Fear the Walking Dead: “People Like Us” (S4, E9 review)

Staring Morgan is staring (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ZOMBIES WHO ARE BLOWING IN THE WIND … THEY’RE BLOWING IN THE WIND MY FRIEND

Things got more than a little Z Nation in the opening episode, “People Like Us”, of the second half of the fourth season of Fear the Walking Dead.

The undead, who are looking less and less attractive – to be fair, they were never going to win any “Most Beautiful Person” contests anytime soon, or ever, really – were being blown hither and yon, yon and hither by a massive storm that mirrored the emotional state of everyone in the wake of the seismic events of the mid-season finale when Madison (Kim Dickens) most likely met her doom. (I say “likely” because there is an idea out there in fandom that she lives because no one saw her die. Put that in your conspiracy theory pipe and spoke it why don’t you?)

Admittedly the storyline that unfolded throughout the episode wasn’t that hilarious – this is the apocalypse folks where happiness is simply a muted form of fear, not a cosy, blissful state unto itself – but damn it if those easily picked up from the ground, light-as-air zombies weren’t an absolute hoot to watch, much as they are in Z Nation, a brilliantly-clever show in its own right that went one step further and created a “zombienado”, and yes a GIANT zombie cheese wheel.

It was even funnier watching them ka-thunk, bump onto the ground although if you were in the way, as June/Laura/Naomi (Jenna Elfman) and Al (Maggie Grace) were at one point, thankfully secure in the Armoured SWAT Van That Fears Nothing, have one come down hard onto you was no laughing matter.

But all that Dylan-esque, Peter Paul and Mary blowing in the wind aside, and again wheeeee!, there was some serious questioning about life, the universe and everything down on the ground, which each character handled in vastly different ways.

 

Staring Charlie is also staring (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Before we travel down each of those twisty, existential-angsty paths, one thing worth noting, once again, is how brilliantly-well Fear the Walking Dead frames everything in terms of raw, visceral, real humanity.

The temptation after a big bombastic finale is surely to throw everyone back, with no ceremony and a devil-may-care, ratings-grabbing attitude, into the mincer of life is a messy pile of shit and you’re soaking in the worst of it AGAIN, but Fear didn’t do that; in fact, it pulled back, taking us one month down the road where everyone who survived the fateful turn of events at the stadium had fallen into a rather ginormous funk.

It makes sense right and feels wholly relatable; after all, who of us, even in the face of looming undead death, and maybe even more so then, wouldn’t seek some form of escape or lapse into despair and questioning about what to do next.

Where The Walking Dead has lost its way, and honestly, is making its characters acting like aggressive set pieces in a big grand apocalyptic tableau – true you could argue people might end up like Rick et al, constantly playing Lord of the Flies games, but I think they’re far more likely to act like the people in Fear who, in one form or another, are wanting to hide from the worst of life around them in ways that are unique to each person.

“People Like Us” feels just like you’d expect people after a major traumatic event to behave and each and every character is palpably human through this softly-spoken but deeply-impacting episode that may pull back on the hard, in-your-face action but which never forgets that these are real people we’re talking about here and has each of them act accordingly.

Take Victor (Colman Domingo), for instance.

In the aftermath of losing Nick (Frank Dillane) and Madison in quick succession, our once-was-a-millionaire has retreated to a big lavish gated house, surrounded by mostly-intact fencing, to drink himself stupid each day on a cellar stocked with expensive red wines.

Is it productive? No. Will it help him move forward? Not really. But is it a really human reaction? Absolutely, underscoring that people don’t always fight back against trauma and terror and in fact, especially in the face of massive terror writ large, which in anyone’s book is exactly what the zombie apocalypse is, run from it, his reaction makes sense.

As does Luciana’s (Danay García) decision to sit in a room, headphones on and listen to an endless parade of old country music records, her back to the world and her pain shut maybe a little, with only the odd wandering zombie to almost kill her (thank goodness for Victor and a broken wine bottle!).

 

June/Naomi is also staring .. seems to be a thing this episode (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

And on we go with Morgan (Lennie James) deciding that Virginia is after all where he wants to be – given the bonds he’s formed with John (Garret Dillahunt) and the time he spends with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey)  in this episode, it doesn’t ring true and smacks more of writers wondering what the hell to do with him than anything else – and June/Laura/Naomi unsure if John loves who she really is or who he imagines her to be.

Even Charlie, who’s living with John and June/Laura/Naomi (henceforth JuLomi) on a bus on an easily-defendable bridge from which the fishing is easy – bar the zombies who keep washing up on the shore, complicating reading on the riverbank – is conflicted, hardly a surprise given how much she’s lost and who hates her (Victor, Alicia, Luciana) and that she’s still a very young woman who doesn’t have the adult coping mechanisms (actually given how well everyone else is doing, they’re not really what they’re cracked up to be now are they?).

Everyone, and I mean everyone, is searching, regardless of how they’ve reacted to the events of one month back, and reacting just like normal people would.

Not apocalyptic warriors. Not feudal tribes locked in war. Not play actors in some deathly struggle. But real, all-too-relatable people who don’t have the perfect reactions to events but then, stop and think about it, who of us really do?

Would we suddenly get miraculously better at it in the apocalypse? In any kind of civilisation-ending event for that matter? We might, but we might not, with my money more on the latter than the former, a constant contrary, fallible trait of humanity that Fear the Walking Dead used to brilliant effect in “People Like Us” which explored the after-effects of trauma in a way that was gut-wrenchingly impacting in its own quietly-devastating way.

  • Coming up next week in “Close Your Eyes” …

 

 

No calm after the storm: Fear the Walking Dead debuts S4b poster + trailer

(image via Flickering Myth (c) AMC)

 

SNAPSHOT
The first half of season four began with one figure huddled around a campfire, and ended with nine. Characters who started their journeys in isolation collided with each other in unexpected ways and found themselves in one of the last places they ever expected to be…together. In the back half of the season they will explore who they are now – as individuals and as part of the greater group – and how they will forge ahead. They will find themselves pitted against new adversaries – human, walker, and even nature itself. Theirs will be a journey wrought with danger, love, heartbreak, loss, and ultimately, hope. (synopsis via Spoiler TV)

The end of the first half of season 4 of Fear the Walking Dead saw lots of death, walkers and loss which is sadly business-as-usual for the zombie apocalypse.

Could things get any worse?

Of course they could, and if this trailer for the back half of the more vital of AMC’s two zombies shows – The Walking Dead is looking as doddery and shaky as a walker alas; even so, season 9 now has its own news poster – is any guide, a whole lot worse with tornado-dropped zombies adding a whole new twist to “it’s raining cats and dogs”.

 

 

Given the show’s continuing focus on relationships, and the strength they bring even in times of nightmarishly life-ending stress, it makes sense that there is an emphasis on how a bunch of disparate people draw together and work towards what could be a better future.

It likely won’t be but survivors can dream can’t they?

Fear the Walking Dead season 4b premieres 12 August on AMC in USA and Showcase on Foxtel in Australia.

Fear the Walking Dead: “No One’s Gone” (S4, E8 review)

Fear the Walking Dead the Band pose for the cover shot of their iconic album “Ain’t No One Living Here No How No Way” (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A GREAT BIG RATINGS-GRABBING DEATH!

Saying goodbye to a character you come to know and love in a TV show in never an easy thing.

