dum_spiro: (glancing :: neutral :: dappled)
[personal profile] dum_spiro
Because feelings, and words.

Trigger warnings here for Carol's life.

I have a lot of thoughts on the MSF last night, of course about Deanna and Jessie/Sam/Ron and their collective issues, but for perhaps obvious reasons what struck me most about the episode was Carol and Morgan -- the two best written and best acted characters in the show in my opinion -- and the showdown that's been brewing since 6x01. I rewatched the show after sleeping on it, and read some other opinions about it, and the more I consider how it's been done the more I appreciate what's being done, here.

First, I have to address the fact that Carol, a former victim of severe domestic violence (and also, I believe, severe child abuse in more ways than one, I believe there's lots of evidence for that existing in her family of origin, not the least of which is that no woman coming from a happy, healthy family stays with a man like Ed for well over a decade) got beaten literally into unconsciousness. I think that anyone who has a problem with Carol's empowerment and progress in the show as being unrealistic or "forced feminism" or some other related ageist and sexist BS is missing the point entirely, but I have just as many concerns about the viewpoint that Carol's history will cause her to be debilitatingly triggered by the fight with Morgan. Will it bother her, yes. Will it bring up things she doesn't want to remember, absolutely! I am in no way trying to minimize what she endured in her life. But the reason Carol has been able to survive, not just living with Ed but Sophia's death and killing Lizzy and all the awful things she's done -- believed she had to do -- is that she compartmentalizes. She explains this herself, when she tells Daryl that she can't allow herself to let things in, but insists that he, being who he is, must do so. Carol will not consciously digest and react to the fight with Morgan as reliving her former life as a battered woman; she won't allow herself to. Instead, she will be forced to consider what it means going forward, to keep surviving and protecting the one she loves.

This hints at a much larger, and I believe, much more central issue. In her compartmentalizing and vowing never to sit back and do nothing when she could give her loved ones a better chance at survival comes a hardness that Carol accepts as necessary, even mandatory, but that's not who she really is. Nor is it who she wants to be. Despite trying to hold herself aloof, Sam being the strongest example, she is a nurturer. Yes she is a badass and yes she is strong (always was, as she herself says), but all through 6A Morgan has challenged her belief that she has to be this way in order to protect people. He confronted her with the truth that she doesn't like killing. The sharp look she gives him in JSS before saying that of course she must kill people and then proceeding to ignore everything else he has to say was the truest representation of Carol's heart, that she has turned herself into essentially a human weapon, pushing her own feelings down in order to do what she believes she must do to survive, to help others survive. But here is Morgan, a man who has sworn not to kill and yet can still take care of himself, can still save others like he did Daryl and Aaron. Carol doesn't understand him because life has taught her that he's wrong, that all life is most certainly not precious, and that killing, while taking away another piece of her every time, is the only option.

I think Morgan's proposal that the Wolf (who is incredibly self-aware, stating repeatedly that he will get out, he will kill), that a man like that can change for the better must sound absurd to Carol. She herself has stated that they all change -- but they change because of the horrible things they must do, they all change for the worse. Imagine her life, her history, all the promises Ed (and likely others before him) made and broke, every time saying that he would do better, that he'd stop hurting her and Sophia. All the times since Sophia died that demonstrated to her that when you give people an inch, a chance, you're only giving them a chance to do something even worse. She tried to change Lizzy and Mika, all the kids at the prison, so they could defend themselves, trying to make up for her mistakes with Sophia, tried and pleaded with Lizzy to understand that the walkers weren't people, and it led her to the most painful thing she's ever endured. Tyreese allowed the man from Terminus to live (stopped Carol from going in and killing him by lying and saying he was dead already) and that ended up putting them all in grave danger. And now Morgan wants to save this man who callously killed people for sport, believes that he'll see the error of his ways and that it's worth risking all of their lives to do it? She can't possibly believe that. She has no reason to.

But Morgan does. I loved Here's Not Here and how he found himself again after the terrible things he endured, the person he became. I admire what Morgan has done to come back from that brink and I dearly hope he, and Eastman, are right that there is still hope for anyone. So I don't believe Morgan is completely wrong in wanting to give someone else the second chance he was given. It makes me respect his character and his journey. I don't believe the Wolf is the hill for him to die on, but it makes perfect sense why he won't allow Carol to kill him without a fight. And what he's doing isn't just insisting that a dangerous killer be allowed to live for a pie-in-the-sky hope that he can better himself, but he's trying -- and one some level, succeeding -- to show others that there can be another way. After all, if he can be saved, as lost as he was, anyone can. Right?

