In "Slabtown," we finally learn what happened to Beth after she was spirited off by that mysterious car with the white cross on it all those months and episodes ago. The short version: She joined an extremely bizarre medical drama as a new orderly in the post-apocalypse's least well-run hospital. It's like Scrubs, but with less laughs and more zombies.
I should clarify that "Slabtown" also isn't very good, although I'd still use "bizarre" to describe the episode first. The main problem is that even by the extreme, mind-shattering necessities of living in the zombie apocalypse, the hospital system Beth wakes up in doesn't make a lick of sense.
Because that's where Beth wakes up — on a hospital bed, an IV in her arm, functioning electronic equipment, and behind a locked door. It's a hell of a start, juxtaposing Beth's obvious care and a location where modern society seems to have survived with the audience's expectation that everyone on The Walking Dead besides Rick n' Pals are terrifying assholes. Of course, given that the show has just presented Gareth, King of the Evil Post-Apocalyptic Assholes, and his fellow Termites, the show presents this new group of people running Grady Memorial Hospital as merely kind of crappy.
Going through a strict, blow-by-blow recap isn't going to do the episode or you guys any favors, so let me just cut to the chase: The hospital is being nominally run by Dawn, an officer who has turned the hospital into a sort of factory town, where all medical care and food and so forth has a cost, and those who eat/sleep/get treated are forced to work off their debt. There's one doctor who does the treating, a variety of officers to keep everybody in line and everyone else seems to be patients turned workers in some degree. Given the limited resources of the zombie apocalypse, this actually seems kind of reasonable on the surface, but of course, things are complicated by an officer named "Gorman," who's quite the sexual assault enthusiast. Dawn lets him be a shit-bag because… well, that's the episode's first problem.
Apparently Dawn's boss or lover or dude she just respected made some bad decisions at some point and got some people killed, so Dawn is determined to keep the hospital's semi-functional social system going until everyone is rescued. Again, it seems reasonable… kind of… until you think about it for more than half a second. First of all, it's been quite some time since the zombie apocalypse began, and someone would have to be completely deluded or a serious goddamned optimist to believe that someone was coming to save them. Second of all, the system Dawn's so determined to keep going at all costs isn't actually so precarious that she needs to intimidate, terrorize or beat people into doing their jobs. No one seems to be holding the lives of everybody in their hands, so if people did stop doing their jobs, it would just be inconvenient for other people. Third and most importantly, this system is definitely not helped in any way, shape or form by Gorman assaulting the women in the hospital, and yet Dawn (and the episode) pretend that if Dawn told Gorman to stop, or even just shot him in the head, the precious system would fall apart.
I can see what TWD was going for here, but it doesn't come close to making it work on-screen. Instead, Dawn just seems dumb instead of threatening, although to be fair her stupidity is probably just as hazardous to Beth than if her policies were actually designed to inflict harm. Beth turns into the Jack Nicholson of this weird facsimile of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, teaming up with her fellow orderly Noah to try to escape; she even kills Gorman as he tries to get one last sexual assault in (although Beth gets an assist from one of Gorman's previous victims, who commits suicide and turns into a zombie right as Beth bashes him over the head, knocking him to the ground, and bestowing a super-easy first meal for the zombie).
Beth steals Gorman's gun, and at that point the escape is on. Beth and Noah crawl down an elevator shaft where the hospital has been dumping bodies (which I think the show wants us to think is awful, but is pretty hard to get upset about that right after Terminus; on the plus side, they provide a soft if somewhat gross landing for the duo). Once in the hospital basement, Beth basically turns on God Mode and shoots several dozen zombies, all headshots, and they manage to get outside where more zombies await. Somehow, Noah escapes, but Dawn captures Beth and drags her back, although her only punishment for her insubordination and murder of Gorman seems to be a punch in the face (which Dawn was doing before anyways).
I guess by helping kill Gorman, leading an escape, and shooting a shit-ton of zombies Beth has ostensibly turned into a badass, but it didn't take for me. Maybe it's because it feels so sudden as opposed to the more careful build-ups of Carol and even Daryl, or maybe it's because I don't think she's fighting a formidable opponent as much as just some stupid people who happen to have guns. At any rate, once back in the hospital Beth grabs a surgical knife (or something) and looks ready to take out Dawn for good, until the hospital staff wheels in their newest patient on a gurney — an unconscious Carol.
It's a pretty solid cliffhanger, especially given the end of last week's episode, where Daryl returns to the church with a very strange look on his face and accompanied by god knows who (and god knows what condition). Alas, next week we're going to check in with Team Abraham as they needlessly separate themselves from the main part of Rick's crew to get a day or two's head start on saving the world. Given that the final shot of the "next week on" preview shows Abraham sinking to his knees in apparent defeat, I'm sure this will work out great for everybody.
• Another way Dawn's system doesn't make any sense: So the officers go out in the cars with the white crosses to find people who need help, and then bring them back to get treated and become part of the system. But if their resources are limited, shouldn't Dawn not being picking up people who will use up their resources? Or at least shouldn't she carefully regulate how many people they accept and when so the hospital doesn't end up with 80 orderlies with nothing to do but still with debts to work off?
• Also: This system gets even more ridiculous when you realize that the officers are clearly finding people, knocking them unconscious and then kidnapping them (including Beth, obviously). So the reason these people become patients is because the officers are bludgeoning them. Hey, Dawn, if you're so worried about resources, STOP MAKING YOUR OWN PATIENTS. Just concentrate on growing food. It'd be so much easier.
• Also also: Why did Beth need to steal the elevator key if she and Noah had to climb down the elevator shaft on a rope made of bedsheets? I assumed they were going to turn an elevator on, but nope.
• Also x3: I'm completely confused about how the hospital is situated. The doctor Peter implies that the hospital is surrounded by zombies and there's no escape, but clearly the officers can get to their cars and drive all over tarnation without much difficulty. But when Beth and Noah make it to the parking lot, it too is full of zombies. And that's despite the fact that there's a chained fence-gate protecting it that Noah has to pass through. Did someone chain all the zombies in the parking lot? None of this makes any sense.
• The whole thing feels like a spec script someone sent in and the producers were somehow contractually obligated to film and include. Honestly, the way the episode is structured struck me as odd, too — I frequently wondered if I had somehow missed a scene or some information. Could just be me, though.
• Dawn brings in a patient that Peter recognizes as another doctor; he tells Beth to give him a certain medicine which kills him, and Peter pretends like Beth made a mistake. Actually, it was just Peter making sure he was the only doctor in the hospital, because Gorman would probably kill him once he was no longer 100% necessary. Beth figures this out, but I don't see this having any ramifications later.
• Peter shows Beth the bombed out ruins of Atlanta. Usually TWD's effects are pretty sharp, but for some reason the greenscreen here was jarringly obvious.
• The hilariously general DirecTV summary for this episode included "Although things appear safe and nice, there is a bit of a dark side." I swear the writer for these things is totally trolling me.
• Speaking of DirecTV, I'm not sure if you guys got these, but AMC aired like a dozen commercials warning "dish owners" that DirecTV was going to do away with AMC and to call such-and-such number to prevent this tragedy. DirecTV aired its own commercial saying they have every intention of renegotiating with AMC when it comes time to do so. Here's more details if you're interested in this little pissing match.
• The most ridiculous thing in this episode? That Dawn keeps a stamp in her desk labeled "FILED." Or really, Dawn? Still keeping that paperwork going?
• I eagerly await the first comment loudly berating me and demanding someone else review The Walking Dead because I clearly hate it, despite the fact that I've given the most of the last 20 or so episodes glowing reviews.