Tales of the Walking Dead Episode 2 Introduces a Shocking Sci-Fi Element

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This article contains spoilers for Tales of the Walking Dead episode 2.

One of the things Tales of the Walking Dead co-creator Channing Powell promised fans was something different. Powell said in an interview with Den of Geek that the show would “push the boundaries of the universe” and that the show “wanted to present a new option” for fans of long-running zombie television series The Walking Dead and its various spinoff properties. Given the sheer breadth of the franchise’s offerings, from the many web-only minisodes to the Talking Dead chat show to wrap up the night, that’s quite a task.

Just consider The Walking Dead itself. The show has clearly explored every element of horror short of extraterrestrial, from cities overrun with zombies akin to the best of George Romero to roving tribes of cannibals straight out of 1970’s Italy to body horror that would make Cronenberg jealous. If it’s creepy, it’s been on The Walking Dead. Interspersed between the horror, the show has had long periods of soap-opera interpersonal issues, struggles for political power, coming-of-age stories, romance, slapstick, black comedy, and a whole lot of stalking, stabbing, shooting, and stunt work.

The one thing The Walking Dead never did was science fiction…proper science fiction. There have been asynchronous time lines, Rashomon-like tales told from multiple angles, fever dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, and a lot of familiar elements from sci-fi, but The Walking Dead has always been a grounded series, insofar as a series in which the world’s mightiest military failed spectacularly at stopping the walker menace could be considered grounded. That all changes with Tales of the Walking Dead episode 2, “Blair/Gina,” which is basically a two-person Edge of Tomorrow with walkers rather than aliens.

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“Blair/Gina” opens up familiarly enough. A brittle micro-manager named Blair (Parker Posey) stands in front of her employees, lecturing them on the best way to use the country’s fear of walkers to sell insurance. The idea of the dead walking around biting people is ludicrous, but if people are afraid, it’s good for the insurance industry. When she’s not convincing her agents to up-sell, she’s haranguing Gina (Jillian Bell), who in Blair’s eyes is the most incompetent secretary ever and the source of all the world’s problems. And with that, Blair is off to a long weekend, and Gina is doomed to answer phones for someone she clearly hates.

When the characters cross paths at one of the last gas stations on the highway leading out of Atlanta, it’s pretty clear that Blair isn’t going away for a long weekend, and Gina is done with her 9-to-5 routine. The gas station is chaos. Gina pulls out a shotgun, a Homeland Security agent pulls a gun, Blair yells bitchily at Gina, and everyone goes up in a fireball as a gas tanker explodes. Except that’s not the end of the episode. With a cough and a puff of smoke from her lungs, Blair smashes back into her speech at the beginning of the episode, doomed to live out that moment over again. The next go-around, it’s Gina’s turn to revert to the same period in the time stream.

That’s the beautiful premise of ‘Blair/Gina.” The two women are trapped in a time loop, except they’re not alone like in Run Lola Run and the day doesn’t revert for the rest of the world when they go to sleep like in Groundhog Day. Every little change they make in an attempt to avoid dying in a fire, be it stealing the tanker or trying to drive a different way to get out of the city, ends up with the two of them right back in the office, usually screaming.

With every death, and every attempt at escaping their fate separately thwarted, the two women slowly begin to become unhinged, desperate to break the time loop and, if possible, to not get torn apart or blown up. Knowing that they’re stuck in the loop together with someone they actively dislike only makes those attempts go all the worse, as Blair and Gina take great pains to actively undermine one another, sometimes in very funny ways, before the time stream reverts back to the beginning. At times, the only clue as to how the person died in the previous iteration is how they come to in the office, and director Michael Satrazemis fills the episode with clever little nods like that; no two scenes feel the same, despite essentially being the same set-up, and there’s always a clever, escape-ruining twist.

The episode excels because of the brilliant casting. Parker Posey is in full-on high-strung WASP mode here as Blair, like if Meg Swan from Best In Show was even more difficult to deal with. Jillian Bell’s Gina is the perfect target for that rage, quiet and schlubby in her baggy teeshirt over a turtleneck and mousy passive-aggressive attitude. Blair’s open hostility becomes even more so as she has Gina arrested, shot, or mangled in her attempts to escape, and Gina’s passive-aggressiveness finally boils over into full-on rage as she does the same to Blair, with the two women sniping at one another through time line after time line, all of which end with the two dying horribly. It’s brilliant casting, and without such a strong lead and able foil, the episode wouldn’t work, particularly as the two of them start to realize they need to work together as their strengths compliment one another, rather than compete.

Granted, the two are still in Atlanta as the episode closes, and the two of them did just blow up the tanker truck yet again, but things seem somehow different. When the two women stopped competing and started collaborating, they’re able to get farther than they ever would have flying solo. They’re both different people by the end of the episode, their multiple failures having given them strengths they didn’t know they had, and the ability to confront hard truths about themselves and one another. They might not be friends, but they’re survivors, and they did it by working together.

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Happy endings can be hokey, but Kari Drake’s script makes sure it’s earned. Brilliant performances by Posey and Bell cement their bond. The two women improve one another, albeit slowly and after many deaths, and their pairing is stronger for what the other brings to the table. Blair has her aggressive attitude and take-charge demeanor; Gina has her love of family and her willingness to get her hands dirty. Blair’s a little bit nicer, and Gina’s a little bit more assertive, and together, they’re a formidable, walker-battling team.

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