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The Walking Dead - JSS - Review

The Walking Dead, “JSS,” was written by Seth Hoffman and directed by Jennifer Lynch. Rather than picking up with the crisis at the end of the first episode, the show takes us to a whole new level of anxiety by taking us to why that horn suddenly started going off. The episode starts with a flashback of Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and then moves to what everyone is doing in Alexandria, completely unaware of what’s actually happening at the quarry. The almost pastoral setting is quickly shattered – and lovingly timed by Carol’s (Melissa McBride) casserole.

The opening scenes with Enid show how she lost her parents and found a way to “Just Survive Somehow.” She simply seems to shut herself off, and in many ways, that theme is taken up as a coping mechanism in this episode. We see her horrifically, and mechanically, eating a turtle raw out of the shell and then fashioning JSS with the bones. She comes across Alexandria and almost turns away from the walls. Clearly, she doesn’t want to become attached to anyone.

We see her comforting Ron (Austin Abrams), but even as he sobs in her arms, she dispassionately looks over his shoulder at Carl (Chandler Riggs). When the attack comes, she comes to Carl to say goodbye. He insists she stay to help protect Judith and literally have his back. He asks her not to say goodbye. At the end of the episode, she leaves him a note – Just Survive Somehow. She’ll survive by trying to avoid be hurt emotionally or physically, and she’ll do it by staying alone. Though we can’t be sure if she’s actually left at the end of the episode.

Carol continues to watch the others, but her mask is starting to slip. She’s gathering things that nobody else wants to make a casserole. She’s become pretty popular among the women, particularly Erin (Tiffany Morgan) who seems to look to her. When Mrs Neudermeyer (Susie Spear Purcell) starts complaining about not having a pasta maker – why she can’t cook them a fantastic meal – Carol tells her she’ll teach her to make pasta “with her own two hands.” First, though, Neudermeyer has to stop smoking in the house because it’s a filthy habit and there are already enough things trying to kill them. Carol really drops the nice exterior as she says this. I have to admit, I laughed out loud when smoking literally does end up getting her killed as she’s outside smoking when the wolves attack. Aw, show. Such awesome black humor!

Maggie (Lauren Cohen) meanwhile tries to make sure that Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) show that “she’s still there.” Much like Enid, Deanna has withdrawn into herself, unable to cope with the violence. After having been through so much with our group over the first five seasons, having this group that has been almost completely sheltered is a really compelling and clever way to reignite the horror of this world. Maggie has been through the horror, yet she’s still able to see a way forward – the way Hershel envisioned by learning to sustain themselves and grow things, bring life back into the world.

Neither Deanna nor Spencer (Austin Nichols) are capable of dealing with the fight. Spencer refuses to go back in to try to help their people and Deanna simply crawls into the truck. It will be interesting to see what the fall out is from their actions – or in-action.

Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) go to the infirmary to get some aspirin for Tara who got dizzy while they were working. They find Denise (Merritt Wever) the very reluctant new doctor there. She’s clearly nervous about her potential new role. When Rosita (Christian Serratos), Aaron (Ross Marquand), and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) bring in an injured Holly (Laura M Beamer), Denise initially jumps in to help, but when things take a turn for the worse, she doesn’t want to operate. Eugene, who has also point blank refused to go out to help fight, tells her “You don’t want to be a coward.” The obvious answer, of course, is that if she does nothing, Holly will die, so even if she doesn’t save her, Holly is no worse off by anything Denise attempts to do. In the end, she is unable to save Holly, but at least she tries.

Interestingly, Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) actually approaches Carl about teaching him how to fight. It seems he may have finally figured out what he needs to do to survive, but it’s almost too late. Luckily, Morgan (Lennie James) is there to save him. In fact, Morgan saves a lot of people in Alexandria, but there is no doubt that his letting those wolves go is going to have negative consequences. Morgan is very much the reluctant killer as he’s always been.

Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) tries to get Ron to talk to her by cutting his hair. It’s interesting that this is how she met Rick in the first place too. Hairdressers and bartenders – society’s psychologists. Ron is clearly a very angry young man – certainly as evidenced by his attitude toward Carl that is fueled by jealousy over Enid and Rick’s killing his father.