It makes sense – we spend huge amounts of time with them, come to love their outlook on life and the way they express themselves, enjoy their company much as we would that of our friends (and yes hokey as it may sound, it is a form of once-removed friendship) and can’t wait to see them again when once again they grace our screens of whatever shape they may be.

It’s even more acute when the character in question, in this case Fear the Walking Dead‘s Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), is the living, beating, heart and soul of a show, the one who keeps everyone else on the straight-and-narrow, or at least tries to, the protagonist through whom we come to understand and relate to the world in which the show exists.

In the heady, brutal cut-throat milieu of modern peak TV deaths have become almost commonplace, a ratings-grabber intended to keep us watching when so many other forms of entertainment, and so many other TV shows for that matter, are competing for our ever more-fractured attention.

Killing off a character is a sure-fire, or so writers would like to think, way to make viewers sit up, splutter popcorn onto the carpet and keep watching next week, or next bingeworthy episode because who the hell knows who’s going next?

Of course, it’s less effective than it used to with viewers almost inured to the fact that a character with whom they have shared their couch lo these many episodes; this could explain then why Madison, who has been MIA for season 4 bar flashbacks, was sent off to that undead shuffling ground in the sky in “No One’s Gone”.

After all, how to grab wandering attention spans which are likely already scanning Twitter or sending off a perfectly-composed Instagram pic? Why kill off the main calling card of the show, the person through whom all the great moral conundrums of a world plunged into a post-civilisational hell have been channelled, the one person who managed to (mostly) refrain from sinking into the abyss of self-interest and rampant self-preservation.

 

Never walk down dark tunnels guys in the zombie apocalypse – just don’t OK? (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

And so it came to pass last night that Madison, who has always loudly, perhaps a little too loudly at times – OK we get it, you love your kids; yup, got it, thanks, don’t you don’t need to say it again, no, really, I’m good – proclaimed that she does what she does for the sake of her kids, made the ultimate sacrifice, leading a mass of BBQ’d zombies, of whom she is now likely one, back into the stadium she and her community of cast-offs called home, and shutting the gates so daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane), Victor (Colman Domingo) and Luciana (Danay García) could make their getaway from a stadium carpark.

It was heroic, Pied Piper-like in its eeriness, poetic and very much in keeping with everything we knew and loved about Madison, a school guidance counsellor who ponied up again and again, sometimes far too pragmatically but always with the intention to save not just her kids, but anyone else she came across like Laura aka Naomi aka real name June (Jenna Elfman).

To be honest, anyone watching this season must have known that her death was all but inevitable; in another age and time, when protagonists were invincible and shows lived and died on their ability to conquer any situation, Madison would have emerged Phoenix-like from the zombiefied ashes and joined the four survivors of her nascent but failed community on their escape from an idealistic experiment gone horribly wrong.

But this is 21st century TV and there is no guarantee anymore, much like the long-dead idea that you have a job for life, that a lead character will get to hang around at all, for the long-term, let along emerge triumphant to falling balloons, parades and the love & appreciation of their fellow characters.

Madison’s death, though beautifully and poetically handled, and given extra emotional oomph by the videographic revelation that she had met Althea (Maggie Grace) pre-stadium days and had her story recorded for posterity, was pretty much a foregone conclusion, a ticking of the modern TV box that was all but inscribed in stone.

That doesn’t make it any easier to handle, either for her surviving child who was only thwarted on enacting revenge against the perceived agent of her mother’s death, June, by a zen-like, gun-blocking Morgan (Lennie James) or Victor or Lucians, all of whom told their story, lit by oddly-comforting campfire glow at the end of the episode when the full import of Madison’s sacrifice was finally told.

The thing is with these kinds of deaths, and they are never easy, is how they’re handled – if you’re going to lose a mainstay of your viewing, then they’d better be given the kind of deaths longed for by Vikings and Klingon warriors and told in hymns, plays and an arrestingly-immersive Twitter thread.

 

When good BBQs go wrong (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Thankfully, as the episode bounced between past, present and future with the kind of chronological whiplash that would make Marty’s McFly’s DeLorean explode, Madison got the kind of sendoff that characters of her stature and emotional importance deserve.

As we witnessed her valiant search for her family, both blood and acquired, the establishment of the stadium, the gathering in of strangers and the heroic efforts of Laura aka Naomi aka June to save the life of John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) – it was close people but he lived! – and a thousand other moments big and small, Madison’s epitaph was written in words of kindness, inclusion, truth, idealism and a hope for a better future.

In this way Fear the Walking Dead has done a far better job that its parent show, The Walking Dead, in centering the future of everything good we consider noble and human into the very DNA of the show, not simply making it an occasional episodic thread but the very reason why the show exists at all.

At every point in last night’s gripping episode, Madison was lionised in a grounded, non-hagiographic way, presented as a woman at the mercy of her flaws as any of us but possessed of a willingness, in the new undead barbaric times where it was every person for themselves (or most people believe) to still give people a chance, to aim for the best even when the worst looked like the only viable option.

Her farewell lap of the apocalyptic track had everything you could ask for in that regard – it acknowledged what she had stood for, encouraged those remaining to sit with the better angels of their nature (that’s you Alicia! … and Victor and Luciana) and to follow the examples of John and Morgan and even Althea in believing that the mainstays of our humanity now could remain so long into a world seemingly shorn clear of them.

Even in her death, and it was as sad as it was empoweringly self-sacrificial, Madison was able to communicate the idea that survival is not enough, that it’s not just admirable but possible to aim for higher purposes and goals, that doing so isn’t a waste of effort and resources, and that it’s worth doing everything you can to make it happen.

Fear the Walking Dead won’t be the same without her and you could well question if it was wise pulling out such a pivotal character from the show’s long-arc narrative – time will, of course, tell if that was a wise and beneficial course of action – but at least, in our mourning, and yes that is a real thing, we can be consoled that Madison died as admirably as she lived and that if nothing else, her spirited example will serve as an inspiration to everyone else going forward.

  • That’s it for season 4 of the Fear the Walking Dead for the moment! Part 2 premieres 12 August this year …

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” (S4, E7 review)

Ruminative stargazing – a popular pasttime until the threat of zombies coming up behind you took the chilled fun out of it (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … NEAR-DEATH, FALLING STADIUMS AND THE COSILY DELUSIONAL POWER OF SELF-BELIEF …

Optimism is a powerful motivator.

It propels people forward in a way that pays no heed to the facts on the ground and achieves great things when everything points to ignominious failure being the only possible outcome.

It’s not so much delusional, although as Madison (Kim Dickens), god bless her bright-side-of life addled heart, demonstrated beautifully in “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” it certainly has the expansive capacity to be, as disappointing when things don’t play out the way you want.

Of course, when you’re faced with unrelenting oblivion-laden pessimism, which is pretty all that’s showing in the zombie apocalypse, is holding onto a little blue bird of happiness, sunshine-saturated optimism such a bad thing?

Well it is if it’s going to get you killed.

Madison, who tells anyone who will listen that she built the stadium community to provide her kids with as close to a normal life as possible (the rest of you? Lucky you’re here at all and don’t you forget it!) – a lofty aim that is ridiculed by one of the Vultures’ Mel (Kevin Zegers) who dismissively tells Madison that people like her are all extinct; well clearly not all of them now right Mel? Empirical evidence is standing right in front of you – but her quest to build Pleasantville in the apocalypse is dying a slow and certain death as enemies without, with zombie hordes in tow, and doubters within (hello Naomi played by Jenna Elfman), besiege her from all sides.

