TV's Welcome Back Bloodbath

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For the TV-obsessed among us who got our power back after a long post-Hurricane week, Sunday night was a return to new programming after a tedious drought. And, oof, what a welcome back it was. Three big shows — Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and The Walking Dead — featured shocking deaths last night, ones that will change the tenor of each series in the weeks and possibly seasons to come. Let's take a look at them. Spoilers abound, obviously.

The least personal deaths happened on Homeland, with a crew of CIA investigators getting horrifically gunned down while searching the Gettysburg store where Brody's deceased vest maker was meant to be delivered a few weeks ago. Just as Quinn, the volatile new boss/Carrie love interest played by dreamy/frowny Rupert Friend, discovered a hollow space behind a wall in the back of the shop, four guys in SWAT-looking gear burst in and shot everyone with machine guns. Even Quinn got hit, and the guys, seemingly led by a man we saw meeting up with Brody's Nazir contact earlier in the episode, made off with a big metal box that was hidden behind the wall. Luckily for us, and for Carrie's sex life, it seems like Quinn is still alive and will hopefully make a quick, sexy recovery. But yikes, guys! That's seven CIA agents shot, six of them killed, on American soil, in Pennsylvania for god's sake, by some pretty brazen terrorists. These guys are not f-cking around, and now everyyybody knows it. This cannot be good for Carrie's already fragile psyche.

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As we saw in last night's fraught closing scene, Carrie was completely shaken by the whole thing, and by her increasingly strange and complicated relationship with Brody. Is he flipped asset or old lover turned potential new lover? Is he a double-agent or a triple-agent? The uncertainty appears to be quickly eroding Carrie's mental stability, and now on top of her own psychological burdens she's got a half-dozen dead agents and a seemingly very committed terrorist cell planning on doing something with a big box full of something. The scenes-from-the-next clip suggested that there was C-4 in the chest, but who knows. That seems too obvious somehow? Whatever was inside the box (Gwyneth Paltrow's head?), the increasing villainization of VP kid Finn has us more convinced that he's somehow the ultimate target. (VP kills Nazir's son, Nazir kills VP's son.) If he's not, this ongoing hit-and-run plot is even more irksome than previously thought. But yes, mass carnage on Homeland, a show that tends to shy away from such things. The stakes feel suddenly raised, but hopefully the bloodshed doesn't spell an escalation to 24-style action.

Boardwalk Empire has upped the body count this season to mostly striking effect, but perhaps went a bit over the line last night with the big, booming bombing of Babette's on the boardwalk. That the attack, presumably done by Bobby Cannavale's Gyp Rosetti as a way of snuffing out both Nucky and Arnold Rothstein, was instigated by Gretchen Mol's grieving/crazy madame was sensational enough, but the grandness of it, and that it wiped out burgeoning starlet Billie Kent as collateral damage, pushes it nearly into action-melodrama territory. Is Gyp really so bold as to blow up an entire club? It's an awfully messy and attention-grabbing way to do the thing, after all. Though we suppose Gyp hasn't been the most discreet guy during his run on the show, so maybe this is simply another example of his brash and possibly psychotic M.O.

Of course he didn't actually get Nucky; some boardwalk oaf accosted our hero before he could walk into Babette's, sparing Nucky but dooming Billie, who was told to go on ahead lest she suffer the advances of said oaf. So we'd guess that Nucky will be dealing with some form of guilt or anxiety over that, which could either prove compelling — Nucky rarely shows much weakness, after all — or frustrating. Characters lashing out from grief or guilt, the whole he's-out-of-control type of arc, is a pretty well-worn trope on these kinds of shows, so I don't particularly relish the idea of this otherwise deft and swiftly moving season being saddled with all that heavy psychology. And Billie, as annoying as she could be, will be missed. Getting a glimpse into the roaring era of showbiz was pretty fun, but I suppose her run had to end sometime. And like any good actress, she at least when out with a bang. What this means for Tracy Middendorf, the long-ago 90210 actress who pops up occasionally as Babette, we don't know. But it's worrisome. Also troubling in a contemporary sense was seeing a Jersey Shore boardwalk violently destroyed, but that's just tragic coincidence. 

Finally, and speaking of characters soon to be wracked with guilt and grief and anger, we had the truly rattling and terrifically grim fifth episode of The Walking Dead's third season. In the show's nastiest bait-and-switch yet, we were given the gruesome but heroic death of unlikely survivor T-Dog and were tricked into thinking it was the episode's big main character demise. But no. Oh no. By episode's end it was clear we were dealing with a much more monumental episode than that: We also witnessed the terrible, tragic end of Lori Grimes, who chose to sacrifice her own life to spare that of her newborn baby's. Meaning, trapped in the prison and besieged by zombies, she told Maggie to give her a caesarian (using her son Carl's knife, no less) to get the baby out, knowing she would die in the process. She had a teary goodbye with Carl, one played very well by the often grating Sarah Wayne Callies, and then was gone. It was a harrowing scene, made even more bleak by the fact that Carl chose to be the one to shoot his mother in the head when she came back as a walker. We were spared that grim moment, hearing only the gunshot, but the implication was brutal enough. As was Rick's reaction, with Andrew Lincoln going into full keening mode while everyone else stood around in stunned, stupefied, horrified silence. It was probably the biggest emotional moment on the show yet, and was all done rather artfully for a series that is often bludgeoning and imprecise.

It's hard to say that we'll particularly miss Lori — she wasn't the most sympathetic or likable character — but her absence undeniably changes the show's emotional landscape. In the scenes-from-the-next bit it did indeed seem that Rick will go a little nuts, meaning we're in for some more heavy emoting on a show that's never shied away from histrionics. That could prove tiresome or it could bring the show into even bleaker territory, a place it's threatened to travel since its beginning, but has conveniently mostly dodged until now. Dale and Shane's deaths seemed inevitable and by-the-book, so really the only shocking thing this show has done that even comes close to last night is when we met the little Sophia zombie. But she was a minor secondary character. This is Lori we're talking about! And now she's dead, not even halfway through the season.

Speaking of Sophia, the fate of Carol, our choice for best unsung hero, is up in the air. T-Dog died protecting her, and last we saw she was disappearing through a door into the light. Later Rick and company found her headscarf, and thus assumed she was dead, but is she? We'd hope not. Carol is interesting, a quietly strong presence who gives the show an interesting dash of ordinariness. She's not some morally conflicted leader-type or reformed bad guy or sexy farm girl. She's just Carol, a middle-aged mom who's lost everything but has managed to keep on keepin' on. It'd be nice to see her keep on some more, so we hope she's not gone.

So that was Sunday! Phew. What was it about last night that had all of these shows bringing out the big final numbers? We'd suggest November sweeps, but these are cable shows. Maybe it's just weird coincidence that all three series had such death-centric installments. Whatever the reason, it made for an intense night of TV viewing. Obviously there's actual intense real-life stuff going on not far from where we are, and that's certainly way more important than all of this fake suffering, but from the couch potato's point of view? It certainly was a dark and stormy night.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.