SPOILERS AHEAD … THE PRESENCE OF GOD, JEWISH ZOMBIES AND CHEESY DOORMATS FULL OF EXISTENTIAL LONGING …
If there’s one thing the zombie apocalypse is short of – okay there’s a lot of things it’s lacking but bear with me here for the purposes of a killer opening sentence – it’s a place to call home.
With the dead everywhere, law and order a fond memory, social services and utility a rarity and rapacious, amoral grounds a little too thick on the ground, putting down roots anywhere is problematic.
That is, of course, a massive understatement.
It’s well near impossible to throw up a figurative or literal white picket fence, put a rocking chair on your porch and wave to all the undead shambling past (mainly because they’ll come, not to be neighbourly but to eat you) which is why the Convey of Goodness and Kindness, under the rather driven (haha) stewardship of Naomi/Laura/June (Jenna Elfman) is sticking to a punishing schedule of constant, unceasing moment.
The aim is to remain hidden from Logan’s (Matt Frewer) prying eyes and not to feel warm, cosy and happily domiciled so every morning the motley assortment of cars and trucks, powered by the petrol Logan is anxious to get his hands on because #obviousreasons, circles the wagons, sets up tents, sleeps or drinks beer – cheers to you Sarah (Mo Collins) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) – and tries to catch their breath because picking up sticks and heading back on the road for another exhausting all-night driving sesh.
It’s taking its toll and not simply on everyone’s energy levels. (When John, played by Garret Dillahunt, tries to tell his dearest beloved Naomi/Laura/June that she might be too hard a task master, she shuts him up and good.)
Existentially all this endless, ceaseless roaming is taking an existential on people, most notably Charlie who, rather deliberately, runs away from home during one stop in an attempt to find somewhere safe everyone can live.
Leaving aside the fact that safe is now a ridiculously relative concept, one more mythical than actual, Charlie simply wants what everyone else probably wants – a chance to stop, caught her breath and get some sense of routine that doesn’t involve endless driving, tents and mobile everything.
After being rescued from a zombie-surrounded car within a compound encircled by a ramshackle makeshift fence by one Rabbi Jacob Kessner (Peter Jacobson), she thinks she has found her home sweet home at last. (Sarah has a doormat she throws out of her truck each time the convoy stops for the day that says “Home Sweet Home”, an ironic piece of on-the-go interior, or is that exterior, decorating, that packs a delightful angst-ridden, with a side order of “what are you going to do?”, punch; it also makes for a perfect, on-point visual gag.)
The Rabbi is, obvious tropes avoided hurrah, actually a nice guy.
He welcomes her in, he has no secret agenda – you can just tell this is The Walking Dead can’t you? Sophisticated writing abounds – and he is an earnest well-meaning man who clings to his religious traditions, such as keeping the “Ner Tamid” or “Presence of God” / “The Flame of Truth” burning bright in the temple.
He later admits he has lost his faith – there’s a lot of that going around but then the end of the world will do that to a person – and that he may have one teensy-weensy secret; specifically, that all the zombies that keep turning up in multitudinous profusion at the door of the temple are in fact his congregants.
His very dead, now re-animated congregants.
Thankfully, unlike Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam) who effectively killed his congregation by rather uncharitably locking them out of his church, the rabbi left the secure compound he and the congregants were sheltering in to go on a spiritual quest, only to come back weeks later to find them all very, very, not alive.
The solution? Lock ’em in the temple’s hall and hope they don’t get out.
They did, and are, and as the zombies starting increasing in number, such that the old excuse “there must be a hole in the fence” isn’t washing anymore – speaking of which, Charlie ended up with quite the dirty, filthy face after one night out on the lamb (it sounds like it’s been more but if so, that means Dwight is doing a shit job of keeping track of people) – he confesses to the great pain of feeling like he let his congregation down.
The confessional scenes between the rabbi and Charlie are beautifully written, replete with the all the spiritual and existential longing that comes with the apocalypse, showing once again that Fear the Walking Dead gets that humanity doesn’t finish when civilisation falls.
In fact, even though people know they can’t have all the plush comforts of home, that that reality simply doesn’t exist anymore, they still want out, they really, really want it.
Case in point is Charlie in this masterfully-written episode but it’s true of everyone else; sure they have things a whole lot sweeter than most other people with protection, food, shelter and bonds of love and friendship abounding but they don’t have a home and that matters a great deal to the human spirit.
We need to feel like we belong somewhere, and Fear once again articulates how much these bedrock aspects of humanity influence decision-making and perceptions of people, places and things.
“Ner Tamid” takes a deep dive into this deep-seated desire for home and the allied loss, pain and regret that go with it, perfectly articulating how our desperation to realise the possibly impossible can lead us to misinterpret a particular situation.
Take Charlie and the good rabbi.
He is actually a good guy who holds fast to temple and traditions, even though he no longer believes, because it’s the only home he has now; similarly Charlie sees the temple compound as a possible home, only relinquishing when John and Naomi/Laura/June, who come to her “rescue”, help her see the light. (Not the eternal one; just the cold light of unwelcome reason.)
They both want something that really doesn’t existent anymore, lending a poignant air to “Ner Tamid” which still manages to have plenty of zombie-killing action and some sleazy tactical maneuvering by Logan which sees him, as the episode draws to a dramatic close, in pole position to grab control of the oil fields from the Convoy of Goodness and Kindness (which, to be fair, kinda stole in the first place so no one is particularly virtuous in this scenario).
It’s a hold your breath moment that finishes off a thoughtful episode which focuses, as Fear does so well, on the innate humanity that survives, dead or no dead, home or no home, and which is spiritedly still trying to make the deepest desires of their hearts manifest.
It might seem like a futile exercise in the nightmarish surrounds of the zombie apocalypse but it speaks to the enduring tenacity of the human spirit, something Fear has in spades and which is going to come in handy when Logan executes his bold strike.
Next on Fear the Walking Dead in “Leave What You Don’t” …