American Horror Story Freak Show and Freaks Past

American Horror Story: Freak Show has rekindled an American interest in the old tradition of freak shows.  Some of us have been there all along.  I’ve been pissed off most of my life that I missed out on seeing the last of America’s traveling sideshows.  I’ve always felt like it was a train I missed by seconds.  The truth is that I missed the heyday of the sideshow by decades.  They started to fade away during the 1940s, when America decided it was rude to stare at people who were different.  The appearance of television sets in most American homes finished their demise.  Nobody had to leave home to be entertained.

American Horror Story: Freak Show gives a nod to sideshows past with their cast of characters.  I’d like to introduce you to the old stars who inspired the creators of the show.

Even Peters plays Jimmy Darling, a young man with hands like lobster claws.  The most famous Lobster Boy was Grady Stiles.  Grady came from a long line of lobster people.  He was famous and well-liked, but his family claimed he was an abusive drunk. His wife paid a carnival geek to shoot him in the head in 1992.

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Sarah Paulson plays the two-headed girl,  Bette and Dot.  While Sarah’s characters are conjoined by trickery, the most famous female Siamese twins were Daisy and Violet Hilton.  Their parents sold them to a sideshow when they were children, but they eventually became famous vaudeville performers, playing instruments and singing. When sideshows were no longer in fashion, the twins were lured to Charlotte, NC to be an attraction for the re-release of the infamous Tod Browning film, FREAKS.  The promoter didn’t pay them, and they ended up stranded, working in a local Kroger grocery story, checking and bagging groceries until they died of Hong Kong flu in 1969.

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The girls who most resemble Bette and Dot are Abby and Brittany Hensel.  These girls have never performed in sideshows and lead normal lives. 

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Ben Woolf’s Meep The Geek was murdered in jail last week.  His character was a nod to the performer Koko The Bird Girl.  She pretended to be a bird.  She was in the movie Freaks.  Like Meep, she was weird.  

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There are several pinheads on the show.  People with microcephalus often performed in old sideshows.  They often had diminished capacity and were quite childlike.  The most famous pinhead was Schlitzi.  He loved performing with his friends. 

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Jyoti Amge is the world’s smallest living woman.  Lucia Zarate was another tiny sideshow star. She died of exposure when the train she was riding stalled in a snow storm in 1890.

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Mat Fraser as Paul The Illustrated Seal is famous now, but Sealo was the original Seal Boy, performing in many sideshows and at Coney Island.

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Rose Siggens is Legless Suzy on American Horror Story.  Like Mat, she isn’t a special effect.  The most famous half girl to grace the sideshow was Jeanie Tomaini.  She and her giant husband, Al, were founding members of the Gibtown sideshow community in Florida.

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It’s nice to see a renewed interest in the sideshow.  Thanks to people who didn’t let it die, like James Taylor of SHOCKED AND AMAZED, stories of the sideshow enduredThe Coney Island Circus Sideshow is alive and well, as is the Venice Beach Freakshow.   Times may change, but the freak show doesn’t.

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Be sure to check out my ebooks!  ZOMBIES TAKE MANHATTAN! features two stories with a bearded lady.  PICKERS AND PICKLED PUNKS takes a look at yard sales and what you may find there…including a two-headed girl. 

Zombies Take Manhattan DRAFT v4

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Little Angels: A Freak Show Story

The following story was inspired by the 1944 Ringling Brothers circus tent fire in Hartford.  The body of one young girl went unclaimed and unidentified, although her face was virtually undamaged.  She was called, for lack of a better name, Little Miss 1565, and all claims of positive identification remain disputed to this day.

Happy Halloween, and enjoy American Horror Story: Freak Show!

Little Angels

“You see anybody pokin’ around, lookin’ for her?” Maizie kept her voice low.

The little man shook his head and waddled across the floor. He was out of breath. The three steps up to the wagon from the ground were a climb, for him.

“Well? Was there anybody?” Maizie demanded.