Still, Madison isn’t giving up without a fight, and though you could agree with Naomi’s position that it’s best to cut and run than be on the wrong side of history (a place she’s been before and not particularly enjoyed; it explains why even though she’s basically a decent good person that she ends up with people like the Vultures), it’s a powerful thing to hang onto a vision and try to see it through.

 

xxxx (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Still admirable though Madison’s position is, the reality is the stadium is doomed.

While we don’t actually see it fall in this episode, it’s all but inevitable despite the wall reinforcements, taken from Naomi’s hut and other wooden dwellings in the sports arena dismantled with ruthless concentration by Madison, and confirmed in a later sequence when Althea (Maggie Grace), safe in her armoured SWAT vehicle with Morgan (Lennie James), a gunshot-ailing John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt), Naomi (who’s after the stadium’s stash of medical goods) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) bashes through the walls of the stadium in which are imprisoned (though being rather undead, they are blissfully unaware of the fact) untold hundreds of charcoaled walkers.

So clearly no longer a bucolic idyll of tended crops, bleating lambs and “normal” life, as endorsed by Madison and disendorsed by Naomi and Mel (who ends up a zombified brickette after the gun battle between Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Luciana (Danay García) and Victor (Colman Domingo) and the Vultures which thankfully doesn’t occupy the whole episode a la The Walking Dead) but then we knew that right?

For all the forewarning and advanced knowledge, it’s still a shocking scene, a terrifying testament to how even the most fervently-believed in and strongly-articulated dreams can come crashing down a fire of loss and brokenness, in this case, quite literally, leaving everyone all the poorer for it.

And dead too? Truth is, we are still left dangling when it comes to Madison’s state of being.

At episode’s end. she’s seen dashing outside into a ring of fire and an advancing zombie horde to rescue Nick (Frank Dillane), Alicia and Mel, who the two Clarks went out to rescue after Madison, angry at the injured Vulture’s corrosive effect on her community (he’d been rescued from a truck accident at Charlie’s urging) and temporarily shorn of her idealism, exiled him from the stadium in less than tip-top, perky good health.

Not exactly in keeping with her “everyone can be rehabilitated” ethos – there’s a Monty Python song in there somewhere, hopefully with well-choreographed dancing zombies – but then everyone has a breaking point and clearly Mel is hers.

Whatever the merits of sending Mel, injured and halfway to zombiedom into the great apocalyptic beyond, it has placed Nick, Alicia and now Madison in mortal peril and while we know Nick and Alicia make it out of the Tokyo rush hour zombie horde pressing in on their car, there’s no way, until the mid-season finale next week I’d wager, to know how Madison fared in the undead fires of hell and gasoline.

 

Put down the fun Alicia! Put down the freaking gun! Gah, she never listens (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

The fate of John Dorie, Madison and the stadium aside – and to recap that’s (a) not gone yet (b) who knows and (c) gone baby gone! – the great theme of “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” is of forgiveness and second chances.

It’s repeated with poetic resonance again and again as we see Naomi and John finding each other again in the most searing and life-threatening of circumstances, Charlie scooped up by Morgan who tells her that he saved her, even though she’s Nick’s killer, because the cycle has to end somewhere (amen brother!) and Madison forgiving a multitude of doubters and setbacks to hold tight to her dream.

Clearly Madison’s willingness to forgive and forget hasn’t done the stadium any favours but it did save Victor and Naomi and countless others, testament to the fact that tempting though it is to throw the humanity baby out with the apocalyptic bathwater, that it remains as vital as ever.

While Mel may have believed his Cynical Charlie attitude is bang-on right when it came to the new human normal, in the process bleakly consigning our innate humanity to the dustbin of history, the fact remains that without belief in love, forgiveness, rehabilitation, second chances and all the other good stuff that makes life worth living (and not just surviving), there’s not much point in staying alive.

The Walking Dead made some noise to that effect in its early seasons before it descended into an amoral bloodfest, but this belief in the vital necessity of basic humanity is woven into the very DNA of Fear the Walking Dead, a show that acknowledges that the old days are gone but does not accede for one minute that that means the better angels of our nature are gone with that.

Maybe it’s idealistic but it also matters deeply and greatly and even as we grapple with the imperfect execution of this ideal and its constant locking of horns with willful, deathly self-preservation, “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” reminds that hanging onto it, even in some small Charlie-shaped form is far better than giving up on it altogether.

  • Next up on Fear the Walking Dead in “No One’s Gone” … lives on the line, dreams falling into the furnace and the hope that things can yet be salvaged.

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Just in Case” (S4, E6 review)

Family get-togethers are still as fraught as ever in the apocalypse (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND MORE TRUTH TO THE AXIOM THAT YOU CAN’T GO BACK … UNLESS YOU’RE IN A BACKSTORY IN WHICH CASE YOU CAN …

Regrets – we all have them.

In our case though, in our cosy non-zombie apocalypse existence, regrets are nothing more than irritating callouses on the soul; they cause us anxiety and a niggling sense of loss, but really, that’s about it.

In the apocalypse though? Death is more the usual outcome in a time and age that has little wiggle room for sentiment or making up for past wrongs, however ill-perceived.

It’s something that Laura/Naomi (Jenna Elfman), who knows a thing or two about regretting pretty much everything, gets to appreciate up close and personal in “Just in Case” when she heads back to a FEMA shelter (Federal Emergency Management Agency) she once called home.

Twice she tries to give the Stadium Gang the other slip – the first time she’s caught trying to get out of the still-Vultures-encircled sports facility whereupon she blurts out that she was off to get seeds and fertiliser from somewhere so dangerous she didn’t want to risk anyone else’s life.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Victor (Colman Domingo), who’s almost blown (no pun intended) his chances with Cole (Sebastian Sozzi) thanks to lying about his getaway car, knows she is, and Madison (Kim Dickens) suspects she is but won’t say it out loud, with both offering, in that way that won’t take “no” for an answer to go along for the ride.

So far so good, and at the motel where they hole up that night, she shares about her dead daughter, a nice little piece of bonding that Victor isn’t buying for a minute.

Sure enough next morning she’s gone – AGAIN ALREADY! – off to the shelter, with Victor and Madison belatedly in pursuit, to right some wrongs.

Specifically to get the seed and fertiliser, which actually exists in a truck fully-loaded on the dock – the keys in the hands of the zombie driver, who was once Jessica, a woman who taught survivors to the FEMA community, says “Just in case”, reflecting her apocalyptic motto – and by so doing, give Madison et al the chance to survive as a community that Laura/Naomi, Jessica and the undead horde trapped within never got.

 

We may be outta food but we got liquor and the perfect place to drink it! (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

There is some MAJOR guilt at work here, triggered we find out, not by leaving the lights on one night and wasting electricity or forgetting Jessica’s birthday – “Wait in the truck Jess, I’ll be right out with the cake and card!” – but by leaving her pneumonia-stricken daughter locked away while she raced out to get some Amoxycillin.

She got it alright but not in time and came back to find her daughter Rose dead and turned and everyone at the shelter zombie-fied right along with her.

