- SPOILERS AHEAD … AND MORE TRUTH TO THE AXIOM THAT YOU CAN’T GO BACK … UNLESS YOU’RE IN A BACKSTORY IN WHICH CASE YOU CAN …
Regrets – we all have them.
In our case though, in our cosy non-zombie apocalypse existence, regrets are nothing more than irritating callouses on the soul; they cause us anxiety and a niggling sense of loss, but really, that’s about it.
In the apocalypse though? Death is more the usual outcome in a time and age that has little wiggle room for sentiment or making up for past wrongs, however ill-perceived.
It’s something that Laura/Naomi (Jenna Elfman), who knows a thing or two about regretting pretty much everything, gets to appreciate up close and personal in “Just in Case” when she heads back to a FEMA shelter (Federal Emergency Management Agency) she once called home.
Twice she tries to give the Stadium Gang the other slip – the first time she’s caught trying to get out of the still-Vultures-encircled sports facility whereupon she blurts out that she was off to get seeds and fertiliser from somewhere so dangerous she didn’t want to risk anyone else’s life.
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Victor (Colman Domingo), who’s almost blown (no pun intended) his chances with Cole (Sebastian Sozzi) thanks to lying about his getaway car, knows she is, and Madison (Kim Dickens) suspects she is but won’t say it out loud, with both offering, in that way that won’t take “no” for an answer to go along for the ride.
So far so good, and at the motel where they hole up that night, she shares about her dead daughter, a nice little piece of bonding that Victor isn’t buying for a minute.
Sure enough next morning she’s gone – AGAIN ALREADY! – off to the shelter, with Victor and Madison belatedly in pursuit, to right some wrongs.
Specifically to get the seed and fertiliser, which actually exists in a truck fully-loaded on the dock – the keys in the hands of the zombie driver, who was once Jessica, a woman who taught survivors to the FEMA community, says “Just in case”, reflecting her apocalyptic motto – and by so doing, give Madison et al the chance to survive as a community that Laura/Naomi, Jessica and the undead horde trapped within never got.
There is some MAJOR guilt at work here, triggered we find out, not by leaving the lights on one night and wasting electricity or forgetting Jessica’s birthday – “Wait in the truck Jess, I’ll be right out with the cake and card!” – but by leaving her pneumonia-stricken daughter locked away while she raced out to get some Amoxycillin.
She got it alright but not in time and came back to find her daughter Rose dead and turned and everyone at the shelter zombie-fied right along with her.
Yep, that’s grounds for some major religious-level guilt and regret and Laura/Naomi almost gets herself killed atoning for it, only rescued it, as narrative luck would have it, by Victor and Madison coming in at the last minute.
Guilt not really assuaged – how on earth can you ever make up for something like that? Although as Victor, who knows a thing or two about regret and self-preservation, reminds her, sometimes well-intentioned decisions come back to bite you (quite literally) on the arse and there’s nothing to be done but move on – but the stadium lives to eat another day, crops get planted and everyone’s happy.
Or are they?
Of course not, and the beauty of “Just in Case”, with its optimistically portentous title, is that it doesn’t pretend this is the beginning of some happily ever after – they didn’t exist before the end of the world and they certainly don’t exist now, and it only takes one look at Laura/Naomi permanently hangdog face, to know the truth of those words.
Much of the emotional resonance in this brilliantly-executed episode comes down to Jenna Elfman’s impressively evocative performance as someone wracked by loss and grief, and powerless to do anything about it, but trying nonetheless.
It’s damn near heartbreaking watching her doing her best to atone for an imagined wrong which, while ill-judged in one respect, was entirely understandable in a world where the great driver is protecting the ones you love because they are usually all you have left.
Madison gets that which is why she created the Stadium Gang, and while the seeds and fertilisers in Jessica’s “Just in Case” mean the end of all things is once again forestalled – yep we thought it all ended with the Vultures swooping in but not yet at least – but even she wonders if it will be enough, quietly sending a reluctant Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) off to set up a getaway truck a la Victor and his romance-crushing efforts, in the event of the worse happening.
But the worst has already happened to Laura/Naomi, and you wonder if this brokenhearted woman will ever be able to forgive herself for the loss of everything that mattered to her, especially when the writers have so adeptly painted her loss and grief in colours so ingrained that it looks near impossible to wash out or expunge.
Of course back in the present, and yes, we still don’t know if Madison is alive or dead, or even undead (oh the tension and the angst!), the heartache continues with a confrontation between Alicia, Victor and Luciana (Danay García) and the Vultures ending up with Alicia shooting John Dorie (Garett Dillahunt).
Obviously he wasn’t the target, but he had the misfortune to be rushing to embrace Laura/Naomi who is, in fact, not dead at all – we’ve yet to see how life at the stadium ends but I’d bet you a stash of no-longer-produced chocolate that Laura/Naomi, who’s with the Vultures now, had something to do with it and Alicia is mightily pissed off about it – and who, you won’t be surprised to learn, John is ecstatically happy to see alive.
Alas, and it’s a huge, draped-in-neon alas since John is one of those characters you can’t help but fall in love with, he gets between the bullet fired by Alicia and Laura/Naomi and falls to the ground.
He doesn’t look dead but given the franchise’s penchant for dramatically killing off key characters, often well before their time – to be fair, it’s a disease that afflicts The Walking Dead than its TV progeny, which tends to be benefit from far better writing and thus has far less need of cheap, ratings-whoring gimmicks – that is, naturally enough, where your mind first goes. (NOTE: According to one of the showrunners, he’s not dead … YET.)
Hopefully he does kick on for a good while longer since (a) he and Laura/Naomi make the most adorable character and who wouldn’t want them to keep making sweet apocalyptic love together, and (b) he is the most heartfelt character in the whole show, rapidly becoming the emotional epicentre of the show.
He is Morgan (Lennie James) without the scowl and the wearing disaffection, a likeable man of integrity and honesty who actually wants the best for everyone around him, an ideal archetype that somehow manages, thanks again to Fear the Walking Dead‘s exemplary writing, to feel right at home in the normally merciless, cold and cruel world of the zombie apocalypse.
While Madison et al are the long-time heart and soul of the show, John, and to a lesser extent, Laura/Naomi have now become its beating heart, a reassuring reminder that humanity hasn’t completely surrendered its soul to the undead devil just yet.
- Next week on Fear the Walking Dead … “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” proclaims that “No one is gone until they’re gone” …