Eric and Idalia find an isolated house in the middle of the woods and manage to make their way past the considerable walls that defend it. They find that the home is still occupied by the owner, an old lady – La Doña Alma – with quite the reputation for disliking visitors. The couple say they were given directions by a mutual freiend, Maria, and reluctantly the old woman agrees to let them stay for one night only. However when she rescinds the offer, a confrontation leads to her to having a fatal heart attack.
Pragmatically, Eric and Idalia decide to stay in the house – aftwer all, they’ve little chance of finding a better defended sanctuary anywhere else in the immediate area.
Unfortunately, while the walls keep the dangers from outside at arm’s lengths, they may do nothing to defend from the real dangers within…
The recent run of episodes in this anthology spin-off has proven at least one thing – that there are many ways to tell stories set in and around the Walking Dead universe. Some have been more successful than others, but none have been a waste of time and it’s been a welcome opportunity to hear new voices and share new visions and to expand the landscape.
This last episode, La Doña, is something of a disappointment, not bad in any ways that matter but simply uninspired… It really isn’t a Walking Dead story in even a peripheral way. Sure, there’s a few references and glimpse of ‘walkers’ early on and there’s unsavoury things that may or may not lurk in the mansion’s basement that could be the undead (but may be something worse) but there’s absolutely nothing here that couldn’t be featured in an unconnected horror film or show. There’s a slew of tropes and cliches, adequately presented but it is, at its heart, a well-trodden ghost story and offers no real credentials to fit in to the TWD world. (That being said, this entire season of ‘Tales…‘ hasn’t exactly played by the rules…)
The fundamental problem beyond the familiarity of the supernatural template is that there’s really no-one to root for. The couple who get into the house are rather insipid, neither of them purely nasty or evil but also possessing no real attributes to warrant survival and little if any deep guilt for their behaviour until they begin to pay for such. Sure, Daniella Pineda (The Originals, Cowboy Bebop) as Idalia shows some signs of initial concern and remorse but manages to shrug them off and Danny Ramirez (Top Gun: Maverick and soon to be seen as the new Falcon in the next Captain America film) as Eric doesn’t mean to cause any harm to the matriarch of the house but also goes into full pragmatism mode thereafter. Screen veteran Julie Carmen essays the La Doña Alma of the title, but though she has real presence in the moment, the episode essentially calls for her to be overtly suspicious and uncompromising in life and then glimpsed a generic vengeful ghoul for the rest of the story. While her demise is unfortunate and arbitrary (she’s not murdered, just fatally flustered), it’s not as if we had any fondness for her pre-mortem and so little sympathy post-mortem.
The climax is equally shrug-like, the couple apparently dragged to their doom in the cellar, but was it the traditional zombies or their sins made manifest – it’s not entirely clear and leaves proceedings with a sense of a story that didn’t really know how it was going to end and so just did with anything available on set at the time. There is an inference in the dialogue itself that despite what we’re seeing, it’s not what Eric is seeing and experiencing, but Idalia’s viewpoint of events (he seemingly only sees an undead walker version of La Dona and seems to think Idalia is the one being threatening) and it would have been far better if we’d had less overtly ‘ghostly’ sightings and more of it left to the imagination, the couple possibly destroyed by guilty rather than ghouls… and the inference that Idalia could either be hallucinating or truly haunted. Instead, the episode picks a side and it’s the one very much more travelled…
It’s mere weeks until the actual The Walking Dead returns for its final run and this raft of standalones has been worth the distraction as we wait, but it’s about time to get back into the meat of the concept…
- Production Design / VFX8