Yep, that’s grounds for some major religious-level guilt and regret and Laura/Naomi almost gets herself killed atoning for it, only rescued it, as narrative luck would have it, by Victor and Madison coming in at the last minute.

Guilt not really assuaged – how on earth can you ever make up for something like that? Although as Victor, who knows a thing or two about regret and self-preservation, reminds her, sometimes well-intentioned decisions come back to bite you (quite literally) on the arse and there’s nothing to be done but move on – but the stadium lives to eat another day, crops get planted and everyone’s happy.

Or are they?

Of course not, and the beauty of “Just in Case”, with its optimistically portentous title, is that it doesn’t pretend this is the beginning of some happily ever after – they didn’t exist before the end of the world and they certainly don’t exist now, and it only takes one look at Laura/Naomi permanently hangdog face, to know the truth of those words.

Much of the emotional resonance in this brilliantly-executed episode comes down to Jenna Elfman’s impressively evocative performance as someone wracked by loss and grief, and powerless to do anything about it, but trying nonetheless.

It’s damn near heartbreaking watching her doing her best to atone for an imagined wrong which, while ill-judged in one respect, was entirely understandable in a world where the great driver is protecting the ones you love because they are usually all you have left.

Madison gets that which is why she created the Stadium Gang, and while the seeds and fertilisers in Jessica’s “Just in Case” mean the end of all things is once again forestalled – yep we thought it all ended with the Vultures swooping in but not yet at least – but even she wonders if it will be enough, quietly sending a reluctant Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) off to set up a getaway truck a la Victor and his romance-crushing efforts, in the event of the worse happening.

But the worst has already happened to Laura/Naomi, and you wonder if this brokenhearted woman will ever be able to forgive herself for the loss of everything that mattered to her, especially when the writers have so adeptly painted her loss and grief in colours so ingrained that it looks near impossible to wash out or expunge.

 

Blessed be the peacemakers … for they could quite possibly get shot (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Of course back in the present, and yes, we still don’t know if Madison is alive or dead, or even undead (oh the tension and the angst!), the heartache continues with a confrontation between Alicia, Victor and Luciana (Danay García) and the Vultures ending up with Alicia shooting John Dorie (Garett Dillahunt).

Obviously he wasn’t the target, but he had the misfortune to be rushing to embrace Laura/Naomi who is, in fact, not dead at all – we’ve yet to see how life at the stadium ends but I’d bet you a stash of no-longer-produced chocolate that Laura/Naomi, who’s with the Vultures now, had something to do with it and Alicia is mightily pissed off about it – and who, you won’t be surprised to learn, John is ecstatically happy to see alive.

Alas, and it’s a huge, draped-in-neon alas since John is one of those characters you can’t help but fall in love with, he gets between the bullet fired by Alicia and Laura/Naomi and falls to the ground.

He doesn’t look dead but given the franchise’s penchant for dramatically killing off key characters, often well before their time – to be fair, it’s a disease that afflicts The Walking Dead than its TV progeny, which tends to be benefit from far better writing and thus has far less need of cheap, ratings-whoring gimmicks – that is, naturally enough, where your mind first goes. (NOTE: According to one of the showrunners, he’s not dead … YET.)

Hopefully he does kick on for a good while longer since (a) he and Laura/Naomi make the most adorable character and who wouldn’t want them to keep making sweet apocalyptic love together, and (b) he is the most heartfelt character in the whole show, rapidly becoming the emotional epicentre of the show.

He is Morgan (Lennie James) without the scowl and the wearing disaffection, a likeable man of integrity and honesty who actually wants the best for everyone around him, an ideal archetype that somehow manages, thanks again to Fear the Walking Dead‘s exemplary writing, to feel right at home in the normally merciless, cold and cruel world of the zombie apocalypse.

While Madison et al are the long-time heart and soul of the show,  John, and to a lesser extent, Laura/Naomi have now become its beating heart, a reassuring reminder that humanity hasn’t completely surrendered its soul to the undead devil just yet.

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead … “The Wrong Side of Where You Are Now” proclaims that “No one is gone until they’re gone” …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Laura” (S4, E5 review)

No longer alone … (image courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND LOVE IN A TIME OF APOCALYPSE …

Forget your rom-coms with their “meet cutes”, their getting-to-know-you montages and their misunderstandings resolved at the airport. Or your romantic poets like Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. Your songs of fidelity, enrapturement and eternal devotion. Or your Harlequin romances piled high on the bedside table …

Real love, of the most unexpected kind – who actually falls in love in the apocalypse? I mean, really (OK Glenn and Maggie but … okay, and Sasha & Bob Stookey/Abraham Ford and Nick and Luciana … and … and …) – made an appearance on Fear the Walking Dead, and we are all the better for it.

Hasn’t there ever been a more sweet and caring man than John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt)? A more unwilling object of affection and desire than “Laura” aka Naomi (Jenna Elfman)? Or a weirder “meet cute” than John dragging her near lifeless body from atop a canoe in a sedately-flowing river more commonly full of fish and the undead?

His rescue of a near-dying law Naomi – he starts calling her Laura when she’s unwilling to divulge much of anything, including her name and the fake moniker rather endearingly sticks – from a location where walkers normally wash up after falling through a gap in a bridge upstream is the sort of normal, decent thing that a man like Dorie does without thinking.

An ex-policeman with some work-related trauma in his past, he is sweet, kind and caring in a way that revives your hope in the basic goodness of humanity; despite his profession, he is avowedly anti-guns and anti-violence – something he confides to both Laura/Naomi, and Morgan (Lennie James) at the end of the episode – the kind of guy who writes his name on the video rental sheet at the local general store, even though there’s nobody left alive to care.

It’s hard not to fall in love with a character as genuine, real and down-to-earth as Dorie – yes, as Laura/Naomi amusingly points out, it is the name of a fish species and that Disney character (John rather nicely points out that its name is spelt differently) – since he is a rare person indeed in the apocalypse who has kept pretty much all his humanity.

Not only does he save Laura/Naomi from the river in which he later, quite patiently, teaches her to fish – it starts as the simple acquisition of an additional survival technique for his new companion but soon becomes a way for them to connect and time in which to talk – but he tends to her wound (not a bite, people, NOT A BITE! Phew), makes a privacy curtain for the bed which he gives up for her exclusive use and even cooks her up bouillabaise because he’s that kind of guy!

 

Lovely day for a canoe on the river … watch out for the zombies (image courtesy AMC)

 

Laura/Naomi’s arrival, shrouded as it is by a million protective mechanisms that means it takes a good long while, even with John’s TLC techniques on 10 with a bullet, for her to even acknowledge he’s a done a good thing, let alone smile at him, saves John just as much as the woman he ends up caring a great deal for.

The first of the episode showcases a lifestyle that would be bucolically peaceful, a rural idyll (now with added random zombies!) were it not for the fact that John is completely inherently alone.

He makes beautiful dinners, watches his videos, cleans his guns (yes, the ones he uses only under extreme duress; this turns out to be when Laura/Naomi is in a ditch under a pack of zombies and in danger of dying), plays Scrabble for one – the only time he talks is when he’s working through good words to use in his solo games – and sleeps very little.

This is a man who’s safe yes, but withdrawn and desperately alone, and one of the joys of “Laura”, one of the many joys it should be emphasised in a sublimely good, exquisitely well-wrought episode without peer in Fear the Walking Dead, and it’s had some damn good ones, is the way he gradually opens to the presence of Laura/Naomi.

