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Spoilers ahead for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, so if you aren’t caught up with “Swear,” feel free to take care of that now. I’m fine waiting – I can use the time to munch on these tasty salted perch.

TWD Spoiler Tag

Last week, I was pretty excited to see The Walking Dead at least attempting to break free from its annoying habit of only showing one storyline per episode, rather than intermixing various plot threads and character arcs within a single show. In “Go Getters,” we saw Carl’s story unfolding independently of the larger Maggie/Hilltop at work within “Go Getters” (even if his independent plot eventually led him to Hilltop), and it did wonders for the pace of the episode. It was a welcome change from a show that so rarely attempts to do anything even moderately creative with the ways in which it unfolds its tale (and even when it does try to be creative, it often falls flat), and I was hopeful that it might be a sign that the level of storytelling integrity from The Walking Dead‘s writer’s room had finally increased after all these years of general mediocrity.

After seeing “Swear,” I realize how wrong I was to be hopeful.

Instead of using this hour to begin to bring the many different story threads of this season together in anticipation of the mid-season finale, showrunner Scott Gimple and his stable of writers chose to give us a full episode of Tara Chambler.

Aside from her infuriating insistence on keeping the fist-bump alive in the post-apocalypse, I’ve always liked Tara. She’s seen and done some heavy shit in her time, but she’s always managed to hold on to a degree of playful irreverence in spite of this, and actor Alanna Masterson consistently brings her A-game to every scene she’s in. But Masterson can only do so much with the material she’s been given to work with, and “Swear” ends up letting Masterson down almost as much as it does the audience. Though there were a few interesting information dumps in the episode (particularly regarding the Saviors – more on this below), “Swear” did little to advance the overall narrative, or further our understanding of Tara or any other character, and thus joins the very well-attended pool of sub-par Walking Dead episodes.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Here’s my main gripe with “Swear”: it attempted to explore what the zombie apocalypse would look like to a group of survivors that happen to be all female. In a show that has spent years and years focusing on the power dynamics between at-odds men (as recent as Rick and the Governor, and as long ago as Rick and Shane), or dealing with men trying to reconcile or accept certain parts of their own masculinity (Rick for the entire series), it was absolutely refreshing to see a group of women survivors making their own way in the world, and killing anyone who might threaten their secrecy and safety.

But then, as soon as we met them, they were gone. This isn’t to say we won’t see the women of the Oceanside Cabin Motor Court again – we know they’re actively hiding from the Saviors after Negan’s group killed all their men and boys above ten years old, and we know the Oceanside gals have the guns and ammunition the Alexandrians will need if they ever want to rise against their oppressors. Instead of exploring how this very unique community works, or humanizing its residents beyond the level of stock characters, the show instead uses it as a plot engine that will surely further the story in later episodes. I wouldn’t be so critical of this storytelling decision if The Walking Dead hadn’t given me countless reasons to be concerned in the past, specifically pertaining to its handling of female, gay, or non-white characters.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Case in point: In the closing minutes of “Swear,” Tara returns triumphantly to Alexandria, only to have her heart be crushed by the news of Glenn, Abraham, and particularly Denise’s death. Due to The Walking Dead‘s inability to inter-cut storylines within a single episode, we haven’t seen (or had reason to even think of) Tara since well before last season’s finale – eight months, in real time. So here we have a character we’ve largely lost track of, and then we’re being asked to suddenly dial in to her emotional state, and the show asks us to do this without even showing Tara being told the awful news.

For real, we cut from sad-faced Eugene at the gate to sad-faced Tara in the clinic, and somewhere in between, she learned the horrific fate of the woman she loves. I’m still disappointed in the way the show handled Denise’s death, but to steal that emotional moment from Tara – to deem it so small and inconsequential as to have it play out off-screen – tells me we are still very much dealing with a writer’s room that has little idea how to tell a satisfying, truly affecting story.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

The overall integrity of the episode was also compromised by Gimple’s approval of using a non-linear storyline in “Swear.” For most of the episode, scenes cut between the present (in which Tara awakens on the beach and subsequently encounters the Oceanside women), and the past (in which Tara and Heath try to cross a bridge and are overwhelmed by dust zombies). Using this technique did nothing to improve the storytelling, nor did it help us understand elements of the story in new ways. I have a feeling the episode used the non-linear narrative for no other reason than to sell the cheap fake-out moment at the end, where Tara is sure she sees zombie-Heath, only to learn it’s just a black lady with dreads.

