- SPOILERS AHEAD … AS WELL AS SHISH KEBAB ZOMBIES, UNWANTED WINDOW GUESTS AND REGRET, LOTS OF REGRET
When the world around you has gone to the undead dogs – frankly in a world where civilisation has fallen, the reanimated dead wander the earth and Lord of the Flies is less a literary title and more a life philosophy for all, you’d think some devoted, adorable members of “man’s best friend” club would be welcome, but it appears not – and reality bites a big one, the power of imagination is a pretty enticing tool to employ.
Even more so when you’re Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) and you’ve been stuck in an old house full of the dead and memories (this year’s big decorating themes!) where you’ve just undergone what is effectively a group therapy session, working through the death of your mother and brother (Alicia) and your parents and non-resulting beach visits (Charlie).
After all that, and some heated up food in rusty tin cans (hello god knows what kind of diseases), surely you’d be damn near entitled to sit back in a moving car – OK just Charlie this time; Alicia, keep your eyes on the road will ya? – and picture running into the ocean where you look back to see your alive parents vs. the turned version who lack the parenting skills, not surprisingly, that you crave?
You would and so it is that after weathering the mother of all storms – it looked suspiciously sunny throughout but who am I to question Texan storms and their brightness? – Alicia and Charlie go the beach, in their minds at least.
It caps off an episode where everyone went to hell and back, got wet and got dry, left a family of bodies (an actual family of bodies, thank you – mum, dad and the kids) lying outside before burying them, threw out the family photos (Alicia) and brought them back in again (Charlie), all part of a pretty full-on night of excavating out souls (metaphorically, thank god) and filling them in again with an altogether more happy set of feelings.
This was, in fact, the great strength and weakness of “Close Your Eyes”, which put Alicia, heir apparent to mum Madison’s (Kim Dickens) beguiling mix of compassion and tenacity, in the solo spotlight.
After running from Morgan in “People Like Us” just as the storm was arriving in all its sunshine-tinted fury – yes, I know it made for great lighting effects, especially when Alicia walked into the house and was framed by the glow of the open door; speaking of which, who leaves a door open anywhere in the zombie apocalypse? For shame, Alicia, for shame! – and finding shelter in the same house in which Charlie, newly-run from Luciana (Danay García), was hiding, the Person Most Likely to Step Up As Leader went through a trial of fire.
Keep in mind she’d never really dealt with what happened to her mother and brother, apart from obsessively killing zombies on the perimeter line of the home she loosely share with Luciana and Victor (Colman Domingo), and so being stuck in the house with Charlie, the person indirectly and directly for the deaths of her remaining family members, triggered all kinds of deep inward looks at her soul.
In a tour de force acting effort from Debnam-Carey, who pretty much carried the episode, we saw her go from threatening to kill Charlie and calling her garbage and a waste of a person – most telling was that as she said this, she wavered, saying she didn’t really want to kill her but she might irregardless, highlighting her inner conflict – to tolerating her to pretty much resolving the issues between them.
You could argue, and I did while watching “Close Your Eyes”, that it was all a bit too conveniently quick how Alicia went from “I will end you! Maybe …” … “No, I will! I mean,it could happen …” to “I’ll talk to you but I don’t like you” to “Let’s share things and actual do nice things for each other”.
Perhaps it was, and perhaps no one would ordinarily deal with their shit so comprehensively and efficiently, but hey, this is the zombie apocalypse, there’s nothing normal about it, emotionally or otherwise, so you could argue that go from go to whoa in the one storm-ravaged night could and would happen.
After all, emotions, raw, intense, near-material emotions, sit very close to the surface all the time in traumatic situations, and while yes, you have to get on with the business of surviving with no time to actually ruminate at length, it doesn’t take much to get them to the surface and tumbling out.
So conceivably you could have a therapy session of sorts in one night, especially when you’re cheek-by-jowl with a young girl you’ve tagged as your mortal enemy, and get it all sorted; or it’s simply narratively-convenient and you don’t want to make the mistake The Walking Dead has done often which is to have a character brood … brood … brood … brood … oh for god’s sake stop it will ya?!
Whatever the merits and authenticity of this type of emotional epiphany – and again people go deep when trauma hits so anything’s possible – “Close Your Eyes” made for exceptional TV with Charlie wanting to die and confessing her agony at seeing her parents turn in front of her, with every confession from the scared young, overwhelmed girl helping Alicia to understand that while her grief and loss was legitimate, perhaps the blame she was assigning didn’t allow for all kinds of factors.
Like the factor that Charlie was a kid … or the fact that everyone, including Alicia, had done all kinds of terrible things and everyone has blood on their hands … or that death is a horrible, awful thing and no one brings it on willingly.
As a perspective re-setting exercise, it was brilliantly-done, a reorienting of Alicia’s world view that helped her come to grips with the fact that she was her mother’s daughter, that compassion and tenacity are natural bed fellows, and that it’s possible to be both ruthless and still caring, even in the midst of the hellhole that is the zombie apocalypse.
The episode also brought home the idea that with Madison, it makes sense to place Alicia front and centre; her character is substantial enough and her arc nowhere near spent, unlike Mogrgan (Lennie James), who’s playing like a massively-broken old record.
Fear the Walking Dead has always excelled by concentrating on those small, oft-missed very human moments and “Close Your Eyes” was no exception, drawing us deep into Alicia’s broken world and watching as she found healing and perhaps a way forward, not just for her but for the whole group.
- Next up on Fear the Walking Dead in “The Code” …