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"18 Miles Out" offers one of those contained scenarios that all good cable television loves so much, with Rick and Shane separated from the rest of the group and forced to work out many of their issues by virtue of their isolation. And while I appreciate that the two aired a lot of previously buried grievances, their ceaseless power struggle doesn't interest me nearly so much as one from an unexpectedly compelling corner: Lori and Andrea. I know: it's counter-intuitive to use the words "compelling," "Lori" and "Andrea" in the same sentence, but there you have it.
Let's start with the fellas, however. The episode opens, after a pointless flash forward cold open, on Shane and Rick in the car at a literal crossroads. Rick confronts Shane about Lori, the baby, Carl and Otis, and Shane has the good grace to look mildly chagrined. It's a nice scene, and I'm glad all the secrets are out in the open. The peace doesn't last long, however, as Rick and Shane soon come to the same old head about what to do with Randall. Shane wants to kill him; Rick wants to dick around and then eventually let him live. Shane uses the opportunity to tell Rick that he doesn't believe Rick can keep Lori and his family safe, and then the two idiots roll around punching each other for five thousand years while Randall almost escapes and a herd of walkers is roused. If you've only seen one episode of The Walking Dead before, you could probably still guess what happens: Shane gets himself into a pickle, he thinks Rick is abandoning him, Rick saves him, peace is temporarily restored and then Rick decides to dick around rather than make a decision about Randall.
Rick and Shane's conflict was almost interesting. Rick finally mans up and tells Shane that he can only stay with the group if he stops eyeballing Rick's family, and Shane is honest about his guilt and conflicted feelings. Shane also admits, sweetly and sadly, that having Lori and Carl in his life was the only thing that kept him going through the tragedy. But then the scenario transforms into the tired strife these two have been engaging in since the pilot. Rick doesn't think the choice to kill humans should ever be easy. Shane believes "the right choice is the one that keeps us alive." They fight; Shane loses control and attempts to kills Rick really ineffectually, then sees himself in the window glass, looking more walker than human. I'd like to see a super cut of every scene that includes Shane looking at his reflection, asking himself, "What have I become?!" this season and last.
I think Glen Mazzara and Scott M. Gimple, the writers of this week's episode, missed the point of the contained episode. Sure, our leads had it out big time, but in the end, no progress was made. Shane is still glowering and resentful and hotheaded; Rick is still self-righteous and dithering. If these two had made any progress, or even if their relationship had deteriorated, their road trip would have been worthwhile. However, I fail to see that Shane and Rick are anywhere other than the exact place they've been for the past dozen episodes. Oh but! The roadtrip was certainly worthwhile when taking badass walker kills into consideration. Rick may be a pansy in many of the most important ways, but when it comes to zombie headshots, he is the motherfucking man. Three - well, four - kills stood out: when Rick stabbed the walker through the skull, when he ran over the walker's head with his car, and when he shot through two walker brains at once. BAD. ASS.
While the men had the same old argument for the nth time, the women brought something new to the table: a heated discussion of gender roles. The show hasn't overtly addressed this issue since the scene with the women doing laundry by the river last season, and even that was more of an aside; I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. The show and the comic seem to incidentally make the argument that with the loss of modern conveniences and the advent of a nearly insurmountable threat to humanity, survivors will naturally fall back into traditional gender roles. What's interesting is that almost no one really seems to notice or mind. The change has been so gradual and natural that women once gainfully and happily employed spend their days doing laundry and house-work without a word of complaint, while the menfolk are in charge of manual labor and territory protection.
While my every instinct cries out against this crumbling of modern values, I recognize that is because I am privileged. It's easy for me to sit here at my computer in my cushy polka-dotted desk chair, drinking mineral water and eating blueberries as I protest the injustice of conventional gender ideology worming its way into the life of the characters on The Walking Dead, but in the event of actual zombie apocalypse, I have to ask myself what my valuable skills are. Throwing aside education and personability which offer very little to a post-apocalyptic fight for survival, I'm left with the following: I can sew. I can clean. I can cook. I can do laundry. I don't know how to shoot, to hunt, to build things, to engage in hand to hand combat. I'd like to believe that if the world fell apart, I would learn those things. I'd like to think that I would educate and improve myself rather than be content with washing dishes for the rest of my life.
That's why I admire Andrea, despite the fact that she is so strident. Andrea wasn't content with taking the traditional female part, so she learned to shoot. And man, can she shoot. She therefore has every right to protect the camp rather than make the lemonade. So even though I'm liking Lori considerably more lately (I loved her scenes with Maggie and Beth this week), I was flabbergasted when she said that Andrea is "working on her tan with a shotgun in [her] lap" when Andrea is actually doing the same thing the men do, and every bit as well: surveying and protecting the farm.
I feel less cut and dried about Lori and Andrea's other point of contention this week: whether to let Beth kill herself. I agree, Beth and Andrea should be able to commit suicide if they want. But should Lori have simply walked away, knowing that Beth stole the kitchen knife? So Beth's suicide and Herschel's and Maggie's grief would be on Lori's hands for the rest of her life? And the fact that Andrea told Maggie to take a break, that she would watch Beth, and then promptly walked out so Beth could "choose life"? Idiotic, arrogant, infuriating. Sure, let Beth commit suicide, but not like that! Just don't watch her like a hawk and let the kid off herself on her own time. Don't actively promote it, you psycho!
"18 Miles Out" is another good episode - that's three in a row, for those of you keeping count at home. What I think has been working about The Walking Dead post-hiatus is that every episode hasn't been so ensemble-heavy. Each week, they're focusing on four or five characters, taking the time to ask big questions and allowing us to care, rather than checking in with every member of the group for five minutes each week. It's working for me, at least. What do you guys think?