After AMC's The Walking Dead said goodbye to Alpha (Samantha Morton), Gamma (Thora Birch), and Earl (John Finn), and extended a very unexpected "welcome" to the show's potential new "power couple" of Carol (Melissa McBride) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), we found ourselves looking for answers. We didn't get many (that's being kind) in this week's episode "What We Become" – and that's actually a really, really good thing.
Because unless you've been hanging with Jared Leto in some isolated community for the past 12 months or have a habit of repressing bad pop culture-related thoughts, you know this is Danai Gurira's swan song as Michonne. So we move the focus away from our heroes and the Whisperers and onto Michonne's mission to get Virgil (Kevin Carroll) back to his family and community – in exchange for the kind of firepower needed to turn the tide against the Whisperers.
If you guessed that things didn't go quite as planned, then you would be oh so right. But more important than that, was it an episode worthy of being Michonne's last?
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! warnings are definitely needed from this point forward…
Directed by Sharat Raju and written by Vivian Tse, "What We Become" is a tough episode to review as a single episode – which I'm sure sounds pretty weird considering it is a single episode. But as much as I assign certain expectations to "theme" episodes like the pilot/first episode back, pre-midseason breaks, etc., I also have certain expectations of the "goodbye episode".
With the "goodbye episode," there are two things I look at: how well does the episode keep the previous episode's narrative going; and is the departing actor/character be given the respect they deserve before heading off to greener pastures. The latter tends to be focus that's the most important – especially to the fanbase – so the former can afford to take a few hits without it impacting the episode too hard overall.
Season's Storyline: So let's start with the former, so we can get that out of the way – mainly because the whole Virgil (Kevin Carroll) felt rushed and forced upon us, probably as the vehicle to get Michonne off the main battlefield as Gurira had limited time this season. We knew he wasn't telling the truth, that there was more to where he was from than he was telling, and there would be a hopeful wrap-up to the whole thing.
There wasn't much about it that felt new or original. Virgil's issues with putting down his turned family and wanting Michonne to do it would've had our hearts crushed if we hadn't "been there, done that" before – but at least those moments came at the end of slow, steady emotional builds.
I guess the best way to describe it would be the ending to the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, when they talk about having actually not learned or gained a single thing from all that had happened. That happened. There were results. But in the end, everything remained pretty much the same – no was "enlightened," no "insights" were gained.
That's how the whole Virgil storyline felt – only interesting part was when Judith (Cailey Fleming) took him down.
On a side note? For all of the messages of hope being peddled by TWD and Fear the Walking Dead, they don't have a high opinion of communities that set themselves up to help others. Honestly, between the two series? Count up the number of times we've seen or heard reference to a community taking a nosedive due to "kindness".
Respectful Goodbye: Raju and Tse present Gurira with possibly the best going away present she would ever want as an actress: an exit that Gurira knocked out of the ballpark, and left fans crushed and pining for more – which it appears we're going to get… on the big screen… at some point. Check out the opening minutes again (above) – unfortunately, I screened it before watching the full episode. But had I watched it "live," I would've had the same "WTF?" reaction I had when Walter White showed up in his old neighborhood after being exposed as "Heisenberg" in AMC's Breaking Bad.
Let's jump into some bullet points:
● Let me start off by admitting right up front that I know they "It's a Wonderful Life'd" us – substituting Clarence the angel with tea. That said? C'mon! Can you honestly say it wasn't serious fun to see a little "What If?" play out and how the ripple effects of a "road not taken" can have catastrophic results.
Not helping Andrea, it seems only natural that Michonne's alt-road would lead to Negan taking her in as a Savior. The man recognized talent, so elevating her to "right hand" status would be a no-brainer – just like he would've done with Sasha if she came around to his way of thinking.
Putting her in "The Scene" was both a fun touch from a visual standpoint as well as the "fixed point in time" (we're stealing concepts from Doctor Who) that clearly shows the difference between our Michonne and the "Road Not Taken" Michonne – and the target of her bat swing in the scene speaks volumes. And as "fun" as we found this all to be, knowing that Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rick would be the ones that killed alt-Michonne still felt tragically wrong and sat with a little longer than we expected.
And we finally got the backstory on that cool-ass image above.
● While we weren't totally suprised by a direct connection being made between Michonne and the shady business behind Rick's mysterious departure via CRM black helicopter, I definitely did not think we would be getting as bold and in-your-face reveal as Michonne ended up getting.
● We can argue another time if the military boat that washed ashore with Rick's stuff in it is part of the "deus ex machina" family (especially with a marked-up ship's logbook in play) or part of Virgil's implied bigger conspiracy. It served as both a storyline and an emotional bridge to "What's Still to Come" (translation: the movies) – and it made sense.
● Rick's phone with the drawing of Michonne and Judith would've been that moment when our "Feels" took a steel-toe boot kick, but then there was that moment with the boots. Getting a sense of where Rick might be (thanks, ship's logbook), Michonne takes off north – but not before two other moments of deep emotional destruction.
First, RJ (or "Little Brave Man" – no, you're crying!) interacting with Michonne in ways we really hadn't seen – especially considering the circumstances – was a wonderfully well-played scene. But the exchanges between Gurira and Fleming are what did it to us the worst.
That mix of heartbreak between a mother and daughter who may never see each other again coupled with the growing hope that there family might be able to find a way to be whole again. That is not an easy emotional balancing act to pull off – but not for Gurira or Fleming, engaging in an almost "passing of the torch" moment in which we're left with "Rick/Carl v2.0" in Daryl and Judith.
● The episode ends with Michonne esentially facing the same choice she was faced with so many seasons ago: head out on a solitary mission with two pet walkers for "family" or live up to what Carl wanted from her before he died: a promise to never stop trying to help… to care… to keep living.
So with Michonne heading off in search of Rick (and hopefully some intel on the films that she can share with us), we head into "Look at the Flowers" (keep the kids away from Carol!) with a major question nagging at our brain.
How long before Daryl and the others find out why Michonne headed north? Hmmm…