FEAR THE WALKING DEAD
If you can cast your mind, lo these many months back to when season five of Fear the Walking Dead (is there any other option, really?), you will recall that the Smiling Dictator Virginia (Colby Minifie) had split up our merry band of survivors, casting everyone to the figurative winds (they all went to various communities set up by the would-be Negan of Texas) and leaving Morgan (Lennie James) to the dubious tender mercies of an ongoing herd of zombies.
He looked done for but of course, now anointed as the show’s saving grace – by the writers, not people like me who find him smugly overbearing and over-done – he is not and we find him with extremely bloodshot eyes and an arm in a sling trying to survive what his later saviour Isaac (Michael Abbot Jr.) declares is a smelly case of necrotic decay.
Morgan being Morgan, he is annoyingly taciturn and grumpy – to be fair if you had lost your found family in violent circumstances and had the woman who’d just declared her undying love for you (Grace, played by Karen David: their romance was actually a sweet and well-played part of season 5) ripped from your arms, you’d be pissed off so I guess I can hand him that, at least) – and refuses help from Issac whom he encounters when he is hiding in a shopfront from Virginia’s cruel errand runner Emile (Demetrius Grosse) who, with his necrosis-sniffing dog, is determined to deliver Morgan, alive or undead, to his employer.
You’d think given he has one arm (for all that he’s still a dab hand at using his pointy, skull-skewering staff) and is gravely ill and is exactly in a position to be calling the shots, that Morgan might relent a little and accept some help.
But NOOOOO — he is frustratingly grim and determined to do things his way which, if you might recall, are laudable and lovely (do good unto others and rebuild the world are great ideas but it hasn’t worked out well for Morgan, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Victor (Colman Domingo) or the others just yet) but prone to succumbing to the violent, merciless ambitions of others.
By way of contrast, Issac, who sadly does not the episode see out, is kind and thoughtful, capable and possessed of a new-found purpose having found one of the group’s videos and run away from Virginia and his freedom-cancelling new world with his wife Rachel (Brigitte Kali Canales).
He should be listened to, being the perfect mix of kindness and capability, but Morgan won’t have a bar of it (at least initially) and it’s exhausting because we have seen this dynamic play out again and again and again.
There is in short, no growth or development in Morgan’s character.
Time and again, he resists, he grandstands, he arrogantly pushes away only to find he has to back down, for reasons good and bad, and go with someone’s else idea of things.
I get it – he is a strong-willed guy but by insisting on keeping Morgan in wheel-spinning mode, and elevating his presence to the exclusion of other compelling characters of which Fear the Walking Dead has no shortage, the show does itself a grave disservice, falling prey to a weakness that has bedeviled the parent show which is repeating the same stories and characters dynamics over and over again in a fairly shallow and shortsighted attempt to keep things thrilling and exciting.
Well, their idea of thrilling and exciting.
Alas, while it had some good moments, thanks largely to Isaac and his tenacious, grounded and appealing humanity, “The End is the Beginning”, which takes it title from a slogan spraypainted on a beached submarine by two men waiting for a man with a key (he won’t reach them thanks to Emile and his axe-chopping ways), is yet more evidence that Fear the Walking Dead, has lost its way and is drifting down The Walking Dead‘s soul-sucking approach of good people meet bad people-clash-then move on on endless and scream-inducing repeat.
The pity with this approach is that it robs a show which played with nuance and insight to its hope and humanity beautifully in the first three or so seasons, of all the things that set it apart from its aimless parent.
What made Fear the Walking Dead so enriching to watch was because here were real people reacting as real people would, sometimes well, sometimes not, overwhelmed by the end of all things but hopeful, well as hopeful as you can be surrounded by death, zombies and thugs, that maybe something could be salvaged, even if it was only being with a found family who made a grim world a little brighter.
But not it seems we’re in for a Morgan-centric seasons of fights and clashes and the very worst of humanity which is something this once well-measured show does not need.
We can only hope that “The End is the Beginning”, which was intriguing but largely inert, is not a precursor of storylines to come and that Fear the Walking Dead season 6 sees a return to the warm, rich and very human we all fell in love with in mostly-rewarding seasons past.
Coming up in season 6 …
THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND
Goodbye rose-tinted, zombie-country traversing glasses, we but knew you briefly!