This is a freshman storyteller’s trick to try and drum up an emotional response from a simple gimmick: we were shown the Heath segments throughout the episode, instead of just at the beginning, so that his presence on-screen would still be fresh in our minds when Tara saw the zombie who looks so much like Heath. If the show inter-cut scenes of Heath alive with the reveal scene of his zombie doppelganger, then why can’t the show take a similar approach with its larger character moments (like, say, reminding us of Tara before we forget about her)?

I also have a problem with Heath’s doppelganger zombie because A). it was the only walker on the bridge that wasn’t a dust zombie – further evidence that Gimple & Co. put it there for simple shock reasons, and B). seriously, The Walking Dead, not all black people look the same. Had the not-Heath-zombie not been wearing a dress, I would’ve been convinced it was him. At best, it’s a preposterous coincidence, and at worst, it’s racial ignorance. Again, I wouldn’t be quite as turned off by this if we hadn’t seen the show make many similar blunders in the past. Yes, in this instance, they didn’t actually kill off another black man, but they fooled us into thinking they did.

At this point, I’m pretty sure I know who the joke’s on.

Closing Thoughts

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

  • Though we spent little time with the women of Oceanside, we learned they had a fatal encounter with the Saviors at some point in the relatively recent past. Natanya’s story about their brutality was almost affecting, but it was more of the same. We’ve already seen Negan’s mean streak; hearing about it again, second-hand, didn’t work for me.
  • Speaking of hearing things again (and again), I rolled my eyes pretty hard when Heath talked to Tara about what it means to be a killer in the zombie apocalypse. We’ve heard this same story so many times throughout the course of the series that it has to be getting old even for Gimple. Right? Right???
  • Though I like the idea of an all-women enclave of survivors, I can’t help but see some pretty glaring similarities between this story element and a similar plot from the Sci-Fy channel show Z Nation. In a Season 1 episode called “Sisters of Mercy,” one of the female main characters is tempted to join the men-less group. I’m not saying The Walking Dead striaght-up ripped off another show, but I have no doubt Gimple & Co. were aware of the similarities and just said “screw it.” Z Nation may not have the budget or following that The Walking Dead has, but it has one thing in spades that TWD has never had: self-awareness. In other words, Z Nation has always – always – known exactly what kind of show it is, from tone to humor to emotional resonance. So yeah, The Walking Dead may not have stolen from Z Nation, but if it’s going to borrow so heavily, at least it could take a dose of that self-awareness, as well.

2/5 stars: Not much to admire here.

 

 

Entertainment

Donald Trump as Seen by Google’s Deep Dream

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THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

Last Summer, Google unleashed Deep Dream, their neural network that takes pictures and tries to identify patterns and overwrite them, on an unsuspecting public. When you put an image into Deep Dream, what you get when it “wakes up” is often nightmarish. Dogs, birds, insects, pagodas are inserted at random places in the image, giving it a surreal and sometimes beautiful–if terrifying–aspect.

So, since this election season is already off-the-charts surreal, I thought to myself, “What would it look like if we ran some candidates through Deep Dream?” Well, now I know.  I started with Donald Trump, who is already deeply weird and unsettling. The results are spectacular.

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Satire

From the MRA Evidence Archives: The Journal of a Normal, Average Feminist

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

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barbie doll head being gripped by dirty hands
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

 Tuesday July 5, 2016

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

Walked to work wearing my plunging crop top that says, “This is what a feminist looks like,” hot pants, and six-inch heels. Tossed my hair a lot and sexily chewed my lower lip. Dropped change so I could slowly bend over and pick it up. It took me about an hour to walk five blocks, which is standard.

Exceeded my catcall goal by seven, a personal best. Super flattering, of course, but will pretend to be terrified and make men feel bad about it with a bunch of tweets. That’ll show them.

Some dowdy librarian tried to help me with the change I kept dropping, and she got catcalled too! No one invades my catcalling turf. Slapped the books right out of her hands. Mostly by Hemingway, whom I both hate and would totally do if he were alive.

