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19 September 2013 @ 06:59 pm
Review: The Walking Dead's "Vatos"  
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The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 4

"Vatos"

Written by: Robert Kirkman  DIR by: Johan Renck

Blurb (IMDB): While searching for Merle, Rick and the others come across another group of - seemingly hostile - survivors. Meanwhile, back at camp, Jim is deeply disturbed by a dream he cannot fully remember, a dream which may turn out to be prophetic.

Spoilers within, including a major death. Zombie-induced grue screencaps.


Scene 01: We start with a sweeping in shot of serene waters of green-blue. It's brightly daylight, and as the camera moves in, we see two girls sitting in a boat. This is the quarry where our group is camping, and our girls are Andrea and her sister, Amy. They are fishing in the quarry lake.


Scene 02: We jump to a focus on Amy, looking thoughtful. She notices her sister's pensive glancing her way and asks what is up, but Andrea plays off as "nothing", which Amy irritates a huff over. Amy crabs that it's never nothing, it's always something.

We think there is serious sister strife going on, but then Andrea whines about Amy's fishing line knots being tied wrong, according to their father. Amy disputes this, as her father always used one knot. But, Andrea is equally sure that he always used at least three to secure the line. Amy continues to dispute, so Andrea gives a bratty, "Fine. I'm making it up," which Amy rolls her eyes over.

After it giving it a minute of thought, Andrea asks further questions and it turns out that their dad taught his two girls exact opposite styles of fish catching. This leads to further discussion, and there are some tears at the childhood memories of better times and the realization that their dad was a swell guy who recognized that both of his daughters were different people with different needs: Andrea needed to be sure of catching the fish and bringing them home; Amy needed to release the fish unharmed.

Amy brings up their parents, who were apparently still alive when the shit hit the fan. Amy desperately suggests that Florida may not have been hit so badly, but Andrea is a realist and she can't offer phony solace.


Commentary: So, this scene is really about sister bonding and it's okay for that. It doesn't really give us anything though, except eye candy. Unfortunately, for all of the talk about tears and the strained-voice acting going on, our actresses just don't sell this grief. Neither one of them can work up any actual tears, though at least Emma's eyes look red around the edges and there may be a sheen there. It seriously undercuts the drama since the dialog continues to talk about their not supposed to be crying in the boat (a dad rule, it scares the fish) but without actually seeing tears, it falls flat.

I do so love this location shooting, though. This background for them (and the eye candy reference) is stunningly beautiful.


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Scene 03: We pan and skip over to the camp. Dale is on top of his RV, as usual. He's scanning the horizon for threats. But what he sees is Jim up on a hill and digging for reasons unknown.


Scene 04: We join Jim, and it's obvious to us that he's digging shallow graves... yes, more than one.

The theme music leaves us creep-ed out about this.


Scene 05: We come back in Atlanta, on a rooftop, where our gang had found Merle's hand. They're still staring at it, but Daryl has stopped yelling 'no'. He's not exactly calmed down though. When he spins around and threatens to put a bolt through T-Dog's face, Rick responds by holding his Python against the side of Daryl's head.

They have a tense stand off. Rick tells him with hard-eye that he won't hesitate to pull the trigger, walkers in the area be damned. Daryl is somewhere between crying and pulling the trigger, but stands down.

Instead, he asks T for a "dew rag", and collects Merle's hand (?!?). He tucks this away in the backpack on Glenn, to his very displeased look. Daryl tells the others that Merle must've had something, like a belt maybe, to use as a tourniquet or he would've lost more blood. He begins to follow the trail.

The others follow, with T stopping long enough to gather up Dale's tools.


Commentary: Very nice scene, done well. I really liked Norman's acting here.


Scene 06: The trail leads back into the building through a second roof access point. They follow. Daryl, unwisely, shouts down the stairwell for his brother as they begin their descent. T-Dog is left somewhere behind them back on the roof, which also doesn't seem like a good idea.


