The Walking Dead S06E02 “JSS” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: FOX, Mondays, 9pm
Writers: Seth Hoffman
Director: Jennifer Lynch
Essential Plot Points:
- We see an SUV, with a couple in it trying to work out how to fix the engine. Enid is in the back and scream when a pair of Walkers appear. Her parents reassure her but then more arrive. The camera smash-cuts to End, in the back of the car, watching the Walkers feed.
- We see Enid cowering, Walkers nearby. She writes JSS.
- We see her kill her first zombie and hide out in a new car. She writes JSS on the window.
- We see her find a tortoise and eat it raw, desperate to survive.
- We see her, filthy, exhausted and stunned by the sound of celebration coming from inside Alexandria.
- We see the gates open, Enid walks in. JSS written on her hand.
- In the present day we check in on the team who didn’t go to the quarry. Maggie helps Deanna lay out some new land for the vegetable gardens, and come to terms with the death of Reg. Carl finds himself increasingly jealous of Enid and Ron’s relationship while Ron rejects any attempt by his mother to talk about the death of his father. Elsewhere, Gabriel persuades Carl to teach him to fight and Carol cements her status as most terrifying housewife in Alexandria. She watches a neighbour, who she chastised into smoking outside, have a fag in the garden…
- Then she watches the woman cut down by a filthy, machete-wielding attacker. The Wolves have arrived.
- Across town, battle breaks out. Carol disguises herself as a wolf and heads to defend the armoury. Nearby new town doctor Denise gets the single worst first day anyone could possibly imagine. Carl and Enid stand guard over the baby while nearby Morgan rescues Father Gabriel. Countless Alexandrians fall and some can’t take the horror of the battle. The mystery of the truck horn from last week is solved when the Wolves use a zombie tied into a truck to smash through the walls of the town.
- Ultimately, thanks to Carol’s ruthless quick thinking, the Wolves are seen off. Along the way, Morgan and Carol clash over the necessity of murder and both find themselves on the other’s side. Carol finds a quiet moment to break down after the loss of her neighbour and her having to euthanise another. Morgan encounters the Wolf he met last season and, finally, realises he has to kill the man.
- While cleaning up, Aaron finds his pack on a dead Wolf and realises, to his horror, they found the town because of him…
Bloody hell. Again.
Lynch’s direction is amongst the best I’ve seen on this show, or any other. She constantly gives us a sense of the scale of the assault, but never lets us lose sight of the human cost of it. The abrupt butchery of Carol’s neighbour is one of the show’s most horrific moments but it’s Carol ending the life of the other woman that stays with both you, and her. It’s a single, quiet, awful moment of mercy in the middle of endless brutality and horror. It may not have broken Carol any more than she already is, but it’s a wound she’ll carry for a good long time. The emotional impact that has all comes from Lynch’s clever, subtle framing of the woman’s final moments.
There are many similar examples throughout the episode. Lynch is happy to lock her camera off and show events at multiple depths of field instead of running after everything like a Bourne movie on a sugar rush. It’s the best possible approach to Hoffman’s script and gives everything a measured, relentless, apocalyptic weight that neatly matches the flashback structure from last week. This season is two for two on experimentation and massive success. I honestly think they could pull off a musical episode at this point. Although the odds of it being all Nick Cave, all the time, are pretty high.
On the other side of the ethical divide from Carol the Doombringer, is Morgan though he’s having a similarly terrible week. It would have been easy for the show to set him up as a stereotypical pacifistic asskicker but it’s going somewhere much more fun. Morgan is in many ways the ultimate expression of Tyreese’s closing episodes; a man who refuses to kill but is prepared, reluctantly, to compromise if he has to. Director Lynch and writer Hoffman cleverly use the two fights in which Morgan is involved here to show us how he’s changing. The four-on-one with the Wolves where he scares them off plays like a father scolding children. Yes he’s phenomenally gifted with the staff (and judging by how many close-ups we get, most of that’s Lennie James) but he’s also making a little more noise than he should. Working as hard as possible to show them mercy.
The fight in the house at the end couldn’t be more different. It’s ugly, scrappy, up close and personal stuff that sees Morgan confronted with the very real consequences of his choices. It also sees him not so much cross a line as define one. Everyone gets a second chance with Morgan but, judging by this episode, no one gets a third. Regardless, he’s the only person hurt worse than Carol by the consequences of the Wolf attack and I can’t wait to see both more of that and more of those two working together.
