With only a handful of episodes left in its sixth season, The Walking Dead just unleashed its worst episode in ages. The show has probably produced worse episodes than this (though I can't think of one off the top of my head), but it hasn't aired one quite this bad since before Scott M. Gimple took over as showrunner back at the start of season four.
On the one hand, that's a testament to what a fine job Gimple has done in keeping this particular ship steady. On the other, it's a testament to how much "Twice as Far" bites off and then completely fails to even begin to chew.
"Twice as Far" combines a bunch of different issues that all but ensure it will be a bad episode, and it unleashes them all within the same hour of TV. Here are just some of its many problems.
1) It's a piece-moving episode
All serialized dramas need piece-moving episodes.
Put briefly, they're the episodes where the writers get the characters from point A to point B, usually because they need them at point B for whatever major events are about to unfold. Instead of moving the pieces steadily, the show will suddenly pick them up and deposit them elsewhere, just to be done with it.
Now, as mentioned, even the very best serialized shows will employ a piece-moving episode from time to time. And they're almost never those shows' finest hours, because they often feel rushed and because the characters often end up doing things that don't feel particularly germane to who they are.
But in "Twice as Far," The Walking Dead marries the piece-moving episode to an episode where pretty much nothing happens; the writers spend roughly half the episode screwing around and the other half hurriedly getting people where they need to be for the season's final two episodes.
By the time Carol is deciding to leave Alexandria in voiceover, you'll be completely baffled as to how the episode went so wrong, so quickly. Which brings me to point two.
2) The episode tells instead of shows
Carol leaving Alexandria is a perfect example of telling instead of showing. When last week's "The Same Boat" strained to suggest that Carol had lost any of her tolerance for killing others, it leaned heavily on Melissa McBride's performance, and it mostly got away with it, too, thanks to how good of an actress she is. I only really quibbled with the arc after the episode was over.
But Carol's relationship with Tobin, when the two shared all of maybe three minutes of screen time, is a good example of how "Twice as Far" frantically just tells us a bunch of stuff it probably should have shown us. So much of Carol's character development got swept under the rug in the midst of the time jump between episodes eight and nine that it's hard to connect with how sad her decision to leave has apparently made Tobin.
And "Twice as Far" is full of moments like that on a smaller level, too. Eugene decides to make bullets, telling Abraham only after he's made that decision. There are even more abrupt declarations of intent when it comes to Denise's desire to leave Alexandria and see the world, in search of better drugs. Any one of these things in and of itself might not have been a deal breaker, but all of them together just make the episode feel lazy.
3) Denise's death is like a parody of bad death scenes
Denise doesn't just die. She dies in the middle of a speech about how precious life is. And, yes, The Walking Dead kills lots of characters, and it has lots of weird death scenes, but I don't think it's ever produced one as predictable or corny as this.
The second Denise found that can of Orange Crush, then launched into her speech, I knew she was a goner. And a few seconds later, she had a crossbow bolt through her eye.
On some level, I think Denise's death is meant to be the grim correction to the sunnier worldview most Alexandrians hold. "Things can only get better from here!" she seems to say, before she's immediately killed. I can buy Denise making that speech, and I can imagine a version of the scene that plays as darkly humorous.
But this one was not. It felt like The Walking Dead was trying to play the whole thing straight, or find the tragedy in it or something. And this is to say nothing of Denise's desire to leave the Alexandria safe zone as part of a poorly expressed goal that just came up for the first time in this episode. (See points 1 and 2.)
I never for a moment believed that a highly in-demand actress like Merritt Wever would survive an entire season on this show, but if it needed to kill off Denise, it surely could have found something more resonant than this.
4) The action sequence is impossible to follow
I've harped on this before, while reviewing a much better episode than this one, but when it comes to human-against-human action scenes, The Walking Dead has become all but impossible to follow. I might give the series points if it were trying to convey the chaos of war, but I don't think it is.
The battle in "Twice as Far" erupts between our little band of survivors and a group led by Dwight, the guy who took Daryl's crossbow and bike way back in the season's first half. (I had all but forgotten about him.) Dwight sure seems like he's aligned with the Saviors, but I also sort of don't care who he's working with.
The action sequence that plays out between the two groups is a mess, jumping randomly between both sides firing at each other, with occasional cutaways to, say, Eugene biting Dwight's penis through his jeans. (Yes, he somehow manages this.) It never settles down long enough to make any damn sense.
5) It all feels like the series reaching for something it can't hope to grasp
The one thing that saves "Twice as Far" for me is that The Walking Dead really is trying to do something new. When it ends with Carol's letter to Tobin, read in voiceover, while the town slowly prepares for the inevitable Savior invasion, you can sort of picture the super-poignant version of this episode that might leave viewers in tears over the impending destruction.
But after all the curious decisions discussed above, I was left feeling as if "Twice as Far" were the result of The Walking Dead trying to stage a dinner theater production of Rectify, Sundance's brilliant Southern gothic series about a convict who is set free from death row after 19 years. Like this episode, Rectify is ruminative to a fault. Unlike this episode, its ruminations are very much of a piece with the whole, instead of arriving from out of left field.
And, look, The Walking Dead needs to keep trying new things if it's going to avoid becoming stagnant. For as much as "Twice as Far" didn't work for me, I still appreciate that it did something different. And if the two remaining episodes of season six are great, "Twice as Far" will just be a weird installment that aimed for something it couldn't quite pull off.
But maybe you liked this one? Tell me about it in comments.
I'll be by at noon Eastern to chat with you folks and answer any pop culture-related questions you might have. And why don't you answer my question as well: What's an episode you hate from a show you love? You can find my answer in the comments.