- SPOILERS AHEAD … AND LOTS OF HELPING … WELL, WANTING TO, ANYWAY …
“Bad shit happens when you try to help people.”
Not exactly the sort of sentiment you’re likely to see splashed across a Hallmark card any time soon, but one voiced in the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead titled “MM 54” which opened wide the great divide between those who see merit in helping others in the midst of the zombie apocalypse and those who see no worth or value in at all.
In fact, the latter viewpoint, largely represented by Martha (Tonya Pinkins), who is mad, quite mad, and who has been aggressively proselytising the gospel of Being a Zombie Makes You Stronger.
Leaving aside the rather hypocritical stance that sees her thus far not committing to zombiefying herself (so a “do as I say, not as I do” approach), hers is a stance that has seen many echoes through both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, both of which have been committed to asking how much of our collective humanity can last through the Darwinian survival race to the bottom.
In Martha’s case, not much; but in a piece of brilliantly-nuanced writing, a hallmark of Fear the Walking Dead from the start, we were given insight into what happened to the Avenging Zombie Angel of Death to make her such a gung-ho advocate for the strength of the undead.
Put simply, in a very moving scene, we saw Martha sitting in a crashed car next to her husband who is dying, impaled on a street sign, the victim of the haste shared by many other motorists, not of whom stop to help Martha by the way, to out-drive the impending end of the world. (Newsflash everyone – it’s EVERYWHERE.)
Wrapped in pleasing disbelief and grief, Martha watches her husband die and turn, forcing her to do what so many others have had to do and “kill” the one she loved, in her case with a fetchingly-jagged piece of glass.
Her grief feels so real and agonisingly authentic that it’s as if you can reach and touch it, and you can well understand how, left alone and ill-prepared out in the middle of the Texan countryside, she goes completely and utterly mad.
It’s a reaction to not just the grief of losing the man she loves, but her inability and powerlessness to help him, and her anger at everyone who failed to stop and help her when they could, and you can feel for her in her isolation, both physical, metal and emotional.
Yes, for the same Martha who we see kill Good Samaritan after Good Samaritan – all part of Clayton’s (Stephen Henderson) network of “Take what you need, leave what you don’t” truckers – in her near-messianic fervour to stop people helping other people, a criminal weakness she can no longer abide.
It’s shocking seeing one person after another, good to the last one, turned into zombies by Martha and used by her to turn the next person she comes across, but it’s a piece of extraordinarily well-written powerful storytelling that establishes Martha as a layered, all-too-human Big Bad and not some one trick, half-drawn caricature like Negan whose shtick grew very tired, very quickly.
Her actions are nothing but horrific and utterly inexcusable, but they are the product of a broken and shattered mind, one so lost to the darkness of grief and loss that there is no reasoning with it.
Lord knows Mo-mo (Morgan, played by Lennie James) tried but she was having none of it, driving off and leaving everyone on the highway as their truck exploded, and they were left to wander down the highway, slowly and with no protection against the gathering horde.
So much for lending a helping hand huh?
After all, Mo-mo, Laura/Naomi/June (LNJ, played by Jenna Elfman), Sarah (Mo Collins), Wendell (Daryl Mitchell) – who by the way lost his wheelchair and thus ability to transport himself in the truck fire – Jim (Aaron Stanford), knee deep in yelling and whinging, Al (Maggie Grace) and Luciana (Danay García) are all in this position because Mo-mo wanted to help people.
Of course, only Jim is gauchely churlish enough to publicly start laying into Mo-mo, accusing him of ruining things for them all – conveniently forgetting that Mo-mo saved his life in the first place – before apologising and then laying in all over again when the hospital in which they’re sheltering is overrun by zombies. (It’s an apocalyptic tantrum that helps no one, least of all Jim.)
You get the feeling that Jim, who pays for his lack of gratitude with a bite to the back from a stray zombie (the episode ends with him yet to turn), is alone in his regret with LNJ saying to Mo-Mo, as they shelter on the roof of the hospital thanks to generator-assisted lifts, that she knows he can get them out of this mess.
Quite how is another question entirely since they don’t have wings, the hospital is full to brimming with the undead and they’re surrounded on the ground too, but her faith and willingness to keep living the Gospel o’ Mo-mo (catchy isn’t it? Just send $99.99 in monthly instalments to the address on your screen and you too can be marooned far above the ground) is admirable and you get the feeling, flaky though Mo-mo has been at times, that it’s a sentiment shared by the others.
And also by Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) who after failing to find everyone but finding the burnt-out truck wreck – pssst! They’re on the hospital roof surrounded by tons and tons of … oh, never mind), and setting off half-heartedly for Galveston to see the sea so Alicia could feel like she’d done something “good”, stumble across John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Victor (Colman Domingo) whom we don’t see but know are the people Alicia is looking across the alligator-infested water at.
Despite everything they’ve been through, they (except for Jim who shall brew beer no more) still believe in the value of helping others, an amazing mindset to cling to when you take into consideration everything they’ve been through.
By rights they should’ve given up the Good Samartian-ism, just like Martha, but they haven’t, making their faith in doing “good”, as Alicia termed it, real, muscular and transformative, the kind of thing that cant survive pretty much everything thrown at it, including hordes of ever-present zombies.
- Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “I Lose People …” (aren’t they always in the last place you looked?) …