To be fair to Iris (Aliyah Royale), Hope (Alexa Mansour), Elton (Nicolas Cantu; god bless him and his natty three-piece corduroy suit!) and Silas (Hal Cumpston) they went into their whole cross-country hike to save Iris and Hope’s dad from the authoritarian nightmare that is the Civil Republic well aware they weren’t avenging angels, well verses in despatching the undead to their final, much-delayed resting place.
That was one of the great charms of the pilot episode, “Brave”, which took its time setting up this two-season limited-series latest instalment, World Beyond, which didn’t pretend for a second that these four brave if malcontented (to varying degrees) kids would be all-conquering and victorious.
They were hopeful, underestimated the sheer scale of what they were taking on and they seriously misjudged what being on the outside would be like, having been largely, though not entirely, cocooned from the worst of the zombie apocalypse (cue Hope’s lingering, brutal flashbacks) but they weren’t and aren’t delusional and approached their impossible mission with a sensible mix of bravado and caution.
Also acting as a brake on any world-changing or father-rescuing delusions of grandeur is the fact that they are the first generation to grow up after the end of the world as we know it, and while older survivors might be mourning the loss of cinemas, brunch on a Saturday morning and relaxed walks through the forest (more like frantic runs now, right?), and know nothing else but a world of limited possibilities, brutality and death.
It’s sobering stuff and it’s impressive that the writers of World Beyond aren’t surrendering to teenage melodramatics in their depiction of these four desperate adventurers but are rather grounding them in the searing reality of a world which, as Elton observes, is fast ticking by its end of the Holecene use-by date.
These kids want to be hopeful, they want to dream but, and it’s a doozy of a BUT given the circumstances, all evidence points to that being a fool’s errand (if they only knew what happened to their home after they left, they might just give up completely; I hope they don’t because hope and the drive to push on is what this franchise needs more than anything).
Still for all the solemn chats (Hope and Elton’s convo on the tennis court about who will be the “Endling”, or the last of the human species was suitably grave and measured) and the muted joie de vivre, Iris, Hope Elton and Silas push on, grappling with their less-than-optimal zombie-killing skills – Felix (Nico Tortorella), who is coming after them with Huck Annet Mahendru), taught them survival skills in the classroom but out in the big, bad, Empties-filled world, it’s a whole other story – and hoping they can actually pull of this most impossible of undertakings.
It’s all looking relatively good, Hope’s perpetually-haunted looks aside and an uninvited spray-painted zombie guest at their treehouse for the night aside, until they encounter the Blaze of Gory, an evocative name for what is an endless burning shitstorm of tyres.
Lots and lots of tyres, whose warmth and furious heat is attracting almost all of the zombies in the area – hence they’re relatively untroubled passage to this point – making their trek through this smoke-choked zone (the harder to see the Empties, my dear!) a whole other kind of horrific challenge.
Rather cruelly but entirely realistically, their initial success, which comes with a near-death price tag none of them are keen to pay, comes hard up against the fact that while they think they have cleared the Blaze of Gory, all they have actually done is get through the first relatively-easy part of it.
If you think that’s dispiriting in the extreme, it is and World Beyond once again employs nuance in representing just how each setback sucks the lifeforce and joy from kids who, truth be told, and understandably so, didn’t have a lot of it to begin with.
While Iris et al. are struggling with not triumphing over every obstacle, Felix is having his own hellish existential journey with the show doing a superb job (I write this as a gay man who understands Felix’s journey all too well) of representing the rigours and emotional terror of coming out.
A coming out that takes place just before the zombie apocalypse, and shakes Felix to the core since he has devoted considerable time and effort to keeping his family and his thankless, homophobic father, afloat.
He is gutted by the rejection, and watching him run back to the house in the opening days of the apocalypse to be with his family and to find out they still don’t want him even then (!), is gut-wrenching in ways that rip your soul out and shred it into small pieces.
You can well understand why Felix is having a hard time journeying through the ruins of Omaha since he and Huck come very close to his old home and a life that died long before his family did.
Felix’s evocative backstory emphasises that for all its shambling undead and scary action sequences, World Beyond is shaping up to be a nuanced, considered and emotionally resonant journey through the end of the world, making it a welcome addition to a franchise which hasn’t always captured the true humanity of this horrific of situations and needs an entry that brings home just what the loss of everything does to a person.
Coming in next week in episode 3 “The Tyger and the Lamb” …