FEAR THE WALKING DEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A SHAMBLING HERCULE POIROT …
Two episodes may not necessarily a comeback make but following on from last week’s wholly emotionally resonant episode, “Alaska”, Fear the Walking Dead seems to have its pulse again.
While it does still seem to be veering a little too close to the Big-Bad-and-lots-of-violence model of its parent show, episodes like “The Key”, a reference to the gold key which is the symbol of Virginia’s (Colby Minifie) authoritarianism-with-a-smile community, The Pioneers (which loves its Wild West aesthetics, possibly a little too much) and which confers all kinds of privilege on those who hold it, reassure us that the show has lost sight of its heart and soul completely.
In this episode where John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) is one of the policeman in the main community of Lawton, a role he has found himself growing into it since it appeals to his innate love of law and order (he was, you might recall, a policeman pre-apocalypse), we get a chance to take a deep dive into what drives John and Virginia and how similar and not they might be.
At the beginning of the episode, John is reasonably contented with his new lot, cautiously optimistic than perhaps losing a lot of your freedom is worth it if it means you’re alive and somewhat happy; he’s not what you’d call a rabid true believer but he’s no Morgan (Lennie James) but he believes enough that he can live with a routine that consists of sleep, sharing guard duties the artistically-inclined Cameron (Noah Khyle) and writing clandestine destination to June (Jenna Elfman) who is stationed at another community altogether (all part of Virginia’s twisted divide-and-conquer approach to ruling her spread out fiefdom).
All that changes however when he finds a zombified Cameron stuck in the barbed wire behind his house being chewed on by other zombies and he begins to suspect there’s more going than a problem drinker losing his way in a drunken haze and losing his life in an ill-advised walk outside when he doesn’t have his full wits about him.
Virginia, who cares more about a perception of safety than actual safety – no prizes for guessing that a man like John holds the opposite view – is quick to dismiss it as a drunken meander gone tragically wrong but John, a man of boundless, quiet integrity and a strict adherence to the truth (influenced by the actions of his policeman father which are discussed in the episode) sense there is more to this story than meets the eye.
It’s the eternal battle between PR and substance and while Virginia backs John’s investigations at first, he soon realises that he is not the one controlling the narrative and that despite the fact that there’s a killer on the loose, Virginia prefers to hide the truth (something confirmed by her younger sister Dakota, played by Zoe Colletti) – there might be a big threat lurking out there – and go with a big, cosy story that makes people feel safe and secure.
Doesn’t fix the longterm problem, which you suspect will eventually be Virginia’s undoing sooner rather than later, but it bolsters her leadership, keeps the citizenry happy and conveniently dovetails with her overall message that life with the Pioneers is better that being outside.
Someone who doubts that very much is Janis (Holly Curran), now laundrywoman of Lawton, who is fingered for Cameron’s murder by Virginia who coerces Janis to confess to the crime so she can have a nice shiny awards ceremony for John who, despite his personal integrity and adherence to the truth, can’t compete with Virginia’s quest to maintain her rule at the cost of the very things he values.
“The Key” is a rich piece of storytelling because it starkly and humanely contrasts the yawning gap between people like John, who might make an initial accommodation with a dictatorial system of rule because of its perceived early benefits but can’t stomach it over time due to its violation of all the values they hold most dear, and Virginia who is a classic dictator who is happy to throw the truth, and people like Janis, out to the zombies if she means she gets to preserve her picture postcard authoritarian idyll.
In his quietly heroic way, which brings him into conflict with not just Virginia but also a ruthlessness-revived Victor (Colman Domingo) who proves there’s nothing he won’t do to look after number one, John embodies everything good about humanity while Virginia is the very personification of those qualities that always eventually drag us down.
“The Key” is immensely powerful storytelling, which also includes a small Morgan B-plot where he encounters the two men we saw spraypainting “The End is the Beginning” in the season six opener of the same name who wants he key around his neck and end up with their deaths handed to them on a platter instead, that reaffirms that Fear the Walking Dead has not lost its soul and is still capable of telling deeply affecting stories that mean something (watching John go from supporter to quiet dissenter is heartbreaking but moving) and which shine a light on the possibilities of the very and most notable aspects best of humanity which despite the efforts of the Virginias of the world and a whole lot of zombies, cannot be counted out just yet.