Sam (Major Dodson) is also struggling and still trying to imprint on Carol. When she finds him waiting on her doorstep, she doesn’t hold back at all. Your father beat you and your mother. Now he’s dead. Live with it. Go home. For Carol, you can’t change the past and the past is generally horrible, so just forget about it and move on. Easier said than done, even for Carol.

Sam is home when the wolves attack and Jessie relies on the closet she set up for him to hide from his father in. It’s not completely clear what she was going to do before she realized they were already in the house, but she ends up locking herself in the closet with Sam – and her gun. Of course, it’s going to be a dead giveaway if they go to open a closet and it’s locked. Jesse does leave the closet when she hears Ron. Great fight scene between her and the wolf, and it’s utterly brutal when Jesse makes her first kill. She clearly does have what it takes to protect her kids, but it is also born out of Rick giving her that courage.

The violence of the episode is brilliantly bookended by Carol’s egg-timer and casserole. She puts the casserole in and sets the timer right before she sees the first kill. She immediately jumps into action, leaving Carl in charge of protecting Judith. Once again, much like last season’s premiere, “No Sanctuary.” What’s most interesting is that Carol seems to be on a mission to try to save Erin. She’s just a little too late, and Erin dies in her arms – after Carol puts a knife in her brain. Then she puts on the hooded coat and mask of one of the wolves, even drawing the W in blood on her forehead. Carol is taking no prisoners and asking no questions. Of course, she’s also blown her “cover” in the community, especially when she bursts into the pantry and puts Olivia (Ann Mahoney) in charge of guarding it.

Morgan is a complete contrast to Carol. Morgan and Gabriel try to take one of them prisoner, and Carol simply comes up and puts a bullet in the wolf’s brain. Given the level of savagery we see in them, and that many of them seem to be quite insane, Carol’s method seems a lot more prudent. But there are two different views on how to survive. Morgan says to Carol, you don’t enjoy it – meaning the killing. And of course, that’s why she stays sympathetic. She kills to protect those she cares about. McBride is simply amazing – as she is in every episode – but particularly in the scene at the end, when she allows herself to think about a cigarette and feel the pain. Is she contemplating that other way to die? Is she mourning even the death of Mrs Neudermeyer? Is she thinking that no one is ever going to live long enough for cigarettes to kill them again?

I loved the fight scene with Morgan as he fights off an entire group all by himself. In the end, he is ambushed by the one wolf and ends up killing him after the wolf taunts him that he can’t do it. The final scene of the episode is a gorgeous crane shot that feels like something out of a classic western, like High Noon – or any gunfight scene.

We don’t really get to see a lot of either Rosita or Aaron, but they are clearly doing their part to protect Alexandria. Afterwards, Spencer asks her how she does it – how does she survive – and of course, it means not really physically but more spiritually and psychically in the face of death and violence. Rosita tells him, “Make sure you’ve got something worth dying for.” Clearly most of our core group have that.

Aaron recognizes a messenger bag and opens it to find a set of the pictures he took of Alexandria. The same kind of set he used to encourage Rick and his group to come. Was this someone that Aaron had scouted and completely missed that they were like this? Is this someone who took the photos from someone else?

Carl is the closing bookend for the violence as he hears the egg timer go off and then completely as if a massacre hadn’t taken place, he takes the casserole out of the oven. He even has a bit of a taste! Meanwhile a note with Just Survive Somehow is slipped under his door. Is Enid gone? Does she still feel that there are too many people in Alexandria? That there is safety in being alone?

This was another incredible, edge-of-your-seat episode. I was a little ticked off that we didn’t go back to where we left off last week, but that disappeared as soon as Mrs Neudermeyer’s cigarette got cut short. I think it’s clear that there were a few seeds planted – other than those Maggie wants to plant – that will bear fruit in later episodes. The episode, like most of the best ones, carried the title theme throughout the episode. What do people do Just to Survive Somehow? What did you think of the episode? Favorite scene? Is Ron to be trusted? Should Morgan have let those guys go? What kind of persona can Carol create next? Can she go back to being the shrinking violet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The X-Files, Defiance, Bitten, Killjoys, and a few others! I'm active on the Con scene when I have the time. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.
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