It was bound to happen eventually—The Walking Dead: World Beyond finally aired an episode that didn’t feel like a misfire! After three straight episodes filled with strained character development and clunky storytelling, it was a relief to get an episode that just felt like a reasonably paced and moderately tense installment of this wobbly series. True, this is grading on a curve; it didn’t exactly light a fire of intensity under its audience, and there were more than a few moments of odd stylistic choices and hoary character exchanges that even grade-school kids would find a bit simplistic, but in comparison to the groan-inducing dialogue that has been hampering it from the start, this fourth entry in season one finally felt like it had some momentum.
“The Wrong End Of A Telescope” is mostly free of the exposition that’s bogged down World Beyond. For some reason, this series can’t figure out how to present expository backstory in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned in, so the fact that most of the conversations happening during the course of this waystop remained focused on the here-and-now went a long way towards keeping it from foundering. And just as importantly, there were a few confrontations with empties (and one less successful one with a wolf) that were smartly and suspensefully executed, a nice reminder that a show set in the zombie apocalypse should strive for a tone that’s actually, you know, apocalyptic.
The group is running low on supplies, so they journey into an old high school to scavenge for food (and clothes for Hope, who is apparently running low). Splitting into three groups, they search the school, with Huck and Hope finding food, Elton and Felix finding some iodine and other useful items, and Iris and Silas...waltzing in the gym and then almost getting themselves killed. One of these groups is not like the others! Still, by the end, they’ve got what they need—and Felix got what he wanted, which is to drive a wedge between Elton and the others, convincing the younger boy that it might be in his best interest to help steer the others back to the university. Boy, Felix is going to be a bit put out when he realizes everyone’s dead and the colony’s been razed, huh.
Iris and Silas’ story managed to be the strongest section of the episode. While it had some eye-rolling moments, like the Sadie Hawkins dance coming to life around them while they waltzed, it also allowed these two characters to talk like actual teens, instead of the weird facsimiles of kids they’ve been coming across as up until now. Iris’ explanation of the time she’s wasted felt honest, rather than forced, and Silas’ open discussion of how people talked about him finally got some of those issues out in the open in a reasonable way, rather than continuing to clumsily tiptoe around them. Plus, when they escaped downstairs (that banging on the air vents seemed way too aggressive to be an empty, but I’m not sure what else it could’ve been—another wolf?), it finally led to a situation where Silas killed a zombie with full clarity and seemed okay. True, he immediately followed it up by losing control and pummeling the face of another undead into mush, but the first kill suggests he might be able to keep it together long enough to work through his issues about violence before it gets him—or someone else—killed.
Huck and Hope, by contrast, don’t really make much progress; if anything, their relationship takes a step back, as the teen immediately calls out Huck for trying to get her to turn back and go home. (Felix and Huck might want to do some reading up on the concept of subtlety, as they are both absolute garbage at it.) Far more potent are the flashback scenes with Hope and her father, finally revealing some of that familial bond that kept being talked about with nothing to show. Her dad is refreshingly imperfect, distracted by his work and missing cues from his daughter. At the same time, he’s still a solid parent, stressing his unconditional love for her and assuring Hope that his decision to go work with the Civic Republic had nothing to do with her bad behavior. “I’ll be better. I’ll stop being a screwup,” she impulsively blurts out, tears in her eyes, and for the first time, my heart broke a little for the character. A touch of this earlier on would have gone a long way toward explaining Hope.
Felix and Elton, though, make for an unenlightening pair. While Felix learns the same things we already knew about Elton, the only thing the audience gets is frustration, in the form of yet another teased-out hint at a trauma in a teenager’s past. The sounds from an empty trapped in a locker trigger a flashback to some years-before moment when Elton was stuck in a similar situation, because god knows this show will never pass up the opportunity to treat character as a mystery box, rather than a quality that informs the storytelling. (See also: Hope’s dad saying there’s some big important news about her that he can’t wait to tell her, news that could alter her very understanding of herself—then brushes it off, saying he’ll tell her when he gets back. Give me a fucking break.) The scare gives Felix the opening he needs to sow doubt about their mission in Elton’s head, and honestly, Felix isn’t wrong: Every reason he gives why the four of them should turn around makes complete sense.
But since this series is called World Beyond, that’s probably not happening. It will be interesting to see if, by the time they arrive in Omaha, word of what happened at the university will have reached that city. It would certainly force Felix and Huck to reevaluate their situation, and give a renewed sense of determination to the mission that could conceivably unite the group. Regardless, this installment felt worthwhile in a way the others haven’t yet (credit where credit’s due to writer Sinead Daly and director Rachel Leiterman), briskly watchable and indicative of how the series could balance its serialized narrative with one-off adventures. Here’s hoping it keeps improving.
- I have to say, it was weird how the episode set up a horror-style premise and then never paid it off. The empty dragged back into a classroom by some unknown force, the roomful of dismembered empties, Felix’s “Whatever did this might not be alone,” the pounding on the gym air vent...and then it just fizzled into Silas beating up some empties in the basement.
- Iris gets to try soda from a can. “Holy shit, that’s good.”
- Unintentional laughter moment: When the wolf traps Huck and Hope in the classroom, and then Huck, marshaling her worldly experience, says she just might know a trick about how to get past it, which turns out to be....walking very slowly past it.
- Silas lighting the flare in the basement was basically announcing, “Okay, horror scene time!” And I’m here for it.
- Similarly, I enjoyed Iris and Silas turning after fleeing from the empties and locking the door behind them, with a spritely, “I’m ok. You?” “Mm-hmmm! ...We should get out of here.”
- Weirdly, this was basically just a more successful version of the exact same story they told last episode, with Silas proving his mettle while fearing they should leave him behind, until Iris reassures him that he’s part of the team and all is well.