season two's episode two of AMC's The Walking Dead. In "Bloodletting," the contrivances that got our band of survivors separated, some on the highway by the RV, some in the middle of the woods walking back, and Shane, Rick and Carl (who was shot by a stray deer-hunting bullet) out looking for Sophia, have led us to a point where real, believable conflict can grow. "Bloodletting" is a refreshing return that keeps the energy of the season going, really cranking it up, and it's also an episode that lets some of the odd bullshit (Andrea and Shane and their departure?) fall by the wayside.
The show opens with a flashback. People are everywhere, and they're the alive the kind of people we know and love. Lori is waiting to pick up Carl from school. She's also venting to another mother about an argument she and Rick had the night before. Things are not good in the Grimes house. But before she can vent too much, Shane pulls up to tell Lori that her husband has just been shot. That's when Carl walks up. And that's when we cut to titles. The flashback doesn't do a whole lot. It seems more like an appetizer for fans who haven't seen season one. That Lori knew Rick was in the hospital, that Shane told her, that there was tension in the Grimes' marriage, was all established in episode one, season one. But, notably, seeing other humans alive and well, societal order intact, was actually briefly emotionally affecting.
After the first break, Rick is running, carrying a shot and bleeding Carl, toward a secluded plantation/farm house. When he's there, strangely, there are another 6 people (give or take) who have all survived this long. It's a great callback, a quiet one, to the original Night of the Living Dead, where the protagonists hold up in a similar farm house. It's also a fine play on something we know about zombies and surviving them: Don't go into the city. There are too many people. And the supplies are not worth it. You'll last longer living off of the land, treating the zombies like wild animals, than trying to coexist with them in a dense setting. It's a nice set piece and nice detail writing. Luckily, one of the people in the house is a doctor and he's prepared to help Carl. The bad news is, Carl has bullet fragments in his chest and the doctor doesn't have enough supplies to help him. Oh, and the doctor, well, technically he's a vet. Not a combat doc. A veterinarian.
Elsewhere, Dale and T-Dog are looking for supplies in the highway cars to keep T-Dog from dying of blood poisoning after his arm injury during the horde attack in "What Lies Ahead." Dale is ever the voice of reason and also a sort of charming puppeteer. He wants to keep the group together, and since he's not a fighter, he's the group's kind, philosopher idealist. In short, Dale is one of the best characters on the show, even though some of the very "move-the-plot-forward" lines he's given here aren't his best. T-Dog on the other hand starts fretting his injury and how his race, being the only black man in the group, may play into his death or, failing that, sacrifice. Lori, Carol, Daryl and Andrea are walking back in the woods. Andrea seems to have dropped her whining for a week. Maybe the writers didn't know how to keep her going without making her unlikeable? And as they're walking back, a walker attacks Andrea, who reacts fearfully, but seems to have, at least temporarily, rediscovered her desire to live. And for her luck, a rider, the doctor's daughter (I think) comes up on horseback and bats the zombie to the ground. She also picks up Lori, because, well, her son was shot.
What's odd at this point, about halfway through the episode, is that Sophia has been dropped, other than a moment where Carol likens her potential demise to Amy's, thus hurting Andrea. And T-Dog's blood poisoning problem? Well, Daryl has a bag of drugs for that. No muss, no fuss. This means that the episode can focus entirely on Carl and Rick and Shane and now the doctor, and Otis, who accidentally shot Carl. Rick and Lori have a moment to worry about Carl, as is expected. Rick blames himself. As is expected. And then we find out that there's a FEMA medical pop-up at the local high school should have the stuff the doctor needs to save Carl. Shane volunteers, as a clear olive branch to Lori and to keep Rick from sacrificing himself. With Otis, Shane goes to the high school FEMA pop-up, they find what they need. Everything is perfect. And then, with some quality tension, a horde of walkers appears and traps them. It's a trap that we expect to happen, but it's also one that is perfect for the genre. In trapping Shane and Otis, this one horde traps Rick and Lori and Carl. But they also throw a wrench in the rest of the group's life with the RV. There will almost certainly be some tension, some will want to drive on without Rick and Lori and Shane. Especially since T-Dog hinted at that when ranting to Dale.
Now, visually, the show is stronger here. It's not as gory, but it is, luckily beautiful. There is something pastoral about the settings, something that proves the point that while humanity may be in shambles, the Earth doesn't really notice. The doctor's short speech about how mankind has weathered every other plague, his hope that they can crack a cure, is a bright spot. There is hope. Should there be? Maybe not, but everyone has been pretty down so far this season, and hearing that something good might just happen, somewhere, sometime, a long time away, is especially resonant. Also, the conflict is about parents and children and belonging. These are all tangible, reasonable lines for the conflict to run because we can handle zombies, but maybe excessive melodrama is too much. AND: It sounds like we'll get back to the hunt for Sophia next week. And something that's not quite right...
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