Emily Kinney carried the weight of this episode well. Smart callbacks to previous seasons throughout made us stop and think about what might have been.
Despite Kinney's good performance we still missed the rest of the cast. The new characters didn't quite feel rounded out.
The Walking Dead — When Beth (Emily Kinney) wakes alone in a hospital bed, it’s a definite nod to the series opener where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) wakes from his coma into the world that is The Walking Dead. Unlike the silent clock Rick finds in a room of decay, Beth finds herself in a place just the opposite. As the ticking clock echoes, the similarities end. Beth is in a world very different from the Rick. As she shouts for help through her locked hospital door, the sounds on the other side put her immediately on the defensive. Beth’s pleas are answered by the entrance of Officer Dawn Lerner (Christine Woods) and Dr. Steven Edwards (Erik Jensen). Hyper-aware of possible threats, Beth, holding her IV as a makeshift weapon, is assured that everything is okay. We don’t know about everyone else, but when a stranger on this show tells us it’s okay, it’s often decidedly not okay.
Dawn explains that Beth was rescued by her officers and brought to the hospital for treatment. Had she not been saved, Beth would now be a “rotter” like so many others. “You owe us,” Officer Dawn reminds her. As Beth is introduced to the odd, enclosed world of Grady Memorial Hospital in the heart of destroyed Atlanta, it becomes clear that despite the clean and safe confines, not all is what it seems. Everything has a price and nothing is free. How high the price goes may depend entirely upon how much of your soul you may be willing to sell in order to remain useful and stay alive. What is this world that Beth has found herself in? How have they survived in the heart of Atlanta? Who are these people and can they be trusted? With so many new characters and unanswered questions, let’s take the plunge into the secrets hiding in the shadowy underbelly of Grady Memorial in this weeks episode!
The devil hides his offers in the shadows and his price is steep.
As Dr. Edwards shows Beth the hospital, things are dramatically different from what we’re used to on The Walking Dead. Everything in Grady Memorial is tidy and neat. Clean floors, electrical power, hot meals, pristine police uniforms and even laundered clothes for everyone at the hospital all make Grady Memorial a reminder of the days before the apocalypse. But Officer Gorman (Cullen Moss) points out that none of it comes without a price. And everyone has a purpose.
When Dawn and her officers return with an unconscious stranger, tensions rise quickly after Dr. Edwards insists he doesn’t have the proper equipment to save the man. Insisting he try, Dawn reminds him “he” wanted to save people—and here is one to save. Dr. Edwards does what he can, but sternly reminds Dawn it’s a lost cause. Dawn turns and takes out her frustration in a vicious slap of Beth that shocked both of them and us too. Dawn apparently has some issues.
After a second, more violent incident, where a bitten resident, Joan (Keisha Castle-Hughes), is returned, the darkness of this place starts to bubble to the surface. We’re hit hard with the painful reminder of Hershel (Scott Wilson) as they remove Joan’s arm despite her bitter struggle to prevent it. We can only imagine that as vile as this moment was for us, it must have been worse for Beth. Not far removed from her father’s death, her hesitation to help could be understood. With Joan screaming that Dawn can’t control them and she won’t go back to him, we start to wonder what secrets Grady Memorial is hiding and why a woman might so vehemently refuse to be saved. Fantastic performances through this scene kept us riveted. It was a chilling sight to behold.
When a reeling Beth meets Noah (Tyler James Williams), who had secretly hidden a lollipop in her clean clothes, things start to make more sense. This place has made a choice, to bring in the meek and helpless as indentured servants. Those brought in, pay off their obligated debt by working, but to Noah’s knowledge, none have succeeded in getting out. He seems to see hope in Beth and shares a plan to leave as soon as he’s able. Until then, he’s biding his time.
“They think I’m scrawny. They think I’m weak. But they don’t know shit about me. About what I am. About what you are.” ~ Noah
Officer Gorman makes the stakes of indentured servitude in Grady Memorial very clear when he confronts Beth over the lollipop in a lewd and predatory sexual advance. We weren’t sure if we cringed more at his tone or his forcing Beth to taste the lollipop he’d just removed from his own mouth. Either way it appears the wards are expected to do whatever the officers want to make them happy. Had it not been for the interruption of Dr. Stevens, this encounter might have had a much more tragic ending. In Grady Memorial, the strong protect the weak, but the weak must submit in return—forced sexual favors included it would seem.