Scene 07: Back at the camp, Jim is still digging graves on the hillside despite his obvious exhaustion. Dale joins him with extreme worry. Jim won't respond and he refuses to take the water that Dale offers to stave off dehydration.

He wanders off back toward camp, not feeling any better about Jim's manic digging.


Scene 08: Back in Altanta, our gang run into a woman zombie who doesn't look to be biting anything anytime soon, not with that missing lower jaw:

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And, especially not after a bolt comes flying from off-screen to impact her forehead.

The trio (T-Dog?? How far behind are you?) find evidence that Merle is still up and around, and he's still in fighting shape -- because he's one tough mo-fo.


Scene 09: Back in camp, Andrea and Amy return to heroes cheers as they've managed to catch a full meal's worth of fish for the camp. Dale strolls in to put the kibosh on everyone's cheer by telling them about the growing issue with Jim's stroll around Nutty Hill.


Scene 10: We skip back to Atlanta to see more blood droplets for our gang to follow, as they try to find a Merle that Rick suspects will be passed out from blood loss.

Daryl continues to call for Merle, despite Rick's reminder that they're not alone in the building. They find a kitchenette with warming candles still lit. Rick picks up a grill cleaner/scraper with burnt skin on it. Merle made it this far, and cauterized his own wound.

[Say what you will, it's hard not to admire Merle's survivor instinct and willpower.]

They next find a broken window, where Merle busted out. Glenn gets over the queasy to wonder why he would've went outside in his condition. Daryl admires his brother's gumption, but T-Dog thinks his chances are for shit. Daryl turns it back on him by mentioning that they're a lot better than his chances when handcuffed to a rooftop by them.

Daryl is ready to charge out after him and gets up in Rick's face when he tries to stop him. Rick points out that they have a better chance of finding him together, but only if they all keep a level head about it.

T-Dogs brings up the guns. They'll need them if they're going to stroll around Atlanta.


Commentary: Again, the only thing that I'm questioning here is the editing. Like in last episode, the editing is a bit weird as far as when it cuts back and forth between our two primary locations. Some of these jumps seem nearly random when we come back to the previous location, only to basically continue the scene that we hopped away from.

It's just... odd.

I really like how Andrew and Norman are playing off one another in this scene and I really love this set up of Merle being abandoned, but surviving to come back later and give some "oh, shit" payback. I also like T-Dog being given the voice of reason, despite his obvious guilt for losing the key, about needing to be heavily armed before they can do Merle any more good.



Scene 11: Back at camp, our principal adults have climbed up the hill to confront Jim as a group. They're joined by voiceless extras to have a show of force. Shane asks Jim to stop for a minute to talk. Jim says he isn't hurting anyone, but Dale points out he appears to be hurting himself.

Lori steps forward to tell him that he's also scaring the children with his weird behavior. Jim goes back to his unhinged digging and Shane tells him to take a break and tell them what it's all about and he'll help him with his digging.

Jim instead confronts him over Shane's violence toward Ed and wonders if he'll be the next one to get his face pounded to hamburger if he doesn't do what Shane wants. Amy tries to tell Jim about Ed's hurting Carol, but Jim accuses Shane of getting involved in things that is none of his business and acting like King.

Shane isn't interested in arguing the point further and goes to take the shovel away, which leads to a wrestling match. Shane gets Jim onto the ground and handcuffs him behind the back. He tries to tell Jim that no one is going to hurt him, but Jim tells him that's a lie. He tells him that he used to tell his wife and sons the exact same thing, but it didn't matter in the end.

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He tells the others that there were dozens of them, and they just pulled his family right out of his hands. It's obvious that poor Jim has finally cracked under the strain. This is a history that no one knew about apparently, because everyone is upset to hear it. Jim says the only reason he escaped was because the dead were too busy eating his family to surround him. He's obviously been consumed with guilt for not dying that day with them.