His humanity is innate so looking after her in the way he does is second-nature; but it’s the way he gradually, and rather profoundly opens up to her that is so beautifully touching.

It’s even more remarkable when you consider how much is stacked up against this happening at all – not only are people reluctant to form bonds because someone you love could be snatched away with little to no warning, but that reluctance is layered thickly upon all the hurts and reservations that preceded the end of the world.

We all have these emotional obstacles to overcome, but their effect is amplified in a world where grief and loss are a near-constant feature of existence and surmounting them is a tall, near-impossible order; all of which makes John’s opening up to the possibility of Laura/Naomi as more than a person he’s rescued and her return of those same feelings as a stirring feature of the deeply-immersive narrative of “Laura”.

 

“And that, dear Morgan, is how you make a great bouillabaise …” (image courtesy AMC)

 

The episode is gloriously exemplary TV writing in just about every way.

It near-silently explores what happens to two people effectively end up rescuing each other, their two quite separate worlds intertwining in a way that most people avoid like the literal plague that has infected the dead.

Fear the Walking Dead has always told these kinds of character-centric stories with admirable elegance and emotional-resonance, part of the charm of a show which, while it doesn’t eschew action-oriented sequences – the hordes of river-borne zombies who infest John’s front yard and must be fought in the middle of the night is a case in point – doesn’t use them to bludgeon the storyline into shape or keep it moving at some sort of frantic pace, nor does it allow to subsume the stories of the characters themselves, which has happened all too often in The Walking Dead of late.

“Laura”, though studded with zombie killing, keeps its priorities impressively clear – tell the story of John and Laura/Naomi, use it to show how something as surplus to survival (if you’re being brutalist about it) as love can happen in a time of death and destruction, and sadly underscore that even when something that wonderful happens, that its shelf life, at least for one of the party (guess who) is agonisingly, sadly short.

When Laura/Naomi does depart, even after the “I love yous” have been said and John delivers one of the loveliest tributes to anyone that – “If you’re alive, this whole world feels alive” – it’s not surprising but still wrenching, as a decent good man, who is that way simply because it’s the right thing to do has to say goodbye, in absentia, to a woman who, due to the loss of a child and the innumerable apocalyptic damage to her soul that has followed, is outwardly out for herself.

It’s a study in contrasts and similarities of heart so heartbreakingly and inspiringly well-executed that “Laura” is not only a standout episode for Fear the Walking Dead in particular but television generally, ending with John affirming to his apocalyptic soulmate Morgan that for all the loss and damage he has endured, both before and after the end of the world, that he still believes in peace, non-violence and the better angels of our nature.

In a world so broken that many people assume vengeance, death and war are the only way forward, it’s a refreshing, optimism-reinforcing stance that is far from weak or naive; on the contrary, given what people like John and Morgan have endured, it is one of the most powerful, knowingly insightful and muscular statements ever made, one, I suspect, that will play a key role in the onward narrative of Fear the Walking Dead, especially with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Victor (Colman Domingo), Luciana (Danay García) and Althea (Maggie Grace) on an unsettling The Walking Dead-like path of vengeance, from which very little good can come.

  • Next on Fear the Walking Dead … the end of the end of the beginning in “Just in Case” …

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Buried” (S4, E4 review)

The Apocalyptic Fairground of Death had the whole moodily atmospheric thing down pat but lacked a little in the fun department (image courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A DAY AT THE FAIR, GREAT (NON) ESCAPES, AND CATTLE FEED APPETISERS … MMMM 

“Buried” was a case of almost “leaving on a jet plane / Don’t know when I’ll be back again” … well, it would have been, of course if (a) there were jet planes anymore (b) Peter, Paul and Mary were still around to sing it and (c) everyone hadn’t had an attack of hope and optimism …

Yes, hope and optimism! In the one episode!

Granted, it came back to bite them royally on the arse – better than a zombie bite but only marginally – but it was nice to see that for one bright, shiny, happy moment, three major characters all chose the blue bird of happiness over the undead hamster of rank self-preservation (yeah, not quite as popular; can’t think why).

Each of these tales of almost-but-didn’t, centering on Victor (Colman Domingo), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Luciana (Danay García) in the almost-immediate aftermath of Nick’s (Frank Dillane) gunshot death at the hands of Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) unspooled as Chronicler of the Zombie Apocalypse, Althea (Maggie Grace) filmed them in her van speeding away from yet another low point in the lives of our favourite survivors.

What was so affecting about this nuanced, and beautifully-told episode which, in keeping with Fear the Walking Dead‘s slower, more thoughtful narrative style, allowed grief to find expression in past regret, was the way each of them recounted how hope, which they had almost abandoned as the stadium spiralled ever-further into a weevil-laced death dive – cattle feed pancakes anyone? Yum! – was re-embraced when logic suggested it be best abandoned.

It’s entirely natural in the face of the death of someone major in your life to question anything and everything – how can you not? Your world, as you know it, is irrevocably altered and only a cold, hard soul would be unmoved and unchallenged – and these three did, recounting how one fateful day came to define their road to the point where they met – read held up and took prisoner – Althea, John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Morgan (Lennie James).

Awash in the nightmarish backwash of grief, they told Althea, who listened with genuine empathy and understanding, endearing the character even more to me, how each had set on supply runs that day, necessitated by The Vultures, who remained camped outside their stadium home, beating Madison (Kim Clark) and the gang to every major supply of food going.

 

“So mum here’s where I’m thinking the Zombie Museum should go, with, of course an expansive gift shop and spa (undead optional)”
(image courtesy AMC)

 

Victor left with Cole (Jared Abrahamson), a man who has a thing for his travelling companion but finds Victor’s near-impervious wall of emotion impossible to surmount.

Thinking this might be a way for them to bond, in more ways than one, they scavenge plants from a nursery (handy since all their crops are failing), kill some infected, as you do in this new day and age, and then everything goes south when Victor reveals he’s been secreting supplies in the back of an SUV for awhile, enough to keep him, and one other – wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more – alive for a month or so until they can flee the stadium.

Cole, to his credit, is horrified that Victor would choose self over the greater good of the community and leaves his onetime object of great affection who he no doubt regrets getting to know this well, to some much-needed self-reflection (and Cold presumes some driving into sunsets, see ya later, adios amigo etc).

But Victor, wanting to be better than the self-interested soul who first met Madison but not quite knowing how, errs on the side of the oft-neglected better angels of his nature, and heads back to the stadium, to Madison’s delight and Cole’s befuddlement.

Meanwhile back at the local library – Madison has chosen some unlikely sources for food to throw the Vultures off their track but I doubt even she would pick a library; spoiler alert – she hasn’t – Nick and Luciana are trying to find some books and LPs for Charlie.

Well, more accurately, Nick is, and it’s almost painful watching him walk through the ransacked place – clearly fellow survivors saw reading as a high priority or, you know, burnt the books for warmth; probably, sadly, the latter – trying to find something, anything to convince Trojan Horse Charlie to rejoin the stadium crew.

Trying to steer Nick away from his thankless task – in one binocular shot, courtesy of Madison, we see Charlie looking quite happy thank you very much with the Vultures – Luciana hits on the idea of selecting a new place to go, for good, based on a random finger-drop on a road atlas of Texas.

