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Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5 Episode 4, ‘Slabtown’: Finally, Indentured Servitude!

Review: 'The Walking Dead' Season 5 Episode 4, 'Slabtown': Finally, Indentured Servitude!

This week we find out just what exactly happened to Beth (Emily Kinney),
after she was spirited away from Daryl near the end of last season in a car
with a cross on the back windshield. Turns out she was brought to a hospital in
Atlanta where a small group of survivors are holed up. But unfortunately not
all is right with the group. Quelle
surprise!

Fortunately for those with little patience for a slow reveal
of the blindingly obvious, it is clear from the get-go that things aren’t
copacetic at the hospital. Beth is told flat-out that she has to work as a
nurse in return for the care provided to her. That this is basically a prison
sentence is strongly implied. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that
indentured servitude always works out great for those who wind up in it!

Later in the episode, Beth meets Noah, who’s been working
off his debt for over a year. Noah is played by Tyler James Williams, most
notably from “Everybody Hates Chris,” which makes him just
recognizable enough to the point where you could see him either surviving into
future episodes or providing a shocking death to up the stakes. Since Beth ultimately
allows Noah to escape the hospital, I’m hoping he turns up again.

The hospital is managed by a policeperson named Dawn, who
maintains a cadre of officers who bring in new recruits to the hospital, who
then work off their treatment doing odd jobs. The most notable officer is
Gorman, who has been regularly raping one of the recruits, Joan, with Dawn’s
tacit approval, and now has his sights set on Beth. Fortunately, Beth has a
guardian in Dr. Edwards — who, as the hospital’s only doctor, has a certain
amount of pull, despite his generally meek demeanor. When Beth questions
Edwards about the situation at the hospital, he all but admits he wouldn’t last
long out in the zombie wilderness, so he’s willing to accept the shortcomings
of the hospital’s set-up, if it means he can maintain his relatively
comfortable, even boring, life.

The nice thing about this episode is that it’s pretty
refreshing for one of the main characters to encounter other people who aren’t
complete psychopaths. The situation at the hospital is weird and certainly
gross (what with the raping and all), but it seems to stem from recognizable
human behavior, rather than the lunacy the group has encountered in the past
with The Governor and the Termites. Not that lunacy wouldn’t be a likely result
of the zombie apocalypse, but it’s good for the show to mix it up every now and
again.

As mentioned, Beth and Noah plan an escape, during the
course of which Beth discovers that Joan has killed herself in Dawn’s office, turning
into a zombie just in time to eat Gorman right before he rapes Beth. Convenient!
Noah injures his leg, but he’s able to hobble to safety as Beth covers him… And
gets herself caught again. Here’s hoping that Noah wound up running into Daryl
and Carol, since Carol shows up at the episode’s end as one of the hospital’s
new recruits. Carol deliberately getting herself caught in order to facilitate
a rescue has some possibilities.

The major issue is that the whole hospital premise is pretty
underdeveloped. We really only meet Noah, Dawn, Edwards and Gorman, and Gorman
seems to be the one bad apple. Won’t things improve immensely now that he’s
dead? It’s unclear whether any of the other officers have been taking similar
liberties, since none of them get names, let alone personalities. 

The episode
seems to be mostly set-up, but it actually doesn’t set up all that much — Dawn
isn’t particularly threatening on her own, and there doesn’t appear to be more
than ten people in the hospital. Carol was able to take out the Termites
practically single-handed, and those guys where a well-oiled, well-armed
cannibalism machine. What trouble could this gang possible cause her,
especially when she’s teamed with Daryl?

Another drawback is that Dawn’s character is pretty weak
overall. Edwards implies a tragic back story,  where she had to kill her superior officer who eventually
lost his marbles. But it’s all tell, no show.

I thought for sure Dawn’s cleanliness obsession would come
into play, considering how the episode hammers the point: As Beth exits Dawn’s
office after Groman is killed, she realizes there’s blood on her shoe as she
approaches Dawn and is briefly panicked. But nope, Dawn doesn’t notice and Beth
and Noah make it to the basement without incident. Felt like a missed
opportunity for further tension.

The good news is that the final twist delivers. Edwards
deliberately tells Beth to administer the wrong medication to a patient,
getting both her and Noah in considerable trouble. Turns out the patient was
also a doctor, and if he got better, Edwards’s position might have been
compromised. He’s not feigning friendliness, like Gareth — he’s just a coward.
It’s another iteration of this season’s “What lengths will you go to
survive?” theme. Sometimes you trick people into your cannibalism
abattoir. And sometimes just saying the wrong medication will do.

Grade: B-

PREVIOUSLY: 

Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5 Maintains The High Bar Of Season 4

Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5, Episode 1, ‘No Sanctuary,’ Is A Welcome Shift To Wall-To-Wall Action

Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5, Episode 2, ‘Strangers’: The Case Of The Cowardly Carver

Review: ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 5 Episode 3, ‘Four Walls And A Roof’: God Has No Place Within These Walls

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