FEAR THE WALKING DEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE WORST MASK PARTY *EVER* …
Life is woefully short on fairytales.
That’s even more the case in the zombie apocalypse where the scarcity of happy-ever-afters and princesses finding and kissing their princes (or princesses) is all too apparent.
So, you have to feel desperately sorry for Dwight (Austin Amelio) who was ecstatic at the end episode three of Fear the Walking Dead‘s sixth season, “Alaska”, to be reunited with Sherry (Christine Evangelista), the woman he had trekked right across these here United States, or what’s left of them, to find.
As episode five opens, Sherry and Dwight are sheltering in a love shack somewhere, sadly with no sign of the B-52s, either alive or undead, all wrapped in the dreamy joy of finding each other.
Sherry is re-reading the cookie crumb love notes she left for Dwight in case he should follow her, and it looks like love has finally scored a win against against violence, death and a greta big dollop of looking after number 1 enmity.
But it’s not to be, and after Sherry disappears from the house on her way to get hot sauce – even grocery runs are dangerous it seems – Dwight is kidnapped by mask-wearing people who look like they lost their way on route to a particularly anonymous Halloween party. (The joke’s on them, of course, since the whole world is one unending Halloween party now and not a very well catered one, either in food or security.)
At this point, if you’re a regular Fear viewer, someone who has gloried in its slow-careful storytelling, its brooding atmosphere and its rich, grounded humanity in seasons past, your heart likely dropped into your feet as the poetic sensibilities of the last two episodes seemed to vanish like Virginia’s (Colby Minifie) smile on a passive-aggressive day (which is, let’s face it, every day).
But then something quite remarkable happens.
Fear, which looks like it’s going to serve up a reheated The Walking Dead story, where one deeply weird group, in this case the Mask Wearers, decide to go to war with Virginia’s authoritarian Pioneers by stealing back the MRAP and using to assassinate Virginia who has it appears pissed off more than a few of her former citizens.
The Mask Wearers, who disguise their identities so Virginia’s Rangers don’t recognise them, and because it’s apparently what you do in the zombie apocalypse, are all disaffected ex-Pioneers, people who left the “cosy” environs of Lawton and other communities only to have Virginia hunt them down and try to kill them.
You can understand why they might be a little angry and vengeful and so they are, determined to bring their nemesis down and with her a reign of terror that looks all white picket fences and cupcakes lovely but which, when you get down to it, as human rights trampling as any other dictatorial regime in history.
Trouble is, if they go to war with Virginia now, lots of Dwight and Al (Maggie Grace) and Morgan (Lennie James), all of whom end up in Mask Land eventually will die and that’s just not acceptable.
Well, to everyone besides Dwight, who at the urging of Sherry who wants to atone for her complicity in Negan’s many brutal cruelties by being brutally cruel to the next Negan-like figure she encountered, decides to help the Mask Wearers do their Virginia-killing thing.
Ain’t love grand?
Here we go again, you think, and then suddenly, out of the ashes of meaningful, thoughtful storytelling rises a wholly affecting tale of two people desperately loving each other who have ended up in the same place geographically but wholly different places in every other respect.
They love each other, which is evident in a series of beautifully realised scenes at the end of the episode, and are willing to do what’s needed for the other – Sherry, seeing Dwight back as the man she once knew pre-Negan, wants to keep him that way even if it means pushing him away – but it appears can’t be together.
It’s heartrending and a beautiful distillation of the many complexities and complications love especially in an age where it’s short on the ground and plays second fiddle to a whole host of less attractive emotional motivations.
It’s not quite enough to fully rescue “Honey” which veers too close to the violence fixes each and every plot problem approach of The Walking Dead franchise but it comes close, helped by the fact that the episode ends with Al, Morgan (who admits in one scene that he was an arrogant know-it-all who got it wrong – glory be!) and a still hopeful Dwight (see what he scrawls in the truck) who lead the folks from the office building in “Alaska” to Morgan’s new home and hopefully a life where people choose love over survival.
Yeah, don’t hold your breath …
THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SOME DIRTY, ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS …
Is there a place for con jobs in the zombie apocalypse?