Morgan and Carol get the majority of the heavy lifting this episode, although we get some good stuff with Maggie, Eugene, Tara and new character, Denise. Those last three in particular are an interesting study in how smart Hoffman’s script and Lynch’s direction both are. As well as cutting from moments of brutality to moments of silence, neither let these characters off the hook. Denise is a sweet, nervous, not-quite doctor on her first day. She’s terrified of losing people. She’s in the middle of a war. She loses people and she is really not okay with it. There’s no calm, no moment of sympathy, just her, Eugene, Tara and a dead woman. Tara’s final line to her, reminding her to destroy the brain of her dead patient, is a perfect embodiment of this show and this season in particular. It’s not bitchy or mean, it’s just a truth that the Alexandrians haven’t learnt and Rick’s people have; just survive, somehow.
Which brings us to Enid, and that incredible opening scene. Lynch and Hoffman fire on all cylinders throughout this episode but that opening is staggering. Katelyn Nacon’s work is haunting; her gradual slide into traumatised survival machine is another perfect embodiment of who the “walking dead” on the show really are. Even better, the episode leaves us with some chilling ambiguity about whether or not she led the wolves in. We see Aaron’s pack on a Wolf body but Enid’s “That’s how we…” line implies a lot.
It also shows just how great this episode is. There’s no resolution to last week at all, a second equally massive plot has been put in motion and we’ve got Alexandria rung like a bell by the incredible trauma they’ve all gone through. The only closure here is that the battle has been won. The war is another story and one that, if it’s delivered as well as the first two episodes have been, will be unforgettable.
- “Your dad used to hit you and he got himself killed. It happened. You live with it or it eats you up.” Carol, ultimate tough love auntie is just the best thing.
- “Everyone that’s here is here because of you. You need to show ’em you’re still here.” Lauren Cohan’s one of a couple of characters who’ve been given short shrift recently so this was really nice to see. It’s one of Rick’s people coming in from the cold, and shows the natural authority they have that the Alexandrians don’t. Plus it’s a really sweet tribute to Maggie’s dad.
- “Thumpers shouldn’t get dibs.” Eugene! All kids love Eugene! No one else does, but hey it’s still a great line.
- “You’re my first patient, and with that symptom I’m pretty sure I can’t kill you.” Thanks, Doc. Not only is Denise immensely good fun, and clearly one of the few competent and fairly together Alexandrians but she’s played by Merit Weaver. Weaver wins this week’s Cast Member In Cult Movie You Should See award thanks to her role in the excellent Series 7: The Contenders about a reality TV show based around competitive murder. She’s also appeared in movies like Michael Clayton and Birdman and had a recurrent role in Nurse Jackie for which she won an Emmy. Oh and she’s brilliant as Matt Albie’s endlessly competent, put upon assistance in the overlooked Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip.
- “Come by around three – we’ll start with the machete.” Chandler Riggs is another cast member who hasn’t had much to do recently but he’s on great form this week especially in this scene with Gabriel. It’s interesting too that Carl is so like his dad in mannerism but prepared to make exactly the opposite call to Rick with regards to Gabriel.
- Nothing. Seriously. From the clever business with Carol’s baking timer to the careful use of soundscape the episode was directed, scripted and acted incredibly well. Right now this is a show at the top of its game.
- So is Enid a spy? The “JUST SURVIVE, SOMEHOW” note could certainly be viewed as a confession of sorts.
- Apparently Morgan learned his staff fighting skills from a “cheesemaker”. That Morgan flashback episode on deck for later this season honestly cannot turn up fast enough for me. (I wondered if it was a Monty Python reference – as in “Blessed are the cheesemakers” – because he was talking to a priest at the time and was just being sarcastic – ed.)
- WHAT ABOUT THE HORDE?!
- Carol’s unlucky neighbour smokes Morley’s, a fake brand that appear in numerous TV shows and films. Notable appearances include Psycho, Warehouse 13 and The X-Files in which, of course, they’re the favoured brand of the Cigarette Smoking Man.
- It’s a shot of the week triple crown this week. The first is this shot of Enid, exhausted, traumatised and almost unable to face the idea of safety.
- The second is this shot of the worst day in the town’s history. The bike, the blood, the running man. All wrong, all horrifying.
- And the last is this gloriously framed ambush. Lynch is an amazing director and I really hope, after this and her work on “Spend” in season five the show has her back.
Reviewed by Alasdair Stuart