Last night was episode 6 of Season 2 of AMC's hit series The Walking Dead. It's a show I came to late. Well, after a few episodes, anyway. The program premiered last year on Halloween, and I had little desire to watch yet another depiction of a zombie apocalypse (there's only been, what, 50 million such movies about the subject within the last decade or so?) At any rate, the first episode proved to be a monster success, and I kept hearing good things about the show, so I tuned-in around episode 4 of Season 1, got caught-up with everything during one of the many all-day marathons that AMC aired for it, and was suitably hooked. After 6 episodes, the show went on hiatus until this Autumn. So far, Season 2 has been a pale shadow of its predecessor, and last night's episode was part & parcel of why that is.
"Secrets" was about, well, secrets. Many characters on the program have them. This is one of the more frustrating aspects of Season 2. After firing the showrunner and half the writing staff (for budgetary reasons, mainly) AMC is left with a program that is simply bobbing along, and either boring or insulting most of its audience. I mean, there's nothing more frustrating than the audience knowing something that many characters on the show don't, and then knowing it for a long, long time. After a point, it removes you from the story, and instead of watching characters behaving in a realistic way, you start seeing the wheels turning in a writer's head. There's nothing that could suck the life out of a potential drama more than that.
Unless, of course, it's slowing down the pace of a program to the point that, after viewers have devoted an hour of their day to watching, they're left with the realization that, wow, nothing of substance really happened. Some might balk at such an opinion. I have a friend who considers the monotonous drone of the characters interactions this season to be a "slow burn" that is "building the tension." Perhaps. I look upon it as the slow death of a once-great television drama. It is possible to showcase both talking and action in such a way that they move the story along while still building character development. Season 1 of The Walking Dead was quite masterful at this. Season 2 has decided that a plethora of exposition, and relatively little plot advancement, is the way to go. A shame.
One more big problem with the current season of Walking Dead is that the titular "dead" seem like much less of a threat than they did in Season 1 of the program. Last year, when zombies showed-up, usually someone died (or was bitten, and then died later as a result). Seriously. It was chaos. Deathly chaos. And it's part of what made Season 1 such gripping television. In Season 2, we've seen a lot of zombies, but only very rarely death or serious injury as a result (I can think of one instance -- Otis). Instead, some zombies shuffle on-screen, and are dispatched with such efficiency that nearly all tension is drained from their scenes. Heck, now we're even looking at a developing plotline that might as well be titled: "Hey, Zombies Are People, Too!" See, the thing is, when your show is about a zombie apocalypse, but then you all but neuter your zombie threat, then that sound you hear is the dread and suspense escaping from the program.
I know what some will say. Heck, the new showrunners are saying it already: 'This is about the characters.' No, I'm sorry, but it's not. Yes, of course a program has to have characters that people can identify with, or react to, but nearly every program has that. Yet not everyone watches the same programs. Why? Because they're drawn to different things for different reasons. Harry's Law is a legal drama. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was a gentle frontier story. Hell on Wheels is a tough-as-nails western. Bones is about forensic science mysteries. House is a medical drama. Now, true: They all have characters, and they all focus on them to some extent. But that's not primarily why people watch those shows. They are drawn to them, first and foremost, for the genre that they occupy. Characterization is then an important second.
The Walking Dead used to be be about the dangers encountered during a zombie apocalypse. Now, it's a sexed-up Little House on the Prairie. That's not why people started watching it. Sorry, it's just not. I've no desire to re-watch Season 2 of this series. It's not worth it. Nothing of substance really occurs. And, if it does, you realize it could have been whittled-down into a few episodes, instead of six (so far). For its own sake, I hope that The Walking Dead brings back the danger, the tense pacing, the anything-could-happen-at-any-moment atmosphere. Without it, it's just a nebulous drama. Judging from the readers' comments in this article, I'm not alone in thinking this.