He realized she hadn’t looked at him since he’d come into the wagon. She hadn’t seen him shake his head. “No. Nobody looking.”  Rascal put his short, stubby fingers beside Maizie’s bottom on the bunk mattress. He pulled himself up onto his tiptoes and craned his neck to see around her back.  “Too young to be a runaway. Hell, too young to go places alone.” He settled back onto the soles of his shoes and waddled to the head of the bunk to face Maizie. “We need to tell somebody. We can’t leave town with her in this wagon. They’ll send us to Sing Sing.”

“We ain’t doin’ a thing but takin’ care of this child nobody wants. We ain’t done nothin’ wrong.” Maizie hadn’t looked away from the bunk, not once. She leaned forward and put the back of her hand on the little girl’s forehead. Satisfied with what she felt, she gently smoothed the child’s bangs back down.

The wagon lurched into motion. Rascal was sent staggering. He grabbed Maizie’s arm with his thick, short hands. It was the first time he’d touched her. He didn’t let go, even after his feet were steady on the plank floor. The bare skin below her sleeve was soft, but he could feel muscles and bone, too. She had to be strong, a woman on her own with the carnival. She didn’t have a man, wasn’t part of a performing family.

“Too late to tell anybody, now. We’re on our way to Albany,” Maizie said.

She still wasn’t looking at him, but she didn’t pull her arm away, either. Rascal moved his fingers a little, stroking her. He knew it was bold and too familiar, but it was obviously a night to take chances.

“Rascal,” Maizie leaned anxiously over the girl, “do you think she’s too pale? I think she might be too pale.” She did pull away, then. She put both her hands on the child’s cheeks. She ran her thumbs over the delicate, closed eyelids.

Rascal swallowed his disappointment and stretched up again to look. The child surely was pale. The vibration of the moving wagon blurred Rascal’s vision. The girl’s drawn face and her corn silk hair nearly disappeared against the background of the white pillow.

“She surely is pale,” Rascal admitted.

“Like an angel,” Maizie breathed. “She’s pale the way angels are pale.”

“Just like an angel,” Rascal agreed. He wondered if he could steal some formaldehyde from Wesley’s pickled punk jars. If he could keep the girl from rotting, maybe Maizie could keep her.

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AMC’s Freakshow Goes To Gibtown! (Gibsonton, FL)

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I’m jealous that “Freakshow” went to Gibtown. I wish I could have lived in Gibsonton, Florida in the 1940s and ’50s.  Half girl Jeannie Tomani and her giant husband Al ran the Giant’s Fishing Camp, which was a trailer park and restaurant.  Percilla the Monkey Girl and her husband Emmit the Alligator Man spent summers there.  The famous Hilton Sisters (Siamese twins) ran a fruit stand.  Called “Gibtown’ by residents, the small Florida town has been winter quarters for circuses and sideshows since the 1930s.  With carnivals and circuses in decline, Gibtown is a shadow of its former self, but some glimmers remain.

Grady Stiles III meets the Venice Beach Freakshow at the airport to start them on their tour of Gibtown. Grady has been on the show before, and he always presents himself as a kind, intelligent man.  Grady is part of the famed sideshow Lobster family, and he seems to be a permanent resident of Gibtown. He grew up there, his father was murdered there, and we can only assume that he still lives there.

Ward Hall still winters in Gibtown.  Mr. Hall is in his 80s, and is called “The King Of The Sideshow.” He has been in the business for 70 years.  Ward and his partner, C. M. Christ, meet the “Freakshow” crew at a bar and agree to put on a joint performance with the Venice Beach Freakshow. I wish there had been more Ward in these episodes.  The man must have stories for days and days.  He has worked with so many of the greats.  He was famous, for a time, for his legal problems over displaying human remains (his Pickled Punk show).  Ward has seen it all, done it all, and Ward’s sexual orientation alone has to make for some fascinating tales.  Ward didn’t exactly grow up in the more tolerant times that we currently enjoy.  Hats off to Ward Hall!  There’s a new book out about Ward.  I hope a digital version comes out, soon.

