Fear the Walking Dead: S7, E 5 & 6 review + World Beyond: S2, E 7 & 8 review

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

(image courtesy SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “TILL DEATH” AND “RECLAMATION” …

You could be forgiven for thinking, and yes, that is still possible even in the midst of the apocalypse, that there’d be precious little humanity left in a landscape given over not only to the dead but also a radiation and a heightened ruthlessness that comes from having even more of a decreasing number of options taken off the survival table.

But in two quite moving, beautifully wrought episodes that give preference to the good in us rather than the bad, Fear the Walking Dead, which is still flirting with the idea of Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) as some sort of whimsically wacky Negan of the new atomic age, raw, touching humanity, the kind that is selfless and tenaciousness despite the odds, rise to the top of the narrative pile, reaffirming the fact that even when they are plunged into the very worst of situations that people can still choose to do right.

It’s this rightness that becomes all the more stark a choice when it contrast against the merciless pragmatism of someone like Strand who is acting like some sort of demented end times bouncer in the skyscraper he and about 200 others are calling home, deciding who he will and won’t let in all while acting like some sort of tinpot god (who plays putt-putt golf).

Up against that kind of lifeboat thinking, the actions of Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista), who are offered the keys to Victor’s hermetically sealed kingdom if they will only betray someone who has “wronged” him – spoiler alert: no, no, she has not – are all the more laudable, a signifier that even when offered peace, safety, security and food, that people with integrity and a sense of good and evil will choose to let their humanity do the decision making.

In a very real sense, Dwight and Sherry already have, going all Robin Hood in the radiated ruins of Texas as they style themselves as justice warriors known as the Dark Horses, who rob from the thieves and give back to those thieved upon in the only style of law and order left in a blighted world.

With that code foremost in their minds, they take the information supplied to them by Victor and instead of apprehending Mickey (Aisha Tyler) and taking her back for punishment, they help her try and find her husband, a good deed that floors Mickey who doesn’t expect anyone to act so altruistically anymore.

(image courtesy SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

While their quest for goodness and rightness doesn’t quite go as planned – sadly Mickey’s husband, while at their agreed meeting point, the old gym they ran pre-apocalypse (they are both ex-wrestlers whom a childhood Dwight idolised; watching him fangirl in the episode is a delight and a rare moment of levity) is very dead and sadly re-animated as a walker – and they have to fight off a metric ton of the undead to save themselves, the fact that Dwight and Sherry chose good, not just in Mickey’s case but from point on, spurring Victor’s tainted invite, reaffirms that humanity does have a place at the end times table.

“Reclamation” continues in that humanistic vein, with the story centering on Al (Maggie Grace) who, after calling on her CRM girlfriend Isabelle (Sydney Lemmon) to spirit her friends to safety, is all set to walk away from her and everyone else, including a rather annoyingly pushy Morgan (Lennie James), because she is scared of what being entangled with people can mean.

She prefers, so she says, a life on the road collecting stories on her trusty camera, but eventually agrees with Morgan, though to his face (he will be disappointed) when talking to Isabelle at the end of the episode, that she is so scared, that she’d walk away from the one person she really loves.

It’s a touching declaration of love – more power to The Walking Dead franchise, whatever the series, for continuing to treat queer love as the same as any other; it is, of course, but not all shows are prepared to recognise that – that echoes a theme that has run through the entire episode which is that it is better to be connected than not, that much can be lost but much more can be gained, something Morgan reaffirms when he says that if Al hadn’t saved him, he wouldn’t have met Grace (Karen David) and etc etc etc.

Being scared makes sense, it is the zombie apocalypse after all, but giving into it will only rob you of a great many things, whether it is Al not being with her true love or Dwight and Sherry throwing away their integrity for the cushiness of Victor’s prison-like sanctuary and far better says Fear over two emotionally evocative and oft-times poignant episodes, to choose doing the right thing, whatever the cost, and see where the chips fall.

Coming up episode 7, “The Portrait” …

THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND

(image courtesy SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “BLOOD AND LIES” AND “RETURNING POINT” …

Let the rebellion begin!

They are not words uttered by arch enforcer of the establishment, Warrant Officer Jadis Stokes (Pollyanna McIntosh) a true believer in the work of the CRM, who makes Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Kublek) (Julia Ormond) look life a tofu-eating, kitten-hugging pacifist all while squashing even the hint of dissension.

Have you failed to be honest about the presence of Bennett sympathisers in your village like the Perimeter who exist in a very uneasy alliance with the CRM? Then all of you shall die (including you Brody, played by Lee Spencer, who tries to broker a deal to save his own life only to get shot through the head by Jennifer Mallick (Annet Mahendru)) !

Needed for a series of top secret experiments aimed at increasing the time between death and reanimation, the better to craft a way to cut down on the numbers of the undead? No rpoblem – let’s kill 100,000 of you, all in the name of science, ethically obscene though it may be.

Stokes is very much in the destroy-a-village-to-save-it camp, and time and again in “Blood and Lies” and “Returning Point”, she demonstrates, as the poster child of the CRM, that she will do ANYTHING for the future, even if it means, and she will naturally never admit to this, let alone think it, tarnishing it beyond any human recognition.

What good is it, to help people like Dr Lyla Belshaw (Natalie Gold) find both a reanimation delay solution and a cure when the society resulting from the corroded morality will be wafer-thin and about as good as rotten meat in the noon-day sun?

She may be at peace with building the future, to invoke a Biblical story, on a foundation of ethically dubious sand, but people like Leo, Iris and Hope Bennett (Joe Holt, Aliyah Royale and Alexa Mansour), Mallick, hubbie Dennis (Maximilian Osinski), Silas (Hal Cumpston) and Felix (Nico Tortorella) most certainly are not, and it is their determination to bring down the evil of people of like Stokes, Lt. Frank Newton (Robert Palmer Watkins) and the CRM as a whole that powers some very tense and gripping television.

(image courtesy SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

Given the first half of this season of what was always intended to be a limited-run series of just twenty episodes, was enjoyable but hardly thrilling storytelling, the whole revolution-or-die vibe of the final five episodes is making for some pretty compelling TV.

Refreshingly the writers have opted to do some nuanced storytelling, breaking from The Walking Dead penchant for scorched earth everything, with the gang deciding to save the research data and the scientists working on the cure, and take it somewhere where the visionary idea of an earth free from the undead can still be realised but without the extreme moral depravity of the CRM’s approach.

It would have all too easy to burn the whole damn thing down and set humanity back to square one but World Beyond wisely chooses not to go that route, which is not only a more thoughtful narrative approach but also one which allows the franchise someday in the future, to tell the story of people emerging from the undead end of the world to find that may not be quite the finale everyone assumed.

What is most striking in these two episodes is not the capacity to fight for what is right and good that the Bennetts etc exhibit, though it’s good to see people choosing humanity over bloodily violent realpolitik and authoritarian pragmatism, but the lengths that more morally-challenged people will go to just to survive.

The soul is dead and the heart lays bleeding but we’re alive! So, what, though, if everything good and laudable about us died in the purifying fire?

World Beyond asks some salient questions about what we can live with as a species to continue on and finds itself saying that there is a point, a finely, clearly marked line in the sane that must not be crossed, lest we destroy everything praiseworthy about the human race even as we try to save it.

It may not a philosophical lecture series at Oxford, but it’s a head mix of meaningful thinking and edge-of-the-seat action that means that World Beyond looks like it will go out, against all early season 2 expectations, with a bang not a whimper, proving that doing the right thing is powerful and life-changing and that surviving does not mean erasing all the things we are surviving to save.

Coming up episode 7, “Death and the Dead” …

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