“The Walking Dead” made an attitude adjustment this week. The episode, written by Scott M. Gimple & Glenn Mazzara and directed quite beautifully by Ernest R. Dickerson, was all about Shane and Rick together.
The "good Rick/bad Shane" dichotomy of last week's show dissolved into the far better tension between Shane's less intelligent but ruthlessly pragmatic response to the world versus Rick's continuing attempt to retain some moral bearings in an implacably amoral world.
The real struggle in this show is not between the two men -- rather it is between Rick's nature and knowledge. From the episode's beginning, when he declares that he would "do anything" to protect his family, to the end, when he chooses not to murder the young man whom he saved but who is clearly a threat to the group, we can see him trying to reconcile his moral and his intellectual understanding. (Obviously, much credit goes to Andrew Lincoln who is beginning to demand comparison to William Holden and Robert Ryan.)
Unusually, nothing actually happens in the A story of this episode: it literally ends where it begins. Gimple & Mazzara allowed themselves the luxury that serialized television provides of taking the hour to explore character.
More problematic was the B story that centered on Beth’s struggle with whether to commit suicide.
Beth (Emily Kinney) has not been nearly as prominent nor developed a character as her sister Maggie (much less Lori or Andrea). As a result, the threat of her loss did not resonate as well as it might have. Her possible death was not nearly as gut-wrenching as Maggie’s might be.
That suicide might be an utterly appropriate response to the world of this series was never really under consideration. (Now that would be truly subversive.) It’s as if removing oneself from the horror of this world was the one moral choice that remains unacceptable.
Note this difference: The men contemplate murder; the women self-destruction.
This show really is stuck in its retrograde treatment of the women. There's a feint in a sub-subplot involving Lori and Andrea and their widening gap where Andrea suggests that guarding against walkers is at least valid as cooking for the men.
But at heart (as others have pointed out), this is a profoundly conservative show when it comes to women. It’s reasonable to argue that half of the women characters (those who are part of Hershel’s extended family) are themselves conservative by nature.
Fair enough. But Andrea doesn’t provide the balance. She never really is a woman who is one of the guys. Like Lori, she is defined by her relationship to the men of the group (as, for that matter, is Maggie).
When Rick describes his family, he reiterates the word "my" -- "my wife, my son, my child." It's oppressively patriarchal and possessive.
As rich as "Walking Dead" is, it would be even richer if the women also made moral decisions that affected the outcome of the stories as deeply as Rick and Shane's do.