THE WALKING DEAD: THE WORLD BEYOND
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND YET MORE PROOF THAT ZOMBIES CAN’T SWIM
You know that awkward feeling you get when small worlds collide and you discover that you and another person share a link that neither would be particularly to know exists?
For most of us, it’s not a big deal, with the uncomfortable coincidences running to shared exes or a realistion that you beat someone you know to a promotion they desperately wanted, but in World Beyond, it’s whole degree or a thousand order of magnitude worse when Hope (Alexa Mansour) realises, courtesy of a black and white photo, that she is the one who killed Elton’s (Nicolas Cantu) ten years earlier.
What makes it even worse is that when this supremely awkward realisation dawns, she is comforting a dejected Elton who, fresh from being used a spy and coercive agent by Felix (Nico TorTorella) and being plagued by memories of the night his father died at the start of the zombie apocalypse, is feeling quite a way from being the usual chipper, scientifically-curious, corduroy suit-wearing young man we have come to know and love.
Poor sweet Elton is convinced his mother is out there somewhere with his then yet-to-be-born sister and as he pouring out his heart to a supportive Hope, it becomes terribly apparent, just as many of us suspected, that his mum is very much not alive and may even be shambling through Omaha even as her son walks to New York state.
And that the blood, the accidental, not exactly her fault blood is very much of Hope’s regretful hands.
That is, of course, an issue for another day, one which it is now almost certain will take place on the way to (hopefully) rescuing Hope and Iris’s (Aliyah Royale) dad after Felix effectively loses the battle to go back to the imagined hearth and home of the Campus Colony (which, as we saw, is looking very much worse for wear after the brutally ruthless Civil Republic “neutralised” it).
To be fair, he gave it a red hot go, enlisting a reluctant Elton and a never-really-onboard Huck (Annet Mahendru), who admitted to Hope that she loves the idea of this quest because it will help define, she inspirationally believes, who they are supposed to be as people in this post-apocalyptic world, in his quest to get the girls, Elton and Silas (Hal Cumpston) back home safely.
But when it became clear that no one but him really wanted to go back, which will now involve a lovely river cruise down the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, he pretty gave up his mission and threw his lot into helping everyone cross a now bridgeless Mississippi.
That doesn’t mean he’s a mad keen Huck-like supporter of the Quest to Save Dad (who may or may not be a zombie being used for testing purposes by the CRM) but he’s bowed to the inevitable, influenced no doubt by the fact that if his primary motivation is to keep Iris and Hope safe, then surely that needs to happen where they are.
And the fact of the matter is that they don’t want to go home and they most assuredly aren’t interested in abandoning their quest to snatch their dad back from the Civil Republic (assuming they can even find it) so if Felix was to acquit his sacred task, he needs to stick with the tenacious sisters.
In addition, as Hope rather pointedly explains to him, if he really does want to be their adopted big brother, he really need to start behaving like one instead of some sort of Good Cop, Bad Cop in one.
While not the show’s strongest episode to date, “Madman Across the Water” (also the title of a 1971 album by Elton John by the by) nevertheless served up some emotionally resonant backstory for Elton, whose claustrophobia was explained when we saw where his five-year-old self had to hide when his father went to get help on the night the world ended, and gave us a chance to further understand the tight bonds between Felix, Iris and Hope.
It also gave up quite an instructive understanding of the way in which nail polish can be used to power boat engines and issued a cautionary tale about building your boat too far from the shore from where pushing it to the water may be such a slow affair that it allows time for the zombie horde (newly released from the over-hyped shambles of tourist trap Daiquiritown) to almost catch up to you.
(Pro tip: If you’re building a boat to escape across the Mississippi River, try to avoid launching in the midst of a lightning storm: sure the lightning provides a spectacular backdrop to your efforts but it might kill you which would render the boat building efforts rather null and void.)
The Walking Dead: World Beyond continues to prove to be a unique and strong addition to the franchise, even with weaker episodes such as this one (which relied a tad too much on overwrought, over-introspective narration), because it offers an entirely untold perspective on the zombie apocalypse, one which isn’t reliant on what came before (since the main characters are too young to really remember that) but far more on what humanity might become if, of course, we can’t survive long enough to do anything meaningful with it.