Tuesday, November 15, 2016

(TV) The Walking Dead Review: ‘The Cell’ TV Review

(Photo Credit: AMC)

For the second straight week, The Walking Dead steers clear of a post-Lucille Rick & co. storyline, this time in favor of a Daryl Dixon-centric episode, focusing on his imprisonment at Negan’s basecamp, The Sanctuary. Again, getting sidetracked from the main narrative is something The Walking Dead has suffered from in the past. Luckily, the outset of season seven provides enough plot to go around, with both “The Cell” and last week’s “The Well,” managing to tell compelling, mostly standalone, stories for the characters currently separated from the main group.

“The Cell” benefits greatly from having Daryl front and center. By and large he’s been the show’s most popular character since early season two (he didn’t do a whole lot in season one), rivaled, perhaps, only by Glenn (RIP). In recent years, Daryl hasn’t been given as much to do as his popularity might suggest. His character development peaked considerably in season three with the death of his brother, Merle, and has since seen his contributions notably reduced to glaring menacingly and babysitting Beth (good job with that one). But all that looks to change this season, as it’s made clear this week that Negan has special plans for Mr. Dixon.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
After indirectly causing Glenn’s death in the season premiere, Daryl’s upcoming arc will focus on his guilt, and hopefully, his eventual redemption. Rather than seeing the aftermath of Glenn and Abraham’s death through the eyes of the entire group, Daryl will have to cope, quite literally, alone. And, I’m interested to see what effect this isolation has on Daryl’s road back, though, according to Norman Reedus, Daryl never truly forgives himself. It’s fun to imagine that in a few episodes down the line, Daryl manages to get the jump on Dwight, takes back his crossbow, and rides off into the sunset, headshotting Saviors left and right, on his way out. But something tells me that things won’t be quite that easy for everyone’s favorite gold-hearted redneck.

This week’s episode also supplies us with some useful backstory for Dwight. We initially meet Dwight back in season six, when he and his wife, Sherry, memorably steal Daryl’s crossbow and motorcycle. Since then, he's made several appearances as one of Negan’s many henchmen; however, this week reveals that he’s much higher up in The Savior hierarchy than we’d previously been led to believe. This upward career trajectory belies the Dwight we were introduced to in season six. The Dwight who was trying to escape The Saviors, rather than join them, and who claimed to have never killed anyone, for fear of not being able to “come back from it.”
(Photo Credit: AMC)
We eventually learn why Dwight morphs into Negan’s lapdog, though it would have been more effective storytelling if this transformation was shown, rather than explained by a separate character. The Walking Dead, in general, avoids splicing episodes with expository flashbacks, instead preferring to dedicate flashback storylines to an entire standalone episode. It’s possible that we’ll still get a Dwight flashback episode somewhere down the line. Characters like Michonne, Abraham, and Morgan received their flashback treatment well after they were first introduced. For now, though, Dwight seems to have been sufficiently fleshed out, especially since his rivalry with Daryl was already established throughout last season. However, there are some nuances in his relationship with Negan that I think could make for some interesting television, and at the very least would be worth exploring, should Dwight stick around as a major player for the rest of the season.

In addition to a deeper look at Dwight, “The Cell” offers a nice and neat peak into The Saviors’ hideout, The Sanctuary. Over the years, our heroes have come across multiple bad guy headquarters. From the outwardly charming, yet inwardly terrifying Woodbury, to the corrupt and bureaucratic Grady Memorial Hospital. And while these communities differ in appearance and manner, they all share the same type of leader- a tyrannical dictator hellbent on control. In this sense, our brief glimpse of The Sanctuary offers little that we haven't seen before.

And yet, unlike a Terminus or a Woodbury, The Sanctuary makes no effort to portray a safe haven-like facade. The Sanctuary is cold and foreboding. Its streets lined, not with quaint two-story craftsmen, but by the bowed heads of Negan’s followers. Rather than intimidate its victims with cheap parlor tricks- leading would be prey through a maze of human-filled meat lockers- The Sanctuary rules under the iron fist of Negan, who crafts a rigid sense of order out of stone cold fear. And in a lawless world, ruling through order, rather than chaos, is what’s truly terrifying. As Merle Dixon once said, “I think I'd piss my pants if some stranger came walking up with his mitts in his pockets. That'd be the son of a bitch you'd really want to be scared of.” 
(Photo Credit:AMC)
What’s scarier than someone with their hands in their pockets? How about someone with their hands gripped around a baseball bat wrapped in barbwire? After his explosive first appearance in the season premiere, Negan pops up sporadically throughout this episode, showing up at the most inopportune times for Daryl, but doing so in the most delightfully sinister way, possible. Negan has quickly risen up the ranks of those TV villains that fans just love to hate. And, Jeffrey Dean Morgan proves that even in smaller doses, he’s still capable of commanding every scene he’s in.

For an episode that “technically” counts as filler, “The Cell” succeeds by centering around fan-favorite Daryl, while providing meaningful insight into Dwight’s backstory and The Sanctuary. If this week’s previews are to be trusted, next Sunday’s episode will finally catch us up on how Rick, and the rest of Alexandria, are coping with the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, as well as their new found subjugation under Negan’s rule. After that, we’ll actually be halfway through season 7A, so we can probably expect the plot to pick up fairly quickly within the coming weeks.

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