SPOILERS AHEAD … AND OILY ZOMBIES, REGRET AND LOSS AND SOCIOPATHS ON HORSEBACK …
“Oh, the humanity!”
First uttered by reporter “Herb” Morrison as he watched in horror as the Hindenburg burned on 6 May, 1937, taking 36 lives with it, this expression is normally associated with lamentation and sadness.
But watching “Leave What You Don’t”, where Fear the Walking Dead once again zigged towards humanity instead of zagging away from it as The Walking Dead has done all too often, it became a cry of exultation as an expected narrative development never manifested with events taking an altogether different, and wholly welcome, course.
In a sense, we should be well used to Fear embracing humanity wholeheartedly rather than simply paying limp lip service to it.
But time and again, it surprises with its devotion to exploring how people might actually behave in a zombie apocalypse rather how some amped-up comic storyline thinks they might.
While those big, bold dramatic storylines make for good reading, at least at first, they soon sound like one-note wonders, a broken record scratching along the same old tired, violent grooves.
There is little nuance or complexity in these narratives which concentrate on overblown, black-and-white cardboard cutout depictions of people who don’t think or act like most actual people would.
It’s tiring and disappointing because deep down what we want to see are real people, who before the apocalypse commuted to work, paid bills, celebrated birthdays, the kinds of normal things that mean that come the end of the world, they would react to the loss of everything they once knew with confusion, loss, deep sadness and a profound inability to move forward in any kind of meaningful way.
But being human, it would also mean they would eventually rally, seek to build things back up again and try to do the right thing by the people around them.
We see this dynamic time and again in natural disasters etc; people generally don’t go the Lord of the Flies route, rather they are like most of the people in Station Eleven, the novel by Emily St. John Mandel, who scatter and run before coalescing and being socially supportive in the same way that has allowed homo sapiens to tenaciously hang through endless threats to their existence down through the ages.
They don’t sorry writers of The Walking Dead, become mindless killing machines bent on extremist tribal warfare.
What they are is exactly what Fear the Walking Dead portrays in this brilliantly-written episode.
The characters in “Leave What You Don’t” are flawed, full of regret and loss and come in the most unexpected packages.
Take Logan (Matt Frewer), the onetime knight in shining armour who happily drove around in his rig distributing the “Take what you need / Leave what you don’t” parcels with his buddy “Polar Bear” aka Clayton (Stephen Henderson) until one day when he couldn’t get a would-be survivor trapped at a rest stop by an army of the undead before she was torn to shreds.
He was too far away, he ran out of fuel racing to get to her, and in the end arrived too late because time and distance were well and truly against him.
Where was Clayton who by rights should have been close enough to help the woman desperately pleading on the radio?
Why abandoned to die by Sarah (Mo Collins) who had stolen Clayton’s rig, an act of survival that with hindsight and some wise words from Morgan (Lennie James) she came to see as an act of unthinking, cruel bastardry.
The intersection of her regretful pain with Logan’s in one smoky, fuel-filled night at the oilfields as zombie tumbled in over a cliff like undead lemmings – he’d tried to take the oilfields over, Luciana (Danay Garcia) and the others initially complied because guns until he wouldn’t listen to sage technical advice until, well, things went south quick smart – gave them both fairly motivating insights on what abrogation of humanity can do to a person.
We have already seen how Sarah has turned her life around and dared to believe there is more to life than simply surviving, a believable arc that reaffirms that most people are basically good and want to do good, but watching her interact with Logan, whose life she saves from almost certain chomping (rather pointlessly as it later transpires), is powerful stuff.
Not only does he come to regret his recent actions and his deal with the horse-riding devil cabal, who appear twice in the episode and are clearly wanting to help people WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT – yep, nothing like the Marry Poppins with an AK-47 approach – but he and Sarah together come to understand the true extent of the damage they have done but also too how they can fix it.
Or at least try to fix it.
It’s utterly transformational watching them come to grips with what they did but then to understand, really understand, how helping others is an immensely powerful action that is far from namby-pamby Hallmark niceness but a real, impacting force for good.
That’s one of Fear‘s great strengths.
It injects real, down in the trenches humanity into its scenes, serving up redemption and hope but making it clear that when hope and compassionate purpose really get going, like they are with Morgan et al as the people they help such as Wes (Colby Hollman) started helping others such as – surprise! surprise! – Isabelle (Sydney Lemmon) Althea’s (Maggie Grace) girlfriend from “The End of Everything”, it can move freaking mountains.
It is muscular and it is real but of course it is – humanity doesn’t evolve and survive and thrive for hundreds of thousands of years on nice warm-and-fuzzy thoughts and deeds.
Helping other people, actually sacrificing yourself to help others, is an insanely brave act that powers the kind of change that can, yes, changing the world for the better and start rebuilding civilisation after it appears to have met its terminal undead end.
The gang on horseback, who want to go big and industrial with their “compassion”, which let’s face it sounds dangerously dark and authoritarian, of the destroy-the-village-to-save-it variety, don’t get that; they see guns and violence and retribution as the only way forward.
But you have to hand it to Naomi/Laura/June (Jenna Elfman), John (Garret Dillahunt), Tess (Peggy Schott), Dwight (Austin Amelio), Rabbi Jacob Kessner (Peter Jacobson) and the rest of the gang who make a deal to exit the oilfields, now in the hands of the tough-love-at-gun led by sweet-talking sociopath Virginia (Colby Minifie) and her gun-toting “do-gooders” who aim to make humanity survive whether they want to or not.
Luciana, who boldly sacrifices herself by staying behind at the oilfields, and the others refuse to side with the dictatorial approach, all too aware of the power of caring, really caring for people, and bravely committed to the idea that these seemingly ineffectual acts can have a real flow-on effect that doesn’t just change people like Sarah and Logan but also what is left of society.
Virginia may not see it, and as the new Big Bad is likely to resist to the end, but Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Victor (Colman Domingo) who see firsthand how Wes has been transformed by the actions Virginia now scornfully ridicules, and all the others are testament to the power of small acts to effect big results, and if there is anything the world needs right now, it is lasting change that gets humanity back on the fast track to meaningful living and not just bare bones survival.
Once again, Fear the Walking Dead demonstrates in “Leave What You Don’t” that the very best of humanity is one of the greatest forces on the planet, and treating it like some kind of cutesy tagline from a greeting card is a mistake, a HUGE mistake of the Pretty Woman variety, and that where you stand on this fundamental impetus for real and lasting change, will determine where you land when the world really gets back on its feet.
Coming on up on Fear the Walking Dead in “Today and Tomorrow” …