Fear the Walking Dead: “Today and Tomorrow” (S5, E14 review)

(image courtesy AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SOLAR PANELS, CATS WITH BEHAVIOURAL ISSUES AND THE PATH OF TRUE LOVE NOT RUNNING SMOOTH

Is there anything more creepy than someone you know, you just know, is inherently evil and up to the kind of no good that hardcore narratives are made of, acting like they’re all sunshine, roses and puppy dogs just itching for a playful gambol? (Well, apart from creepy clowns, that is …)

There is not, and Exhibit A in the court of the apocalypse is Ginny aka Virginia (Colby Minifie), head of the group known as the Pioneers or Settlers, horseback riding “futurists” who are newly come into a sizeable field of civilisation-enabling oil, who is as honey-voiced as they come and yet, jam licking aside which is frankly just not hygienic, is clearly meaning to do some authoritarian harm to everyone she comes in contact with.

Her Southern dulcet tones might suggest mint juleps and pecan pies on the porch at dusk but when she temporarily detains Morgan (Lennie James) and Al (Maggie Grace) in the fenced-up compound of Paradise Ridge, a luxury housing condominium complex from which people are dying to escape, you know it’s a her way or the high way moment.

Morgan and Al, well Al especially who’s only in the compound because she thought Isabelle (Sydney Lemmon) might be inside – she’s not alas; this group do not a helicopter have, which means, rather delightfully, that there are TWO groups yammering on about bright, shiny tomorrows while enforcing rather draconian todays … or yesterdays as Morgan sagely observes – are pretty much convinced she is not as hospitable and warm as her Vaudeville act suggests, which makes them even more stupefied when she lets them go.

With presents even (a brand new stick for Morgan for starters) …

In a promising sign that Fear the Walking Dead continues to favour nuanced baddies over cartoonish antagonists, which is infinitely better for the long term health of the show, Ginny is all smiles and charm when she’s looking at you and all bullets in the head (hello, Logan!), or in this case, unsmiling grimaces when your back is turned.

She is, in pretty much every way, the dark side of Morgan et al’s shiny humanistic coin, but Fear wisely treats her as just as human in her own way as her opponents are, and invests her with an impressive intelligence, emotional and otherwise, steely, velvet-covered iron will and a tactical vision which suggests she will build her “It’s not about today, it’s about tomorrow” world whether you want to come along or not.

It is, when you come down to it, all very Borg-like, if you recall the honeyed tones of the Borg Queen who promised everything rainbow-hued and wonderful under the sun while essentially consigning everyone who bought that crock of PR shit to a life of lost self-will and happiness.

(image courtesy AMC)

Someone who knows exactly what she’s like and is terrified as hell as of her and the men on horseback is Tom (Joe Massingill) who Morgan and Al come across when he steals petrol from their utility in the middle of a parking lot where Morgan is running away from his feelings for Grace helping Al set out boxes to help weary travellers.

Or trying to convince her to do that instead of heading home since they’re perilously low on said petrol.

Yep, that’s right, Morgan is so afraid of his feelings for Grace that he’d rather get stranded putting boxes by the side of the road that go back and move forward with his life.

You get why when he talks on camera about his wife and son who, all these years later, he still misses as if they just died; it makes sense and feels very real since you never stop grieving the people you love more than any others.

It would be easy to sigh and think “C’mon Morgan, get over it! The past is the past and a lovely future beckons” but the truth is, and Fear captures this beautifully, none of us ever just move on to the future without the past coming along with us.

It’s a constant companion, the good and the bad, and given the zombie apocalypse has caused no end of pain and misery for just about everyone, it makes that Morgan can’t shake loose his past, or doesn’t want to.

That’s very human, and if Fear gets anything absolutely right, it’s the human toll of catastrophic situations where PTSD is a default, and where the pain of loss and death is always with you.

Having said that, “Today and Tomorrow” absolutely nails how it feels when the lightbulb of change finally comes on and the grief is supplanted, at least in part (remember it never goes away) by a tantalising sense that life can begin anew, that it can mean something altogether new and different and exciting.

Morgan finally comes to that point after Ginny has ranted, in her delightfully passive-aggressive way, that everyone needs to leave the past behind, and he calls Grace (Karen David), eager to get that future happening NOW.

In her own way, Al has already come to that point thanks to Isabelle, and while she remains committed to documenting the horrors of the apocalypse, she is eager to start living and you can tell she’s itching to do that with Isabelle.

(image courtesy AMC)

Alas, Morgan’s timing sucks, and after they have to abandon their truck filled with all kinds of cool and useful scavenged goods, and all with a credit card being swiped – let’s hear it for the financially hassle-free shopping of the zombie apocalypse where shopaholics finally come into their own – Daniel (Rubén Blades) and Grace are holed up, after some zombie avoiding and record smashing (by the undead, not them), in what looks like an old music hall or concert venue.

Daniel may have lost his scavenged LPs, which he was keen to play for Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) both to educate her on music but also because, as he touchingly explains to Grace, she was the one who brought him to the human race after a huge amount of time where it was just him and Skidmark the cat (still holder of the best apocalyptic cat name ever, largely because it makes me giggle like a five-year-old) and he feels a huge amount of paternal concern for her.

He was also expecting his daughter Ophelia (Mercedes Mason) to carry the torch of future genertations for him but she’s gone and so Charlie is it, another point where a recurring theme of this season of Fear the Walking Dead crops up again which is the act of beginning to look to the future, not the past, and actually starting to live rather than just hard scrabble struggle to survive.

It’s a revolutionary act, not just for the characters in Fear but for apocalyptic storytelling generally which is skilled at wrestling with the end of the world and what comes in its immediate wake but pretty poor at looking to what comes next.

The bravery of Fear is that it is daring to ask these questions in ways that feel organic and human, reflecting how people would actually come through trauma, bruised and in pain but slowly eager to come alive again and see what the future holds.

Contrast that to its parent show The Walking Dead which remains exhaustingly obsessed with war, violence and a pointless cycle of territorial and resource grabbing; do people behave like this, yes, of course take a look at any broken country in the world but give people a chance and they will, for the greater part, opt to try to build and grow, not tear down.

Fear gets that and lives it out beautifully in every episode, with “Today and Tomorrow” showing a particular sophistication by contrasting how different people are looking to the future and what that means to them.

For Morgan, Grace, Al and Daniel, it’s about giving back and making the world better for others and then themselves in that order, while Ginny and the Pioneers talk an altruistic game but are enacting it in ways that speak less to unfettered, limitless, positive humanity and more to the darkest, most dictatorial human urges.

You may not agree with Ginny et al but kudos in neon and with much clapping to Fear for being willing to address these different approaches and let them sit side-by-side with excessive moralising and polemic gesturing.

The only grief in this episode of new beginnings, some flawed, most not, is Grace falling ill just when Morgan decides his future is with her.

You’d like to hope she will bounce back and they will both get their happily ever after, but while Fear might celebrate the better angels of our nature, it is also realistic and knows that, even with the best of intentions, there are some things you lamentably simply can’t outrun.

Next week in Fear the Walking Dead on “Channel 5” …

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