Fear the Walking Dead: “Channel 4” (S5, E9 review)

Al was thrilled to be chosen as Zombie Apocalypse Vogue’s latest cover model (image via YouTube (c) AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND EXPLODING ZOMBIES, BAD MUSTARD AND HIGHLY-DECORATIVE, INSPIRATIONAL TREE ART …

You know what the zombie apocalypse needs far more of, well besides less of the undead?

Pad Thai, of course!

Granted, this may not be the first thing that springs to mind in a world crying out for great big walls, robust guns and, let’s be honest, toilet paper, but in Fear the Walking Dead‘s mid-season return “Channel 4”, that’s exactly what everyone got, sitting around a campfire and for a night, one happy night, feeling like everything was normal again.

Pre-apocalypse normal anyway.

In the new normal, zombies continue to wander just about everywhere including into the camp Morgan’s (Lennie James) group have set up for themselves, from where the likes of Sarah (Mo Collins), Morgan et al are heading out to bring succor to beleaguered survivors far and near.

Where zombies lumber unthinkingly into the landmined yard of Tess (Peggy Schott) and her now deceased and very zombiefied husband Ben – who, rather heroically, died fetching inhalers for his son (Cole Whitaker) – and explode like a body parts-rich Fourth of July.

And where the less idealistic portion of humanity, in this case led by a very pissed-off Logan (Matt Frewer), are determined to undo the good work of Good Samaritan Morgan, one survivor at a time.

Refreshingly in this all too often Pad Thai-free world, Logan is not the kind of murderous Big Bad favoured by The Walking Dead; he shoots, bike tires and steal backpacks but leaves people alive – well, so far anyway.

Quite what he’ll do from this point on is anyone’s guess, especially after Sarah left him abandoned on the side of the road after finding out where the stash of good petrol was hidden.

Probably not the wisest move to be fair but then Logan didn’t exactly endear himself to Sarah when he locked her and everyone else out of the denim plant aka the home base of the Good Samaritan convoys.

Men’s Health, Special Zombie Apocalypse Edition gave their cover to the endearingly handsome John (image via YouTube (c) AMC)

Suffice to say, so far Fear the Walking Dead is resisting the urge to amp the baddy factor up to 75 billion and its storytelling is all the better for it.

There were some in the early days, and who knows they may be out there still, who pilloried Fear for taking things too easily, in comparison to its more bloodthirsty parent show.

Whereas The Walking Dead goes for grand psychotic bad guys and girls, epic deaths and rampant brutality, with every interaction bigger than an undead Ben Hur, Fear has always preferred the slow burn, the unfurling by incremental degrees of threats which have been threatening no doubt but in a way that feels grounded and not cartoonish.

I can only pray they hold their nerve with Logan and the vendetta he is waging on the apocalypse’s beautifully-realised dogooders – as noted in previous episode reviews, the show has crafted incredibly engaging storylines out of doing good, proof that drama can come from everything if the writing is insightfully good – because it is resulting in a narrative that feels very human, mirroring the way people would routinely act in the apocalypse.

Sure, the human race is capable of the kind of war-like atrocities oft visited upon the blighted denizens of The Walking Dead, but most interactions, even in times of trial and tribulation are not that epically violent, and Fear recognises this, offering up not simply the idea that doing good is possible and worthwhile at the end of the world, but that the default reaction doesn’t always have to be cataclysmic murder and mayhem.

They amplified their commitment to narrative humanism in “Channel 4” by choosing to focus most of the episode on Al-recorded vox pops of the group with John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt), Grace (Karen David), Al herself (Maggie Grace), Morgan, Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), Dwight (Austin Amelio), Laura/Naomi/June (Jenna Elfman), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Daniel (Rubén Blades) all having a chance to talk about why their mission matters and the challenges of being dogooders and fulfilling the second part of their creed which is trying to enjoy life.

That part’s a little tough to pull off, although the pad Thai was an inspired attempt and came off nicely, especially when your day involves coaxing a scared widow and her son from a house they haven’t left since the zombie plague began and which is surrounded, zombie explosions hurrah, with landmines aplenty.

In the midst of all the vox pops, which were quite affecting and dialogued in a way that felt a little more natural than much of the moralising that comes from Fear, we saw how challenging it is to be a force for good in a world where there’s lot of fear, lots of death and not a whole lot of pad Thai.

Tree Monthly decided that the star of the show should be the artfully-tattooed tree itself, something that Alicia was very much in agreement with (image via YouTube (c) AMC)

Hard to pull off maybe, but this key part of the episode made gloriously clear, helping people like Tess really matters.

It would be all too easy at this point to wonder why, when death is so prevalent, why you would bother fighting for life, when its opposite number is so damn prevalent.

But that’s the thing – humanity is a famously tenacious species that fights for life, fights for the good stuff even when it seems pointless.

Is that stupidly stubborn? Maybe objectively, yes, but we’re not an objective species, and while our history is marked by all kinds of blood and violence and death, it is mostly punctuated by the sheer resilience of our attachment to life in all its messy, flawed glory.

Fear has tapped into this persistent dynamic in a magnificently-engaging way, and it was on palpable show in “Channel 4”, which is by the way, the walker-talkie channel on which survivors can get the help they need, as Morgan and the others demonstrated that, hard though it is on all kinds of levels (such as Morgan having to deal afresh with the death of his wife and son during the Tess scenes), doing good is not simply, well good, it’s damn well necessary.

The show recognises, in ways that feel substantial and important, that what makes us thrive as a species is hanging onto hope when everything says we’re ridiculous to do so, it’s making pad Thai when sheer survival should be the order of the day and it’s going off, like Alicia is doing, to find out who is carving messages of vibrant humanity into trees.

Are they fool’s errands? Maybe so, if you going to be survivalist hardcore about things, but Fear, which has always championed real, grounded, heartfelt, in the trenches and otherwise humanity, knows that we are about more than just surviving and that this should be celebrated.

And, thankfully for a season that just gets better and better, in finely-wrought storytelling that highlights us at our best even when the very worst is happening all around us.

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