With only one episode left in the season, it’s clear that earlier speculation has now become fact: we aren’t dealing with Terminus until the finale. The back half of the fourth season has been given over to character vignettes, and it’s a sign in the show’s favor that this hasn’t been completely fucking agonizing. Whatever you think of last week’s episode, at least it was a coherent, directed attempt at storytelling, and there have been an number of hours over the past couple of months which have managed effective, even memorable, vignettes. Those vignettes don’t always have much to do with moving any kind of story forward, but they have done solid work in establishing character, so that when the next big crisis comes, we’ll have a reason to care what happens to these walking targets. Outside of the occasional murderous child, there’ve been few big shocking twists or deaths. Just a lot of conversation, mood-setting, and the occasional music montage. It’s sort of meat-and-potatoes storytelling-wise, but it worked.
“Us” is in that same vein, but since we’re nearly at our destination, it’s time to push some pieces around on the board. Glenn and Maggie are finally reunited; Eugene guides Abraham and Rosita to ultimately join in the hunt for Terminus; and Daryl falls deeper into the clutches of Joe (character actor Jeff Kobor, getting more to do here than he’s had in the past two seasons of Sons Of Anarchy) and his gang of dirtbags. Oh, and Rick, Carl, and Michonne pop up briefly to remind us they’re still on the move, and to give Carl a chance to drop a candy bar wrapper that Daryl and the others will pass later without noticing.
More than anything, this one felt like a breather after all the misery of last week. Glenn and Maggie finding each other was the biggest moment before the final scene, and in retrospect, all their reunion really did was underscore how minor their separation has been in the grand scheme of things. After all their desperation and passion, they’ve only been without one another for, what, five episodes? Six? Can’t be much more than that, and while I don’t doubt their love for one another, it’s a little embarrassing when you realize just how much the two have worked to bend the lives of those around them to their needs. Because Glenn has love, he can justify going into a dark, scary, zombie-infested tunnel, even if that means risking Tara’s life. I mean, sure, Tara can make her own decisions, but given that she’s demonstrated multiple times already that she’s willing to sacrifice herself if it means getting Glenn where he needs to be, then it’s hard not to think Glenn should feel at least a little responsibility for her. Tara was with the Governor when he attacked the prison, but her guilt has locked her into a course of action which only Glenn can really mitigate.
Basically, the problem isn’t that Glenn goes into the Tunnel Of Death, because the risk is an unknown factor; the problem is that, after seeing a horde of walkers approaching, he’s still determined to push forward, even through almost certain death. Apparently he believes that having love on his side justifies anything, even selfishness, and while he redeems himself a little by staying by Tara’s side after she gets caught, it would’ve been nice if his Ahab-esque behavior wasn’t immediately rewarded by the sudden appearance of his beloved.
But hey, it is undeniably nice to see Glenn and Maggie together again. They are defined by their love for each other at this point, so at least now, they’ll actually listen to something like reason when other people try and offer counsel. And hey, their group winds up at Terminus in the end, and it’s a quiet place. Eerily quiet, really. The presence of Denise Crosby as Mary does not offer a whole lot of comfort, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Waiting and seeing is apparently Daryl’s approach to his newfound buddies, although in this case, the negatives are a lot more obvious. All of Daryl’s chats with Beth’s about his past life now appear to be an attempt to justify his decision to hang out with a gang of murderous assholes—he doesn’t think he deserves any better, and there’s even a chance that Joe’s surface friendliness (combined with the steel underneath) is appealing to him, in a sort of “I need someone to tell me what to do” kind of way. It’s frustrating how quickly and completely he’s given up on tracking Beth, and I’m not sure I completely by it; Daryl was obviously fond of Beth (please god in a big brother kind of way), and he must realize that anyone who would kidnap her in a car and speed away has to be bad news. Yes, it wouldn’t be easy tracking someone who could drive, but the road isn’t that hard to follow; as is, once Joe’s group pulled him in, Daryl decided to stick around, even when he had ample opportunity to split.
Who knows what that means for Beth. What it means for Daryl is an slow, begrudging indoctrination into Joe’s “rules”—you have to “claim” the stuff you want, and if you break the rules, you apparently get beaten to death. This makes sense given what we saw earlier in the season, when Rick encountered the group; presumably, the fight-and-murder over the bed was an issuing of “claiming” that went sour. Regardless, these are not guys who value life very highly, although they do apparently hold grudges. Joe is determined to track Rick down for killing some of his people, and while that does suggest an endgame for this particular arc (maybe even something the writers will use to juice up the finale, since they probably want to hold off on Terminus), it’s also kind of arbitrary on Joe’s part. But then, maybe that’s the point; maybe when you don’t have any goal beyond wandering around and laying claim to shit, you get fixated on anything that will give you a purpose that lasts longer than the next five minutes.
Regardless, Daryl’s loyalties will be questioned yet again, although I hope that questioning doesn’t last too long. It’s not like he has any reason to prefer Joe to Rick. (Except for Carol? Maybe Carol will just happen to show up at the same time, and make things really interesting.) But that will have to wait till next week. Right now, Daryl’s just following along, and he’s even started to “claim” things for himself, which shows you his head isn’t in the best place.
Finally, there’s Abraham, Eugene, and Rosalita, hanging out on the sidelines. Abraham does everything in his power to stay on mission, and Eugene does his best to undercut him. Which, I have to say, doesn’t really give me a lot of faith in Eugene’s commitment to the big mission. The character’s monotone Asperger-y vocal delivery style still plays more like an actorly affectation than an actual trait, but he’s vaguely amusing. Rosalita finally put jeans and a shirt on, which means she looks less like a walking zombie buffet and more like a human, although we still don’t know why she’s hanging out with these guys. And Abraham? I like Abraham. He’s got a sense of humor and he’s determined without being a dick about it. That’s a rare gift on this show.
Overall, this tied up a couple of loose ends without doing anything sensational or even particularly ambitious; it’s most striking moment came at the very end, in a scene which may or may not even have a follow-up next week. “Us” was the definition of functional, but it got the job done.
- Carl and Michonne bet on who can walk on the railway tie the longest; Carl wins, and then splits his prize with Michonne. If these two get any more adorable, the show will almost certainly kill one of them.
- Maggie doesn’t seem all that concerned about her sister, does she.
- “That there is a long dark tunnel full of reanimated corpses.” Anybody else wonder if the tunnel set-up was intended as an homage to The Stand?
- “Ain’t nothing sadder than an outdoor cat thinks he’s an indoor cat.” Wow, Joe. That’s deep.
- “After I save the world, I still have to live with myself.” -Eugene