How easily could things have ended up exactly like this?
We all were wondering what compromises this place had made to stay so pristine. Dawn believes what she is doing is for a greater good. She’s rationalized that the end, justifies the means, however bad they are. She tells Beth this nightmare will end. And when it does, they have to be ready to return to the world. But unlike Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), Dawn has made dark choices that won’t and can’t bring about the same dream. How can you go back to normal once you’ve stood by and let evil thrive? It’s Joan that raises alarm bells in all of us when she finally wakes. Bitter and helpless, she lays it out.
“I guess it’s easy to make a deal with the devil, when you not the one paying the price.” ~ Joan
This entire episode was riddled with hints and throwbacks to our own group’s decisions. The results tell us in no uncertain terms how things could easily have gone differently. Dr. Stevens walks Beth to the roof to show her the devastation of the city and explains that the decisions of a good man cost them lives and Dawn took care of them. She took care of the good man too. We’re left to assume Dawn eliminated him.
We couldn’t help but think that in some ways Dawn reminded us of Shane (Jon Bernthal). What if Shane’s plan to eliminate Rick had succeeded? What if his ideals had won out? Would the perceived weak have found themselves at the mercy of the strong? That was already in danger of happening when Rick corrected the course. Instead of sharing medical knowledge as Hershel did, what if he had hoarded it and used it as leverage like Dr. Stevens? What if the teams that made routine runs didn’t share food and supplies with everyone freely? All are examples of decisions our group answered much differently and the differences highlight what has gone wrong at Grady Memorial. Dr. Stevens explains that Dawn, despite all this, kept them together and kept them alive.
“You call this living?” ~ Beth
“We’re still breathing. The patients we brought here, they’re still breathing. Outside these walls, alone, unprotected. They’d be dead. We’d be dead. We’re not the ones who make it. As bad as it gets, it’s still better than down there.” ~ Dr. Stevens.
But Michonne was right. Surviving day-to-day only hoping to make it to the next isn’t living. It’s not enough just to be breathing. You have to keep part of your humanity, mourn those you’ve lost, celebrate those around you and embrace those you love. The writing team did a beautiful job of weaving in all these points touched upon in so many places to answer so many “what if” questions in our minds.
It could have been any character that found themselves in this situation, but Beth was the only one that could have endured this anti-story with the reserve and innocence that allowed it too play out as slowly and as well as it did. Anyone else in the group would have been—too strong and a threat. The writing team knew very well that Beth would let things simmer, bide her time and look to silently escape when she realized the atrocities around her.
It’s nobody’s fault but mine.
Dr. Stevens asks Beth to give the new patient, Mr. Gavin Trevitt (Timothy Scott) his next dose of Clozapine, and doing her part, Beth follows his instructions. When Trevitt seizes and dies, Noah steps in and covers for her to take the blame from an angry Dawn. Beth pleads with Dr. Stevens that she gave him what she was instructed, but when he asks her if she gave him Clonazepam, she repeats back Clozapine. You said Clozapine she insists. No, he didn’t, he tells her. Beth is left confused and horrified hearing Noah being beaten in the background. Dawn confronts Beth afterward and admits she knows Noah lied. Angry, Beth demands to know why she’d do such a thing.
“Every sacrifice we make needs to be for the greater good. The second it isn’t, the second we lose sight of that, it’s all over. The thing is, you’re not the greater good.” ~ Dawn
The deeper Dawn’s rationalization for concessions sinks, the more we realize how much the lines of good and evil have blurred in this place. As Dawn continues to hammer away at her rhetoric and emphasize just how little Beth is worth out in the world, we cringed.
Seeing no end that’s good, Beth and Noah hatch a plan of escape. Beth slips into Dawn’s office to get the elevator access key. As she’s searching, she makes two more disturbing finds. The body of Joan, who has committed suicide as a trap and the wallet of Dr. Gavin Trevitt. Before Beth can process these, she’s confronted by Gorman. This time, he’s got the drop on her doing something she shouldn’t and he’s looking to trade sex for silence. We’ll hand it to Beth, she reacted faster than we would and it was fitting she cracked his head with the jar of lollipops. Gorman may have been a one-dimensional sleazy character, but that didn’t prevent from us rejoicing that he deserved what he got. As he falls and is grabbed by Joan, Beth escapes.