Scene 12: Back in Atlanta, Rick is arguing with Glenn. Daryl says he doesn't even like the rest of them, and he still doesn't want Glenn going. But he's adamant that he can get to the tank and Rick's dropped satchel of guns by himself. He believes he can move faster and avoid drawing attention than they can as a group.

He outlines his plan on the floor with marker. It's tactically sound. Daryl asks what Glenn did before and they're surprised that he was a pizza delivery person, because he's got a sharp mind for planning operations.


Scene 13: The plan is put in operation with Daryl covering Glenn with his crossbow, while Rick and T-Dog are two blocks over, in case Glenn can't return the way he's going and has to make a run for it down the street. They'll be able to cover his escape in their direction. Either way, everyone is to meet back at the store once Glenn has secured the duffle of guns and decided which way he needs to retreat.


Commentary: And, in my continuing-complaint-box: Why are Glenn and T-Dog running around with NO WEAPONS!? I mean, c'mon, g'ddammit. That doesn't make any sense. Okay, so they don't have the guns to spare -- that is no excuse for them not to have something sharp or blunt in their hands. T-Dog could be running around with a baseball bat and Glenn could have a large hunting knife in these scenes without it impacting the story, and it wouldn't look so wrong.


Scene 14: With the Glenn/Daryl team, they make their way to the mouth of the same alley that Glenn and Rick were in when they went up the ladder to the roof right after Rick made his escape from the tank. Daryl is insulting.

Glenn makes a run for the bag o' weapons.


Scene 15: Meanwhile, Daryl is hunched down near a garbage bin to wait for Glenn's call for backup. He hears footfalls, but when he gets up to confront the walker, it turns out to be a very much alive young man.

Daryl holds the young guy at crossbow point and asks if he's seen Merle. The guy calls for help, instead and Daryl threatens him to get him to shut up before the walkers are brought on them both.


Scene 16: Meanwhile, Glenn has gotten the bag of Rick. And the hat.


Scene 17: Daryl is still telling young guy to tell him if he's seen flippin' Merle, and the kid chooses to yell real loud instead... again. Because he's an idiot.


Scene 18: Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Team Rick/T-Dog hears the young guy yelling for whoever-whoever and share "what'll we do" looks. Rick decides by taking off at a run back toward the department store alley.


Scene 19: In that alley, Daryl hits young guy in the face with the crossbow and points it at him some more. Young guy is still yelling like an ass, so Daryl wrestles his hand over his mouth while shushing him.

Young Guy's calls are finally answered by two gang-banger sorts, who attack Daryl. Glenn chooses now to return, alas, and he gets pummelled next so the banger-types can grab the bag of guns, which is what they're really after.

As Glenn takes a ball bat to the back and one of our princes threatens him with a stranglation, Daryl recovers enough to fire a bolt into Bald Ganger's ass.

With all the commotion, the walkers close in. To keep Daryl from lining up another shot, Gang-Banger Types use Glenn as a human shield and hustle him into a car, disappearing down the block. Young Guy was left behind, along with the bag of guns they were hoping to hijack from Our Guys.

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Rick and T-Dog make it just in time to stop Daryl from beating the ever-livin' hell outta Young Guy, but he quickly fills them in on Glenn's being taken away by Young Guy's friends.

They make a run for safety, with T-Dog dragging their prisoner with them.


Commentary: I really like the way that this scene was shot. Steven does a nice job of face-acting throughout it, and I really like the music that they chose to play over it. It was exciting, and watching Daryl and then Glenn get beat up was intense. It's a reminder that not only the Walking Dead are the dangers in this new world.

My only minor nitpick is the use of the baseball bat on both our heroes. It just doesn't seem credible that Daryl and Glenn would be fighting and running around like they are after being pummelled by it. It looks like it's an aluminum bat, so maybe it's light enough not to be breaking ribs, but I'm iffy on whether Daryl especially would be up and at em, like he is.



