SPOILERS AHEAD … AND DEATH, IMAGINED AND REAL WITH BATTLES TO COME …
You could well argue that life in the zombie apocalypse is so weird and strange for all its grinding, violent realism, that there is no need to get caught in a surreal dream set in the same world.
But that is precisely what happens in Fear the Walking Dead episode “In Dreams”, the title of which is a nod to the Roy Orbison song of the same name, in which Grace (Karen David) wakes up just in time in a pink floral landscape to see a walker come crashing right onto you.
It’s hardly the best of all things to happen to anyone but least not when you’re groggy, disoriented and not even sure where or why you are.
Thankfully she’s saved in the nick of time by a young woman called Athena (yes, after the Greek goddess) who admonishes Grace for taking a nap out in the open before taking her back to her walled home which is, cue even more strangeness, is Valley Town but many years in the future.
In this forward place, which is familiar and yet very much not, Morgan (Lennie James) is much older, doesn’t recognise her at first, and is overseeing the epitome of everything Grace and Morgan hoped the settlement could become.
While Grace is eventually able to convince Morgan that she’s alive and well – according to the now frosty white-haired leader Grace is long dead with a grave and everything – no one else really knows who she is, a disquieting situation that becomes ever more dreamily Inception-like when the same zombie gets killed over and over again by Athena who, surprise, surprise, is Grace’s daughter!
While everyone is grappling with this mind-exploding reality – although to be fair, mother and daughter end up bonding pretty quickly – Grace keeps hearing Morgan’s disembodied calls to her, but she can’t find him anymore and has no idea what it all means.
At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that Grace really is dead but it turns out that’s not case at all, with Grace very much alive and unconscious in a building with Morgan enroute to see June (Jenna Elfman) where they are besieged by the cult nutjobs led by Riley (Nick Stahl) who seem to be devilishly good at tracking down Morgan et all without the aid of GPS etc.
Chalk that up to narrative convenience if you will, but what transpires in “In Dreams” is a brilliant exploration of the power of hope and forward projection and how even in the face of a thousands reasons not to, hope often does prevail.
It is also a profoundly touching look at grief too, of the more immediate rather than enduringly apocalyptic variety, with Grace’s baby, when she finally comes to, being stillborn, a tragic outcome that stands in stark contrast to the bright, shining promise of her dream which turns out to be not so much a goodbye to life for Grace but a farewell to her daughter whom she will only ever know in dreams.
It’s heartbreaking and once Fear the Walking Dead does what it parent has really managed, delivering a searingly intimate deep dive into the raw humanity that confronts people each and every day at the end of the world.
That grief is very much on display too in “J.D.”, in which June, again with a healthy dose of narrative convenience, meets her dearly departed husband’s father, also John Dorie (Keith Carradine) who may hold the key to what all those below ground culty weirdos are doing.
Turns out that Teddy (John Glover), the cult’s messianic figure, is an old nemesis of John Dorie Senior, who the onetime detective put in prison years ago before the zombie apocalypse allowed him to escape and begin again to starting the world anew in his own misshapen image.
JD Sr has been working hard to track down Teddy, with a wall full of photos and charts to guide him, and is convinced he has something big and bad planned which, if you take note of the key that Morgan gave up to Riley, will likely involve a nuclear apocalypse that will see off the rest of humanity save for Teddy’s entombed followers down below.
While “J.D.” does a great job of advancing the overall narrative arc of the season and establishing Teddy as a Big Bad to be justifiably feared, the episode’s greater power lays, again, in exploring the unpredictable nature and expression of grief which rarely behaves as we think it will.
June is obviously still struggling with John’s recent death, a death which has seen her flee Valley Town, a decision which she rethinks by the end of the episode, while JD Sr, who abandoned his family when John was 12 after trauma associated with imprisoning Teddy, is grappling with regrets and loss old and new.
Their grief is palpable and it is given time to be angry, sorrowful, and eventually hopeful, with Fear doing its usual exemplary job of letting the humanity of a situation come to the fore.
This is important because if the show has proven anything, it’s that while the zombie apocalypse lends itself to big, dramatic storytelling, which Fear has never been afraid of diving headlong into, it is of little emotional consequence if we don’t see how it affects the people caught up in it.
In both “In Dreams” and “J.D.”, we see in ways big but most devastatingly small, how grief can affect someone, how that can come to shape their decision-making and life course, and how there can be a lot of regret flowing from decision made in the heat of a grief-stricken moment.
While Grace may yet come to regret handing the key over to Riley based purely on a dream, the more lingering effects of grief are seen in JD Sr., who has to deal with decisions made long ago which could reasonably be argued have had serious consequences well down the track.
That both June and JD Sr do find some form of accommodation with their grief feels real and palpable since the episode invests a great deal of thoughtful time in exploring why both characters acted the way they did and how they can now make up for past decision in a pressing present.
The most rewarding part of these two episodes, quite apart from the intimate measured tone and deeply human emotional resonance that both possess, is that they prove once again that there is a place for considerate, well-paced storytelling in shows like Fear, which can go epic and big without sacrificing the heart and soul that makes so lastingly rewarding to watch.
- Coming up next …