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Carol and drugs don't mix, apparently

From the moment Carol pulled out that bottle of pills in the opening seconds of this episode, it was obvious they were going to become a plot point. And while I'm glad the show didn't decide to drag it out over a number of weeks, it means "Ghosts" is a tightly compressed anti-drug screed, going from introducing the problem to showing its negative effects to confronting Carol with her dark night of the soul, all in one go. And while there are ways that could have been done effectively, this is one of them. Messy and awkwardly paced, everything here felt scattershot and emotionally ineffectual. When the highlight of your episode is Negan flashing a thumbs-up sign, something's gone wrong.

Our heroes have been waiting for the other shoe to drop since they crossed over into Alpha's territory this season, and here they finally face some consequences for their actions — though not the ones they think. The waves of walkers crashing on their walls for more than two days straight (depicted in a decent opening montage) being sent by the Whisperers' leader; As Lydia explains at the emergency town meeting, if Alpha was going to punish them, she would unleashed the horde all at once and wiped them out. Now, their punishment — losing a chunk of their territory, specifically their hunting grounds — turns out to be much more structural, with potentially far more harmful long-term consequences. It's not a showy loss, but it certainly ratchets up the tension in the long run, which is a better outcome for viewers, if not for Alexandria.

Unfortunately, after Michonne, Daryl, Carol, and a few others head to the rendezvous with Alpha where she explains the new state of affairs to them (Samantha Morton does a wonderful job of drawing out the reveal that she's well aware they crossed into Whisperer territory three times, not just the once), what comes next is a tangled effort on the show's part (and the characters' part) to deal with Carol's pill-popping and lack of sleep. After seeing several Whisperers run past them in the woods, Carol sounds the alarm, but Michonne immediately questions her senses — and with good reason, as it turns out. Not long before Carol is hallucinating entire conversations with Daryl, and losing track of time in the process. It forces the character into a position of plaintive stubbornness, and while it may be in keeping with her persona, not much fun to watch. Melissa McBride does the best she can with this material, but it doesn't serve her well.

Photo : Jackson Lee Davis ( AMC )

Worse yet, the show fails by trying to have it both ways. It wants to pull the rug out from under us along with Carol, retroactively revealing that we can't trust anything she is seeing or hearing, but it also wants to generate tension by going back and showing us that, no, there was actually a Whisperer in the building with them, and there are elements of reality to Carol's perspective. This is clumsily handled, and the two elements end up weighing each other: Having just demonstrated Carol's hallucinations, it's hard to know at the moment whether to invest in the drama of her being pulled upside-down by a snare, or whether to treat it like so much imaginary nonsense, the skeptical response we've been taught to adopt by the episode preventing engagement with the story. (It doesn't help that such a random turn of events doesn't really make a lick of sense.) Going back at the very end to try and juice the narrative with a "haha, a bad guy was there after all!" just flattens the narrative even further. It elicits a shrug, not a gasp.

Equally yawn-inducing was the scene with Rosita and Eugene, who did nothing but confront Eugene with something all of us have known from the start — Rosita is never going to fall in love with Him. He really needed this to be said when she was either drunk and / or exhausted in order to believe it? Even by Eugene standards, reach and reach. Rosita deserves to be upset about the fact that, according to him, Eugene's sole motivation for his friendship with her was the belief that she would eventually come around and see him as a romantic partner. At least Siddiq's PTSD breakdown while treating Carol's injury gave us the chance to see that maybe Dante was as big of a piece of shit as he was made out to be in the season opener. That's new information, unlike everything we got from these few scenes in Alexandria.

Photo : Jackson Lee Davis ( AMC )

Which leaves the Aaron and Negan subplot as the strongest part of the episode, and that's not saying much. But Jeffrey Dean Morgan is coming alive this season, with his character finally being let off the leash both figuratively and literally in order to develop into an actual flesh-and-blood human. What made their back and forth interesting wasn't necessarily the argument itself — Aaron very much wants to punish Negan for the death of his beloved, which is understandable — but the way in which it actually demonstrated, much more effectively than all of last season's endless jail cell philosophizing, how hard forgiveness really is in practice. Integrating Negan into Alexandria is a testament to how difficult it really is to embody the much-vaunted ideals of a better society that Carl died preaching. Having the guy who was once a mustache-twirling cartoon of a villain now occupies the moral high ground in an exchange with one of the show's more sympathetic protagonists shows there's potential in what I had previously dismissed as the lame Negan redemption arc.

Overall, this episode feels like a wasted opportunity. Carol's psyche is one of the richest of the series, and let down by the execution here. If tensions and excitement escalate next week, it will be despite this installation, not because of it.

Stray observations

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