Last week, I wasn't so sure that I wanted to spend an hour catching up with Beth (Emily Kinney), who's been absent so far from the fifth season of "The Walking Dead." After viewing Sunday's episode, "Slabtown," I'm still not entirely convinced.
I wouldn't call it a bad episode, per se; like HitFix critic Alan Sepinwall, I found it miles better than the insipid Governor-centric installment from season four, one of the show's few forays into solo character episodes. Beth has grown by leaps and bounds in terms of character development since her introduction as Hershel's suicidal daughter in season two, and her budding relationship with Daryl (whether it's romantic or platonic is TBD) added new shades to her personality that made her seem integral to the show for the first time. But my problem with Beth's big showcase episode – which finds her trapped in a hospital in downtown Atlanta run by a cop-slash-Nurse Ratched wannabe named Dawn and her police minions – is that for every so-called answer it offered, there were numerous questions that lingered.
Take the reveal that Joan (Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes) had been the victim of unwanted sexual advances/attacks from Gorman, one of Dawn's fellow officers (who I referred to in my notes as "dick cop," because he was just the worst). We first meet Joan, a fellow reluctant charge of the hospital, when Beth is forced to hold her arm down as it's being amputated – a gratuitously gory scene that no doubt was meant to harken back to Hershel's leg amputation from season three. But it's never fully explained how Joan was injured in the first place. Was she bitten by a zombie? Did Gorman somehow inflict the gaping wound himself? Or did he simply stand by as she was attacked by a walker? And as for Joan's ultimate revenge, when she comes back as a zombie to feast on Gorman's face: What was she doing in Dawn's office in the first place? Was she there with Gorman, and after she rebuffed him again, he killed her? Did she kill herself? Did she do so, knowing that she'd reanimate and get to kill Dawn and/or Gorman?
And as for these "reveals" and "answers": Where exactly do they fit in with the mythology of the show? Are they meant to play some bigger part further down the road, perhaps as a way to bring Beth and Daryl's confusing relationship status to a head? Clearly, the hospital is meant to serve as a cautionary tale for what can happen to a society once it's suffered the worst (the zombie apocalypse), and what it can allow in exchange for a semblance of normalcy (the Governor's tyranny in Woodbury, the Terminus crew's cannibalism). At the hospital, they accept rape and abuse as quid pro quo for saving lives and keeping their camp running smoothly – but does any of this actually matter in terms of Beth's connection to Rick, Daryl, Carol, and the band on its way to D.C.? I found myself not really caring about what happened to any of these people, because I didn't expect to see them beyond this week.
Obviously, we still have at least one more episode at the hospital to go before we're done with Dawn and Dr. Edwards, since Carol getting wheeled in on a stretcher in the hour's final moments means Beth should be linking up again with Rick's camp soon. But I found myself getting impatient, and downright annoyed, by many of the developments throughout "Slabtown." And shouldn't the zombie apocalypse be fun? (For viewers, anyway.)
- When Beth first arose in the hospital, I got some serious deja vu – the scene was eerily similar (I suspect purposefully) to the moment in the pilot when Rick wakes up from his coma and discovers that a zombie apocalypse had occurred right under his nose. I actually thought that maybe this whole episode was going to be a dream, based on the strange, stilted introductions we get to Dawn and Dr. Edwards. I can't decide if I would have preferred that scenario.
- Dawn and co. call zombies "rotters," yet another euphemism for the undead unique to a specific society within the show. I'm wondering at what point the writers just give up trying to devise new monikers and just have everyone call them zombies already.
- After Gareth and the cannibals, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by odd protein sources on this show, but Dr. Edwards dining on a guinea pig really grossed me out.
- "They think I'm scrawny. They think I'm weak. They don't know s--t." – Noah, who may as well have been quoting Beth's inner monologue.
- Never has a lollipop been so menacing/disgusting as when Gorman took it, sucked on it, then forced it into Beth's mouth. Excuse me, I need to go dry heave forever.
- Dawn's reasoning for keeping people at the hospital – to pay their dues for being "saved" before they're set free – makes no sense, since it seems that it takes far more effort to keep people locked up than it would to just let them go. As Beth and Noah ("Everybody Hates Chris" alum Tyler James Williams) make a break for it -- and Noah actually escapes -- why do the cops even bother running after them, and then tackling and detaining Beth? Doesn't that go against the very core of Dawn's "no wasting resources" mentality?
- I'm sure I'm not the only one who smelled Dr. Edwards's deception of Beth a mile away. (The mix-up of Clozapine and Clonazepam was purposefully plotted by the not-so-good doctor to kill off a rival physician, and preserve his place as the hospital's top medical dog.) But was anyone else genuinely confused about how Beth knew exactly how to administer the shot – including crushing up the pill, diluting it, and using the syringe – after only being at the hospital for a few days, max? Was she drawing upon her exposure to her father's veterinary work? Or did she just magically know how to do it because of [insert lazy plot device here]?
- The Caravaggio painting Dr. Edwards has hanging in his office is "The Denial of Saint Peter," depicting the moment in the Bible when Peter denies knowing Jesus, during the crucifixion. Dr. Edwards explains that the subject matter aligns perfectly with his decision to off the other doctor, since, like Peter, he was doomed if he chose differently. Whatever helps you sleep at night, pal.
- Dr. Edwards earlier shows off his hipster credentials by playing a Junior Kimbrough record for Beth, who marvels at the music. Per "Talking Dead," the song is "You Better Run," which includes lyrics warning the female protagonist that she's about to get raped. Way to be on-the-nose with that reference, guys.
- "Some people just aren't meant for this life, and that's okay. As long as they don't take advantage of the ones who are." Dawn may have been projecting a bit when she made this little speech to Beth.
- As mentioned above, Carol is brought into the hospital at episode's end, prompting a series of questions. Did she somehow meet up with Noah, and pretend to be wounded to sneak in and break Beth out? Or did she and Daryl get hurt or separated, and then legitimately captured, and now she and Beth must work together to escape? We're spending next week with Abraham, Eugene, and the rest of the Washington-bound crew, so we'll have to wait to find out.
Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC