No complaints from me yet in season 5– each episode has been nothing short of spectacular, in my opinion. And though last night’s episode shook things up and deviated from our newly established norm (the group, the church, Terminus, violence, cannibalism, all that good stuff), it was a welcome breath (or BETH… get it?) of fresh air– a strange and suspenseful episode that views the post-apocalypse through a creepily contained pressure cooker of indentured servitude.
I’m giving this one another 4 out of 5, and disagree with those who time and time again complain about the “slower” episodes or those that do not focus on the main group. Beth really proves she can hold her own here and the writing in this episode proves that it too can stand out and drive the suspense and drama, without many walkers or much action at all.
So, alas, the episode does not begin with Daryl telling us the story of finding Beth. Instead, the show takes a few steps backward to show us her parallel storyline. The timelines got a little muddled, for sure, but I tried not to dwell on it. Beth awakens at a functioning hospital in Atlanta, which is eerie enough in itself. Things get worse, rather than better as is so often the case in the TWD universe, when Beth learns that she “owes” for the help she’s been given– the help she never asked for, but needed.
The hospital is run by one doctor and a staff of crazy cops, ranging from the sexually abusive (to watch Beth have to take a lollipop in her mouth by force was bad enough, and to watch as she is almost raped later was intense and unsettling) to the delusional and belligerent Dawn. Dawn, the leader, is fiercely stubborn and wildly overbearing, to put it lightly. She keeps giving Beth speeches about all the good they’re doing in preparation for when they’re all rescued (delusion); she also slaps Beth out of anger at something not caused by Beth at all (belligerence). And sexual abuse is hinted at throughout the episode, with regard to another female patient, Joan, and brought up subtly again when Dawn says if the cops are kept happy then they work harder to protect the hospital. Yuck. My stomach was probably in knots during this episode more than in any other this season so far, actually– not because it was more suspenseful necessarily, but it just built up to these themes and questions and moments in really unnerving ways.
I will say, though, that it was deeply satisfying for Beth to take note of the almost-zombie in the room (Dawn’s office, to be precise, from which she was stealing keys for her escape attempt), an almost-zombie who happened to be the apparently suicidal Joan, and to use that to her advantage. Just as the aforementioned attempted-rape is about to occur, Beth knocks the creepy cop over the head with a glass jar from Dawn’s desk and he falls right in front of Joan’s hungry walker mouth. This was the perfect revenge for both females, even if one happened to be undead, to seek and further achieve in a microcosm where sexual assault is justified as a means of productivity and survival.
Some key moments include Beth’s befriending another patient, Noah. They try to escape together but it fails– shockingly, Noah gets away and doesn’t help Beth, who is pinned to the ground by the police. Beth finally talks back to Dawn at one point, and I think we really see a full range of emotions from Beth; impressively, we see the side of her that is meek and afraid, but also the side of her that Daryl helped bring out, the back-talking, more abrasive and far braver Beth, who does what needs to be done even though her fear is still evident. She’s one of the most human characters the show has developed, I think, and this episode proves that.
Especially shocking is when Beth gets blunt with the doctor, Dr. Edwards, who seems like a good enough guy in the grand scheme of this prison-like hospital. She knows that the patient who was brought in earlier in the episode was another doctor, and that that’s why he gave her the name of the wrong medicine to give him so that he’d die, leaving Dr. Edwards with no competition or fear of being killed or kicked out of the hospital. Dr. Edwards says earlier that it’s still better in there than it is out in the world, where walkers are still rampant; I think we’re meant to question the validity of this opinion and weigh it against what Beth is going through and what she was taken away from on the outside.
Just when we see her approach Dr. Edwards unsuspected, with a scissor in her hand, prepped for a shocking stabbing, something else shocks us even more– a new patient being brought in on a stretcher. This new patient is none other than Carol. Beth’s look of shock is enough to dictate how we’re meant to feel, even though I think we need no instruction on the matter. Beth is just as confused as we are (muddled timelines not withstanding– could Carol be sent in by Daryl as bait of some sort, to rescue Beth from the inside? Or did something happen to Carol while they were chasing down the car with the cross on the back?) but unfortunately, next week’s episode will follow Abraham and his new little crew. Again, I’m all for bouncing around if it’s done well and paced right, but I’m dying to know who is with Daryl in the woods after all, which hinges directly upon the end of last night’s episode and whatever is to follow.