THE WORLD BEYOND: “Death and the Dead” / “The Last Night”
SPOILERS AHEAD … IT’S THE END, MY FRIEND, THE END … AND THE BEGINNING …
The final two episodes EVER of World Beyond – unlike its stablemates, the show was only ever designed to be a limited series and ended up being all the stronger for that; Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead could’ve learned something from this approach – were every bit as tense as you’d expect.
The dissidents, armed with C4, elaborate plans and a healthy burbling amount of righteous fury, set their plan in motion with Dr Leo Bennett (Joe Holt) leading the scientists out to scholarly freedom somewhere beyond the reach of the villainous CRM – all courtesy of fully-stocked trucks that Warrant Officer Jadis Stokes (Pollyanna McIntosh) was forced to cough on account of the rebels holding the head of CRM’s son hostage – and Felix (Nico Tortorella), Iris (Aliyah Royale), Percy (Ted Sutherland) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) staying behind in the compound to blow the gas destined for Portland’s destruction, to smithereens.
If that wasn’t enough, Huck aka Jennifer Malick (Annet Mahendru) continued to work from the inside right under Stokes’ nose, doing her best to look the part of a loyalist while doing her best to enable the dissidents and their gusty gambit for peace, freedom and humanity.
Naturally, as is the way of the best laid plans of mice and men, and life generally, things did not go according to plan, and while fighting on the side of right and history has a certain propulsive momentum, it does not guarantee victory so events were exceedingly touch and go there for a while.
Thankfully, in amongst all the battles, of which there were many including the expected showdown between Felix and Lt. Frank Newton (Robert Palmer Watkins) and Stokes and Malick who, not surprisingly came off rather the worse for wear, joining her husband Dennis (Maximilian Osinski), he of the newly-minted bullet wound to the gut, on their way to zombiedom.
Well, Dennis would have had he not convinced loyal, sweet Silas (Hal Cumpston) who chose to stay behind to help Dennis and Huck, who had a touching final rapprochement as husband and wife before death poignantly claimed them, to kill him as a means of convincing the CRM that he, Silas, was a badadd worthy of Stokes’ tutelage.
Silas of course is nothing of the sort, and though he finished off the two-season series clad in CRM black as Stokes’ pet project, we can only assume he has stuck to his vow to go in deep, look the part, and take the message of the CRM’s grievous misdeeds to the civilian government when the time is right.
As Silas did his bit for the resistance, hopefully without getting brainwashed along the way, gas was blown up, Leo led the scientists to Cornell University’s old labs to work on the cure – odd that CRM didn’t think to look there in their search for their scientific resources but hey, who am I to begrudge the show a little narrative convenience in its final episodes? – and Iris, Hope and Elton, who joined them later, diced with death (Elton lives, Percy alas does not to Iris’ overwhelming grief), and then headed off on their own paths, with Iris and Elton (who looked like he was dead but was happily not; yay for amputation!)
It was in many ways pretty much what you’d expect from a finale.
Bad people punished, though not out with Stokes emerging at the end looking none the worse for wear meaning that CRM might be out but is far from down – how golden a position she still occupies was evinced by the fact that she has Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond) arrested, part of her cold-blooded goal of doing whatever it takes to stay safe – gas despatched and Portland temporarily safe, and the gang we have come to know and love all safe and sound in their own respective ways.
Not exceptionally done but enjoyable enough with a suspense of completeness that you want from shows like that but rarely get with longer form series.
The really interesting part of the final episode was the mid-credits scene surprise where we are taken to a graffiti-plastered lab somewhere in France or a French-speaking territory where we see a man with a gun take out a scientist desperately downloading material from antiquated computers after a conversation where it is heavily intimated that it was here that the virus began as the result of botched experimentation.
So, we are, no surprise there, the architects of our doom it seems, with the zombie apocalypse the result of experimentation gone disastrously wrong – at one point the attacker says to the scientist “End this? You started this.” – which is the closest any of The Walking Dead shows have come to the big origin reveal.
