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Walking Dead: Why Storytelling Takes Time

With the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, “Swear,” fans are starting to get restless.

I’ve had a fortunate background with The Walking Dead. I only started watching just before Season Five, so I was able to binge watch the series up until that point. This meant that if the show dragged for a couple of episodes, I didn’t have to wait long to get to the “solid episodes.” But you notice something when you watch the series all at once; it’s clearer to see that the “slow episodes” are actually building something. Something of value. We all experience the highs of The Walking Dead and those moments aren’t because Rick is stuck in tank and we’re not sure how he’s going to out, it’s because there are themes and ideas the show is trying to convey while simultaneously getting you to care about its characters and where they are going.

And slow as Season Seven may be (so far), I think it’s helpful to look back at previous seasons to remember that the season has a destination in mind and we’re going to be delighted somewhere along the path to that end point.

Smallville: Skippable Episode Guide

Awhile back I offered to make someone on the Smallville subreddit an abridged guide to Smallville that skipped all unncessary episodes. My offer was ignored, but another user recently found my post and asked me if I would still be willing to make the guide. So here it is! The following is my skippable episodes guide to Smallville.

Please note that I created this guide to cater specifically to that reddit user’s request, who was only interested in the main storyline. This creates some problems because typically when you make a skippable episode guide you only include the best episodes (in addition to ones that follow the main plot) and Smallville‘s main storyline episodes aren’t the best episodes. For example, the Season Four episode “Sacred” is a terrible episode. But in that episode we learn about an important set of stones that are integral to the season. Following the main storyline also skips over a lot of great episodes, like the Ryan episode in the first season (which I snuck in anyway) and the Alicia episodes in the third and fourth seasons (which I also snuck in anyway).

Smallville is also unusual in that it continuously reinvents its history. At first we learn about how Clark fits in with the Native American legend of Naman. Later we learn about how Clark is also known among the Veritas group as The Traveler. By the time we’re learning about The Traveler, the Native American legend is hardly referenced again. So is the Native American legend really part of the main storyline? What I decided was that each season focused on a particular story or villain and I tried to include the episodes that developed that story.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d consider reworking this in order to make the best possible list for the most number of people. For example, if you think the will-they-won’t-they, on-again-off-again Lana storyline is essential, I’m willing to hear that argument. Or if you would just prefer a list of the most pleasant Smallville episodes, let me know.

Final note: If you’re a first time viewer watching the show, I’ve separated the article into two parts: The first part is spoiler-free list of the episodes you need to watch, the second part is spoiler-heavy description for fans to explain why I cut what I cut.

Here is the abridged guide to Smallville that let’s you know what episodes you can skip.

White and Black Hats: The Morality of Westworld

In Westerns there is a long tradition of good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats. I believe Westworld is playing around with this tradition.

White and black hats goes all the way back to silent films. It’s not an absolute rule all Westerns follow. In fact, many films (like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) deliberately subvert the idea by eliminating white hats to imply moral ambiguity amongst the characters. However, it is imagery we see again and again in Westerns.

the-man-who-shot-liberty-va

I believe that Westworld is conscious of this traditional Western imagery and is playing with the concept — and that it is worth paying attention to which hat a character wears. Here is a brief analysis of six Westworld characters and the hats they wear.

Joss Whedon: Master of Character

As I re-watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine I find there are a lot of character building episodes where a character faces a personal challenge and overcomes it. The further in the show I go, however, I realize that these character building episodes result in no real character change whatsoever. By the next episode, the character falls back into their normal personality and rhythms.

This is like false character building, in that the character goes through the process of changing, but never actually changes. While these aren’t bad episodes and are even fulfilling, we as an audience respond more strongly when we get to be party to a character changing, from their beginning state, to the conflict, to the character that emerges. There’s a deeper connection to this kind of character building. But so far, Deep Space Nine is missing that kind of character building.

As I thought about this, I realized other shows skimp on character building too. To help illustrate how character building is done properly, I decided to contrast some poor examples of character building episodes with a few episodes from a master of character building, Joss Whedon. While a couple of the Whedon episodes I mention are written by other writers (Steven DeKnight, Marti Noxon, and Douglas Petrie) many of the character threads that lead to these character building episodes run throughout the season, and for the purposes of making the title of this piece more simple, I’m giving the works of Whedon the nod here, rather than the man himself (though I suspect he had input on these character arcs).

Here are three examples of shows that did character building poorly, and three more examples where Joss Whedon shows did it better.

Westworld: The Cracks of Humanity in its Pristine World

The first episode of Westworld paints with two brushes. With the first, it carefully paints a future that is so advanced and devoid of danger that the Westworld institution is the only way people can experience excitement. As if Westworld’s simulated, rugged western frontier is somehow more alive than the real world. With the second brush, Westworld paints small, passionate strokes that threaten the precision the first brush is trying to create.

I believe the initial canvas Westworld creates in the first episode is simply the emotionless foundation upon which more and more cracks of humanity will seep into until it fractures. I think Westworld intends to have a discourse about humanity and this fractured painting is how it is going to do it.

Here are five ways Westworld tries to portray a controlled world and the cracks of humanity we see seep out.