Scene 20: Meanwhile, back at camp: Jim is sitting against a tree looking off into the distance. He's joined by Shane and Dale, and we see that he's been tied to the tree. Shane gives him water, which he accepts. A ways off, Lori and Carol are with the kids, doing homework[!] and he calls over to them to apologize for scaring them. Lori blows it off as him suffering sunstroke.

Now that he seems more clear-headed, Dale asks him about the holes. He doesn't remember -- only that he saw something in a dream and it made him feel like he needed to dig today.

Shane turns his mind to cleaning the fish, and the kids race off after him with Carol in tow. Lori goes to grab the bucket from in front of Jim. He tells her to watch her boy [Future!Me says 'hah!'] and to not let him out of her sight [Future!Me laughs uproariously]. As Lori gives a nod, freaked out by his intensity. She walks away, and Jim scans the woods worriedly.


Scene 21: Back in the city, T-Dog, Rick and Daryl are interrogating Young Guy about where his freinds went. He's playing tough-guy and refusing to share any information. He also insults Daryl's brother, forcing Rick to have to shove Daryl off to keep him from visiting another beat down on the idiot.

When Rick lets him go, Daryl goes straight for the backpack with Merle's hand in it. He claims that's what happened to the last guy who pissed him off, as he throws it in Young Guy's lap. This gets the total freakout wanted.

Rick assures Young Guy that they just want to talk to his freinds to see if they can work something out to get Glenn back.


Scene 22: A short time later, and they're all standing outside of Bangers' hideout. Young Guy is still not acting like somebody who is afraid of getting his limbs cut off. Idiot.

A negotiation is started, but it's tense and filled with posturing by Bangers. They refuse Rick's offer of a straight trade of Young Guy for Glenn. Guillermo wants compensation for 'pain and suffering' and demands the bag o' weapons.

T-Dog has taken position to put a rifle bullet in Guillermo's head, but he countermoves by showing that Glenn is on the edge of the roof, ready to be pushed over. He smirks and walks away leaving Rick to decide if he should turn the guns over or not. He doesn't seem that concerned about getting Young Guy back, even though he's the cousin of Banger-shot-in-the-ass.


Scene 23: Back in an abandoned building, the gang discuss whether they can trust Guillermo to turn Glenn over if they comply with his demands for the guns. Young Guy tries to play the tough, until he sees the three start loading up their heavy guns with ammo and discussing not leaving without Glenn. It starts to get a little real that this is going to go badly.


Scene 24: There is a march back to HQ, but this time Young Guy is tied and gagged so he can't yell any warnings that Rick isn't really going to negotiate for the guns. They're let in. They're heavily outgunned and outnumbered.

I seriously question this tactic.

Rick cuts the bonds of Young Guy and shoves him at Guillermo, then demands Glenn back... without the gun trade. Rick proves willing to go down in a blaze of gunshots if that is really the way that Guillermo wants to play it, but it'll start with Rick blowing his face off.

'G' tough talks about cutting up Glenn and feeding him to his wild dogs, but Rick doesn't blink. Everyone cocks their guns for the firefight.

As everyone has their staredown, an old lady suddenly comes from offscreen and calls for her grandson. Daryl warns them to get the old lady out of the line of fire. But she's not listening about going back "with the others". The old lady takes Rick for a policeman there to arrest her grandson (which is the shot-in-the-ass Banger). Rick patiently explains that he's not there to arrest her grandson and tells her that he's helping them find a missing person named Glenn. She recognizes this as the "Asian boy" with them, and summons Rick to follow her to him.

It's obvious that Abuela isn't really all that aware of what is happening either outside, or with the current situation. Everything kinda just stops, as Abuela grabs Rick's hand and smilingly takes him with her. 'G' allows the rest to follow, and we're given the idea that this isn't as GangBangerLand as he was fronting.