The show goes off without a hitch, in spite of torrential rains and a flooded tent.  These people are troopers.  Nothing stops them.  The Amazing Ali even breathes fire, thanks to some fast instruction from sideshow great Red Stuart.  Hats off to Ali too, for wanting to do more in the show than exhibit herself.

The companion episode of the evening follows Asia Ray in her quest for her own apartment.  She hunts with the help of friends.  It’s evident that Asia and her friends are growing apart, and the growing gulf becomes even more evident when Morgue joins the group.  Morgue are the girls are oil and water, and he answers their questions about his relationship with Asia with a terse, “None of your business.”  Incidentally, lots of people want to know if Morgue and Asia are dating.  I’ll tell you right now…I don’t know.

Giant George Bell is also showed at his home in Virginia.  George has decided to leave his job with the prison system and his girlfriend to join the Freakshow full time.  I wish George tons of luck and happiness. 

Back in Gibtown, Todd Ray and his family accompany Grady Stiles on his first visit to his father’s grave.  Grady Stiles Jr. was sideshow royalty. He spent his life onstage, displaying his lobster claw hands and tiny, malformed legs. He was The Lobster Boy, and he was murdered in 1992 in Gibtown by a sideshow geek.  Grady’s ex-wife and stepson were both convinced of the conspiracy that resulted in Grady Stiles Jr. dying with three bullets in his head.  Grady III sticks with the family defense, which is that his mother and brother never intended for his father to be killed.  Their hope was that some minor violence and intimidation would curb Grady Jr.’s drunken, abusive behavior, but the geek went too far.  Grady Stiles Jr. apparently drank to excess and beat his family with his lobster claw hands.  He actually got away with murder in 1978. He was convicted of the murder of his oldest daughter’s fiance on the eve of the wedding.  In spite of confessing in court, Stiles was given probation because the Pennsylvania penal system wasn’t equipped to deal with an inmate with ectrodactyly.  It’s hard to dismiss the family’s stories of his violent behavior, and Grady III obviously doesn’t care for his father to this day.  He thanks his dead father for teaching him what kind of man he should not be.  Here’s what is considered to be the definitive book on the Lobster Boy murder, if you are interested.  It’s the Kindle edition, but used paperback copies are also available. 

I loved the little taste of the past in these two episodes of “Freakshow.”  I’ve long had an interest in the golden days of the American sideshow.  Todd Ray obviously loves the old days of the sideshow. I hope that other fans of the show also develop an interest in sideshow history.  There are no better stories in the world. 

 

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Freakshow on AMC- Tattoos and The Shock Of A Lifetime

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A Jersey City tattoo artist put Coney Island’s Luna Park on my left bicep a number of years ago.  Before that, I let a hairy man with jewelry stuck all over his bare chest stick a big needle through my earlobe on the street at Little Italy’s Feast Of San Gennaro.  So, I have a little body modification, but nothing outrageous.  I can in no way compete with Creature on AMC’s Freakshow. 

Creature has fallen on hard times.  He can’t find a place to live.  Gentle soul though he is, it’s still understandable that most apartment complexes wouldn’t welcome Creature as a tenant.  If his appearance gave some old lady a heart attack, lawsuits would fly.  Creature has over a hundred piercings in his face, and he is highly tattooed.  Tattoos and body modification are so common now that only the over-the-top body canvases are going to make it in the sideshow business.  Although Creature can’t find a home, he certainly has job security.  When I was a kid, tattoos were very uncommon.  I only saw them on a few military men.  Now it seems like every 18 year old kid longs for a neck tattoo, and a lot of them go out and get them.  I feel a little iffy about this episode of “Freakshow” because so many kids now have permanent reminders of the time they went to a mall tattoo shop with their buddies and picked some art off the wall.  I wish that the show had talked a little about the permanence of a tattoo, and the fact that, because it is going to be forever, it should have meaning. 

