Fear the Walking Dead: “… I Lose Myself” (S4, E16 review)

Morgan was not one to let his fitness slide, indulging in a daily bout of Kick the Zombie to stay in shape (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … KEGGERS AS A WAY TO PERSONAL SALVATION …

Hands up if you know the best way to avoid dying and becoming a member of the ravenous undead in the zombie apocalypse?

Don’t get caught in the middle of a zombie herd approaching from both ends of a narrow city alley? Why, thank you Al (Maggie Grace) that is indeed a good suggestion and one that might mean you don’t get stuck in a parking garage.

Yes, you Al again … right don’t get caught chatting to a woman named Martha (Tonya Pinkins), driven mad by impotent grief and an erroneous belief that being a zombie gives you strength, and let your guard even for a minute.

Good lord, Al, you are certainly got some great suggestions today!

Wait, Al, we’ll get to you again in a moment – for now let’s see what Morgan (Lennie James) has to say before he changes his mind yet again and moves to Bhutan to teach undead Buddhists that it’s OK to kill themselves or something … I mean, you never know with Morgan really and yes, sorry, as you were …

Right, so that’s a handy tip Mo-mo – yeah, yeah Sarah (Mo Collins) has been telling everyone to call you that, and honestly it’s kinda cute; just roll with it huh? – don’t get into a police car, try to convince Martha, a woman driven mad by grief etc etc, that she change, hear her say what you want to say, relax your guard … and get stabbed in the leg.

Gotcha, that is indeed wise advice and one we’d all be wise to heed, along with don’t keep wandering off with delusions of messianic grandeur and say “Only I can do this” to John (Garret Dillahunt) over and over again.

Yes, Mo-mo, we know the martyr is strong with you but honestly it’s all getting a little exhausting watching you nail yourself to a figurative cross – although it can’t be long and you’ll doing on actual crosses I’m sure – and not listening to people when they tell you not to.

 

Al meanwhile preferring a rousing game of Zombie Dodge ’em to keep fit (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

The weird thing is, and yes you are weird Mo-mo and I think it best you own that and own it heartily, is that people like John and Laura/Naomi/June aka LNJ (Jenna Elfman) keep treating you like you’re some kind of hotshot Tony Robbins leadership guru who has all his proverbial together.

Because you don’t, you really, really don’t and lord knows why you’ve landed the “This is the way forward my children” and not Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) who, grief issues aside, has her head screwed on far better than you and doesn’t, last I checked, change her mind every 5-6 minutes depending on which way the wind is blowing, whether there’s anti-freeze in the bottled water – there is! Don’t drink it everyone! Whoops, too late – or there’s someone called Wendell (Daryl Mitchell) wisecracking his way through the apocalypse.

How you landed the gig as Inspirational Leader of the Fear the Walking Dead troop is beyond me, because you’ve been written as a complete and utter flake, and I’m fairly sure that, apart from being simple but deceptively delicious chocolate bars, flakes don’t have much of a place in the messy existential entrails of the end of the world.

Still here we are, and yes I know you can hear everything I’m saying but the fact of the matter is that while it’s lovely that you came up with the idea of living in Clayton’s denim-cum-saving people from the worst of the apocalypse factory, leaving some more boxes at 10 mile markers, and agreeing to Alicia’s plans to honour dearly-departed Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) by turning the factory into a community for strays too – that Alicia had to suggest says a great deal about the smallness of your vision Mo-mo – you are a flake, and not the useful kind that sits rather yummily atop an ice cream sundae.

But yes, let’s get back to great ways to not dying.

LNJ, yes, I see you – go head. Right, yes, drinking ethanol straight out of a truck is a great way to negate the effects of the antifreeze in your bloodstream but make sure you don’t shoot it up first with machine gun fire from Al’s SWAT van. Duly noted.

Yes, yes Al I hear ya, you’re sorry and everyone would’ve died from excessive zombie chomping had you not acted but then they were pretty much dead anyway until Mo-mo, bless him, turned up with Jim’s (Aaron Stanford) beer truck and everyone got better by staging an impromptu kegger. Yes even Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), god bless her never touched by alcohol lips.

