With Halloween on the horizon, this upcoming week will be the last before our mass media starts turning sweeter, warmer, and more holiday-friendly. Until then, enjoy one more healthy serving of human misery, you sickos. Because this past seven days of televised entertainment? It was wonderfully harsh — if you like that kind of thing. The Walking Dead (apparently) just killed off one of its most likable characters. Carrie is off her meds (again) on Homeland. And the Cubs… well, no, let’s not talk about that. Some things are just too horrible.
That’s why our Top Five TV this week is especially bruised, battered, and blood-spattered. We did take some pleasure — just for a moment, mind you — from a surprise barrage of new episodes from the funkiest superhero cartoon currently on the American airwaves. But a month before Thanksgiving, we’re also offering up our gratitude for a sitcom heroine with an unhappy secret, a dangerously strict lawman, and an angry lady who’s been stuck as a teenager for half a millennium. Keep the parades and Santas off the screen for a few more days. Right now, we’re happier in the dark.
5. The Walking Dead says goodbye and “thank you” to Glenn… maybe (AMC)
For a large number of longtime Walking Dead-heads, last night’s episode was a rough one, since one of the original survivors — the clever and capable Glenn Rhee (played by Steven Yeun) — fell into a ravenous zombie horde. The last image we saw of him was his horrified face, as the undead gorged on entrails. As for the small number of fans who weren’t disturbed by Glenn’s demise… well, they’re mostly convinced that he’s not dead, and that the guts on the screen belonged to Nicholas, the weakling he was trying to keep safe. Showrunner Scott M. Gimple has purposefully avoided clarifying what did or didn’t happen, saying in a written statement that, “In some way, we will see Glenn, some version of Glenn, or parts of Glenn again, either in flashback or in the current story, to help complete the story.”
Either way, this is a huge deal for AMC’s mega-popular hit. If one of its most popular characters is really gone, it sends a hard message about the cost of trying to be kind in a world of monsters. And if he ends up somehow avoiding being eaten (which happened before in Season Four, when he was left behind at the prison and presumed dead), that could be one narrow escape too many for a horror drama that’s supposed to have real stakes. Most likely: Glenn has in fact expired, and Gimple is withholding the final reveal for greater impact later this season. Until we know for sure, the debate among the TWD devout rages on. Do we hold out hope? And if so, exactly what outcome are we hoping for?
4. Michael Chiklis Shield-ifies Gotham (Fox)
The network’s Life-Before-Batman series started to find its groove at the end of its first season, largely by de-emphasizing the “poor little orphan millionaire” and “hero cop in a dark city” material. Instead, it slowly began to pivot into a wacked-out villain-palooka, and Season Two has doubled down on the craziness. (The producers still ought to jump ahead in the timeline and make this series the full-on gothic “Dark Knight” adventure it’s meant to be, but at least they’re figuring out how best to use what they already have.) And over the past two weeks Gotham has even made its roster of heroes more formidable, by adding Michael Chiklis as crusading police captain Nathaniel Barnes.
Calling back to his days as amoral “Strike Team” leader Vic Mackey on FX’s brilliant The Shield, Chiklis’ tough-talking cop spearheads a GCPD “Strike Force,” designed to push back against the city’s booming bad guy population. This past week’s episode was full of the quirky details that have enlivened the series’ sophomore season, from a trip to villainy’s own Home Depot-like weapons super-store to a brief history of the city’s aristocracy, rendered as a faded old movie. But last week’s MVP was Barnes, who’s played by Chiklis as a cocky badass who removes criminals’ trousers during questioning (“I read ’em their rights… doesn’t say squat about pants”). In the real world, that kind of law-enforcement overreach would be detestable. On Gotham, it’s pumping some hot new blood into an at-times icy show.
3. Teen Titans Go! airs a week of winners (Cartoon Network)
After taking a month off, the DC-superhero toon just finished serving up five straight premieres on five consecutive nights — with three of those being among the best of the series. Tuesday brought “The Fourth Wall,” in which a fear of having their cartoon rebooted (again) led Robin and the team to experiment with different animation styles, looking for something that’ll appeal to TV awards-voters. Wednesday went even weirder with “40%, 40%, 20%,” which consisted almost entirely of Cyborg listening to the same Eighties pop-rock anthem over and over to pump himself up for derring-do.
And then on Thursday came the crackpot anthology “Grube’s Fairytales,” highlighted by Starfire retelling the classic story of the wolf, the grandma, and “the red rider of hoods.” Teen Titans Go! has always been playful and agreeably pointless, but this particular trilogy of lunacy reached champion levels of ridiculous. Each was more unpredictable — and more inspired — than the last.
2. You’re the Worst: What’s the matter with Gretchen (FXX)
Hey, y’know what’s ordinarily not all that funny? Clinical depression. Yet there was FXX’s peerless anti–rom-com last week, dealing with a touchy subject in a way that wasn’t just amusing; it may have completely changed the show’s entire underpinnings. For three consecutive installments this season, YtW ended with a scene of aging party girl Gretchen sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night while her boyfriend Jimmy sleeps, so that she could drive off to cry alone in her car. In last week’s “There Is Not Currently a Problem,” the show finally spilled her secret: She’s afraid to tell Jimmy that “my brain is broken.” This comes at the end of an episode where the gang is stuck at home for a drunken day of sniping at each other, capped off by Gretchen ranting at all of her useless friends for having so much trouble handling everyday life without any of her internal “wiring problems.”
This could mark a turning point for a show that’s always been hilarious, but has sometimes struggled to come up with much of a reason why anyone should care too deeply about thirtysomethings who refuse to grow up. There’s something poignant now about the idea of Jimmy thinking he’s found a slacker soulmate, when he’s actually dating someone whose irresponsibility can be traced back to a mental disorder. It’s going to be fascinating in the weeks to come to see how dealing with a genuine problem is going to affect a man whose philosophy of life is “hakuna matata” (which he learned from his favorite barista, as he’s never seen The Lion King).
1. Maisie Williams plays an immortal on a heartbreaking Doctor Who two-parter (BBC America)
Why hello there, Arya Underfoot! Any Game of Thrones fan who’s been missing the most resourceful of the Stark women should make an effort to catch up with Maisie Williams’ magnificent performance on the recent two-part Doctor Who. At the end of “The Girl Who Died,” the young actress’ can-do viking villager Ashildr was saved from death, and implanted with a chip that rendered her virtually immortal.
Then, in last week’s “The Woman Who Lived,” the Time-Lord unintentionally crossed paths with Ashildr centuries later, finding her embittered by the experience of watching her loved ones grow old and die. The addition of Peter Capaldi to the ranks has been a boon to the series, with the writers playing to the actor’s prickly screen persona by making his “Twelfth Doctor” more aloof and somber — without losing any of the humor, compassion, and sense of adventure that defines the franchise. And over the past two weeks, showrunner Steven Moffat and his team have defined this Who by contrasting him with someone who resents his rescue.
Ashildr — renamed “Me” in the second half of this two-parter —is as much of a warrior, thief, and tragic figure as the young lady of Westeros currently calling herself “No One.” (“I am superb,” she says to the Doctor, by way of explaining her refined skills… and man, that’s hard to argue against.) Ultimately, this new “Me” sets herself up in direct opposition to her former savior, and declares herself determined to spend the rest of her eternal life monitoring the collateral damage of all his capricious expeditions. Sometimes Doctor Who gets overly busy or way too corny, but these episodes have been marvelous examples of thoughtful genre fiction: imaginative, twisty, and always focused on the real cost of being exceptional.