While the final two episode of World Beyond did a fine job of exploring once again whether it’s justified to act horrifically and without humanity or remorse to save the human race – yes, we survive but at what soul-hollowing cost? – it is this scene, tucked away at the end that makes you realise there’s a whole lot more going on that anyone supposed, opening the doors to some very cool cloak-and-daggers, political thriller storytelling to come.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: “The Portrait” and “PADRE”
SPOILERS AHEAD … YET MORE WAR LOOMS … AGAIN …
Le grand apocalyptic sigh.
Just when you think Fear the Walking Dead has dodged becoming another empty action clone of its rudderless parent show, thanks to recent episodes like “Till Death” and Reclamation”, which set the show very firmly back on the humanistic character-driven track on which it thrives, it stumbles, like a junkie needing an adrenaline fix back to the tired old war narrative.
As in two opposing camps in the show are going into battle, a tired old storyline that had spent any plot usefulness back somewhere around season four or five of The Walking Dead, and which totally subsumes any of the humanity or detailed, poignant character studies for which Fear had made itself notable.
Granted, it has tried to invest some humanity into proceedings by pitching the battle between two people who know each other super well – Victor (Colman Domingo) who is being done no favours by being fashioned as a psychotic Napoleon drunk on power (and other things) and a – SPOILER!!! – dying Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) who has lost her arm but has not beaten the zombie virus which is slowly but surely killing her by degrees.
She has just enough time left on this blighted earth it turns out to take Victor and his tower down, a prison-like sanctuary which is already been under assault by the Stalkers – you have to wonder who is workshopping these names in the apocalypse? For people barely surviving the swarming of the undead, and now radiation everywhere, they sure have got a lot of time for fancifully overdone names and matching outfits – and to lead her people, which now includes Dwight and Sherry (Austin Amelio and Christine Evangelista respectively) still on their horses, to some form of safety.
Well, she was going to until, close to brokering a deal for Victor to take in her entire group, until she discovered that the love of her bunker-sheltering life, Will (Gus Halper) who we met properly in season seven, episode one episode, “The Beacon”, was a zombie lying nearby (narrative convenience strikes again!) and that Victor had killed him.
For a gay man, Victor is murderously and strangely touchingly obsessed with Alicia, only killing Will by tossing him off the tower’s roof because he though Alicia would never forgive him again, and while that weirdly twisted relationship could have made for a fascinating character study in the back half of season 7, the show’s producers have chosen to go down the barren and empty war route instead.
Who knows – maybe it will be a different kind of battle to those we have seen ad nauseum in The Walking Dead, and to a far lesser degree in Fear, but I doubt it with the franchise showing a marked attraction for epic, fan boy-cheered on action over subtlety and character exploration.
It’s a real pity in the case of Fear because it’s great strength and point of difference going forward has always been it emphasis on the raw humanity of being plunged into something as freakily world-ending as a zombie apocalypse.
From its first episodes, Fear stuck resolutely to portraying what such a scenario would do to ordinary people and did it well, offering up a bleakly human response to the apocalypse than The Walking Dead never quite managed, despite its best overwrought efforts to do so.
And yet, now, it looks to have finally jettisoned much of that in favour of melodramatically, bloodily theatrical war which is great for culling an under-utilised ensemble cast but not so good for affecting, nuanced storytelling.
Again, perhaps we will be surprised and the arc will play out as a bruising character study and not comic book video game violence sprung to life (or death, as the case may be) but the franchise hasn’t displayed that kind of finesse to date when such storylines have been considered and given the desperation of both Victor, who became even more seriously unhinged in “The Portrait” (not helped by Morgan, played by Lennie James, do his own bit of vengeance enacting), and Alicia who has little to lose, expect the obvious and not the thoughtful to play out.
To be fair, Fear has not yet reached the point where it should be put out of its misery, with some compelling characters still in play, but it is getting close, an end which will be hastened by the current pending storyline for the second half of season seven, which if AMC are sensible, will be the show’s last, lest it drift into the pointless narratives that eventually doomed it parent show.
Of all the various incarnations in The Walking Dead universe, Fear has always been this reviewer’s favourite because it dared to favour humanity and character over mindless thuggish violence and you can only hope that somewhere between now and later, it will pull out of its death dive and go back to the approach that make it such an engrossingly human show to watch in the first place.