All good lessons and ones you best keep in mind for season 5 … for now what did we like about this episode? And yeah, not like so much …

 

And Martha? Well Martha was content to let her endless villainous mutterings burn up the calories (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

As season finale episodes go, “… I Lose Myself” was refreshingly free of cliffhanger-itis.

Not that cliffhangers are a bad thing of course, but The Walking Dead got a little addicted to them, as did Fear the Walking Dead to some extent, and honestly, having an episode with some tension, some action and one very poetic death – well two really if you count Jim’s humane offing by Mo-mo – really was quite enough.

Sure, no one bought for a moment that the entire cast was going to die of anti-freeze poisoning and nor did we think Mo-mo wouldn’t make it back in time to save everyone, even with a gammy leg, and Mo-Mo’s constant, baleful self-martyrdom grew ever more tedious, but overall, this was a fine ending to season 4, which stumbles a little at first as it seemed to become “All Mo-Mo, all the time” but recovered nicely spending the back half of the season bringing the gang back together.

Fear the Walking Dead needs to do something about its tendency to crave crossover glory over in-show narrative and character integrity – witness Kim being killed, and Alicia being pushed sideways in favour of Mo-Mo who really is a badly-written, one-note character who has elevated whining to an apocalyptic art form – bot overall season 4 managed to recover from its early shift in tone and style to recover and deliver a show that remains distinctively different from the parent from which it shuffled.

Long may it remain so.

And that my friends and illiterate zombies is that for season 4 of Fear the Walking Dead. See you in 2019 for more undead fun under the Texan sun!

Fear the Walking Dead: “I Lose People … ” (S4, E15 review)

Mo-Mo and His Band o’ Zombie Killers totally nailed the cover shot for their final album (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND HEROIC ACTS AND SWARMS O’ ZOMBIES … 

There are a couple of things, among many, that you’re unlikely to hear in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.

One is “Everything is Awesome!”, the theme for 2014’s The Lego Movie by Tegan and Sara (feat, Lonely Island) – (a) no electricity but more relevantly (b) it’s a thematic downer if ever there was one at the end of the world – and the other is Tony Robbins-esque inspirational catchphrases such as “Everything is possible!”

And yet in the midst of a host of impossible situations in “I Lose People … ” – yeah, yeah, I know they’re always in the last place you look – “everything is possible” makes a surprise appearance, right when you would be expecting everyone to down tools and throw in the proverbial towel. (Or throw zombies bodies, and a dying Jim played by Aaron Stanford, off the building onto cars which have remarkable intact and functional car alarm systems. Glory be, everything is possible!)

Fear the Walking Dead continues to impress with its willingness to entertain the idea, one very much in vogue in apocalyptic literature that a positive attitude and mindset still have a place in human affairs even when the world around us has completely and utterly to crap on a great, through a zombie’s head (or neck) stick.

Far from looking simplistic or gleefully twee, the show’s propensity to promote the idea of community and togetherness, possibility and hope, something its parent show has largely recoiled from in its first eight seasons – this may be changing in season 9 but don’t hold your breath – is refreshing and much more in line with the way most people, and I stress most and not all, react in the middle of a cataclysmic event, which is by helping each other.

Sure there are some nasty people who either selfishly or madly – for the latter, I give Exhibit A, Martha (Tonya Pinkins) who possesses an amazing ability to keep on keeping on when lesser saner souls might just give up – will look after themselves at the expense of all others, but most people will rise to the occasion and help their fellow man, woman and/or child.

 

This year’s zombie walk was when the shit got really real (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

So Fear the Walking Dead, and especially “I Lose Myself …” feels very real in this regard.

It presents us with a very muscular belief in the possible too; after all in this zombie-filled, action-packed and yet thoughtful episode, Morgan aka Mo-mo (Lennie James), Laura/Naomi/June aka LNJ (Jenna Elfman), Sarah (Mo Collins), Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), Luciana (Danay García) and a carping and complaining Jim who is not going quietly, or happily, into that good night, are trapped on the roof of a hospital in what looks like Austin, Texas.

There are zombies filling the streets, the little fuel left in the generators is almost gone meaning the lifts will soon stop working, and options are feeling few and far between.

Kind of a bummer huh?