Arrived late per usual, but the boss didn’t say anything, just stared at my tits and gave me a pass. I had buttressed Bea Arthur and Jackie O in a push-up bra stuffed with the hard-earned cash of some beta male I cheated on. Good thinking.

By Friday I hope to a) screw my way to executive assistant, b) replace some poor slob who works really hard, or c) file a sexual harassment lawsuit. We’ll just see what the week brings, like whether or not the boss is a lesbian. Fingers crossed!

Spent the rest of the workday playing Candy Crush and convincing Dale from accounting to do everything for me. Stringing Dale along is why I keep coming in. It makes all the pretending to work worth it. I might boink him someday, but I want to see how low he’ll stoop for a bit of action.

I don’t get off on it per se, in so much that I don’t get off. Ever. At all. But I pretend that I could, just to make all the guys I’ve ever been with feel like losers. Watching them fumble and feel emasculated without pants is like Christmas – if I were to sleep with Santa and watch him fumble and feel emasculated without pants.

mens-rights-venn-diagram

Went to happy hour after work and didn’t pay a dime. Cosmos just appeared in front of me. Dumb guys just handed me cash for being hot, and I filled my bra until Bea Arthur and Jackie O ballooned up like the boobs of evil women on TV. My role models, natch.

Some dude wearing a huge, purple hat came up to me and said I looked like an uglier Angelina Jolie. He lifted his shirt to show that his torso was hard, rippling, and embroidered with diamonds so he had every right to tell me that. I hooked up with him in the men’s room. That’ll show him.

Went home and let loose a series of drunken, liar tweets about how hard my life is and how I want equality. Even inebriated, it’s important to keep my stilettoed foot on the neck of men everywhere. Those tweets and opinion pieces just skewer them. More powerful than the laws of God or man are the messages I hastily type with my thumbs.

A good Tuesday over all, but did not receive free coffee by sexily slow jamming my order. The barista must’ve taken the red pill.

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Food

Woman begs city council to bring back McRib

The McRib Shortage of ’15. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.” #mcrib #sheslovinit

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mcrib-woman

Well over a year ago a tragic event occurred: In the fall of 2015, the executives of McDonald’s made a grave decision, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. They decided that when the McRib was released that year it would… it would allow the regional managers to decide whether or not they would offer the McRib. As a result, a staggering 45 percent of McDonald’s locations elected not to offer the McRib. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.”

First off, shout out to Reader James from Lake Elsinore, CA for alerting us to the tale of hardship and heroism. You see, when Xanthe Pajarillo, a “McRib activist,” realized that none of the ten McDonald’s locations in her hometown of Santa Clarita would be offering the McRib, she did what any reasonable red-blooded American citizen would do. She brought the issue before the city council.

Now it is no secret that the McRib Shortage of ’15 nearly brought the nation to a standstill. In fact, if it weren’t for the release of a special McRib locator app, experts speculate that America would have ceased to exist as it does today. But amidst all of the rolling blackouts, the deaths, and the riots, we overlooked all of the smaller, personal tragedies that took place because of the cruel decision made by nearly half of McDonald’s regional managers.

In her impassioned plea to the Santa Clarita city council, Pajarillo explained just why the McRib meant so much to her and her family, and why the city council had to act in order to bring it back.

“The removal of the McRib from the menu has affected my family, because every Thanksgiving, my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget and like, 10 McRibs. It was like, a tradition in our family, and now it’s like—well, like my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken.”

Recently Pajarillo heroic speech before the city council has gone viral, gaining attention at the national stage across social media. Since that dramatic event, Pajarillo has continued to fight for the return of the McRib, even going so far as to release a song dubbed “The McRib Blues.” In it, she lays bare her soul and the souls of those like her to whom the McRib is more than just a barbecue pork sandwich, but is instead, a way of life.

There are those out there, deplorables who hardly deserve mention, that call her bravery nothing more than a stunt. Performance art holding up a mirror to America’s consumerism and obsession. However, others stand by the truth. Pajarillo is a hero, fighting for both a sandwich, but also for something more. Something ephemeral. That little piece of Americana that brings us all together. The McRib.

Fight on, brave warrior, fight on.

♪ Cause we have right to eat what we like, McRib is worth the fight ♪

Still can’t get enough of the McRib? Learn how a McRib is made, courtesy of BuzzFeed.

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