted something of his own, to show for all the trouble he’s been putting himself through – and not just for this particular task.
See Dwight’s flight, see Dwight’s plight, see Dwight spite.
Much of the episode was spent defining the confines, for both Daryl & Dwight. While we were naturally meant to focus on Daryl, the episode made a subtle case for Dwight, as the titular occupant. Everything – from the fallout to his flight, to the choices that weren’t choices at all, and the life he’s had to endure since – was framed fairly early on, in subtle fashion.
That said, I’m not sure any of it needed to be spelled out, however. The Dwight, Sherry, Negan scenario seemed pretty clear, through all that subtlety, as did the ‘working relationship’ between Dwight & Negan. Negan’s recap to Daryl might’ve been a touch unnecessary, then; but I don’t think the show is going to settle for subtle any more, at this point (not since Negan’s New Beginning, anyway).
No, the recap was more screen time for J. D. Morgan; and I’d say he’s been making the most of it. It could’ve just been a set-up, for brutal acts to come, but there was almost a moment, to some Negan-Dwight alone time, that seemed like a Rick-Daryl exchange. All the talk of marriage also seemed to fly in the face of the whole automated ownership provision, to Negan’s reign.
The simple fact is that Negan’s going to be around for a while. I suppose it might be in The Walking Dead‘s interest to at least try to make that bearable to fans likely holding grudges. For all of Lucille’s tyranny, and the brutal scramble to be on the winning side of her swing, the show seems more determined to present a Negan buoyed by charisma, rather than brutality. I can live with that.
The problem in this case, however, is that it takes away from Dwight’s plight, as presented. Either Negan’s been reasonable, and Dwight’s been a prisoner in his own mind, or there is more to Negan that has only been hinted at, making a solid case for the choice being no choice at all. A great question to ask; but having their history spelled out sort of made that question moot.
Dwight’s been a prisoner of his own actions. His coping mechanism, however, is what makes him thus far irredeemable. There may be an attempt, anyway; but I’m thinking it may have more to do with Sherry’s coping mechanism, and Daryl’s loosened leash (on account of not scaring easy).
‘The Cell’ could have been much more effective in the questions it left, than in the answers it gave; but, as I’ve said, the show has places to go, and people & things to do. I guess I shouldn’t be expecting all that much subtlety, after the New Beginning.
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