That's the central question of the series, of course. There will be no answering it in a piece of an episode, a battle between the ideologies of two characters who have taken very different paths through their trauma. But the point is, he's forcing Carol to start to feel, for the first time, what she has not yet allowed herself to feel. He's making her walk through that door that Eastman helped him to finally get past. When she insisted that Morgan step away, tried to convince him every way she knows how that allowing her to kill the wolf was necessary, she was nearly in tears, hesitating and continually convincing herself that there was no other way, because even Morgan had no definitive answers for her ("tell me you're sure, you know what will happen").

Think of what is on the line for her, here. Obviously it's the direct threat the Wolf exhibits to the lives of everyone in Alexandria, but for Carol it's also whether she can continue doing as she's been doing, killing when she believes she must to protect those she loves, whether she will -- or has already -- lost herself entirely in being a weapon. She's being forced to let it all in and she doesn't know how to handle that. When she was with Ed, and before that if my theory about her past holds any water, she couldn't afford to break apart, she had to take the shit that was thrown at her and come out smelling like roses. There was simply no alternative, the way she saw it. A person doesn't flee to a shelter and leave 36 hours later if they feel they have options; she didn't believe she had any, couldn't see them, and she had a daughter so she couldn't afford to be broken. She did the same after losing Sophia, and later Lizzy and Mika, her kamakaze mission at Terminus and her Suzy Homemaker act in Alexandria, every loss along the way she swore that she would do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. Unless she was ready to give up on life entirely, which she specifically said she is not, she couldn't see another choice. It's all she believes she has, and Morgan is telling her that's not true, and what's more he's making every effort to prove it.

The most important fallout from this fight will not be Carol coping with her history, it'll be grappling with her choices and her future, and for Morgan it will be deciding where he falls on the spectrum of disregarding life or preserving it. I dearly hope that the Wolf doesn't end up predictably killing Denise or others, proving Carol right as the show has done time and again. I don't think that would take her or Morgan where they need to go. If there is a less cut and dry outcome, I see so much more potential for growth between them. Morgan has the potential to understand and help Carol more than anyone else at this point, give her something that no one else can. She'll finally have no option but to let herself feel it, and find a way to battle a path to the other side of that pain. The soul Morgan ends up saving might not be the Wolf's, but hers.

**************


Bear in mind Carol is one of my favorite characters (along with Morgan) but I also have trouble with a lot of what she has done, and I don't think me being unable to defend/justify things she does is a problem for me in liking her and wanting her to redeem herself with reflection, insight, and a whole lot of help. I'd love to hear other viewpoints, both from people who like Carol and who don't. I'm evolving, here, so disagreement is good!

Carol and Sam is what I'm getting at. The first significant meeting, in Olivia's Guns 'n' Sundry, when Sam sees Carol sneaking in to nab guns, he's an innocent kid asking about cookies. And the horrifying story Carol tells him was shocking and upsetting, but the worst part of that was, I feel, that she was being incredibly selfish and cruel because she put her own pain (over Sophia, Mika and Lizzy) above the well-being of a child. Regardless of her lack of trust for the Alexandrians, it was a bridge too far. Rick and (initially) Daryl didn't trust Alexandria either, but they also made earnest efforts to give things a chance. Carol didn't do that. I *understand* why, but that doesn't make it justified. My first impulse was to defend Carol, say something like "she's just doing this to protect the people she loves," and while that was probably her internal reasoning, burying herself in her pain at the cost of a kid whose only "crime" was being safe when TF went through hell, is plainly wrong.

Beyond even that, she said that the Alexandrians were all children and they need to be told stories. They were naive, and they were sheltered, that is undeniable. But her response to them was not about anything they did to TF, it was about herself and her fear of letting anyone or anything hurt her again. Again, she had reasons, but that doesn't make her right.

Part of what I think made me want to justify and explain away that scary story was that Sam wasn't scared, not at first. He was intrigued by Carol, started pestering her to spend time with him. He didn't just want cookies, he wanted to hang out. Again, Carol was cold to him because of her own issues and desire not to be hurt again, and however you slice it, however logically it follows from what happened with Lizzy, it's selfish and cruel. She wanted to be cruel to get him to go away, that was the point. Not only that, she told him she'd only agree to what he wanted - attention - if he'd conspire with her to steal. This is textbook abusive behavior, trying to set Sam up to be blackmailed because he did something wrong in order to keep herself safe from discovery. Carol was doing this because she wanted to make sure she could keep her guns, in case things went to hell, and however internally consistent this was for her, she is manipulating a child in order to do it. Can't get behind that, much as I grasp why she is miserable and that she was blind to these things she was doing.

In discussing what Carol did wrong, which was a lot, there was a moment she stopped manipulating and started caring, just a tiny bit: when she caught wind that Sam was being abused by Pete, along with his brother and mom. Sam runs away, and in that moment Carol shows a much more reasonable and human response, going to Rick with the information and trying - again, in a misguided way - to make that abuse stop. Saying Pete had to die, while it ultimately turned out to be true, at that point was also WAY over the line. Carol doesn't know the whole story yet, and she's going from zero to murder in two seconds because that's the only way she can think to solve problems anymore. This is not the thinking of an emotionally balanced person, at all. Again, we see that her extreme responses are rooted in her way of adapting to this new ZA world - kill first and ask questions later, and Rick also believes this to a degree - but that doesn't make it a good choice or a reasonable choice.