The first episode of “Freakshow” tonight was dedicated to those men and women who just don’t want to look like anyone else.  Todd Ray has a tattoo event featuring Brian Tagalong, an artist who tattoos with his feet because he doesn’t have arms.  We see Brian giving a couple of tattoos during the show, but we never see the finished products, which leaves us understandably wondering if Brian is any good.  I hope he is.  It would be terrible if he was, well, terrible.  Also present is Matt Gone, who is tattooed inside and out.  The inside of his mouth is tattooed.  His eyeballs are tattooed. His butthole is tattooed.  The palms of his hands aren’t tattooed, which reminds me of the time I saw the late Michael Wilson at the Coney Island Sideshow.  He’d tried to get the palms of his hands tattooed several times, and the result was blurry and faded. Matt obviously wants to avoid that mess.  Featured at the very end of the program is Maria Jose, the Vampire Woman of Mexico.  Maria Jose is just as interesting as any of the special guests on this episode, if not more interesting, and I wish there had been something beyond a “Tada!  Here she is for five seconds!” at the end.  You can learn a little about her here. 

The next episode of the evening focuses on Asia’s desire to step up her act with higher voltage.  Asia sits in an electric chair and lights a torch with her tongue, but she’d like to do something more dangerous.  Todd does what any father would do for his little girl…he contacts a woman with a Tesla coil.  Miss Electra is a cool lady with a hot act.  She shoots lightning from her hands.  She is absolutely not interested in giving her act to Asia.  She does break down after Asia contacts her personally, and she lends Asia her baby Tesla coil so Asia can light up a neon tube.  Asia is starting to look like she’s Morgue’s little sister, and that bothers me.  I’d far rather she be herself.

Best thing about this episode…the few minutes we spend with the Amazing Ali while she recovers from hip replacement surgery.  I’m genuinely fond of Ali and her husband, Matt McCarthy.  They lend a spark to the show that all of the Tesla coils in the world can’t provide.

Apparently the next episodes of the show are set in Gibtown, Florida.  Gibsonton was the winter home of the old-time carnies.  I.  Cannot.  WAIT!

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Freakshow, Season Two Premiere

fs-cast-760Life isn’t always a bed of roses at the Venice Beach Freakshow.  Sometimes it’s a bed of nails.  The second season of “Freakshow” debuted on AMC Tuesday night with two new dramatic episodes.  Some of the drama felt a little manufactured, but some of it was very real.

Todd Ray’s seaside business is booming like never before.  The show has gone dark while it expands into the space next door.  Ray has added a bearded lady to his roster of performers and is holding auditions for a hot, fresh act to beef up the re-opening his freakshow.  Prospective new cast members include performers who had to have been on Ray’s radar long before now, like a Little Person who is smaller than the Amazing Ali, in addition to people who are merely weird.

The drama begins.  Dangerous stunt performer Morgue thinks a performer who does painful things to himself is simply doing “Jackass”-type stunts.  Pretty Asia Ray thinks that a Snake Lady is relying solely on sex to sell her act. Ali voices a fear that patrons will want their pictures made with the smaller performer, leaving her out in the cold.  Ali’s comment hits the nail on the head.  These new performers ARE similar to the old performers, although the old performers certainly have style and skills.  So I wasn’t particularly bothered by the disconnect between the “We Are Family” attitude of the show and the jealousy and fear the performers displayed in the form of being hypercritical of the auditioning hopefuls.  They are in show business, where there is little job security.  While it’s highly unlikely that any of the “Freakshow” family will lose their jobs, they could certainly be pushed off of center stage by new flavors of the month.

