While the expression “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” is probably entirely applicable to actual physics, I’ve never understood why pundits use it in relationship to television. While a particularly annoying character might weaken the quality of a program to an extent (Ana Lucia on Lost, Templeton on The Wire, Sookie/Tara on True Blood [it has the rare problem where the main character is the worst], and Nikki on Heroes spring immediately to mind), but at the end of the day, they aren’t what we remember about the programs we love. We remember the John Lockes, the Benjamin Linuses, the Desmond Humes, and the Omar Little’s. A truly great program can have several weak links in its chain as long as its strongest links are absolutely top quality. At this point in the series, The Walking Dead doesn’t have any truly top-tier characters (though Shane and Daryl Dixon consistently make runs at that title). So, when the series decides to have an entire episode that leaves two of its three star players (Rick and Darryl) out of the picture, you’re probably going to have a problem. This season of The Walking Dead has been all over the place in terms of quality, and while I certainly still enjoy the program (and it’s problems are nowhere near the scope of the fourth season of True Blood), it can never consistently live up to its own awesome potential.

After Darryl’s disastrous trek into the woods last week (though more like two weeks from my time of posting), the group has been able to narrow the search for Sophia (I think Rick is starting to know what Johny Wayne felt like in The Searchers). After some brief gun training at the beginning of the episode, we discover that Andrea is a natural crack shot. With some special private training from Shane (where his true asshole nature shined through after an insensitive comment about Amy), Andrea and Shane go out to a suburban housing development to try and find Sophia. All they manage to find is a horde of walkers, and after a tense firefight to escape (where Andrea channeled her own inner bad-ass to survive), Shane and Andrea are forced to return empty-handed to the farm. However, to complicate matters, after the adrenaline rush of mowing down walkers, Andrea instigates a sexual encounter with Shane and this leads to a heated confrontation between Dale and Shane where Shane implicitly threatens Dale’s life. After finding out for sure that she was pregnant, Lori sends Glenn (and Maggie tags along) back to town to pick up some morning-after pills to abort the baby. Maggie nearly dies during the trip which only adds to the growing tensions between the Rick survivors and the farm people (especially since Dale confronted Hershel about the Walkers in the barn). After ingesting the pills, Lori throws them up only to finally be discovered by Rick. She confesses both her pregnancy and her affair with Shane. Rick seems far more upset about her lying about the pregnancy than sleeping with Shane, and the two decide to try and raise this baby in this terrible world.

The Shane and Andrea stuff was strong (Shane’s stories generally always are), and it was really satisfying to finally see Andrea become the bad-ass that us comics fans knew she could always be. This can be a very testosterone filled, male-centric program (in terms of the action), and it was nice for the show to have someone with both X chromosomes laying the proverbial smack down. Andrea had spent the entirety of this season (and the last several episodes of last season) pining over her sister, and it was high time that she start contributing to the group. There’s only room for one person as worthless as Carol. However, I found myself a little bewildered during the scenes with Maggie and Glenn. While I’m certainly a fan of their romance (it’s great to see love still blossoming in the apocalypse), Maggie seems unnaturally attached to a man she has only known for about 3 or 4 days. The survivors haven’t been on that farm for very long, and she and Glenn only had sex two days ago. When she compares losing him to losing her mother and brother, it seems a little rushed. Also, I’m not especially ecstatic about the series decision to turn Dale into the all-knowing, all-wise Great and Powerful Oz. While I could believe him having heightened perception and an ability to read situations well, he seems to know everything about everyone else’s lives in his camp. It just makes an otherwise likeable character come off as especially nosy and over-involved.

I want to hit on two specific performances from the episode before I get to my final paragraph. Once again, Jon Bernthal managed to be absolutely terrifying in his characterization of Shane. So much of his strength in this role (besides the generally strong writing given to the character) is his ability to turn from a semi-likeable anti-hero to a frightening and menacing villain all on a dime. His confrontational scene with Dale came right after some quiet flirtation with Andrea after they returned from their car sex romp, and the sudden transformation into the Shane that shot Otis to save his own life was incredibly effective. Part of it may be the especially menacing angle that Jon Bernthal was shot from, but there was just something singularly disturbing in his eyes as he threatened Dale. I know I said Rick was hardly in this episode (and he was), but Andrew Garfield made do with the little amount of screen time he had. Those final moments of the episode between Lori and Rick were really great. Andrew Garfield looked so hurt by what his wife was doing, and he evoked all of the distrust and frustration that has been brewing between Rick and Lori so well. Similarly, when he dropped the bombshell that he had already known about Shane (I’m sure we’ll discover how he knew. I hope it was just more than husband’s intuition), he didn’t make that moment seem contrived. There was just a complete level of genuine emotion and authenticity in that scene that was really impressive. Even Sarah Wayne Callies who is normally not one of the stronger performers in the cast carried all of the guilt and pain she had about aborting her child marvelously well.

Another episode comes on tonight, but I won’t get to watch/review it til tomorrow. I still haven’t gotten around to setting up the cable in my apartment. As it is, I’m still enjoying the series, but the comics have displayed a much more consistent level of quality than the TV program. Also, the comics’ dark cynicism is more my cup of tea than this series apparently endless well of optimism. These people seem to go through one terrible situation after another, and except for Shane, they all seem to be taking it in marvelous stride. The biggest pleasure of reading the comics is watching all of these people lose their humanity (what kind of sick bastard can honestly say that statement [me]), and no one in the cast is nearly there yet. Tonight’s episode will be the mid-season finale and we’ll have to wait a couple of months before we get new episodes. I’m pretty sure I know how the episode is going to end. I just have one hope for the episode which is that they find Sophia dead or alive because I can’t stand any more time wasted to that plot.

Final Score: B+