18 Miles Out (18MO) took inspiration from both Mad Men and Breaking Bad episodes, focusing on only a handful of characters. Just as in these other AMC titles, this kind of focused attention builds relationships between the viewers and the characters. Whether this was an homage to Mad Men, Breaking Bad or not, the effect was powerful and extremely efficient.
18MO took the old K.I.S.S. approach: keeping it simple by revolving primarily around Rick and Shane. Rick has decided to take Randall (the Stranger they rescued last week after the shootout) 18 miles from the farm with the intention of dropping him to let him fend for himself. The idea behind this decision is to keep the location of the farm, and all it contains, a secret without having to waste the kid themselves. With Randall tied up, blindfolded, and deafened by headphones, Rick and Shane get some much needed time to talk.
Rick basically tells Shane that he needs to get over Lori and learn to deal with him being the leader, or else he can take a hike. He wants to keep Shane around, and doesn’t want the other survivors to fear him anymore. This scene between the two of them was executed brilliantly, and was the most compelling moment in the whole episode. This was a necessary conversation covering all the things that have been left unsaid, and the director didn’t ruin it by underlining the scene with violence or action.
They come across a Public Works facility where they decide to leave Randall. They clear a couple of Roamers by using a quieter killing technique than just shooting them. As they are about to walk away, the kid starts running his mouth, dropping the bomb that he went to school with Maggie and knows of her father. This throws a wrench in their plans, and Shane decides it is time to be rid of the Stranger. Rick, of course, wants to ponder the predicament before making any rash decisions, sparking Shane’s anger; Shane goes into a rant about what he thinks of Rick’s ability to care for Lori and Carl. The guys get into one hell of a brawl, and this is one of the best fighting scenes I have seen on TV. It wasn’t just about the cinematography or the choreography, it was about the whole feel of the scene. You can see Rick snap, Shane’s crazed rage, and the difference between the two men underlined in each punch and low-blow thrown. Needless to say, this pissing contest leads to more trouble than they bargained for.
18MO jumps back and forth between the action going on between the guys and a more quiet confrontation back on the farm. Here we see that Beth has come out of her coma, and is pretty depressed about being a survivor. For a while, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as the subject turns to Beth wanting to commit suicide, with Lori and Andrea butting heads over the correct way to handle the situation. Over time though, this scenario ends up working, giving us a deeper look into Maggie, Lori, Andrea, and Beth’s characters. In the midst of this suicide plot, Andrea and Lori get into a tussle of their own. No, it wasn’t a cat fight, but Lori finally got a chance to tell Andrea some of the things that us fans have been dying to say to her ourselves. Lori didn’t get the final word, though, as Andrea fires right back at her, focusing on Lori’s self-righteous, hypocritical behavior. It’s hard to side with either gal, since they are both relatively annoying and self involved. We are also given some foreshadowing about events to come, with Andrea being shunned from the farmhouse with more reason to join Shane’s cause.
Back on the road, the squabble between Rick and Shane brings on a zombie attack, taking up most of the episode. Unlike other episodes, these scenes are filled with much more meaning. Rick nearly pulls an “Otis” on Shane, leaving him to perish to give he and Randall a chance to escape. Here again we see the difference between the two of them; Rick can’t live with himself and that decision, so he makes the heroic choice and saves Shane’s hide. Though Shane seems pretty glad to be alive, I’m pretty sure he thinks less of Rick for taking the risk of coming back for him. This will probably be one more thing Shane can keep under his belt for when he decides to make his move against Rick’s authority.
What was great about the focused take on 18MO was that there was time to devote to the small things that ultimately made it great. By leaving out T-Dog, Carol, Daryl, Hershel, Glenn, Carl, and Dale, they were able to give us a great scene between Lori and Maggie. They two gals were busy making lunch and started talking about Glenn. The scene felt incredibly realistic with it’s zombocalypse-style girl talk. Lori advises Maggie to tell Glenn to man-up, without using that exact phrase and crushing his ego. Also, we see that Rick notices two dead security guards lying side by side as he’s about to leave Shane behind. With out saying anything, we know that he is thinking about how he and Shane were once brothers on the force. This is what ultimately changes his mind, sending him in a mad rush to save Shane.
If 18MO had included all its characters (like so many other episodes in The Walking Dead‘s history), these subtleties would have been lost due to time constraints or dropped all together. While overall the episode was the best this season since the premiere, there were a few small hang-ups that didn’t quite mesh. The opening scene was merely a flash forward of events to come, giving away the timing of the zombie attack and lessening the impact a little. Also, it was hard to believe that the fighting between the two men and a stray gunshot didn’t alert the Walkers in the area of their presence; it took a shattering window to finally get the zombies’ attention. These small hiccups weren’t enough to disrupt the excellent direction that was taken with 18MO. The character work was stronger than ever, the atmosphere more defined, the arguments more articulated than ever before. I doubt Kirkman and the writing team are ready to shift to a Lost episode model (with each episode focusing on one character at a time), but I think this is a step in the right direction. Don’t forget to see the Sneak Peek of next week’s episode, Judge, Jury, Executioner, below the rating.
I give 18 Miles Out 4.5 “Knives to the Head” out of 5.
by Rachael Edwards-Hite