Amidst the yelling and screaming behind them, Noah and Beth make a harrowing trip down the elevator shaft and onto the pile of bodies at the bottom. We must be somewhat desensitized to the horrors of this show because, as horrific as that looked, it honestly didn’t phase us as they landed softly on the mutilated bodies and moved on. As walkers surround them outside, Noah breaks free, but Beth is stopped by hospital officers. We had a little smile just as triumphant as Beth’s watching Noah slip out of the gate to freedom. She had a small victory, even if she didn’t make it out too.
Confronted by Dawn, Beth finally vents her frustration. Calling Dawn out for letting the abuse go on as “part of the greater good” probably felt right, but the beating afterward only fueled Beth’s contempt. Dawn’s fits of remorse and then violence were shocking for sure, but they lacked the charisma and depth of other villains of this show. True, in Dawn’s eyes she’d likely label herself a hero for having saved so many. But to what end? We would have liked to see her fleshed out a bit more and the reveal of what is happening under her watch at Grady’s take a bit longer to play out. But we understand that a two-episode arc wasn’t possible for this story to get this far. Christine Woods did an admirable job, but Dawn deserved more than a few scenes to let her complexity show through. There’s more to tell and we’re hoping that the following episodes help us see deeper into Dawn so that she’s less one-dimensional than she is now.
Through all this, Beth did realize she is stronger than she thought and when pushed she may find out just how much. Emily Kinney handled the weight of the entire episode well. Beth is at times a timid character and some moments of pause or hesitating might have felt weird from someone else, but they felt right for Beth. As Dr. Edwards tended her newest wounds, she confronted him with Dr. Trevitt’s death. She knew Dr. Stevens had set her up and used her to kill Trevitt to protect his position. Dr. Stevens admitted it and trembled that he didn’t have a choice. They’d kick him out or kill him. Beth calmly finished his sentence and we saw some of the timid leave her in that moment.
“Use everything you can use.” ~ Beth
A fitting music choice playing in the background echoed the sentiment that summed up all the wrongs of Grady Memorial. All their own choices had led them to where they were. Every little compromise, blind eye turned and moment stood in silence while wrongs happened echoed in the lyrics.. “Ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.”
FINAL VERDICT: A solid, enjoyable, yet risky episode that has potential to pay off big in the long run with themes that counter almost every decision our group has made.
It was a risky move by the writing team to focus a single episode only on Beth. Not that Emily Kinney isn’t deserving. Every fan of The Walking Dead would tell you in a second they wanted desperately to know Beth’s fate, but many would say they’d rather not exclude the rest of the cast to find out. Oddly enough, this didn’t feel like a different show even without everyone else. That’s a testament to the skill of the writing and production teams to give this episode a tone that felt very familiar even in new surroundings. It felt very much like we were in the world of The Walking Dead.
Writer Matthew Negrete did a masterful job of tacking a tall task. He had to build an entire episode of completely new characters and a completely foreign environment that still felt like this world. The dialogue, the choices and the moments all fit. We would have loved to see things take longer to develop here so that everything had a bit more time to percolate, but we also understand the limitations of a 16 episode season. There’s only so much room for things like that, but we have some faith that future episodes will dig deeper into these characters and why they’ve made the choices they have.
Director Michael E. Satrazemis did an excellent job of pulling together a completely different cast in a familiar world. He pulled out some chilling moments between Gorman and Beth and the introspective ones between Dr. Stevens and Beth worked well also. Like Dawn, Dr. Stevens didn’t quite seem like he was as fleshed as we’d like. That’s not a knock on Erik Jensen’s performance as much as it is an indictment of the short format they had to work within. We were unsure of Dr. Stevens for a long time and clearly he’s capable of deception. The moment where that played out was probably Jensen’s best work of the episode. He played it well enough to fool Beth and us too. Hopefully he too will get fleshed out a bit more as the season continues.
