SPOILERS AHEAD … AND CLEVER CATS, BURNT-OUT PLANES AND INTERESTING NEW FRIENDSHIPS …
You gave got to love Daniel (Rubén Blades).
A consummate survivor who has survived the very worst that the zombie apocalypse, and Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) for that matter, can throw at him, Daniel is the kind of person you want by your side when the dead get ideas above their un-alive station and try to take over the earth.
It’s not simply because he has the street smarts, developed years before in his Central American military career, and honed in his move to the USA where he had to start all over again, to keep one step, or hundreds ahead of the zombie pack and other survivors looking for an easy score.
No, you also like Daniel because he can predict what those around him will do, which when you think about it, is a key way of staying alive because if you know what people are likely to do, you can ready yourself to repel them.
It’s a nifty trick and he plays it to absolutely exquisite perfection in “Skidmark” – named after his zombie-baiting cat who is impressively adept at not becoming undead lunch – where he, quite correctly intuits that Victor will try to steal his plane.
He knows this because Victor, though he may be a kindler, gentler, more selfless soul, is a man who follows certain set patterns – tell him he can do something and he will, that he can’t have something and he’ll take it anyway.
He may have changed motivationally but his modus operandi remains the same which is why when Victor, Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), Sarah (Mo Collins) and Wendell (Daryl Mitchell) come a-calling for the plane while Daniel is out and about with Skidmark, Daniel’s least favourite person in the world finds a note on the plane’s windscreen that effectively says “Gotcha!”
Daniel, god bless him, has removed key parts of the instrument panels, and demonstrating he knows his opponent only too well, taken them on the road with him.
It’s deliciously, darkly, cleverly funny, injecting some humour into what is, by any estimation, a fractious relationship, given extra brittleness and edge by the fact that Daniel has never forgiven Victor for robbing him of a chance to say goodbye to his daughter.
In a world where he has already lost so much, this is an almost unforgivable loss, and you can understand why there is so much animosity from Daniel and why he goes to such great lengths to outwit Victor who may genuinely want to save his friends but does it by doing the very things that Daniel hates so much.
The writing here is breathtakingly good.
It would have been all too easy to explore the lingering animosity between the two men with a knock-em-out, drag-em-out violent fury, the kind usually favoured by Fear the Walking Dead’s parent show, The Walking Dead, which never met a shallow fight scene it didn’t like.
While you could well argue that people do resort to violence before forgiveness, it’s by no means the default setting, something that Fear, which errs on the human side of the equation more often than it doesn’t, knows only too well.
The way it deals with Daniel and Victor is classic Fear – it goes straight to the heart of the humanity of the situation, beautifully and affectingly laying out why Daniel would be so angry.
He’s lost his daughter for crying out loud and thanks to Blades’ superlatively measured and darkly humourous performance, we come to understand why a simply “sorry” from Victor won’t cut it.
The episode takes its time letting the cat-and-mouse game between the two men play out, letting the very real emotions unspool on both sides so that when Victor finally gets his chance to atone for past sins, by using the plane’s propellers to shred an entire herd of zombies about to munch on Daniel (in the process killing the engines for good; goodbye rescue flight!), it feels like a true atonement, not some glib fight scene where nothing of any real measure takes place.
Saving Daniel costs Victor mightily which makes what he does all the more potent; he hasn’t just saved Daniel’s life, he’s done at great personal cost, an act which resonates deeply with a man who sees value in actions, not words.
Sure, Fear could’ve have had shoot it out or fisticuff it out, but what kind of emotional impact would that have had? None, zero, nada.
But this way? Ah, this way is elegantly epic, meaningful and true, humanity writ large, a demonstration of change and commitment to being a better man which profoundly changes both men for the better.
Another wonderful element of this dance of revenge and repayment is the way that Charlie, who hides in Daniel’s car when they’re skulking around trying to steal the plane unaware he’s about to leave in that vehicle, bonds with Victor’s onetime adversary.
There’s a lovely father-daughter flow to the way they bond, helped along by the fact that Daniel is in “I miss being a father” mode, and Charlie’s chutzpath survivalist mentality which nicely melds with that of her new friend.
It’s not just heartwarming, it’s a richly meaningful connection for both of them, and it adds an extra layer of moving humanity to an episode winningly brimming with it.
Back with Morgan (Lennie James) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), we get to see the doing good mentality get some additional practical outworking.
While ostensibly a rescue mission for Al (Maggie Grace), all while they and Luciana (Danay García) are being played by Dylan (Cooper Dodson), Annie (Bailey Gavulic) and Max (Ethan Suess), it soon becomes a chance to help the kids, who it turns out are the children of the nuclear zombies and who are in more trouble than they’re admitting to.
These kids are essentially going it hardcore Lord of the Flies, only with more guns, and for a while there, they’ve been doing rather nicely. (Well, not ice cream in the park, happy outings with the parents nicely but not dead, which in apocalyptic terms, is pretty damn nice.)
But the arrival of the CRM people, the ones who made off with Al (and Rick, soon to return in The Walking Dead films), have rather mucked things up, and Annie, leader of the band of abandoned kids, knows it.
She postures aggressively at first, but the overflight of a helicopter helps convince her that they might need some adult help to deal with an enemy that’s well-equipped with, well, just about freaking everything.
It is admittedly the B story of the episode and doesn’t carry quite as much emotional impact in the short term, but it is integral to the season going forward since it puts in place what is likely to prove to be a critical part of the narrative.
Who are these people? What do they want? Are they government? Warlords? A sign of civilisation or evidence of humanity’s drift further to feudalistic chaos?
No one really knows but whoever they are, they have Al, are scaring the bejesus out of the kids and are set to challenge the idea that by doing good, you get only good back.
The gang from CRM may choose to disagree Morgan.
Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “The End of Everything” …