Welcome to the third of what I’m now officially calling “Raw Story’s don’t-call-it-a-recap of popular television shows.” Recaps you can find anywhere, but only here will you be able to find the proprietor of the AV Club’s Internet Film School breaking down your favorite television shows on a weekly basis. A complete collection of this guy’s visual rhetoric pieces can be found here.
This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Internment,” may well have been the strongest in what’s shaping up to be the strongest season to date. It was directed by David Boyd, one of the most talented men you’ve never heard of. He’s been the director of photography on such visually uninspiring fare as Firefly and Deadwood, so it should be no surprise that the composition and shot selection in “Internment” was barely this side of breathtaking.
What do I mean?
For one, Boyd’s use of close-ups in this episode weren’t used to cheaply intensify scenes whose dialogue lacked emotional impact.
Unlike, say, the opening credit sequence of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which closes in to bring the pain and reassure you that the police always have your best interest at heart, the close-ups in “Internment” function as the necessary conclusions to terrible arguments.
Consider, for example, this close-up of Rick’s gun:
It’s the culmination of the should-he-or-shouldn’t-he-pick-up-arms subplot, but instead of having Rick say something about it, Boyd just places Rick’s gun in-frame and lets it speak for itself. Note, though, that the gun’s slightly off-center, a screen-position people have been trained by Hollywood to hate.
The audience, then, is primed for something to happen — and conventionally, that “something” would be that the camera shifts to the left and “properly” frames the gun, dead-center, since it’s the most important element in the shot.
Boyd knows that’s the expectation — he knows that his audience craves symmetry in its compositions — but instead of conceding to audience expectations, he recapitulates the should-he-or-shouldn’t-he argument:
When Rick’s pea-bearing hand enters the frame, Boyd racks the focus, shifting the emphasis from the arms he just took up to the green thumbs he put them down for. In a single shot, then, Boyd’s reminded the audience of the Big Decision Rick had to make, but he did so without having to use dialogue as a crutch, as the show so often has. What could have been a tossed off transition between scenes in which characters indulge in unnecessary expository monologues is, instead, a seemingly tossed-off reminder of past soul-searching.
But I should get to what I mentioned in the title, about us all dying alone and broken curled in a corner, because Boyd felt that everyone was too together when they weren’t ever alone in “Isolation,” so he decided use close-ups as a strategic counterpoint to stacked frames in that episode. All of the people in the isolation unit — all of whom couldn’t escape sharing a frame with someone else in that episode — were suddenly and terribly alone in close-ups throughout “Internment.”
For example, when Hershel is caring for Glenn, the shots and reverses are all one-shots:
After an episode in which everyone shared a frame, this sequence of what would otherwise be comforting close-ups instead creates a virtual barrier between caretaker, above, and caretaken, below:
It’s almost as if Boyd wants the audience to recognize the danger of intimacy by refusing to let characters share the frame. I’m not saying there aren’t any two-shots in the episode, but most of them look like this:
They’re not alone, they’re talking … through a glass pane in which Hershel’s ghostly reflection is the closest thing to frame-center, creating a composition in which characters are subordinate to their second-order selves, and conversations are always mediated. Something always, and here literally, comes between these people. It’s a harrowing experience, watching as the distance between these characters eats away at them, whether it be literally, as with the glass above, or in cinematic terms, as when Rick and Carl decide a standoff is the most appropriate venue for a father-son conversation:
When Boyd’s not using close-ups to create distance between characters, he settles for actual distance, shooting somber reunions as he would a prelude to gunplay.
‘Nickel and Dimed’ for the sharing economy: Inside the hellish new reality of low-wage work
In 2001, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich's investigative book "Nickel and Dimed" revealed to those who weren't on low-wage payrolls how expensive it is to be a member of the working poor in America. Some things haven't changed since Ehrenreich's experiences working as a Walmart clerk, a restaurant server and a maid, among other jobs. Housing can still be prohibitively expensive on low hourly wages, and high turnover remains a constant. Workers still risk their health — mental, physical and emotional — every precarious day.
Trump believes white nationalism is a winning strategy — because Fox News tells him so
Donald Trump thinks white nationalism is going to win him the 2020 election. This much is clear. Trump's racist Twitter rant on Sunday — in which he suggested that four nonwhite congresswomen, three of whom were born in the United States, are "originally" from somewhere else and should therefore "go back" — might have seemed at first like a spontaneous eruption of racist rage from the simmering bigot in the White House.
Soon, however, it became clear that this was strategic. Trump thinks it's a winning move to echo the claims of David Duke and other white nationalists who believe the United States is for white people. He justified his racism by saying that "many people agree with me," and by continuing to rave on Twitter about how the real purveyors of "racist hatred" are those who look askance at his embracing the rhetoric of Stormfront and the KKK.
Dear NeverTrumpers: Either help or STFU
Before I offer up a come-to-Jesus moment for the NeverTrumpers, let me say that as many of you know, I’ve defended members of this exiled faction in the past, and continue to stand by the idea that we need to form a coalition to close the loopholes exposed by Donald Trump’s malfeasance as a means of preventing another, perhaps more dangerous monster from sashaying through the Trump-shaped hole in the wall. To be clear: I’m not talking about conceding on policy or platform planks. I’m merely suggesting a detente between voices who all agree that Trump is a menace and his presidency is an existential national crisis.