Dr. Stevens may have also helped Beth realize something she’d lost. Her will to sing and to care. A world where those things of beauty don’t seem to have a place, is exactly the world where those things are needed most. The painting brought up the question of art’s place in this world.
“It doesn’t have a place anymore. Art isn’t about survival. It’s about transcendence. Being more than animals. Rising above.”~ Dr. Stevens
We couldn’t help but feel that Beth would be the one person of the group that would have rejected that idea the most. That’s a bit her Hershel coming out. His optimistic view that better exist and holding on to the good in life is worth it because if you don’t—what have you got left of yourself? As Dr. Stevens compared himself to St. Peter in the painting at the end, who he said also didn’t have a choice but to deny Christ, Beth seemed unimpressed that he would justify his inaction based on someone filled with regret from it. Peter spent his entire life atoning for that moment. Would Dr. Stevens? He may turn in the end, but as of now, he’s compromised himself just as much as the others by turning a blind eye.
Bringing things full circle, Bob told Rick on his deathbed, that he took people in and that was a pivotal moment for Rick. He knew he’d been a good man to many despite what had to happen in the church with Gabriel (Andrew J. West). Abraham’s (Michael Cudlitz) scribbled note certainly highlighted it as well—the new world is going to need people like Rick Grimes—because there are far too many that have compromised their sense of right or wrong. We believe in Rick. With Carol (Melissa McBride) entering Grady at the very end unconscious and on a gurney, we know Beth won’t be leaving without her. Grady Memorial might want to just look at the flowers when she wakes. Carol is no longer one to be trifled with at all. We’ll certainly be watching next week to see if the group can get Beth back to where she belongs and who will pay the price for it when they do!
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My reaction on Twitter…
- In the series opener, the clock rick sees is stopped at 2:17. Beth’s running clock is at 5:17 and counting. Just three hours later by the clock.
- Generally in this world, when someone says .. Everything’s okay—it’s most certainly NOT @emmykinney
- “You owe us.” ~ Dawn. I don’t like the way that was said .. one bit. @emmykinney
- Make sure you “show signs of improvement” Beth! @emmykinney
- “Everything costs something.” ~ Gorman. That’s a philosophy that’s going to be trouble I believe.
- And how does that being a “waste of resources” have anything to do with smacking our BETH! #BitchCop has issues.
- Is it just me or would Daryl (Norman Reedus) have decked the #BitchCop for that slap? @emmykinney @wwwbigbaldhead
- We all have ways of making her pay. This is seriously effed up. Something is NOT right.
- “You can’t control them.” ~ Joanne. What the f*ck does that mean?? Control who??
- They could only save one. I get it, he was larger, a threat. That’s a brutal strategy. What’s REALLY going on here.
- “She can control them. But she doesn’t because it’s easier.” ~ Noah. What??
- “I guess it’s easier to make a deal with the devil when you’re not the one paying the price.” ~ Joan. Something massively OFF here.
- Is anyone else bothered by the car w/the cross driven by the icky cop that “got up” Beth’s thigh second? #NotVeryChristian
- “Suppose you could have a taste. See if it rings any bell.” ~ Gorman. Okay, Daryl would KILL him for that
- Someone is completely going to die before this is over. No one forces his lollypop into Beth and lives. @emmykinney
- “A good man’s mistakes almost ended things.” ~ Dawn. So now we do things the “evil” way?
- “The wards keep my officers happy.” ~ Dawn. Oh sh*t .. the evil comes out.
- Oooo. Nice callback to S2 with the suicide attempt. Sucks .. but that was a nice callback from the writing team.
- lol Nice cover of the “F” scratched on the floor.
- I do believe that icky, creepy, sick son of a bitch just got his due.
- Like I said. No one forces his lollipop into Beth and lives. Nuff said.
- Oh hell yes! Beth just sprung an “office walker trap” on their asses.
- Oops. Wrong floor Noah. Note to self. Squishy walker bodies make for a soft landing. But .. ick.
- Oohh. Beth just called your ass out doc. “Use everything you can use.” ~ Beth. Damn. That’s heavy.
- With Carol there, Beth’s not going anywhere now. WTF? Guess that story is still to come.
The Walking Dead Review: Episode 5×04 “Slabtown”