Most people would argue the entire damn thing is full of people committing all kinds of deceitful acts to get ahead and stay ahead but starry-eyed optimists like Iris (Aliyah Royale) are clearly hoping that the world is full of good and kindhearted people who will always do the right thing.
Which is why, when Percy (Ted Sutherland) shows up one night claiming to have been the victim of robbery after he trusted two men who seemed to be good and kind and helpful but were manifestly NOT, Iris, along with Elton (Nicolas Cantu) rush to help him.
Silas (Hal Cumpston) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) are far more negative and downright hostile, seeing holes aplenty – big enough to, ahem, drive a truck through; no, really, an actual truck which is what Percy claims was stolen from him, along with the fuel to run it – in Percy’s grandiose tale of derring-do and Boys’ Own Adventures across the country.
Felix (Nico Tortorella) sits somewhere in the middle, automatically inclined to have major trust issues but wanting to help someone in trouble, especially if, in exchange for doing so, they get a truck ride to new York saving a whole lot of walking, scrounging for supplies and potentially attacks by “Empties” or as Percy refers to them “Has-beens”.
What to do, what to do?
Why, they help him of course but this being the zombie apocalypse and Iris’s rose-coloured glasses being altogether too tight and woefully misleading, things don’t quite go according to the Disney-esque plot laid out in Iris and Elton’s heads.
What happens in a series of action packed scenes in a small nearby town of Andersonville, which Percy claims is deserted (true) and where his attackers are hiding (true and not true; Percy, you see is running a con with his uncle Tony (Scott Delmado) and Iris and the gang are being royally suckered) is that all of Iris’s ideas about the innate believability of people she decides she trusts are blown to smithereens.
Percy and his uncle Tony make off with the truck (not actually stolen) and all of the group’s belongings, leaving Iris and Felix et al. in a town rapidly filling with “Has-beens”.
So much for all that sunshine and lightness of the world stuff, huh Iris?
But then miraculously (cue angels singing!), Percy and Tony return and scoop everyone up just in the nick of time, an act of selfless chivalry driven, Percy admits to Iris as he essentially begs for her forgiveness, by the fact that she believed in him and after a lifetime of running cons and being a bit of slimebag, he likes the idea of being someone that someone else believes in.
Yeah, it’s kind of twee and very CW, and yes, Iris is a tad quick and narratively convenient to forgive him but that does fit in with the World Beyond thematic bedrock which seems to be that the world might look royally screwed and likely is, but that doesn’t mean it’s without some goodness or people worth saving and believing in.
It’s not quite a cosy everything-wraps-up-in-20-minutes sitcom approach but it’s close; even so, it works because there’s something deeply appealing about people wanting the very best in the zombie apocalypse and acting accordingly, and eschewing the usual death and violence to get what I want.
So if World Beyond wants to get a little earnest and saccharinely intense at times, then have at it because it’s a welcome break from the idea that the world is endlessly, hopelessly surrendered itself to a Lord of the Flies mindset.
Rather happily too, since the zombies rather conveniently stay away from the music and the fires (see they can be considerate when you want them to be!), “Shadow Puppets” ends with, yes, a shadow puppet show (set to the achingly beautiful song “Here Comes the River” by Patrick Watson) that acts out the rise and fall of the world but ends on a hopeful note as a blooming flower signals that maybe a living phoenix can rise from the undead ashes.
“Shadow Puppets” is also the second episode to have a post credits scene – that’ll teach you fast forwarders to leave that 10-second button alone at the end of the episode (which often includes, truth be told, this reviewer) – in which we are zipped to the same scientist at the Civil Republic who takes a call that would indicate that the whole Iris and Hope “Find Our Dad” expedition is all one big orchestrated ploy by Lt-Colonel Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond) to get them to come the city.
And then do what? Goodness knows but given the fact that we’ve seen one scientist from Oregon already zombified and being experimented on, and there’s a possibility that might include Iris and Hope’s dad, you can guarantee it won’t be pretty.
Thanks goodness all we have to worry about now is a puppet show … and yes, why Empties are rushing to it …