Twenty-four hours later, I’m still not sure what the plan was. Those were three separate assaults on three different compounds that Rick’s gang launched, right? There was the Rick-and-Daryl raid to find heavy weapons, the Ezekiel-and-Carol raid that was supposed to be an ambush but won’t end up that way, and then that weird Aaron-led raid where the Grimes-ers simply pulled up to the front gate and opened fire, initiating a 45-minute gunfight with automatic weapons between two sides that can’t be more than 50 yards apart. For half the episode I thought that was a diversion tactic designed to draw the Saviors’ attention away while Rick and Daryl infiltrated the building. By the second half I couldn’t tell if they were at the same compound or not and didn’t much care. The only memorable moment was Rick kicking a guy’s ass and then impaling him on a bar jutting out of the wall, only to find his baby daughter asleep in the next room. At first that seemed like a horrible moral dilemma. He has to take the baby with him when he leaves, right? But then suddenly Rick was in a different room, apparently having left the baby behind and … never having destroyed the brain of her now-dead father. The zombie dad’s going to wake up and eat the baby! Get your ass back in there and protect that precious little girl, Grimes.
Oh, right. Then “Morales” from season one suddenly showed up to hold Rick at gunpoint, as if anyone who watches the show should recognize him or care in the slightest. That almost operates as an in-joke on how disposable most of the characters are. They bring back someone from the first season out of the blue, which for any other show would be a shocking twist and a major dramatic payoff, and here you’re left scratching your head, thinking, “Who? Why?” Presumably the cliffhanger of Morales (who?) cocking a gun pointed at Rick’s face will be resolved by zombie dad barging through the door in the nick of time, distracting Morales just long enough for Rick to disarm him but not kill him, since now we need to spend some valuable airtime finding out what Morales has been up to lo these many years. For some reason.
Enough of that. Let’s talk about “Mindhunter,” “Manhunt: Unabomber,” and “Stranger Things 2” instead, all of which I watched recently on Netflix. Stop here if you don’t want spoilers.
Recommended: “Manhunt: Unabomber.” It’s too cute at times with the familiar trope of the brilliant investigator whose hunches are too unorthodox for his pigheaded by-the-book superiors but the linguistic detective work is engrossing and the plot never loses momentum. The stakeout scene at the newsstand in San Francisco is a terrific set piece. And the guy who plays Ted Kaczynski is excellent. He’s a bit too Hannibal Lecter-ish at first in playing psychological chess with the lead investigator but the show fleshes him out nicely in the parts about his life in Montana. You’ll like it.
Recommended: “Stranger Things 2.” I may be the only person who liked it better than the first one but I liked it better than the first one. Most of the charm of the original series came not from the plot, I think, but from the attention to period detail. If you remember the 80s, you spent so much mental energy grooving on the nostalgia trip that you barely noticed that the sci-fi storyline was middling “X Files” quality. There’s more going on in the sequel and more attention is paid to the kids’ relationships, which is the beating heart of the series’ charm. Eleven’s storyline is admittedly weak (the less said about the Chicago episode, which plays like a parody of a spinoff episode of an established TV show, the better) but Dustin, Lucas, Steve, Nancy, and Jonathan are all better than they were before and the newcomers, Max, Bob and Billy the bully, are all strong characters, if very familiar. Ultimately whether you like the first series or the second better may boil down to whether you prefer “E.T.” to “Aliens” and “Gremlins.” (Casting Paul Reiser as the doctor was an obvious wink at how much the second series owes to James Cameron’s masterpiece.) I prefer the latter.
Not recommended: “Mindhunter.” A big letdown given David Fincher’s involvement. It moves glacially, losing altitude every time it shifts away for long stretches from the interrogation scenes. Even those scenes aren’t all that involving apart from the ones with Ed Kemper, which is acted with wonderfully weird understatement. How little happens in this series? There’s actually a multi-episode story arc devoted to the lead FBI agent’s scandalous use of profanity in an interview with Richard Speck. Not until the last few episodes do you realize that all the introductory teasers about the BTK killer in Kansas aren’t going to pay off with the agents investigating him and tracking him down. The entire season is really just a set-up for season two. They’re showing you how the FBI’s profiler division got off the ground, but apart from the standard “pigheaded by-the-book superiors resist brilliant investigator’s unorthodox hunches” plot line, just … not much happens. If your idea of fun is cops talking to serial killers, largely uneventfully, fine, watch it. If you find the idea of cops chasing and apprehending a serial killer more interesting, spend your time on “Manhunt: Unabomber” instead.