Broadcast Date: 3 October 2011
Director: Greg Nicotero
Writers: John Esposito and Greg Nicotero
Cast: Lilli Birdsell, Danielle Burgio, Griffin Cleveland, Madison Leisle, Rex Linn, and Rick Otto
For those of you wondering whether you missed an episode of The Walking Dead, Torn Apart is a spinoff Web series directed by Greg Nicotero, who handles the makeup effects on the show. This review encompasses all six webisodes because there isn’t much meat to them. Also, they’re paced à la Frank Darabont, which is to say every chapter flows into a single narrative with no individual sense of structure beyond the obligatory cliff-hanger. I recommend watching the whole series in one go or, frankly, not watching it at all.
Chapter 1: A New Day
Torn Apart starts off strong with dynamic handheld cinematography and high production values. I’m amazed at the length of the exterior set as our heroine, Hannah (Lilli Birdsell), runs through the neighbourhood in search of her kids, Billy (Griffin Cleveland) and Jamie (Madison Leisle). In roughly three minutes, she manages to crash a car, wake up from a premonitory dream, check out the saucy aftermath of a family barbeque gone wrong, and escape a flesh-hungry crossing guard. The whole thing turns out pretty awesome.
Chapter 2: Family Matters
Then the Web series falls and can’t get up. Hannah reunites with her children, and we find out she was, at some point, married to a terrible actor. Rick Otto’s performance as Andrew, the whiny ex-husband, borders on the ridiculous, though I suppose lines like the following don’t help: “You’re going to put that bowl right back where you found it! It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Max!” I also rolled my eyes at this exchange: “I’m still his father last time I checked”; “Yeah, on weekends and holidays last time I checked!” This is what it sounds like when doves cry exposition.
Chapter 3: Domestic Violence
From then on, Torn Apart largely focuses on Andrew’s side of the story, depicting the multiple demises of his new wife, Judy (Danielle Burgio), and moving backwards from there. I find this disappointing for two reasons. First, the character is, by design, less compelling than Hannah, making one boneheaded decision after the other so that she can shine in comparison. Second, the inexplicable shift to a male perspective fuels my growing suspicion that the writers of AMC’s The Walking Dead hate women. Consider the amount of blood spurting out of poor Judy, who gets a particularly gory version of the kiss of death followed by a led punch in the gut from her husband.
Chapter 4: Neighborly Advice
Now, you might be wondering where Andrew got the shotgun to dispatch his wife, or, like me, you may be asking instead why you should care when we could’ve just as easily assumed he kept one at home. Either way, Rex Linn provides the answer as right-wing neighbour Palmer, who serves as a welcome distraction from Otto’s community-play delivery. His is a strong chapter, but it took me a while to figure out “Neighborly Advice” takes place before the previous webisode. I’m not sure what the Memento (2000) structure adds to the story other than a reminder as to the superfluous nature of this final flashback.
Chapter 5: Step-Mother
Back to the main plot then: in a rather effective sequence, Judy rises again to terrify her stepchildren and gets her face bashed in by Hannah, who screams, “Stay away from my family!” Is the line meant to echo a single mother’s resentment toward the “other woman”? Who knows? We’re never given any background on their relationship. Anyway, at this point, you should know where the story’s headed: Andrew inevitably gets himself killed, and Hannah sacrifices herself so their children can run off into the horizon because AMC craves mainstream legitimacy too much to post videos of kids getting eaten alive.
Chapter 6: Everything Dies
Sure enough, Andrew gets himself killed, and Hannah sacrifices herself so their children can run off into the horizon. The twist here is that the heroic mother becomes Bicycle Girl, the torso zombie from “Days Gone Bye”. I suspect this would have worked better if AMC hadn’t advertised the Web series as, you know, the origin of Bicycle Girl. Still, I like the idea of fleshing out the ghouls threatening our heroes. My issue lies in the choice of corpse to emphasise the walkers’ previous humanity. You should already have got the idea from Rick’s expression when he shoots her. If not, the scene works even better because the hero displays more compassion than you have in your cold, cold heart. If you didn’t care for Bicycle Girl then, I doubt Torn Apart is going to change your mind.