'In Too Deep' is great when it's willing to go as deep as its title suggests. But that's not often enough.

By Jonathon Dornbush
February 22, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST

From her unique weapon choice to her steely exterior that masks inner turmoil, there’s little wonder why both the on-page and on-screen versions of Michonne have become such beloved characters in The Walking Dead universe. So is there room for a third iteration of the character to work just as well in The Walking Dead: Michonne?

Given memorable material in the pages of Robert Kirkman’s comic and brought to life with impressive care by Danai Gurira, Michonne now comes in virtual form via Telltale Games and Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley. Deviating from the original characters featured in the last two seasons of its The Walking Dead video game, Telltale looks at an established character, tracking a period in the comics when Michonne left Rick’s group. The three part miniseries, kicking off with “In Too Deep,” tracks what happened to her during that time, and what eventually brought her back.

Putting a new spin on a character fans already have two clear depictions of in their minds can be a difficult place to start from, but TWD:M’s title character is a well-blended mix of her two most well-known incarnations. Wiley’s stoic, to-the-point Michonne gives the character the hard edge she needs, but the actress isn’t afraid to delve into a more vulnerable place as Michonne’s past haunts her in the present. That trauma plays out best in the opening minutes, a surreal moment for the character during a walker assault, as her past and current situations colliding in a frightening mess. (And for those curious, the scene has already been revealed in a six-minute preview for the game.)

“In Too Deep” occasionally dips into more fantastical moments, and these exceptions to the Telltale norm are where the episode shines brightest. With this miniseries so focused around her experience, these descents into her inner turmoil brought to life evoke the best of what the character and Telltale can do. While most of the episode disappointingly follows the traditional set-up of a Telltale game — conversation here, choices there that will have repercussions later there — and the well-trod themes of the TV series, comic, and games, these scenes are hopefully only the tip of what Telltale has in store for Michonne.

Telltale is often at its best in premieres, and while “In Too Deep” has those strong moments, it feels surprisingly slight and familiar. Perhaps it’s the smaller scale of the story, but Michonne’s present-day arc never really comes to life during “In Too Deep.”

 

After a walker attack that feels like a deleted scene from Pirates of the Caribbean (just add moonlight) midway through the episode, the brunt of what is presumably Michonne’s arc comes into focus. She and her crewmate on the boat that has become her temporary salvation meet, under unexpected circumstances, another pair of survivors, but a case of wrong place, wrong time lands this new quartet into dangerous waters.

The Walking Dead is, time and again, about showcasing how those still alive can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than the dead walking among them. But “In Too Deep’s” spin on those themes delve into such familiar territory with a cast of characters who have yet to prove why players should care about them yet. This opening is more tepid arrival than the kick in the teeth the developer normally delivers. Of course, in true Telltale form, the episode ends on a pressure-cooker cliffhanger that, regardless of my misgivings, has me more than ready to give the next episode a try. Wiley and the writing and direction behind her role deliver on the one aspect that absolutely had to be done right — Michonne — in “In Too Deep.” It’s just a shame the rest of the episode doesn’t rise to the same unique level.

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