The director of this week’s Walking Dead episode, “Slabtown,” is Michael E. Satrazemis and he has been the Cinematographer / Director of Photography for 16 episodes going back to episode 4.01, “30 Days without an Accident.” He came on board along with Gimple. His first time directing was the exemplary “The Grove,” and this week is his second time ever in the director’s chair. The writers this week are Matthew Negrete & Channing Powell, who together also wrote episode 4.05, “Internment” and 4.10, “Inmates”; two of my favorite episodes of last season. With all of these stars aligning, this should be one of the strongest episodes we’ve seen so far. But something felt a little off and I can’t quite place what it was. Let’s talk it through. As predicted, instead of picking up where last episode left off, we take a breather from the first three episodes’ pacing and instead jump back in time to just after Beth (Emily Kinney) was kidnapped (in 4.13 “Alone”), opening as she regains consciousness in a strange hospital room. It’s an eerie callback to the series’ first episode that serves to effectively get us started on strange footing. According to this timeline, which isn’t official but is pretty freaking solid, it was about a week from Beth’s kidnapping to the fall of Terminus; which puts us at probably about a week and a half to two weeks before Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) drive off into the night in pursuit of the mysterious car with the cross in the rear window. That’s a shit ton of stuff happening in a really compressed amount of time — which is something we tend to forget with the spacing out of episode airdates. The hospital is in the middle of Atlanta (which means that after a year or so, our heroes haven’t really travelled more than a day’s drive from the big city where the series began) in the former red-light district (as established back in the 1840s) known as Slabtown, so I assume it’s Grady Memorial Hospital. This is the second time that we’ve had places or episodes named for historical names for parts of Atlanta and it’s the second time that nobody should go anywhere near them. At least they’re not eating people in Slabtown. Instead, they’ve instituted a form of indentured servitude while they wait for someone to come save them. And by they, I mean the police force that was tasked with clearing the hospital before the evacuation of the city and the single doctor left alive, Dr. Steven Edwards (Erik Jensen). The police are barely held in check by their commanding officer Dawn Lerner (Christine Woods) and some, particularly the sleazy Officer Gorman (Ricky Wayne), have taken to revisiting some of Slabtown’s historical vices by force with unwilling participants. Because everybody owes the police something for feeding them and keeping them safe. I think the reason I didn’t feel entirely satisfied with this episode, is that it takes a pretty easy way out of what was the extremely intriguing mystery of what happened to Beth. After seeing the Governor’s secret wall of heads, and the Termites slaughter house, forcing people to mop floors in exchange for food and shelter is a bit of a letdown. The threat of rape to the women is a little more compelling (but it was done more effectively in 28 Days Later) but also has its drawbacks, dramatically. The Walking Dead generally seems to be a little squeamish regarding rape as a plot point, which is understandable to a degree, but when we have people having their throats slit, barbecued and eaten, as well as any number of other horrors, the reticence to have characters suffer abuses that are actually real for many viewers is odd. We’ve had threats of violation, with Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) forced undressing in front of the Governor and when that scumbag pushed Rick over the edge into savagery by suggesting that Carl (Chandler Riggs) was going to be raped — although it was never stated explicitly — but so far, it’s the only indignity that seems to actually be off the table. For our main characters, anyway. I think that lack of tension undermined what could have been a much more effective episode if there was some other form of threat, or if the threat of rape was real. But there’s no way that Beth was going to be raped — although the scene where Gorman forces that lollypop into her mouth was disturbing enough on its own. That said, everyone involved did solid work, especially Emily Kinney, who is required to carry the emotional weight of the entire episode. She is up to the task and even gets to switch into action hero mode before everything is said and done. Wayne was suitably sleazy as Gorman; Woods perfectly straddled the line between control and impending nervous breakdown; Tyler James Williams (Chris from Everybody Hates Chris) is all grown up and does a nice job as Beth’s only real ally in the hospital, Noah; and Jensen’s Dr. Edwards plays the layers of his precarious situation with just the right touch of casual desperation. Jensen’s monologue describing the bombing of Atlanta (and providing the rest of the exposition needed for the episode) was particularly effective. As was the sly way he made Beth an accomplice to murder. Satrazemis’ direction was superb, making excellent use of the long hospital hallways, framing characters with the breaking up of light and shadow. There were some simply beautiful shots that brought to mind the work of Marc Munden on the UK series Utopia (David Fincher will be directing an American remake for HBO). And while some viewers might not care for the stylized visuals of Beth and Noah’s ill-fated escape attempt, I found it to be very effective. The Walking Dead rarely plays around with the visual storytelling, preferring to remain as naturalistic as possible, but I loved the freeze-frame strobed gunshot effects and the way they played with the soundscape, mimicking the deafening aftereffects of the shots. The searing sunlight once they escaped the confines of the hospital was also a daring choice, especially when coupled with the dreamlike slo-mo. In fact, the whole escape had a sense of unreality that was more disturbing than the threats inside the hospital. It was as though Satrazemis wanted to emphasize the feeling that Reality was inside the building and escape was Fantasy. The lingering on Beth’s smile as she watches Noah escape was mesmerizing, even as she was wrestled to the ground by Officer Lerner’s forces. Then, suddenly we’re back inside and Beth is trapped again. And she starts dropping truth bombs; first to Lerner, then to Dr. Jensen; then she grabs some scissors and is all set to start stabbing people up and it is awesome. But the surprise appearance of a new patient stops her in her tracks. Carol (Melissa McBride) is being wheeled in, unconscious. Cut to credits. What the fricking frack? While I appreciate that they’re going to avoid wrapping up Beth’s storyline in one neat episode, it looks like they’re tossing the brisk episode-to-episode pacing to return to last season’s more common approach of devoting entire episodes to one of the many story threads. And next week we’re on the road with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie, and the rest, so it’s going to be at least two weeks before we find out if Carol is really hurt, captured, or if she’s going in undercover to take down the hospital from the inside. It’s also going to be a while before we find out who was in the bushes with Daryl. Sigh. The Walking Dead 5.04 “Slabtown”4.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses The Walking Dead 5.06 “Consumed” - Psycho Drive-In November 18, 2014 […] that person was Noah (Tyler James Williams) — which has been the safe bet since the end of “Slabtown” — and that the last two episodes before the winter break will be centered entirely on getting […] Log in to Reply The Walking Dead 5.15 "Try" - Psycho Drive-In March 30, 2015 […] seeing as how the two other episodes he’s responsible for helming (“The Grove” and “Slabtown”) have both also ratcheted up the tension expertly. I don’t know if he was responsible for the […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.