In the present she says they should’ve picked a place and left as a group for their new home but instead they head back to the stadium, awash in excitement that if they can just grab some seeds and agricultural supplies, they can start again!

Hurrah for hope but as Luciana ruefully observes, they would’ve been better to go with Plan A, or better still not opened the road atlas in the first place.

So far, so much regret …

 

No matter how much Zara Zombie tried to look seductive, it always came across a little too creepy with few, if any, dates with the living forthcoming (image courtesy AMC)

 

Things aren’t better for Naomi (Jenna Elfman) and Alicia who head off to a fun fair for hilarity, laughs and at least four churros.

Kidding – they go to a fun park alright but it’s rife with the undead, dried-up, mouldy waterslides and an abandoned camp atop the waterslide tower where they find heaps of medical supplies, and fatefully for Naomi, who has a severe case of the Morgans and just wants to get away by herself, the keys to a Land Rover parked out front.

Surviving a slide into a pit of watery zombies, and a little self-revelation – Naomi is not exactly a group therapy kinda gal, let’s be fair – Alicia assumes they’re a team only to find Naomi getting rid to get out of funfair Dodge without her.

They talk, Alicia recounts her own time out on the road all alone, saying she’s glad she’s back with her family and friends, and Naomi, an ex-ER nurse who grew to knew who would live, and who would die and who has decided the stadium as a virulent case of Terminal Community, makes the decision to give hope a shot, against her better judgement (she tells Alicia as much).

As each three of the major characters recounts the events of this fateful day – once again we only see Madison in the past, not the present, leading to great worry that she might have died alongside Naomi and the others when the stadium finally fell – you get the feeling they regret their flirtation with hope.

It’s sobering and immensely sad and all too human to watch and to her credit Althea doesn’t throw a few pithy Hallmark bon mots and expect them to get over it; theirs is grief piled on grief, gutted-hope and deep regret and all you can do is sit in it for as long as circumstances allow.

John Dorie also finds himself mired in unexpected grief when it emerges that the Laura he’s been searching for in, in fact, Naomi who’s very dead, crushing his one great driving motivator.

The moments where he steps away from the others, allowing only Morgan near, are truly, quietly, momentously heartbreaking, underscoring again that in the zombie apocalypse, you are only ever one fateful step away from your world imploding.

“Buried” is everything that’s good about Fear the Walking Dead, carefully and with empathetic insight exploring what happens to humanity when hope is embraced and found to be wanting, when grief keeps a near-constant stranglehold on you and when you begin to wonder if there’s any point to chosen the better angels over the lesser ones.

With Victor, Alicia, Luciana and Althea (against her better judgement) off to exact judgement on the Vultures, and John and Morgan left behind to wait things out, “Buried” is a stunning-exquisite piece of storytelling, a reminder than our humanity hangs by a thread and we never quite know when someone, or something, will come along and snip the last, dangling, tenuous thread.

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead season 4 – we get to know “Laura” a whole lot better …

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Good Out Here” (S4, E3 review)

Call that a spool? THIS is a spool! (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND STICK TUSSLES AND MESSY MEETINGS OF HEARTS AND MINDS

Everyone is looking for something in “Good Out Here” – whether it’s good or bad, redemption or revenge, hope or barbaric cynicism, the search is on … and it’s on in earnest.

The one who who is doing the most uplifting searching, ironically enough, is the one who is most noticeably absent from the drab, almost monochrome, present-day proceedings – Madison (Kim Dickens) is nowhere to be seen, leading, naturally enough to fevered fan speculation (from some quarters) at least that she is missing-presumed-dead, but in flashback, where a significant portion of the narrative is unfurled, she is the one believing that somewhere out there (that’s outside the walls of the group’s besieged, weevils-infested stadium), a Kate Bush moment or two awaits them.

It’s a ballsy emotional and psychological gambit in an age when zombies pretty much rule, and humanity has morally and ethically decayed to a state not far off their undead nemeses, but Madison, in response to an almost-disbelieving enquiry from son Nick (Frank Dillane) about why she ventures outside the walls at all, simply sees as a way of coping with the uncopeable.

Every time she heads out on a supply run, and in this episode that means running the gauntlet of Ennis (Evan Gamble) of the Vultures who taunts, in quiet but obvious ways the decline of their gallant, soon-to-be-pillaged (he thinks) community, she looks for a pun-laden sign advertising ravioli or an armadillo, anything really that recalls a time when people helped and build-up other people.

She’s all too aware of the grim reality that awaits, with Ennis just the latest opportunistic sleazebag to crawl out of humanity’s fetid dried-up shallow nether regions, but she’s having none of it, celebrating in small ways the fact that humanity was generous and goodhearted once, and can be again.

It’s what sets Madison apart from Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in parent show The Walking Dead who has adopted a far more violent, self-preservationist approach to survival; she knows what it takes to get by in a world without laws or government or civility, and has gone into the abyss herself far more than she likes, but she’s also aware that we, and by extension, the world, can be better, and she’s determines to find it in each and every small moment, every untainted interaction.

It’s an admirable pursuit, and while you get the impression that Nick, who doesn’t quite get it, wants to embrace it,  he is haunted by an altogether different mentality, one he desperately wishes he could shed but which has wrapped itself around him in such a way that acquiescence to its doom-laden intent is pretty much all but inevitable,

 

“Well hello there decayed sir! Care for a great big pointy things through your noggin? (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

In fact, he is painfully aware of how it is stalking him, shadowing his every move, infesting his very psyche.

He too is seeking – a way to escape the hold of the darkness encircling and enrapturing him and as he admits to Madison (in the golden-hued, nostalgic flashbacks; the use of colour between the two time periods is striking and deeply effective) is heartbreakingly-understated but portentous moment that the reason he hates being outside is that he can feel its grip on him getting tighter.

He hates what being “outside” does to him, how it unleashes the killer within, the person who will do what it takes to survive; inside, he is at peace, a simple farmer, a caretaker of the supposed lost and orphaned like Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), who it turns out is not who Nick thought she was, but outside? Well, let’s just say, Nick fears what he is beyond the walls, and his softly-spoken terror is one of the truest and most devastatingly real articulations about what simply brute survival does to a person.

What makes it even more powerful a statement of lost humanity, or humanity, at least, that is slipping through his anxious fingers, is that he and Morgan (Lennie James), who are seeking sanctuary after their van is besieged by walkers, are so close to not going down that road.

It’s no accident that he is paired with Morgan who stands guard over a handcuffed to the truck Nick while Althea (Maggie Grace, who keeps searching for stories and truth, and John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) who is looking for companionship, take Luciana (Danay García), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Victor (Colman Domingo) off to find a big-ass truck that will haul the SWAT run owned by Althea away from the tree in which it crashed in a tussle between the two groups back onto the road.

After all, Morgan has been where Nick is – consumed by loss and vengeance, aware that his humanity is being leached away violent thought by aggressive action by murderous deed, but unable, or unwilling, to break the cycle.

He tries to dissuade Nick from murdering Ennis when they find him as a supply depot he is using to keep his stuff safe, but despite entreaties and even outright blocking of his path, Nick goes ahead and gives into his dark and unwanted impulses, all too aware he’s lost the battle but unable to resist its destructive siren song.

