I never like bringing up Lost when I’m talking about The Walking Dead. For one thing, it’s too easy to unfairly compare every new genre series to the show that redefined genre television. Saying that a new sci-fi/fantasy series is not as good as Lost is roughly comparable to screeching “Simpsons did it!” or arguing that the history of English literature is a bleak history of mediocrities struggling in the shadow of William Shakespeare – an argument that forms the basis of Harold Bloom’s whole career. But for another thing, Lost means different things to different people. For some, it’s an example of a serialized narrative done right, with themes and plotlines and recurring motifs that echoed throughout six reasons. For others, it’s an example of how serialized TV shows inevitably swallow their own tail, losing track of the original magic while getting bogged down in fan-service arcana. I know some people who think Lost peaked with the first season. I know some people who could’ve used more Dharma. I know some people who think Jack was the show’s worst character, and I know some people who think the relentlessly annoying exposition-bot known as Daniel Faraday was the show’s best character.
But watching last night’s Walking Dead vividly reminded me of the most intriguing aspect of Lost’s narrative structure. When we talk about Lost, we tend to remember the defining turning points: When characters died, or when the flashbacks shifted to flashforwards, or when long-simmering secrets were finally revealed. In truth, the vast majority of Lost’s episodes – especially in the first two seasons and the final season – were about characters trapped in stasis. A major “event” episode would inevitably be followed by a series of slow-building episodes, with various subplots being assembled on the Island chessboard.
So far, this second season of Walking Dead has followed a similar pattern. In the first seven episodes, there four major “events,” in : The loss of Sophia, the shooting of Carl, Shane’s sacrifice of Otis, and the barnyard massacre. Each of these events was followed, in turn, by a lengthy period of stasis, with the characters all suffering various levels of Post-Event Stress Syndrome, talking at length about what the event meant for them and for their perspective on the world. After Carl was shot, Rick and Lori debated the meaning of living in a world of zombies. Shane’s decision to shoot Otis sent him on a slow-burn descent into militarism. The loss of Sophia instigated an entire half-season of searching for Sophia; her death in the last episode led all the characters to debate the meaning of her death, with Glenn explaining to Maggie, “This is different.”
Interestingly, last night’s episode of Walking Dead almost perfectly split those two narrative tones – the event happening, and the post-event roundtable decompression. We started right where last week’s midseason premiere left off. Lori was in her overturned car, unconscious and useless. Rick, Glenn, and Hershel were cleaning up after their barroom showdown, grabbing guns and ammo off the dead men. Lori was suddenly attacked by a walker. The walker could smell her; it slowly bashed a hole in the window, and as it pressed its face through the hole, the thing’s undead skin slowly peeled backwards from its teeth. (Here we must offer our weekly shout-out to Greg Nicotero and his team of ghoul-producers, surely the hardest-working makeup team on television except for [fill-in your least favorite over-botoxed reality show here.])
Lori fiddled around in her overturned car. She grabbed hold of…something. The screener I was watching was a little dark, so I couldn’t quite make out what precisely she stabbed the zombie in the eye with. (A pen?) Whatever it was, it was good enough to qualify for the Zombie Kill of the Week. But Lori Grimes wasn’t done with her undead massacre. Another walker surprised her. She hit it in the head with a wheel rim. I was hoping that more walkers would attack, so she could hit them all with various car utilities: Burn one with the cigarette lighter, hit another with the spare tire, maybe even drown one with loose change.
NEXT: Showdown at the OK (but not great) Corral