The Snake Lady is Todd’s pick for new cast member, and his daughter, Asia, is not happy.  In addition to having a goofy world view and a trampy act, the Snake Lady doesn’t seem to be very good with her own snake.  The snake bites her.  She doesn’t seem to care when the snake falls and bumps its head on a metal railing.  In spite of Asia’s objections, the Snake Lady isn’t off the mark, to me.  I imagine she is fairly representative of the Snake Lady breed.  She isn’t a scientist.  She isn’t an animal rights advocate.  Her job is to be a barely clad woman who gyrates around with a phallic snake, and that’s what she does.  Throughout the history of the sideshow, Snake Ladies have always been about audiences seeing something sexual without having to take the potentially embarrassing or difficult step of actually paying to see something sexual.  Wife won’t let you see the cooch show?  There’s always the Snake Lady.  It’s a dated concept, these days, and every Snake Lady I’ve seen has pretty much done the same thing, but the Snake Lady at the Venice Beach Sideshow is doing what she was hired to do.  I’m sure this tension between Asia and the Snake Lady will play out in future episodes, however.

The real drama of the first two episodes of the second season hits when Ali is forced to undergo hip replacement surgery.  Little People often have orthopedic problems, and Ali has bad hips that have deteriorated to the point where she is in constant pain.  With the support of her mother, her Freakshow family, and her husband, Matt McCarthy, Ali sails through her surgery. 

Last season, Ali and Matt were married on the show in an re-enactment of Tom Thumb’s famous wedding.  Tom Thumb’s marriage to Lavinia Warren was possibly a publicity stunt drummed up by P.T. Barnum, but Ali Chapman’s marriage is certainly real, and her husband’s fear for her and devotion to her is very touching.  Ali and Matt are the stars of these first two episodes, even eclipsing Boobzilla, who has turned the minus of having extremely large breasts into a can crushing plus, and Garry Stretch, who has a condition that allows him to cover his mouth with the skin of his neck. 

I’m looking forward to future episodes.  Long live the Venice Beach Freakshow!

 

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The Walking Dead, Season Four Finale Predictions

twd4Spring is here. In spite of a terrible winter for most of the country, we’ll soon be seeing flowers, and the weedy mess I call a lawn is already looking shaggy.  The really bad news is that we’ll have to face the pollen and the lawnmowers without television zombies to bolster us up.  The season four finale of “The Walking Dead” airs next week.

Season four has not been without its problems. The show lingered too long over the question of whether the Governor was capable of regaining his heart and mind when the answer was, “Nah, of course not, he’s a crazy bastard.”  The show told us that the prison had become a wonderful, civilized community, but it never showed us that, and it was hard to care about the cardboard cutout characters who were rapidly introduced so they could be just as rapidly killed off.  There was a weird storyline about a little girl who liked zombies better than she liked people, and we were supposed to believe that because…well, just because we were supposed to believe that.  I can’t think of one reason why a traumatized little girl would throw her hat in with nasty, cannibalistic, animated corpses, and the show’s explanation for it (“she’s messed up”) just wasn’t good enough.  When Carol prepared to shoot the dangerous little zombie maker and told Lizzie to “look at the flowers” for comfort, I thought, “Hell, find her a zombie to look at.  That girl isn’t into flowers.”  It was all very manufactured drama, and I didn’t enjoy it.

I did enjoy a lot of the regulars this season, and I’m worried about some of them.  The season finale promises at least one big death.  So, who will it be?

#5     Beth.  When we last saw Beth, she was being whisked away in a mysterious car.  I’m fine with Beth dying, which is why I think she might not.  Not heart wrenching enough.  However, it would give the show an easy main character to kill off, because she’s barely a character, at all.

#4     Carol.  I’m also fine with Carol dying.  There isn’t a lot more to do with that character now that she’s hit the zenith of fake child-killing drama.  I’ve heard that Melissa McBride’s contract was renewed, but that might be false information, released by the show to trick us.  The honest truth is there isn’t much left for Carol to do.

#3     Glenn and/or Maggie.  Big drama would result from the death of half of Glenn and Maggie, not so much from both of them dying.  Glen might be in trouble, but Maggie’s too hot to for the show to lose her.  I hope that neither one of the dies.  Watching one of them mourn would be so boring that I’m crying just thinking about it.