Scene 25: Abuela leads Rick, T-Dog and Daryl up some stairs, through a small courtyard, and into what looks like an old folks home. Glenn is there, looking relatively unstressed. T-Dog complains that they thought he was getting eaten by dogs, and everyone looks over at the killer-animals to find three chihuahuas in a doggie bed.

[Which, hey, those little mutts may be tiny and yappy - but they can be mean little shits. Glenn could very well be slowly eaten by the terrors.]

Rick asks for a word with Guillermo -- pulling him aside to rant about his being really stupid. He tells 'G' that they came in ready to kill every last one of them. Guillermo tells Rick that they were ready to do the same, and further, that they've already had to fight for what little they have.

It turns out that when the world went to shit, the staff took off and abandoned the old folks. A male nurse and G -- who was the custodian, were the only ones to stay and try to protect and care for the elders.


Scene 26: In another room, they continue the conversation with Rick finding out that the other GangBangers are actually family members who stopped by to see their grandparents or parents and then stayed when they saw how bad things were.

Guillermo goes on to tell them that the people left "out there" are the worst kind. They've had to scavenge and defend what they have with force to keep the old people from being victims. He offers that he can't even say why the others follow him, but Rick tells him it's because they can. He turns over his rifle to him, along with some of the other long guns.


Commentary: It's a nice gesture and all, but the outlook for the Vatos crew is extremely poor. After the episode, I was thinking about the world without medicines and... it really, really sucks for that crew.


Scene 27: On the way back to their truck, Daryl complains about Rick giving away half of their firepower. Glenn claims Rick only returned to retrieve his hat.

When they return to where the truck is, they find it gone. Rick immediately assumes that Merle found it and snatched it and Daryl worries that he's going to bring a helluva vengeance down on the camp.


Commentary: Future!Me would just like to say [Spoiler (click to open)]that it sucked that Merle doesn't go back to camp, and his vengeance turns out to ultimately be not so much vengeancey. Very disappointing that Daryl's prognostication wasn't followed up on.


Scene 28: Back at the camp, Andrea is rifling through drawers in the RV when Dale comes in. She's looking for a bit of wrapping paper or tissue to wrap Amy's necklace (the mermaid one that she took from the store) for her upcoming birthday.


Scene 29: Elsewhere, Morales is proudly showing off the rock-wall he built around the campfire pit so they can have a bit higher flames for warmth, without marking their position to any wanderers. Lori looks on approvingly.


Scene 30: Elsewhere the Second, Carl is walking with Shane. They're checking on Jim, who seems to have gotten over his hole-digging mania. Shane apologizes to him for keeping him secured for the others' safety. He's let loose to join in the old-fashioned fish fry they intend to have that evening.


Scene 31: Elsewhere the Third, Sophia and Carol are in their tent. Carol tells Ed he should come out and join everybody. He refuses. He grabs Sophia's wrist and tells her to stay with her daddy, but Carol shows more backbone than we've seen until now, and tells him firmly that Sophia wants to join in. She leads her out of the tent to Ed's scorn.

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Commentary: And, again, we have face-too-close! I'm not interested in smelling Ed's funky breath! [Not the above pic, it was after this]


Scene 32: Down the road, our foursome are jogging toward camp -- presumably thinking that Merle is going to be visiting all kinds of deadly violence on the group. It's near dark.


Commentary: Oh, please. I KNOW y'all did not run all the way back. Surely, you could find a car with gas and keys in the ignition. I'm gonna assume that it ran out of gas before making it the entire way and we're joining them after this happened.

It's still dumb.



Scene 33: At the campsite, everyone is having some beer and fish. There is light hearted banter. Morales asks Dale about the watch that he sees him winding everyday at the same time. Laughs are shared at Dale's expense.

Amy gets up, but Andrea is immediately - "where you going"... she's gotta pee and complains about Andrea not letting her be discreet to everyone's laughing over that, too.