His search ends not just in ignominy and failure, but thanks to Charlie and one precisely-aimed bullet at a most unexpected moment, death, the final loss of humanity that see Frank Dillane exit the show in a fitting way, but which robs the audience of one of the most honest, quirky and interesting characters in the show.

 

“It’s My stick!”
“No,it’s my stick!”
Stick tussles became a favourite way to spend time in the zombie apocalypse (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Nick’s death, which had the rank odour of a nakedly sensationalist ratings grab until we learnt that Dillane wanted out, had a remarkable, and no doubt purposeful whiff (literally) of Carol and her fateful encouragement to Lizzie to “Just look at the flowers” as she killed her.

In this instance, Nick didn’t so much look at the flowers as have Charlie shoot him point blank from the front, but in the lead-up to his shock slow-motion death surrounded by a weeping Alicia, and a shocked Lucia, we had a mix of flashback (Madison remarking happily on the beauty of a luxuriant spread of Bluebonnet flowers, saying to Nick “See there is good out here!”) and present day (Nick coming across a patch of Bluebonnets and lying contemplatively in them; as you do when zombies can sneak up on you at any moment) floral moments that all but said Nick is toast.

In the brave new world of the zombie apocalypse, flowers aren’t so much an “I Love You” or an “I’m Sorry” moment so much as “You’re Going to Die” thing which I think we can all agree is going to take the fun of undead Valentine’s Day.

It was, actually, quite poetic, Nick lying prone and unprotected notwithstanding, a way of letting Nick, and Madison who remains stubbornly, and worryingly MIA in the present day – is she dead? No one, not even Kim Dickens, will say – to say goodbye even when that didn’t actually happen (or maybe it did and we haven’t seen it? Who knows – let the rampant speculation begin! Unleash the feverish hounds of narrative conjecture!).

All up, “Good Out Here” was a further return to form for Fear the Walking Dead which is effectively using past and present to propel the narrative in ways that go forward simply linear progression.

It means that we’re never entirely sure what it going on, or has gone on, a unique position for a franchise usually fond of nailing its obvious storytelling colours to the mast but not out of keeping with Fear which has a shown a penchant, quite alien to its parent show, of being willing to let the narrative drip feed itself out.

It’s resulted in a clever, subtle, nuanced and pleasingly slow-burning show that has never felt to tie everything up in neat, tidy bows, reflecting always that humanity is a messy and often contrarily piecemeal affair, a reality never more obvious that in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “Buried” …

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Another Day in the Diamond” (S4, E2 review)

Another fun night on the town in the zombie apocalypse for Alicia and the gang (image (c) AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

  • SPOILERS, MUCH LIKE ZOMBIES, ABOUND …

Do zombies like to meditate?

Likely not, what with all that constant rambling and shambling and stumbling aimlessly going on; but Fear the Walking Dead? Oh, it likes it a great deal.

After a worrying first episode, where the main cast of Fear were mostly absent as the show devoted an entire episode to introducing Morgan (Lennie James) aka a cynical attempt to get rusted-on The Walking Dead fans to sample the slow-paced, more-reflective spinoff, we were back with Madison (Kim Dickens), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane) & Luciana (Danay Garcia) and, rather surprisingly, traitorous Victor (Colman Domingo) in their new idyllically bucolic home in a baseball stadium (hence the title).

Given the rampant violence and The Walking Dead-ness of the introductory episode, you could have been forgiven for thinking that new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who also wrote “Another Day in the Diamond”, had tried some weird Frankenstein-ish experiment to mash together the thoughtful humanity of Fear with the blood-and-guts violence of Walking.

That may still come to pass, of course, since the Steven Moffatt of The Walking Dead universe, and yes I mostly mean that in a pejorative sense, Scott M. Gimple, is an executive producer of Fear, with a very real chance of influencing its DNA with his bloodily unthinking, clumsily-written approach to things.

Episode 2 though looked blessedly free of some narrative botches, with the episode introducing us to the peaceful community, Madison has constructed, replete with running water electricity, cows, sheep and chickens, crops and even showers and eggs for breakfast.

So pretty much everything Rick and the gang never quite managed to pull off.

Madison being Madison has taken in all the strays that crossed her path, going out on trips to save Viv’s (Rhonda Griffis) husband from the apocalyptic wilds, and giving sanctuary to orphan girl Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) who is understandably too traumatised to give much away about her past.

 

The Neighbourhood Watch Committee were not as alert and self-aware as they used to be (image (c) AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

What happened to her? What happened to camp of people and is there anyone left to save that matters to her?

No one is sure, not even “big brother” who’s taken a protective role with Charlie, but nonetheless, Madison, Luciana, Alicia and Victor – Nick is showing a marked, and worrying, reluctance to leave the safety of the stadium – head out to find Charlie’s folks, if they are to be found, find supplies (maybe) and an extra book for the youngest member of the group.

They don’t find a happily ever after ending, of course, but they do find lots of zombie deliberately herded into above-ground oil tanks, and a frightened survivor and nurse, Naomi (Jenna Elfman, looking none too Dharma-ish) who holds a gun up to Madison before ending up back at the stadium too.

The refreshing thing about all this togetherness and forgiveness and willingness to give others a chance – I mean would you have taken season 3 Victor back into the group, or given Naomi a chance after she tried to kill you? – is that Madison is the quintessential opposite of Rick’s kill-or-be-killed.

While Rick and his gang seems perpetually destined, thanks to some apocalyptic curse of the gods, to wander the earth killing, maiming and “defending” themselves (the trouble they find is largely brought about by their own hands), Madison is actually building something, making a community, one where people are given the benefit of the doubt, a second chance.

It may seem woefully cutesy and far too idealistic, but it fits with a recent and prevailing trend in apocalyptic literature to go beyond the initial collapse of everything and show humanity actually getting their collective shit together again.

We do it all the time after natural disasters and war so why not after, or more accurately, during, a zombie apocalypse.

It makes sense that a tenaciously survivable species like our own would reach that point and while The Walking Dead seems reluctant to fully commit to that yet, Madison has gone all in and the result, weevils in the turnips aside, are encouraging.

Hell, this might just work, for the characters and the show, which has shown a repeated willingness to eschew wanton violence for actually examining the human condition under stress and deprivation, but also under the thin veil of hope and the chance for renewal.

 

There’s nothing like a quiet Kit-Kat break between killing the undead and plotting misery for the fellow living around you (image (c) AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

Whether this will be sustained is another matter entirely with the arrival of Mel (Kevin Zegers) and his troop who play loud music, talk ominously about Madison and her community being tested, and who, it turns out, planted Charlie in the midst of the people they’re about to plunder as a trojan horse to gather intel.

Yep, Charlie is a spy, with Mel rather theatrically calling her out of the stadium and into one of his well-lit buses where her promised reward of new records awaits.

He’s like Negan-lite, a brash but somehow simultaneously smooth talker who predicts doom and gloom for Madison and the stadium-ites, whether by direct attack or attrition, waiting for them to starve as their crops fail and their resources dwindle.

One interesting observation he does make is charting the rise and fall of communities like Madison’s from hopeful up-and-’em-ness to perilous loss and decline, and while Madison rejects his sobering predictions out of hand, you can’t help wondering if there’s something to it even with humanity’s ability to rise from the ashes.

