While I’ll freely admit to being reasonably underwhelmed with the program’s first two episodes (reviewed here and here), I’m pleased to announce that its third outing – titled simply “Dee” – was actually a welcome surprise, though it bowed out with a curious final moment.
As I’ve occasionally opined in this space when critiquing zombie properties, storytellers do have some narrative brick walls that create challenges in keeping any franchise – ahem – fresh. The dirty little secret is that zombies don’t evolve, per se, so the avenues to ramp up the tension might be a zero-sum game. Audiences, I think, have kinda/sorta grown a bit tired with TWD universe not because the writers aren’t crafting interesting new characters, but – after so many seasons and two spin-offs – the focus has understandably shifted to less and less conflict with zombies and more and more headbutting with our fellow man. As I think it was U.S. President Abraham Lincoln once noted, established unions have more to fear from internal enemies than we might from abroad … and “Dee” returns with a vengeance.
This installment brought back award-winning actress Samantha Morton who, rather famously, introduced ‘Alpha’ and ‘The Whisperers’ to the TV franchise back in its ninth season. Though she eventually met her maker at the hands of ‘Negan’ (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), show creator and Tales Of The Walking Dead screenwriter Channing Powell resurrected the lady with a look into her earlier days as Dee, a survivor whose most definitely looked down upon by the well-to-do clan who befriend the woman and her daughter Lydia whom they welcome onto their riverboat sanctuary. What we learn – to a degree – viewers already knew: Dee definitely doesn’t play well with others, especially when they might have eyes set on adopting Lydia into the elite of what remains of society while relegating the ‘mother hen’ to the outskirts, where she’s treated just a step-up from the dearly (and hungry) departed.
Still, the episode earns high marks for its focus on Dee’s ever-fragile psychology.
With her time spent on The Walking Dead, Alpha/Dee was established as a master manipulator, one whose ruthlessness truly knew no bounds in achieving what she demanded of those she commanded as well as others she came into conflict with. Speaking in a Southern drawl barely above a whisper (what foreshadowing and characterization the writers employed there!), she’d layer on a ‘bag of sugar’ before pulling off the figurative band-aid and unleashing just the right measure of pain to maintain control of those within her grasp. But the Dee we’re treated to in her signature hour is only just discovering her true persona: it’s a fascinating look at an individual in transition – one longtime viewers know is destined to become as treacherous and reviled as a herd of zombies by lacks the mastery we’ve seen before. Because she’s emotionally and psychologically in transition – because we don’t quite know how she’s going to react to these current circumstances – this spin-off finally delivered an hour (hour+) that demonstrates the potential of revisiting old haunts with a new freshness.
Well, Dee finds herself in a predicament that, alas, we’ve kinda/sorta seen all too often in the wider Walking Dead universe (as I opined above). While we haven’t seen one situated on a riverboat, we’ve have seen these circumstances, and I think that reality might continue to plague writers of this incarnation as they continue trying to find ‘that new car smell’ in the ever-expanding used car lot. Kudos to all involved with sticking with it; I just hope that – as this version develops – they keep striving for something audiences legitimately haven’t seen before.