#2     Michonne.  I’d hate to see her go, but they are making her too sympathetic.  She’s Carl’s best buddy.  His rediscovered just plain kid-ishness will disappear if Michonne dies, leaving plenty of drama fodder for the show. She’s almost my number one pick to die.

#1     My number one pick to die is Rick.  It’s a weird thing to say.  Rick is really the main character, and he’s been with us from the first moment of the show.  However, there has been a lot of Carl growing up and preparing to take the mantle of leader.  Rick isn’t a world-saver.  Rick’s a family-saver.  If everyone decides to trot off to Washington with Eugene to deliver the Walker Cure, there isn’t much place for Rick in that.

Predictions?  Anyone?       

 

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The Walking Dead And The Luxury Of The Helpless, Mid-season Finale, Season 4

twd4Well, The Governor is dead.  I would ask for a show of hands to see who is happy, but the entire country would cease to function, for a moment.  The Governor died as he lived, nonsensically, and he went out in a typical blaze of WTF Is The Governor Doing? 

The Governor rallied his band of mostly peaceful troops to take the prison from Rick and the gang.  “We are better than them, we deserve it!” was basically their battle cry.  The Governor had hostages to use as bargaining chips…Hershel and Michonne.  Now, who is the better bargaining chip when dealing with Rick’s group?  A beloved father figure to all?  A helpless, maimed old man?  Or some tough sword chick everybody barely knows?  Of course the real bargaining chip was Hershel, and The Governor beheaded him, touching off a bloodbath and the destruction of any usefulness the prison  had to his group.  Go Governor.  Really.  Go.

The episode was gripping, however, and a more than worthy mid-season finale.  The end of the show found the survivors scattered to the winds, with little hope of regrouping, that we know of.  Baby Judith appears to have become Walker chow, and that makes total sense.  Judith was as much a luxury as Hershel, with no place outside of the relatively safe (until the Governor showed up with a tank) prison walls.  The show would have become about keeping Judith quiet and Hershel hobbling, if they’d continued on in the storyline.  In spite of the fact that Judith was little more than a prop in the show, the idea of her being eaten and the impact her empty car seat had on Rick and Carl were very ooky, and I applaud the writers and the actors for freaking me out.   However, I do expect Judith to reappear, at some point, fat and gurgling.  

I’m thrilled that we are finally leaving the prison, although I had just started to enjoy it.  I’m thrilled that The Governor is gone and we won’t have to worry about his crazy ass, anymore.  I’m excited for the last half of the season.  Can we just skip Christmas and move on into February? 

Be sure to check out my zombie efiction!  It’s going to be a long winter.  You’ll need a snack until the show returns. 

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The Walking Dead, Season 4-The Governor Returns and People Are Pissed. But I’m Okay WIth It

twd4I was furious when The Governor showed up at the end of episode 5 of season 4 of The Walking Dead.  My God.  I was so tired of The Governor by the end of season 3 that I was ready to scream.  He has always been a villain who didn’t really make sense, to me.  Regular guy turned post-Apocalyptic psychopath and little tin god, he kept heads in aquariums and his zombie daughter in a cubbyhole.  He lived on the hope that a spark of his daughter remained in the shell of her cannibal corpse, and that her real live girlness could be restored.  However, none of this zombie-ism reversal hope was extended to the rest of the walkers, and he merrily used them as gladiator fight entertainment, a terrorist weapon, and tropical fish.  The Governor lies, The Governor cheats, The Governor steals, The Governor senselessly murders innocents, and I’ve never even been sure why he does some of it other than He Is A Bad Man.

I missed the first run of episode 6 because there was an excellent National Geographic special on about Bigfoot DNA.  I didn’t realize that it was a two hour affair, but I’m glad I watched it because it was totally insane.  I vowed, however, to stay up late and catch Rick and his gang on the replay.  I didn’t want to watch Talking Dead.  Spoilers.  So, I signed onto Facebook during the hour break and learned that I was staying up late to watch The Shittiest Episode Of The Walking Dead EVER.  People.  Were.  Furious.  They felt they’d been cruelly and unjustly bored for an entire hour.  One of my friends said, “It was The Governor for the whole show,” and that’s all she told me.  

