“Save the Last One”
Directed by Phil Abraham
Written by Scott M. Gimple
Review by Brad Jones
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this week’s episode, “Save the Last One,” is the best episode since the pilot, and maybe even of the whole series. Every single scene was so amazingly acted, framed and written that I sat at the edge of my couch the whole hour and found myself more engaged with every facet of the episode. In many ways, I found that this episode finally cashes in on every expectation I’ve had since the first episode: fierce, real, character-driven drama set on a backdrop of a terrifying survival scenario.
You know, my replacement for Lost.
Unfortunately, the show has a track record of not quite paying off at times. I know some felt a little let-down by the direction of Season 1, and that by the finale, it had lost some steam. But I think it’s clear that this season has recaptured the wonder and excellence the series premier promises, and it’s plainly evident in this episode.
Save a few scenes back at the RV and a couple of snippets of Glenn discussing faith with one of our new farmhands, the episode focuses on squarely on the love triangle of Rick, Lori and Shane. While the Grimes’ continue to watch over their son, Carl, continually slip further away after a gunshot wound, they embark on one of the crazier conversations I’ve ever seen on television: whether their child would be better off dying than living through their insane world of running, terror and zombies. The performances from Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies are top-notch here: when Lori argues for compassionate euthanasia for Carl, you can see in her eyes what she’s really begging for is Rick to renew her own reason for living. Carl wakes up briefly and tells his Mom about his encounter with the buck in the woods, moments before he was shot: not about all the death he had seen or the hoards of undead always chasing them. When the scene first aired in the Season 2 premier, I was met with a jaw-dropping sense of awe watching the full-grown buck cross the guys’ path, so to recall that moment to solidify Rick’s point totally worked for me. Beauty and life still exist in their world, and it’s their duty to keep fighting for it.
The true hero of the episode, however, is Jon Bernthal’s Shane. The prologue of the episode was something we haven’t seen yet from this show: a scene where we, the audience, are unsure of its chronological placing on the timeline. This added a sense of mystery to the show – Why is Shane shaving his head? Why is this so tonally uncomfortable? What the hell is happening? – and like Lost (the show I yearn for the most), the mystery gave this episode an edge. And then it paid off! The epilogue answers those questions posed in the opening, and through a fierce, awesome reveal, may have changed the chemistry of the series forever.
This is what I’m talking about! Episodes that serve an arching story but that can be self-contained and excellent on their own. I’m hoping that we see many, many more episodes that experiment with the structure of each installment and that the story continues to be driven by these characters. By now, Lori, Rick, Shane and most of the survivors in our group are more than just archetypes of people. Because these characters have been so well-shaped; especially this season; the insane decisions they make now have much more weight, and like a great Stephen King novel, hurdle the plot toward intense intersections of decision. I’m so on board.
When someone asks what they should watch – and that happens a bunch, I’ll have you know – I’ll point The Walking Dead out because of this episode. I’m recommitted to the series in full-force and can’t wait to see what’s gonna happen next. Watch it!