From the show’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Truths are unearthed and motives are revealed as Maggie, Negan and the others travel further into the city’s depths.”
Folks, I’ve had the privilege of taking some creative writing classes.
While I’m honestly no fan of writing classes (I think more if accomplished on raw talent when it comes to writing than ever is functionally taught), I think there are some basic rules and tenets that every writer should learn if for no other reason than to put that understanding to work in whatever bag of tricks he and she amasses. In other words, learn the basics about how stories are told, how they’ve evolved, and maybe even a little bit of the bad ideas others have put to use. This helps to give the creative mind a foundation upon which to weave whatever tales he or she is ultimately inspired to tell; knowing a good degree of what’s come before might very well save some time wasted on futile attempts. Given that time is our most precious and most perishable resource, this foundation could serve anyone very well.
For example, knowing that Trick X (whatever Trick X may be) opens the door to some storytelling problems, then a reasoned mind can take steps to avoid those shortcomings. This doesn’t mean that a writer needs to eliminate using Trick X; rather, the scribe can take an honestly informed look at how to circumvent the obstacles inherent in the undertaking and make for a stronger composition that can withstand critical scrutiny. Hell, a good writer – one with some magical gifts – might be able to even turn a weakness on its head, creating an all-new style out of trickery that has vanquished lesser prose that’s come before. That’s the potential awaiting those who try.
Still, I think that The Walking Dead: Dead City’s writing room might need a refresher on some of those basic constructs.
Aboard “Stories We Tell Ourselves,” screenwriter Brenna Kouf spent the better part of the episode’s 47 minutes in the head of Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Escaping through Manhattan Island’s sewer city, our series’ lead is suffering the aftereffects of heavily breathing in methane that was alleged pumped into the system following mankind’s collapse. Now, a simple Google search can assure anyone that continued exposure to inhaling methane can cause such side effects as mood changes (which we see), vision problems (which we also see), and memory loss (which is not even suggested) among other things. But in the universe of The Walking Dead, apparently Maggie’s experience is that it crystalizes both who she is as a person – bringing out the very best survival instincts – and helps her recover memories that she’s repressed … all for the purposes of some (cough cough) compelling storytelling.
What a difference reality makes.
And – as I said above – what a difference reality makes.
Now, I believe that Kouf didn’t engineer these circumstances to either cheapen Maggie’s status as a small screen hero or to make her guilty of delivering an accounting of her time beneath the city that’s full of narrative errors. Specifically, I say this regarding the – ahem – four- or five-headed walker she encountered in that stinking deep. As Hercules faced his own Hydra, I firmly accept that Maggie faced hers; but I can’t simply ignore the possibility that her monster could very well have been one of her own imagination. Such is the chance storytellers’ risk with the potentially fraudulent narrator.
Yet, couple that realization with the visual confession – that Maggie has been, in fact, lying to audiences and Negan about exactly why she brought his unusually tame ass into this violent nightmare – and I can’t help but question whether any of this is going to turn out real or just the figment of a character’s feverish dreams.
Setting that issue aside, we also learned that ‘The Croat’ may not, in fact, be the very heavy this show has both advertised and promised him to be. Actress Lisa Emery has stepped into the shoes of what IMDB.com identifies only as ‘The Dama.’ For those unaware (I wasn’t, so don’t be insulted), ‘Dama’ in Mexican translates to lady, but the word in Sanskrit apparently also means ‘punishment.’ Given her gender appears to be female (you never can tell these days, what with all of those self-identifiers), I’m working on the assumption that female is what was intended, but – again – you never can tell. In any event, ‘The Croat’ appears to have been acting on her beck and call in this frenetic spin-off of the wider Dead universe. Might she secretly have some tie-in to Negan that we don’t as yet know? Only time will tell.
Sadly, none of these developments have gone all that far toward beefing up my general impression of Dead City. Thankfully, the hour did smooth out a good degree of wrinkles I think many of us watching saw in the previous episode – why the rescue mission went south so quickly, what the actual idea behind the rescue mission was, why in the Holy Hell was such a small strike team split into even smaller groups, etc. – but that’s still not saying all that much. Apocalypses and allegiances never go all that well together, and TWD has gotten great dramatic mileage out of how alliances can shift and change over time. You can almost count on each installment either hinting at or exploring some duplicity, and Dead City has shaped up to be no different.
As I hope I’ve made abundantly clear in the previous episode reviews, I’m finding all of this iteration a bit jumbled and confused. Rules and alliances are never quite spelled out – a risky proposition whenever it’s tried, especially without significant pay-offs, which don’t look likely to be coming – and I’m still at a loss to understand its core premise. Based entirely on “Stories We Tell Ourselves,” Maggie has evolved from being on the TV’s worst mothers to now gaining the title of least trustworthy compatriot, apparently lying in order to damn near bring about Negan’s death – her alleged co-star. Granted, their history is complicated – he’s gone to great lengths in attempting to smooth out waters she’s obviously only interested in rocking – but, at some point, characters need to evolve if not for the sake of the mythology then for any chance at their own fictional survival. Negan has. Maggie hasn’t.
Aboard Dead City, the lady’s proving herself to be little more than a one trick pony, and I would’ve hoped for better when she assumed the lead.
In the interests of fairness, I’m thrilled to disclose that – like so many of you – I’ve simply recorded and watched The Walking Dead: Dead City’s “Stories We Tell Ourselves” (S01E05) as it aired on AMC, so I’m beholden to no one to provide a review other than myself.