I was not thrilled to hear that I’d be looking at The Governor for an hour, but I’ll admit that I was also intrigued.  My favorite episodes of The Walking Dead are episodes that a lot of fans thought were batshit boring.  I like the episodes that explore character and morality.  That’s why I like zombie fiction.  I want to know what people would do if the world fell out from beneath them.  I get bored during zombie slaughterfests, honestly.  Could this reputedly boring episode be a new favorite?  Starring The Governor, no less?

It wasn’t one of my favorites, no.  However, I wasn’t bored.  A theme of the show this season is the question, “Do People Get To Come Back?”  Can people under hideous stress who become something they’d rather not be, something everyone around them would rather they not be, hope to recover?  Even with walkers hot to eat them up?  Rick came back from talking to his dead wife on a telephone.  Carl came back from shooting first and asking questions later. Carol may or may not come back from murder as a form of housekeeping and a literal banishment.  What the episode “Live Bait” seemed to be asking is…Can The Governor come back, too?  He wasn’t always Super Turd, obviously.  And he does things in the episode JUST TO BE NICE.  Just to be human.  I thought it was a refreshing change of pace, and it gives me hope for the future antics of The Governor.  If he’s human, it’s a whole new ballgame instead of more of the same.

If that’s boring, bore me more, Walking Dead.  Bore me more. 

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The Walking Dead, Season 4: Why Rick Banished Carol

twd4After Carol admitted to murdering two flu-infected group members at Rick Grimes’ Apocalypse Survivor Sanctuary And Correctional Institution on the fourth episode of Season 4 of The Walking Dead, I made a joke on social media about not wanting Carol to  check on me when I’m sick.  I was actually serious.  Can you imagine?  You don’t feel great, and there’s Carol, with her tight assed, expressionless, Kewpie doll face going, “I just came in to pretend I care how you are doing.”  I would scream, “I’m fine, Creepy!  Get out!”  And that’s without knowing that she’s planning to knife me. 

Rick ultimately decided to banish Carol for her loose cannon murder of the first flu victims in their group.  I don’t blame him.  Other fans did.  The banishment seems to particularly bother women, and I can totally understand that.  Rick assures Carol that she will find another group to join, a group who won’t know what she did.  Yeah, a group of cannibal rapists who can’t judge her.  The show has repeatedly touched on the cruelty of leaving people to go it alone in a world of both living and dead predators, but The Walking Dead kind of glossed over what a harsh sentence Carol’s banishment really was.

On the other hand, who would want her around? She’s trouble when the group least needs trouble.  What is Rick supposed to do?  Hold a trial in the middle of a deadly zombie flu outbreak?  Put her in prison?  Hell, they’re in prison, already.  How would Rick protect Carol from the vengeful Tyree, whose girlfriend got killed before he had a chance to get some?   

“The answer is simple,” answer Carol Defenders.  “Carol was doing what she thought best. They were suffering.  They were dangerous. Officer Friendly could have just kept his damn mouth shut.” 

It’s true that Rick is the only group member who knows what Carol did.  And here’s the price of keeping Carol’s unapologetic Survivalist Angel Of Deadly Mercy tendencies to himself…Rick would never be able to sleep, again.  Can any of us imagine running from situation to situation to make sure that Carol doesn’t take matters into her own crazy hands?  Lizzie has her first period.  Lizzie is suffering, without any Midol handy.  Carol to the knife-wielding rescue.  Hershel has one leg.  He’s slow.  Slow is dangerous to the group.  Stab stab stab.  The honest truth is that Carol is a worse threat to the group than Shane ever was, because some people were safe from Shane.  Is anyone really safe from Carol? At the very least she is going to start her own cult of Survive At Any Cost children.

Killing Carol would have put Rick in her league.  Banishing her is effectively killing her, but Rick will be able to live with the dream that she survives and thrives.  I’m sure she’ll show up again before the season is over.  Until then, I can live what Rick did.  

