Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“Got bit/Fever hit/World gone to shit/Might as well quit.” — pinata walker
This week’s episode is all about choices, the most obvious being the one faced by Rick and Lori concerning their son Carl, who’s now suffering seizures from a lack of blood to his brain: If Shane and Otis don’t return soon with the medical supplies, Hershel will need to operate without the aid of a respirator. The dilemma serves as a ticking clock, infusing events with a sense of urgency that last week’s “Bloodletting” lacked.
But “Save the Last One” is also about Andrea deciding to live (or at least to not kill herself), and Dale realizing he shouldn’t have taken that choice from her at the Centers for Disease Control. It’s about Glenn embracing Maggie’s philosophy of making things right yourself over passively waiting for God to help. It’s about the poor sap Daryl and Andrea found dangling in a tree, a botched suicide impotently craving flesh after walkers gnawed at this legs. Even the episode’s title refers to a choice of sorts, an admonishment to hold on to the final bullet to use on yourself.
Shane saved that last one, all right, but not for himself.
We might’ve known that something big, something psyche-altering, was coming with the cold open, of Shane shaving his head in a pristine white bathroom. On television and in movies, head-shaving is always a sure sign that some serious shit is going down. The problem here, and throughout the episode, is with the editing: The scene is so brief and in such an unfamiliar setting — until then we hadn’t seen the bathroom in the Greene farmhouse — that it’s disorienting. Bracing for another flashback (preferably better than the one that led off “Bloodletting”), we’re instead jolted into the present, with Shane and Otis on the run from walkers at the high school as Rick regales Lori with a story she’s heard countless times before, one of his friend’s high-school hijinks and legendary running speed.
That, unfortunately, brings us to the episode’s other significant problem (only two, quite a step up from last week): Lori’s rapid and unconvincing downward spiral, in which she voices to Rick doubts about whether their post-apocalyptic world is meant for children, and wonders if maybe — just maybe — Carl might be better off dead. She even brings up poor, dead Jacqui, talking about her more in one scene than in the previous eight episodes combined. She made quite the impact, that Jacqui. Lori’s existential angst is puzzling and out of place, serving only to showcase just how damned good and wonderful Rick is. Perhaps there’s something in her past that explains how Lori could shift within a couple of hours from “I don’t know what I’d do if Carl died” to “Maybe he should die.” If there is, we’re not privy to it, which again highlights the problem of the character: She’s a blank slate.
But enough about that. There’s plenty to like about “Save the Last One,” even with the sometimes-abrupt editing that sends us lurching from Hershel’s farmhouse to the high school to the highway to the woods and back (four locations may be too much for The Walking Dead to juggle).
Kept awake in the RV by Carol’s sobbing over the still-missing Sophia, Daryl sets out for a nighttime stroll in the woods, with the insufferable Andrea inviting herself along. In a series with so many ciphers and one-dimensional characters — Rick is righteous and true, Dale is the group’s conscience — Daryl is emerging as the most complex. He’s a warrior-philosopher, a pragmatist who’s the most optimistic about Sophia’s safe return (“It ain’t the mountains of Tibet,” he tells Andrea, “it’s Georgia”), a loner who’s become perhaps the most valued member of the group. But the most powerful testament to Daryl, and actor Norman Reedus, is that he can make a scene with Andrea not just bearable but enjoyable. Although their search is ill-advised and ultimately fruitless, we learn a little about Daryl’s neglected childhood, and Andrea receives a jolt when they stumble upon a poor bastard who tried to hang himself after being bitten, turning himself into a putrid undead pinata, craving flesh but unable to do anything about it. “Didn’t know enough to shoot himself in the head,” Daryl says before Andrea convinces him to put the walker out of its misery.
Glenn and T-Dog arrive awkwardly at Hershel’s farm, uncertain about the social niceties. After the apocalypse, do you still ring the doorbell? Fortunately, their dilemma is short-lived, as Hershel’s daughter Maggie makes her presence known, taking T-Dog to have his infected arm looked at by Otis’ wife Patricia. Quizzed as to why Merle Dixon has a prescription for doxycycline, an embarrassed Glenn admits it was for the clap, setting up Patricia for the best line of the episode: “I’d say Merle Dixon’s clap’s the best thing ever happened to you.”
Things don’t look as good for Shane and poor Otis, trapped atop the bleachers in the school gym, countless walkers clawing and snapping at them from below. They split up, with Otis hoping to find an exit through the locker room as Shane goes out a window in the gym, dropping 20 feet to the ground below and injuring himself in the process. No longer the fleet-footed youth of Rick’s tale, Shane limps along, pursued by walkers who pin him against a hurricane fence separating him from scores of more zombies. Luckily, Otis arrives to save him, a decision the portly farmhand will very soon regret.
Back at the farmhouse, Carl’s condition has worsened to the point that Hershel must operate without the ventilator or risk losing the boy. Just as he and Patricia jump into action, Shane arrives, alone, with the medical supplies, revealing that Otis sacrificed himself to save the boy. As expected, Carl is saved, but as a discombobulated Shane is handed some of Otis’ old clothes and directed to the bathroom we learn in flashback that the farmhand’s sacrifice wasn’t a willing one. With walkers closing in, and the slow-moving duo down to one bullet each, Shane shot Otis in the leg, hoping to buy himself some time. However, Otis, bless his failing heart, wouldn’t go down easy, grabbing Shane, clawing at his skin and yanking out a clump of his hair — that’s what triggers Shane to shave his head — even as the walkers fell upon him, tearing at his flesh.
We’ve seen Shane before with murder in his eyes, when he took aim at Rick, but here he went through with the act. But did he do it to save Carl or to save himself? And how long can Shane walk around in the clothes of the man he killed, enjoying the hospitality of the man’s wife and friends, before he goes completely bonkers?