When she threatens Pete and baits him to go at her, saying that people would believe she killed him in self-defense, was this about herself or about protecting Sam? Both I think, but probably more the former. She's wrapped up in her own issues at this point, her history with Ed. I think there was an element of caring about Sam, or at least what she told herself was caring about Sam, but I sort of think she wanted to prove that she could do it. That she wasn't who she was with Ed anymore. So much of her extreme reactions in S4, from teaching kids about weapons despite what was probably some discomfort (Patrick said he felt sick, it turned out to be the virus but initially Carol basically told him to suck it up) to encouraging Mika and Lizzy to put down their own father which was traumatizing, to the most extreme example in murdering Karen and David, all of this was in reaction to her own need to so something, *anything*, the way she couldn't at any point in her life before Sophia died. Somewhere along the way, she lost sight of whether doing something just to avoid doing nothing is always the best decision. Basically every character agrees that killing Karen and David was wrong, and they show this many times before we find out it was Carol. Was she trying to protect the prison? Sure, in her own mind. Were Karen and David likely to survive without her intervention? They could have had a chance, but I think an argument could be made that pretty much everyone who got sick after them died before the medicine made it back, so probably they wouldn't have, and I do think Carol made efforts to do it quick and probably she wouldn't have done it if Karen and David looked like they were still pretty much doing okay. But none of that makes her choice the right one, because if it was then someone would have said "you know, maybe it's for the best they're dead, maybe the disease will be stopped here." No one said that. Digressing!

Back to Sam. After Sam hides behind her during Rick and Pete's brawling (my heart broke for him, that he knew his mom couldn't or wouldn't protect him and he had to rely on someone who really was too bound up in herself to care properly about him to stand behind), and even after Pete is killed with the agreement of Deanna, Carol still isn't kind to him. She gives him a few one-off bits of "advice" that basically amount to "suck it up because that's life now, don't let it eat at you," (what? His dad's death is supposed to not eat him up? Ironic coming from Carol...) and while that is absolutely the bleak view with which she views the world, it's not especially helpful to Sam, or empathetic, or caring. (When Sam left that "A" stamp on Carol's porch I cried, it's like the little guy was crying out for someone to notice he was there and the only way he could express that was to leave a red-ink stamp there.)

The thing about all this "yeah that's the way the world is, get used to it kid" attitude is that Sam isn't Carl. He hasn't lived the reality of the world outside Alexandria. Carol knew he couldn't just downshift, but she couldn't be bothered. At this point Jessie didn't get it either, so she couldn't help Sam. Carol could have, but she didn't. Because she didn't want to care about another kid and lose him. To spare herself the pain, she pretty much literally threw him to the Wolves. Not her intention I would venture, but that's how it went.

And then 6A happened, and Sam saw that the terrifying story Carol told him was true, and retreated to his room. His brother is busy raging at the world and his mom is busy trying to figure out what the hell she's going to do now that she is beginning to see what the real situation is, and meanwhile Sam languished, alone. I do think Jessie had more of a responsibility here if we want to be entirely hard-line, but she was thrown the same giant curveballs as Sam was, and was doing her best. This was yet another chance for Carol to put Sam before her own pain, try to help Jessie coax the poor boy out and start working with him so that he could handle things. But no one did. He hid and drew terrifying pictures of the only future he saw possible anymore, being alone and unable to escape as the monsters come down from all sides. And then time ran out, and Jessie, in her panic, tried her best to try and get her sons to safety, but it was too late. Sam let his fear take over, because no one showed him how to handle it.

Maybe it seems odd that as someone who likes Carol and believes she is redeemable (with a LOT of work) feels that she was very wrong in her dealings with Sam, but that is what I am coming to believe. I understand her reasons, the irresistible urge to protect herself, but that doesn't make it right. Sophia, she couldn't save and I am sympathetic to her there because of what she endured from Ed, she couldn't save Lizzy and Mika despite trying to make up for her past mistakes with Sophia and I also find sympathy for her there because man Lizzy was sick, and for a kid growing up in the ZA I'm not sure there was anything anyone could do. But with Sam, she had every chance to have a different outcome and she didn't take any of them, because she was hurting and couldn't get past it. Understandable perhaps, but a series of glaring mistakes and ones I can't justify or defend.

The hell of it is, I don't think she especially likes where she is emotionally right now either, she's just been unwilling to take the chance to change things up until now. What I hope for her is that she comes to see these mistakes and actually learn from them, but right now I'm not seeing her at that point.