Of course, it suits Mel’s threatening narrative to say all this, but it turns out that the scene at the end of episode 1 where Alicia, Luciana, and Victor (who may have a suitor in the form of Cole, played by Sebastian Sozzi) taken Morgan, and likeable newcomers John (Garret Dillahunt) and Althea (Maggie Grace) prisoner after some roadside charades, takes place well after the events of Mel, Charlie and the really loud boombox (don’t worry – he’s herded the zombies into a truck, the better to play his music; he’s like a Pied Piper of the undead).

So does the stadium fall? IS it OK but ailing, hence the banditry to survive? Hard to say, and it seems like more answers await in episode three, but suffice to say that Fear the Walking Dead, which looked like it had sold its soul to the vacuously-violent devil with which The Walking Dead and Scott M. Gimple have long had a deleterious accommodation just one short episode ago, may have kept its slow, meditative spirit intact, giving us some hope that humanity may just make it back from apocalyptic ruin and thrive again.

But not before some more endangering shit goes down, naturally …

  • Coming up on Fear the Walking Dead in next episode”Good Out Here” …

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “What’s Your Story?” (S4, E1 review)

Well hello Morgan! Are you happy about trading one version of undead hell for another? (image courtesy AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND FRIENDS AND ENEMIES AND FRENEMIES, AND OF COURSE, ZOMBIES …

AMC, it turns out, isn’t all that well practised at heeding proverbs.

Fair enough in one sense – what was in vogue a couple of millennia ago, so much so that the Bible decided a whole book of the instructional words of life made a fitting addition to canon, is not really in the running in the age of self-actualisation and digital homilies.

And yet, you can’t helping feeling that someone at AMC HQ, in fact the whole damn production team, might not have benefited from heeding the words of that age-old proverb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, especially when it comes to one of its key shows, Fear the Walking Dead.

The progeny of once-might rating juggernaut, The Walking Dead, which has just limped into the muted sunset of a lacklustre season 8 finale which was neither vacuously violent nor intelligently or emotionally meaningful, Fear hummed along quite nicely for three meditatively-immersive seasons.

It might not have got everything right, but in its mix of raw, honestly-expressed humanity, slowly-unfolding civilisational collapse and visceral storytelling, where real people reacted in ways that we could identify with and understand (as opposed to becoming self-righteous serial killers – et tu Rick?), it stood starkly apart from its dithering, narratively-lost parent in ways that really hit home episode after episode.

In sassy matriarch Madison (Kim Dickens), kids Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Nick (Frank Dillane), and even self-interested Victor (Colman Domingo) we saw people whose decisions, although far from perfect, made sense to viewers who, brave words aside, have, if they are honest with themselves, seriously no sense about what they’d really do should the zombie apocalypse ever really come a-calling.

Would you be cunningly self-preservational? Humane and inclusive? Bitter and depressed? Violently aggressive and angry? Impossible to tell until it happened, and here’s to such imaginative end-of-the-world-ness never being made decayed flesh, but in the main cast, and many of its passing characters, we saw people who moved from the early days of the fall of humanity into its darkest annals, simply doing the best they could.

And behold, it was very , very good.

 

Home, home on the range … where the undead dead, antelope and people don’t so much play as eat you alive (image courtesy AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

Funny thing though, and let’s be honest here, it was not even remotely worth a titter or a giggle, let alone a guffaw, AMC didn’t really see it that way.

What they seemed to see, and quite a number of rusted-on The Walking Dead were more than happy to trollingly join their addled Greek chorus, was a broken show, a spin-off that limped in the ratings, eschewing sensational plot arcs and wantonly manipulative character deaths, though it did succumb to both a little at times, in favour of slowly and carefully documenting the downfall of once great and mighty Homo Sapiens.

In terrifying real time we witnessed each death, each loss of comfort, of security, of inner morality and ethical outlook, all of them chipping away a little more at the civilisational sheen we all like to wear to feel better about ourselves.

Little by little, Fear the Walking Dead peeled that away, exposing hitherto unknown (if fleeting) humanity in self-preservational people like Victor while driving others like Madison, who managed to bring down an entire survivalist cult in her wake, to commit once completely unthinkable acts.

It was gloriously, slow-burningly authentic, striking at the heart of our grand delusions and self-justifications about pretty much everything, a morality tale writ large that, because it kicked off at the very start of the zombie apocalypse, felt far closer to home than even The Walking Dead.

Somewhere somehow the parent show lost its way, drained of meaning and purpose in favour of schlock narrative sleights of hand and repetitive good vs evil where the lines blurred so badly that everyone ended up rank and unlikable.

But Fear the Walking Dead kept its soul, refusing to sign it over to the ratings devil – no one’s saying at this point that ratings don’t matter but if keeping them means gutting everything you’ve created, then something is clearly very wrong, a case of the ratings tail wagging the creative dog – and benefited from balancing the imperiling of everyone in the show at their own hands and that of the undead with careful, nuanced storytelling that hit you in the heart because it felt like it could happen.

No one wanted it to, of course, since (a) running for your life is nowhere near as much fun as Netflix-and-chill-ing and (b) its far better to live out your disaster porn fantasies in a fictional setting than for real, but if it does come to pass, then Fear felt like it gave us a fairly good idea of how it might all go down.

Not gilded, not overdone, not stupidly videogame violent or sensationally vacuous; just real people in fantastical situations doing their best to muddle their way through.

 

Swimming with zombies is the latest apocalyptic fitness crazy but is it really as good for you as people make out? (image courtesy AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

Yet, for all that, for all its relative non-brokenness, its mainly whole narrative slow-burns and revelatory character studies, Fear the Walking Dead has been “fixed”, given an overhaul when one was not even remotely needed.

This unnecessary overhaul, this re-decorating of the show’s look and feel, and narrative core, the product you suspect of new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg and transplanted executive producer Scott M. Gimple, looked egregiously opportunistic, something noticed not just by yours truly.

Or try this tweet on for size …

Season 4’s return wasn’t completely botched, of course, with new characters, likeable loner John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and journalist Althea (Maggie Grace) coming across as real people who had somehow found a way to keep their humanity largely intact.

In this fast-forwarded, time-jump-heavy iteration of Fear the Walking Dead, quick-marched to the present day of the apocalypse, the better to pointlessly shoehorn Morgan into its unbroken narrative, the new characters worked well, making sense with their mix of accommodation to the darkness and unwillingness to let it swallow them whole.

But for all the time on spent on these people, and the seemingly unending (and occasionally poetic) introduction of Morgan to the now-unrecognisable world of Fear in a slow, moody montage that feel a The Walking Dead-lite sequel to the that show’s largely inert, directionless and faux-meaningful eighth season, you were left wondering what the hell had happened to Madison, Alicia, Nick and Victor and why Fear the Walking Dead no longer looked like the show we had once loved.

Sure we saw our favourite zombie survivors at the very end, playing a con’s game of done-over survivor who tricks Morgan, John and Althea with her whispered trauma of “There are bad people out here”, but they made no sense, raw, dark and twisted in ways that made no sense and felt alienating.

Perhaps it will all work itself out in next week’s “Another Day in the Diamond”, and we’ll begin to pivot back to the show we know and love – just for the record, I am not averse to shows growing and developing; in fact it’s something I crave but this week’s episode was less evolution than wholesale butchering of a once-vital and engaging premise – but right now, it feels like the zombies, of which there were plenty this episode, weren’t the only dead things shuffling across our screen.