Fear the Walking Dead: “Channel 5” (S5, E15 review)

Ginny and the Pioneers … taking all the fun our of apocalyptic horse riding (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND COLLAPSING BRIDGES, LONG EXHAUSTING WALKS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE … AND CRUSHING DISAPPOINTMENT

Now it may surprise you learn that public relations is still a thing in the zaombie apocalypse.

That’s not so much because the undead are spruiking the marginal benefits of being eaten by them – let’s face it, there’s no way to make being eaten alive in chunky, clumsy grabs even remotely appealing although god knows there’s probably a PR professinal somewhere who would be happy take on the challenge (“Lose weight! Let a zombie gnaw off your limb!”) – but because two competing camps are trying to atract wavering supporters who may be wondering which group is best suited to their end of the world needs.

Granted, staying alive is probably the only priority that really matters, and as priorities go, it’s pretty damn compelling.

But, and it’s a BIG “but” that has been the marquee message of a season devoted to doing more than ending up as zombie chow, as people like Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), who keeps painting away while Wes (Colby Hollman) looks dreamily on and promises to paint with her (he really likes her) and Morgan (Lennie James) who is finally showing Grace (Karen David) in her hour of terminal need, there’s more to life than simply NOT leaving it behind.

The wider question now is since you ARE alive, what do you want to do with it and who do you want to spend it with?

That’s where, naturally, the video-centric competing PR campaigns of the Convoy and Ginny and the Pioneers (not a pop band but god knows they have the name for it) come into play, earnestly imploring people to throw their lot in with the group that most seems to meet their values. (Yes, you are still allowed to have those in the apocalypse, thank you, and they are, along with paintbrushes and audio books, pretty much one of the few things left to people to define themselves.)

The problem is, and yes, it’s still a thing after the downfall of civilisation is that “fake news” aka propaganda is still very much a thing, and telling the truth from the lies is, as ever, quite the dilemma.

Being undead is SO tiring … right Slumping Zombie at the End of the Car? (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

Why is that you may ask since surely the picture never lies?

Alas, sorry to shatter innocent assumptions about truth, veracity and glowing authenticty, but the picture lies like a dictator bent on reshaping the world in his or her own power huntry image, and the master of it all in “Channel 5”, the walkie-talkie frequency used by the Pioneers, is their leader Ginny (Colby Minifie) who’s recorded a happy-clappy, sunshine and roses where everyone looks so beatifically happy you’re pretty just waiting for them to explode with giddy happiness (which would make their consumption by zombies a whole lot easier and negate the need for an undead PR campaign).

It looks wonderful and if you weren’t someone like recent escapes from the Pioneers cult like Tom (Joe Masinghill) and his sister Janis (Holly Curran), who are reunited in a short-lived burst of filial togetherness, you might be include to drink this particular flavour of Kool-Aid.

After all, it looks the part, right? But wait a minute!

Behind all the toothpaste commercial smiles and scenes of Normal Rockwell meals out under the glorious golden sun, lies a ruthless regime that is going to make the world a better place WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!

In Ginny’s Darwinian world, you are only as good as your usefulness and should you fail to measure up and contribute as she thinks you should, you’re out!

And by out, we mean DEAD.

Yep, it’s one hell of an exit interview but then Ginny, for all her southern dulcet tones and eye-fluttering smiles, is all about MAKING THINGS HAPPEN and if you can’t be a part of that either because of unwillingness, sickness or some other kind of impairment (how very dare you!) then the only finger she’ll lift is the one that pushes the trigger on the gun that kills you.

The video’s not looking so bright and shiny now is it?

You may want to put down Ginny’s jug of Brand New World Kool-Aid – less Aladdin and more Aldous Huxley with a democracy-suppressing dash of Orwell’s 1984 – and think again before you drink it all down.

Far better surely to throw your lot in with Naomi/Laura/June (Jenna Elfman) and John (Garret Dillahunt), who are going to the chapel and they’re going to get married (hurrah for annoying earworms … you’re welcome), and the rest of the gang who go out of their way to do the kind of things Ginny would never countenance.

Like drive out of their way, even when they’re running short on fuel – kudos to Sarah (Mo Collins) for finding a shortcut that works brilliantly – save for the bridge that begins to collapse and eventually, sadly, kills Tom but alas you can’t have everything, not even when you have a shiny video singing the praises of your non-dictatorial, kumbayah approach living your best life in the apocalypse – to get saline packs at a retirement home so Grace can live long enough …

… to make gooey eyes of love at Morgan (who’s encouraged by Daniel, played by Rubén Blades, to tell Grace how much he loves her, and discouraged by Grace who knows what he’s going to say but asks him not to because it will make dying all the harder to bear; a another nuanced moment courtesy of Fear’s damn good writers’ team) and to walk miles and miles to a hoped-for sanctuary.

Other people like Wes and Tom and Alicia and so on and so on share in the video, which is all about showing the flaws and problems in their life as a direct counterpoint to Ginny’s slick lies, about much it has mattered to them that people have gone above and beyond to save them from themselves, even at their own risk.

Nothing like cosy campfire at the end of the world (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

It’s a wholly different approach to the coercion and manipulation of Ginny and there’s no denying that everyone in the Convoy are a happier bunch than Ginny’s stoney-faced group (who are now in cars, not on horseback thanks to the fuel production facility they stole).

Alas, like so much in our world, and the end of the world next it seems, and kudos again to Fear for being willing to tell it like it is in ways that feel grounded and make sense and don’t rely on cartoonish depictions (like The Walking Dead), idealism and well-intentioned action do not always win out.

That is not, of course, because the ideas underpinning what the Convoy are doing are inherently flawed.

They are the only, sane, reasonable way to go; time and again history has shown that while authoritarianism wins out in the short term it eventually implodes, sunk by the need for people to be people and not objects of power wielding, and what endures is people giving a damn about each other.

It may seems hopelessly idealistic, something that everyone from Logan (Matt Frewer) and Ginny have mocked the Convoy gang for over and over, but there is a robustness and truth to it than is stronger than its Hallmark-ian sentiments might suggests.

There is a reason why love is stronger than hate and it’s not because it makes for a catchy tagline on a card or dorm room poster.

It’s because when people feel loved, respected and cared, and part of something that will unconditionally have their back, they are far more apt to hold together and act for the greater good than when they are compelled by force or the threat of death to do so.

Ginny’s brutalist cajoling may seem like the stronger option but it’s inherently flawed and weak in the long-term with only so much gas left, ahem, in its philosophical tank.

Still, that’s the long term we’re talking about – right now Ginny is winning, having burned down all kinds of options for a new home for the Convoy gang and filled up the western township known as the Gulch that they all marched towards when the bridge claimed the tanker, their cars and good old Tom with a horde of zombies (points to her for seemingly effortless organisation) – and in the short term she appears to have won, forcing the Convoy gang, who are out of food, water and I presume paint (sorry Alicia and Wes), into her arms.

It’s a deflating end to a grand idealistic experiment by the Convoy gang but even though they have lost the battle, they are going to win the war because it’s not their approach that’s wrong, simply the resource grunt needed to make it happen, which currently all sits with Ginny.

They’ve lost now but even at this, their darkest hour, you have to believe, that they will win out in the end.

It just going to take a whole lot longer than they thought — which is good news for season 6 I guess where more nuanced existential musings will fill Fear with the kind of sophisticated storytelling which has made it so damn satisfying to watch this season …

Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in the season finale “End of the Line” …

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