Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Walking Jihadist Postscript

What follows are expanded notes from Negan and the Walking Jihadists, plus further observations by me and by an anonymous correspondent who has also watched the series.

I noted in Negan and the Walking Jihadists:

…In literature, while there is a limited amount of malevolence one can accept in fiction, it is not, or should not be, a permanent, unlimited feature; a continual presence of evil or of a malevolent character or theme can dull one’s brain and make one indifferent or hostile to any and all values.  In a story, evil or malevolence must be defeated at some point and rendered impotent. If it is not foiled and made powerless, but instead becomes a continuous presence and a driving theme in a story, then there is no point in contemplating the story any further.

This is basically the state of literature and art today. There is little respite from the malaise. One finds relief where one can.  Where can one turn in a dying culture in which the grotesque, such as The Walking Dead, is the norm?  Where does one turn when even the mitigating attributes of the grotesque, such as the heroism of some of the players, are going to be diminished if not outright extinguished? For that is what is going to happen in The Walking Dead, and when it does, my TV screen will go blank.

In today’s culture, the moral – that is, the rationally moral – is regarded as the impractical, as the unjust, as wrong. It is regarded as an affront to hold another person to a moral standard and to call for justice, either for his good actions or his evil actions.

The almost drooling anticipation in many of the series’ fans of the debut of Negan in the finale of Season Six of The Walking Dead, which I have been watching as a dramatization of emergency ethics in an apocalyptic world, is not flattering to those fans. I sense that the writers and directors of The Walking Dead are going to at least partially pander to fans’ appetites for brutality and gore and a kind of nihlistic fireworks. Which means that I would stop watching the series.

Many strong characters emerged over the six seasons, chief among them, at least from my moral and esthetic tastes, Carol Peletier (played by Melissa McBride) and Daryl Dixon (played by Norman Reedus).
Carol’s character blossomed from a self-effacing housewife with a brute of a husband (who dies early on) into an efficacious dreadnaught of a zombie fighter and a moralist who finds values to fight for outside of her formerly shrunken realm of domestic chores. Daryl’s character evolved from an ambiguous, brash, loud-mouthed, back-country redneck to a man of quiet, understated moral certitude and honesty.

But they may be sacrificed to the irrational demands of the series’ fans.

A bellwether indication of the direction the series is taking now is in the character of Morgan Jones, played by British actor and playwright, Lennie James, who in a very long, special episode is depicted as being converted to some pacifist philosophy of life – actually a martial art – Aikido, by a recluse. It is called “The Art of Peace,” one of whose tenets are that “All life is precious.”  Morgan is taught that bringing justice to a criminal does not give one “peace.” A criminal who has slaughtered countless people is somehow redeemable. He can be allowed to go on living, even though his victims are dead.

Morgan encounters the Wolves, looters and killers. He easily defeats them – but does not kill them – and leaves them unconscious in an abandoned car, safe and sound. He encounters them again in a later episode, and again lets them go, who go on to kill again. Because “all life is precious,” and the killers can “change.” They can become “good” people and blameless with no blood on their hands.

One of the things that shocked me in the Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, was the denouement, in which Darth Vader,  a.k.a.  Anikin Skywalker, the incarnation of evil, was elevated to the pantheon of Jedi sainthood because he saved his son, Luke, from the evil emperor. Here was a character who had blown up planets and killed millions of people in his career before he died, yet he was forgiven.  At the end of the episode, “Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the redeemed Anakin [are] watching over them.”

Carol Peletier apparently has been influenced by the pacifist philosophy of Morgan Jones. In the last two episodes of the series she begins to express doubts about killing men who are killing or are capable of killing her friends. From out of nowhere, she produces Catholic worry-beads or a rosary, even while her hands are secured together with duct tape. (It isn’t clear if she found the rosaries on the floor of where she was being held hostage, or if they had been on her possession all the long.)

Melissa McBride as Carol, and Norman Reedus as Daryl
Abruptly feeling remorse, without any warning to viewers and in contradiction to the series story line, Carol writes a note to one of the characters that she is leaving the safe zone of Alexandria. It is addressed to everyone living in the zone:

“I wish it didn’t have to end, not this way. It was never my intention to hurt you, but this is how it has to be. We have so much here—people, food, medicine, walls – everything we need to live. But what we have, other people want, too. And that will never change. If we survive this threat [from the Negan gang] it’s not over and another one will take its place, to take what we have. I love you all here. I do. And I’d have to kill for you. And I can't. I won't. Rick sent me away and I wasn’t ever going to come back (from an earlier “safe zone”], but everything happened and I wound up staying. But I can't anymore. I can't love anyone because I can't kill for anyone. So I’m going as I always should have. Don’t come after me, please.”