Scene 34: In his tent, Ed is grousing. He hears noises and thinks it's his wife. He tells her to go away, but when she continues to scratch at the tent, he gets up to shout in her face.

It's not Carol. It isn't the expected Merle, either. It's zombie-woman. And Ed is quickly screaming his last.

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And, zombie-woman's not alone.


Scene 35: At the RV, Amy comes out to complain/ask about toilet paper -- which is one of those things you should not forget to hoard. A zombie comes around the side and before she can react- he takes a bite out of her arm!

Everyone realizes that they're under attack -- and it's by a sizable group of the dead, too. Amy is screeching with blood running down her arm and everyone gets into response mode.


Commentary: And it's after the attack on Amy that I kick myself a bit. I really, really should've realized that  either her or Andrea were about to bite it. Why else start the episode with the sister-bonding thing, and then follow it up with the "Amy's birthday is coming up, I gotta get this wrapped" preciousness if one or the other weren't about to kack it. That was dumb on my part.


Scene 36: On the road, the foursome hear Shane's shotgun going off.


Scene 37: In the camp, it's pandemonium. Another extra gets taken down. And Amy's night didn't turn bad enough, so as she's kneeling on the ground in shock, another bite gets taken out of her shoulder to her screaming.

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Jim takes out her attacker with a bat to the head, but the damage is done. Andrea ignores the danger around her to reach out for her sister and try to stem the blood rushing from her shoulder bite, as her sister is obviously in horror and pain at what just happened to her.


Scene 38: Elsewhere, Shane, Lori, Carl, Carol and Sophia are bunched together and trying to get the kids to someplace defensible.


Scene 39: We see a few more extras get taken down, while Morales continues with his bat. His wife and kids are alive when we see them rushing for the RV's dubious protection.

Despite the toll that the good guys are taking on the Walking Dead, there is a virtual army of the things and more and more keep coming out of the woods.

Rick's group comes back into camp in the thick of things.

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Scene 40: With their new guns, their able to slaughter the Undead [or the ones that don't suddenly vanish, anyway].

Everyone is left in tears, Rick's in relief that Carl and Lori are unhurt. Theirs due to Rick being back alive. Glenn's at the horror he sees around him. Amy because she's dying. Andrea because Amy's dying.


Commentary: The death scene with Amy and Andrea is well done, and this time we do get the tears that weren't actually shed in the opening scene. Laurie really sells her helpless despair here.


Scene 41: With the reunion of Rick's family taken care of, they all notice Andrea's weeping over Amy's body.

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Scene 42: Across camp, Jim tells Dale that he remembers his dream now... why he dug all of those holes.

Everyone else is left to look over the carnage of their refuge.


The Good: The opening shot is a work of art.

I liked getting to know some of our third-party characters, like Morales and Jim.

The chaos of the mass attack on the camp was really well done and exciting, with plenty of zombie grue.

I liked the acting of Laurie Holden when her sister is lying on the ground, dying.

I also like the last line going to Jim in regards to his dream and the digging of the graves. Creepy.


The Bad: The opening is supposed to be emotional to contrast with the ending, but dry-eyes does not a cry scene make.

I just don't buy collecting Merle's hand... it seems only there so Daryl can freak out Young Guy later on.

Both of the "negotiating" scenes with the Vatos were poorly done. Rick's entire approach made about zero sense.


Other Thoughts: I really would like us to see more of Jacqui; I really like this actress.

Some of the editing, as noted, is still striking me as weird. The scene breaks don't always seem logical.

I appreciated the twist that the Gangbangers were just a bunch of guys trying to protect the old people and keep them from being victimized by the scumbag survivalists. It didn't make it much more interesting, but I liked that things weren't as they appeared.


The Score: It's an average episode right up until that ending attack on the camp. That was really well done, and elevates things a bit. And it thins out our cast, which is good.

3.50 out of 5 stars.


Next Review: Spike: A Dark Place, #1


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