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The Devil Is In The Details – Season 4, The Walking Dead

twd4When I was a kid, my Grandma had a garden.  It wasn’t like the gardens that people know, now.  It wasn’t a corner of her back yard.  It was huge.  It had to be.  It fed four people year-round, and it made possible Sunday dinners for our extended family of ten.  Grandma didn’t work her garden alone.  Grandpa helped, with his tractor.  We all helped pick and dig, when we were visiting. 

Rick Grimes has a garden.  It’s a tiny corner of the prison yard.  Sometimes, his son Carl helps in the garden, although Rick would far rather Carl attend story time, like the rest of the kids.  The garden is where Rick piddles away his time, trying to heal his wounded soul, rather than a necessity for a group of at least thirty people.

I’m fully aware that fans of The Walking Dead have no interest in watching Rick break his back in a garden.  I actually don’t, either.  It would be boring.  It would be far more boring than the season we spent on Hershel’s farm, which I actually didn’t find to be boring at all, although many fans did.  In spite of the fact that I don’t want The Walking Dead to be a gardening show, I still can’t believe that there isn’t a bigger outcry about the improbable lives that Rick and his band of survivors are leading.  I write zombie fiction (Zombies Take Manhattan! and Junk Mail) and I’m a fan of post-Apocalyptic tales in general, so I know damned well that the devil is in the details.  You’d better get them right, or people just aren’t satisfied.  The Walking Dead is skimming the details of survival, when it’s not ignoring them altogether.  I’m starting to starve for some reality, although nobody on the show seems to be hungry, at all.

The top of Season 2 touched on the fact that the walkers are not only a menace because they want to eat the survivors, they are a menace because they keep the survivors from eating.  The survivors were in trouble because they were forced to raid an area that had already been picked clean.  The prison seemed like a haven, at least in part, because of the promise of undiscovered food.  Season 4 finds Rick playing at farming while the rest of the mouths to feed that the group has blithely accumulated do nothing much.  Okay, okay.  Daryl does hunt.  Michonne scours the countryside for luxury items like comic books, stale M&Ms, and the Governor.  Glen takes some core members of the group to raid a store that seems more Best Buy than supermarket.  Hershel heads up a governing counsel and dispenses wisdom.  Carol reads stories to children and secretly teaches them to kill.  Carol also kills, and her murders of two flu victims are a refreshing little whiff of common sense compared to a quarantine that is basically making sick people sit on the other side of the room.

If The Walking Dead were a realistic show, every man, woman, and child would be busting ass in that garden.  The survivors wouldn’t be poisoning their little available land with a graveyard of rotting loved ones.  The prison yard isn’t big enough to support a farm that would feed them all, as it is. They would also need a massive purification system to make safe the water from that stream, which is surely full of corpses. Water would be a even greater concern than food, in fact.  The deaths of the pigs would be as much a disaster as the walkers trying to take down the fence.  There wouldn’t be prison rats for someone to use as walker treats, because the rats would all be in the stew pot.  Hershel would have sent a party out to the veterinary college for antibiotics long ago, because the weakened, starving survivors would be a hotbed of infection.  In fact, Hershel, former farmer and veterinarian, wouldn’t be limping around like Ben Franklin and Santa Clause had a baby.  As the person who would surely have the best understanding of food production and disease, he would be in a blind panic over the whole lot of nothing that the group has. 

I’m fully aware that the show can’t be exclusively about the daily grind of survival, but what it takes to survive is an integral part of post-Apocalyptic fun.  There wouldn’t be reality shows about survivalists and people who live in harsh climates if none of us were interested in the nuts and bolts of staying alive without running water and Walmart.  

I kind of need the Mystery Voice on the radio to be a cannibal trap.  And I need one of Rick’s questions to potential new group members to be, “How many people have you eaten?”  Cannibals would give us that satisfying touch of post-Apocalyptic reality that the show is currently ignoring.

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