The note is basically a capitulation to the irrational. After all her fearless fights, she has had enough of fighting, even though she knows that for as long as irrational killers are out there, there will always be a conflict with the irrational. To fight for her values is no longer possible for her. But, to refuse to fight for her values, is, in effect, to surrender those values to the irrational. Carol has written what amounts to be a suicide note.

My anonymous “pen pal” wrote me, and left on a fan blog site, Verge, this comment:

It’s a miserable thing to watch a favorite character being destroyed by his or her creators. I’ve seen that more than I care to and it appears that may be what is happening to the great Carol Peletier. To watch a timid, abused woman grow into an implacable protector of the good and then be brought down by guilt-inducing religious mysticism is inexcusable. Shame on the TWD writers if that is what they are doing.

I replied:

Having just watched "Twice as Far," and Carol's goodbye note to Tobin and everyone else, if the scripters kill her off, I'm done with TWD. If they somehow compromise or kill of Daryl, I'm double done with TWD. Carol's "leaving" the story because she can't kill people who are trying to kill her or the people she values, is a dead end, as far as I'm concerned. To hell with the rosary, and the implied pacifism of Carol. Bad turn in the series. We want heroes, not characters who are angst-ridden about defending their values.

My correspondent noted further, about the Season Six finale:

How they deal with the pure evil of Negan is going to be a turning point. I think we can wave Glenn goodbye because his character arc has pretty much hit cruise control and Maggie is taking over as the family badass. That's going to be tough to watch, and if it's going to be as dark as everyone's saying there has to be a lot more of the same. Confronting that level of evil requires defining values precisely and making an absolute commitment to defend them. If they waffle on that out of fear of "becoming like Negan", then I'm through with them as well.

Melissa McBride, who plays Carol, got a preview of Season Six’s finale and said that she felt she had fallen into a “black hole.”

I left this comment to my correspondent and on Verge:

I have a bad feeling that Carol's "getting religion" is going to be the death of her. I have no idea why the scripters decided to wussify her. She and Daryl are the only two characters I have any empathy for. In reality and in fiction, you can't defend the ones you love by refusing to kill those who intend on killing them. It's like the Belgians' "arrangement" with Islamic jihadists, who promised not to kill anyone. You don't declare a detente with killers.

You don't say, "All life is precious" when the killers don't value life, not even their own lives. You’re the one with the values to defend, you’re the one who wants to live. In war, you extinguish the killers when they show their faces, before they extinguish you. You extinguish them before they take more lives you may not even know. I do not look forward to the debut of Negan. It appears he's a thorough-going nihilist and evil to the core. When he shows up, I'm quits with TWD. It seems that the scripters are pandering to viewers who want Negan. I'm not one of them. TWD was a great dramatization of how men can conduct themselves as emergency ethics. I don't need Negan. We have the kill-happy Islamists in the real world. Why would I want it in fiction, unless it was defeated forthwith?

My correspondent wrote:

… I can't come up with anything additional. Checked some fan sites -- one in German, big help that was -- and everything seems to be speculation over who gets the Lucille treatment [Negan has named his barbed wire baseball bat, “Lucille”] from Negan. There is a constant thread of what a "great" character Negan is because he's totally evil but so "complex… I'm not interested in "complicated" people who steal, kill, rape, and beat innocent people to death to instill fear. I'm interested in "complicated" people who beat hell out of the bad guys, though I'll take uncomplicated ones in a pinch. There is speculation that Daryl will be the one to get Lucille'd, but unless Reedus has come up with some reason to leave the show, I doubt it. Daryl's character arc isn't anywhere near finished. Neither is Carol's, but it would indeed be "heartbreaking" if she were the one….

Carol’s note is not an expression of cowardice. Rather, it is an expression of hopelessness. The tireless fighter for values has grown tired, exhausted, discouraged. Perhaps she is even traumatized. Trauma is a state of paralysis. Her solution is to stop having values worth defending. It is a sentence of death.

Evil never seems to stop attacking. So, let it come.

But evil is not a metaphysical necessity in one’s life. This is a lesson she has never learned from any of the other characters, not in the whole series. None of the “good” characters has learned it. The scriptwriters have “martyred” Carol’s character in a grotesque TV series in a surrender to their own nihilism.

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