Teaching the Dead: Still and Social Inequality

I actually used “Still” as a whole for a lesson in my Suspense class. We were discussion theme, parallelism, internal conflicts, and duality, and this episode was brilliant for these devices and more. I’ll recreate what I taught. Consider it “Teaching the Dead Lesson #7 – Still and Social Inequality”:

Although on the surface and to the naked eye Still looks like a Daryl fangirl episode, it is in fact a deep character study of two deeply injured characters who seem very different and yet are very similar – Daryl and Beth.

Similar? What does a redneck whose been in jail have to do with the sheltered little farm girl???? They have a common cause of their pain – alcoholism.

We know the story of Daryl’s father – a raging alcoholic, abusive, and a no good redneck. But Beth’s story has a common thread – she is the daughter of a recovering alcoholic. She’s seen the results of alcoholism and the courage it takes to overcome it as her father did. She’s probably heard of the damage it caused her family and because of this, alcohol became the devil that she must never touch. It makes sense then that the way these two lost souls would connect would be over a drinking game and a stash of moonshine.

Beth is dealing with her father’s death. For the first time, she is also experiencing freedom. Out from under the protective eyes of her older sister and her father, and actually with her entire family dead, this sheltered little farm girl is experiencing rebellion the only way she knows how, by embracing the very devil she was warned to avoid. And so, a childish quest for booze ensues. But the immaturity of this journey only goes to highlight the immaturity of the two characters embarking on the quest.

Immature? Daryl? Beth we can buy, but Daryl? Yes. Here is a man that up until two years ago was under the influencial wing of his racist drug abusing brother. Someone who didn’t know what it meant to be part of a community, who would rather be alone, and who certainly had no clue how to express his own feelings. Now, after gaining a positive reputation and the idolation of others, after being a part of a “family” that actually looks out for each other, and after being uncomfortable with his newfound fame, it was all ripped away. His response – revert back to his old self, strict survival mode, and shut down. How he interacts with Beth is immature – piggyback rides, lashing out, pissing in front of her, and playing house in a mortuary. Hell, he can’t even say what he really feels directly (I still think he loves her as a sister, but that’s a post for another day). Here is man who clearly cannot act his age or express himself age appropriately (whatever that age is!).

So there you have it – two immature hurting people who have suffered great loss. Neither knows how to communicate with the other, or how to express it. Daryl shuts down, while Beth takes the typical teenager approach of rebellion. And off they go to find the common thread in both their past….

But there is one difference in these two that is striking and becomes the backbone for the hidden theme of this episode. Even though they are both the children of alcoholic fathers, Beth had a support system and a soci-economic status that Daryl lacked. Beth was surrounded by supportive and caring siblings and a mother, while Daryl’s family didn’t notice he was lost in the woods for days. His protective brother took off and left him to sustain more abuse. Beth was a realitivey comfortable country girl. Although not wealthy, her family was definitely middle class or above. Daryl grew up in a shack. The juxapostion of these two lives is what makes Still so fascinating.

When Beth wants booze, her upper middle class thought is “Country club.” Here is a place Daryl is clearly uncomfortable. A place that reminds him or his upbringing, and his “outsider” status that he has had his whole life. His response is to “steal” money and jewelry. Worthless in this new world, but for a reverting Daryl, it was too good to pass up. A symbol of his contempt for the “haves” while he was a “have not.” He savagely beats a privileged Walker, partly because he is dealing not just with the loss of his prison family but also because he is combating the ghosts of his past. He angerly throws darts at the board of directors, and shows anger as they search the place. It is not until they go to the distillery that he relaxes.

At the still, he is home. Surrounded by familar sights in his past. All would have been well, until Beth does another childish thing and requests a “drinking game.”

It’s not her fault. The only way she knows how to drink is by a “game” as she watched her friends do. The only way Daryl knows how to open up with by “getting lit.” And each of Beth’s questions furthers the divide between the two of them, reminding Daryl of all he didn’t do that this privileged little girl did. And so he lashes out again – yelling about ponies and coming out parties, again showing his hatred for that world he was never a part of. Only after he is able to open up to Beth, burn down the house, and burn the money that he needed as a kid and symbolized his low socioeconomic status, can he move on.

To me, Still is about dealing with the past. Not just the post ZA past, but the scars of childhood Poverty, abuse and alcoholism can reach into the new world and needs to be faced and tackled, something Daryl did in Still and other episodes in season 4.

Correction – I later discovered the Daryl was probably NOT in jail, but Beth didn’t believe it and continued to try to get him to drink. Her non-belief that he has never been to jail helps push him over the edge.

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