For series with a fairly high concept and only six episodes to fill out the first season, the season finale of The Walking Dead was bound to be at least partially unsatisfying. There’s just not enough time to introduce the concept, the characters and really make the audience feel (especially those who aren’t familiar with the comic) connect to both. The last two episodes have nearly gotten there, but it’s frankly too difficult to pull everything together and add some semblance of makeshift finale-ness or closure all in one episode.
Thus, I can’t really knock “TS-19” too much for its overheated pacing or a few stumbling character moments. It shouldn’t have had to serve as a finale, but it did and there’s enough here for the series to hang its hat on moving into next season.
Introducing the CDC building and Noah Emmerich’s character last episode was an apparent deviation from the comics, one that had a lot of people talking. And despite a number of great moments for Emmerich’s Dr. Jenner, the whole CDC plot gets burned through very quickly in this episode. The survivors barely have more than 10-12 minutes of screen-time where they seem at least somewhat comfortable before everything starts to unravel and they have to plot their escape. While I think the intention is to show us that the survivors are never comfortable and that will never change, it seems like if this were even an eight episode season, the CDC arc could have sustained multiple episodes. Instead, by the time this episode is over, both the building and Emmerich’s Jenner are gone.
This conclusion brings mixed results. On one hand, like I said, introducing a semblance of hope and then quickly ripping it away seems to really hammer home that this is a seriously f’ed up situation that no one can fix, that no one has found a cure for and that doesn’t look to end at any time in the near future. It’s a grim note to leave the season on, but an important one.
On the other hand, the CDC location seemed to pull out some very, very interesting character moments for all sorts of people. First, the group got drunk together, which was just a fun scene of camaraderie — much like a Lost campfire sequence or something — and reveled in the greatness of power, hot water and other basic amenities, but then things got really interesting. The alcohol makes people do stupid things. Shane gets really, really drunk and decides to make Lori recognize all the great things he’s done for her and Carl, but it quickly turns rough when his awful side shows itself one more time when he forces himself upon her. Meanwhile, when Rick drinks, it apparently makes him spout the truth and get all introspective, as he confesses to Jenner that he can’t be the positive leader all the time when there just isn’t any hope. Both of these scenes feature great work from Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal and Sarah Wayne Callies, probably some of their best all season.
The CDC building serves as a nice example of what happens between these people even when they’re “safe,” which is, a whole lot of the same stuff. Shane is still messed up, Lori is scared and Rick still seems to be struggling with the insanity of it all. And when some of that comes out in the group-wide setting, especially Rick’s indecision and fear, there should be a whole lot of backdraft for group dynamics. And keeping the survivors locked up in an underground facility sure would have been a nice way to let those tensions and fears continue to bubble up, again, had this been a longer season.
However, that’s all gone now, replaced with a big, burning pile of rubble — a poorly CG’ed one I might add — and now the crew is back to facing the unknown with the knowledge that they are basically screwed. In that respect, “TS-19” serves as a nice springboard for what is surely going to be an exciting season two. It’s not the best conclusion to one hell of a short season that sometimes struggled to make definable, likable characters, but it’ll get the job done I guess.