Spoiler: Spoilers for tonight's episode (not yet aired at the time of posting)
Maybe with help from Tobin, a sweet guy who could give her a chance to find worth in thinking about something besides her own hurt, she can start to understand where she went wrong here. I think Morgan can also have a large role in that, given his grief over Duane and how he felt he was responsible for it by not teaching Duane how to react to his mother's walker, and knowing they're going to have a conversation on tonight's episode. I hope those two men can help her see where she went so wrong, because the direction she's going isn't helping anyone, including herself. I also think, as much as I like Caryl, that Daryl isn't the person to do that for her right now, he's in a bad place himself with regards to trusting people and how to balance keeping safe and still being part of a growing world, and his struggle needs to take the forefront in his story and not be sidetracked by Carol's struggle (and we all know Daryl, sweet unselfish Daryl, would always put himself last to help someone he cares about). Maybe that's why the writers are choosing to keep them apart for the time being, and maybe it's for the best. End spoilers

I want that for Carol, to grow from this. But what I don't want is for her to use Sam as yet another justification to curl up with her pain and lash out at anyone who dares to try and interrupt that. She's been surviving, and doing it pretty well by the rather anemic standards of "stay breathing and don't give anyone a chance to hurt you in any way but cutting them off at the pass." She needs to start living again, and I think that begins with acknowledging what happened with Sam and her own role in it. With Sophia, she tried and failed, with Lizzy and Mika, she tried and failed, but with Sam she didn't even try, in fact she did a lot of harm, and it was for self-centered reasons. That, to me, makes all the difference.

*********


So I rewatched the show and there's a thing that maybe I'm off-base about, I dunno. Feel free to ignore if you're sick of Carol discussion, but she was featured in the episode and the whole time something about her was bugging the crap out of me.

The sweet scene where Tobin was saying Carol is a mom to almost everyone, his reasoning was that she does the hard stuff, she's strong enough to take on things that are terrifying in order to protect others. I don't argue with Tobin's perspective at all. Mom = protector,
​that makes sense to him. He's saying she cares about other people, sacrifices for them.​ And she responds to that, because Tobin is finding a piece of good behind what she's done, and she badly wants to believe he's right.

The trouble I'm having is that what Carol's done, those terrifying things, they're making part of her turn hard and cold, they're making her lose sleep and self-destruct,​ smoke to punish herself. ("They'll kill you," she said to Mrs. Neudermeyer, and now she takes them up...)​ MMB said of this episode, "when I look at Carol, I think about how the closest person we have to our own self is our self. She’s the closest person she has, and also she is someone who is estranged from herself in a weird way." She's not baking and smiling because she's trying to be nice and nurturing, or at least that's not the only reason. She told Sam in "Spend" that she cooks to distract herself and it makes her forget when she's sad, AMC even put the quote in their two-screen thingiewidget. She's doing it because she's miserable, because she's lost part of herself so she's defaulting to the only type of caring about people she can handle. Because what she's done terrifies her, too.​

Carol is a protector, and she's proven that she'll stop at nothing if it means a chance at keeping her people safe. But ​the nurturing aspects we see from her are superficial, if not outright insincere. She's pulled away from people, especially people who know her best, to huddle in a proverbial corner with her pain and bake acorn cookies. She kills for the people around her, but she refuses to "let herself" feel joy in having those same people in her life. She's going through the motions and using her smile as a smokescreen.

​Contrast that with Michonne, who has also endured painful loss after painful loss, and how she is with Carl, with Spencer out in the woods. She is protective... but she is also warm, she is caring and tender. She offers them not only safety from harm, but emotional security.

By that standard, Carol​ has never been less a mother than right now. She wasn't entirely wrong when she said "I was," past tense.​ ​It's not her fault - the actions she did choose, of course, and she bears that responsibility, but she had no idea what it would do to her and/or felt she had to do it all anyway. She's recoiling from pain, which is a natural human reaction. I think she's doing the best she can.

I absolutely get that being a mom isn't a hard and fast rule set, and this is the ZA so things are wildly different. And I'm sure not trying to hate on Carol just to hate on her, she's my favorite character. I don't doubt that Carol would keep Judith clean and fed, and I think she'd probably claw her own face off if it would protect the little one, and that probably holds for anyone she cares about. But as a mom myself, to a girl only a smidge older than Judith, there is also a huge emotional availability component to it, and that's what I find wholly lacking.

What gives me hope is that she's beginning to see the dissonance between her actions and her buried feelings. She's starting to understand just how very not okay she is. We shall see, because for her and Maggie the shit hit the fan.

So, yeah. I'm splitting hairs perhaps and my view is biased because I'm a mom, so I'd be willing to accept that I'm out in the weeds on this. Just wanted to get it out there.

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Carol Peletier

October 2015

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