Indeed it is, and at first, Mo-mo rises, or rather falls to the occasion, by luxurating in a deliciously futile and pointless rendition of “Woe is me”; it’s one of the maddening things about this morose character whose moods swing up and down like a swing on speed. (Let’s leave aside whether inanimate objects are affected by drugs shall we? It’s a great mental image and we shall leave it at that.)

But slowly he comes up with a plan, urged by the others, and especially LNJ, who rather oddly seemed manifestly unable to come up with a plan of their own.

While you can see Fear the Walking Dead positioning Morgan as the Apocalyptic Saviour of the Moment – honestly Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) should have that honour – it beggars belief that all these other people, who have survived the zombie-saturated end of the world just fine thank you very much, are incapable of brainstorming some sort of escape strategy.

And why in god’s name, is Morgan the object of a spirited rescue attempt later on when everything else is safe and sound-ish – yeah not so much but everything relative in the apocalypse right? – but Al (Maggie Grace) is all but forgotten, save for a throwaway line about finding by Mo-mo as they speed away from Austin?

They’re two missteps in an episode which uses only a few narrative contrivances – car alarms still working? Tick! Perfectly-position for the throwing of bodies alive and dead off the rooftop? Tick! – and some damn find writing to reaffirm the idea that sticking your neck to help others isn’t just laudable but downright doable.

 

John and Victor’s country album Trapped on Zombie Island (and I’m feeling Blue) was a hit, largely based on its great publicity photos (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Also falling into the “Everything is possible!” camp is Jim’s late conversion to noble saintly soul – he spends much of the episode being a grade A asshat only to recant and help out in the end, even giving up his precious beer recipe to Sarah before he dies and becomes Martha’s latest “strong zombie” pet – and Alicia and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) stumbling across John (Garret Dillahunt) and Victor (Colman Domingo on their alligator-surrounded island.

Even better, Alicia and Charlie find a way to the island which is, and this is little laughable, surrounded by a very shallow body of non-alligator hiding water, using Al’s recovered SWAT vehicle – they also capture a wounded Martha but she manages to escape again, the better to taunt everyone in the season finale “… I Lose Myself” – to spirit John to LNJ ( they are the sweetest thing going on honestly and I hope they live long and prosper; yes, I know that’s a whole other franchise) and Victor to whatever wine bottles are waiting for him.

Having everyone bar Al – remember her? Anyone, anyone? Bueller? – back together again at the end is a joy, since they’ve had to work damn hard to be together again, the result of believing that good things are possible even when everything around screams, mostly Martha to be honest, that it’s not.

This is a hope in the best parts of each other and sound belief in a better future that has survived a thousand trenchant obstacles, pretty much all undead or Jim being a whingeing so-and-so, and means something pretty powerful because of that.

Whether it’s strong enough to overcome to madness of Martha and a no doubt irresistible urge to fashion the undead mother of all season-ending finales is another thing entirely but I hope so since Fear the Walking Dead has shown remarkable courage in celebrating what is best and not worst in humanity, even in a cataclysmic situation and I can only hope they hold their nerve and keep celebrating this all the way to the very end.

  • Next week on the Fear the Walking Dead season 4 finale, “… I Lose Myself” 

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “MM54” (S4, E14 review)

Ah, the lure of the open road … freedom, fun and serial killers on your tail (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND LOTS OF HELPING … WELL, WANTING TO, ANYWAY …

“Bad shit happens when you try to help people.”

Not exactly the sort of sentiment you’re likely to see splashed across a Hallmark card any time soon, but one voiced in the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead titled “MM 54” which opened wide the great divide between those who see merit in helping others in the midst of the zombie apocalypse and those who see no worth or value in at all.

In fact, the latter viewpoint, largely represented by Martha (Tonya Pinkins), who is mad, quite mad, and who has been aggressively proselytising the gospel of Being a Zombie Makes You Stronger.

Leaving aside the rather hypocritical stance that sees her thus far not committing to zombiefying herself (so a “do as I say, not as I do” approach), hers is a stance that has seen many echoes through both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, both of which have been committed to asking how much of our collective humanity can last through the Darwinian survival race to the bottom.

In Martha’s case, not much; but in a piece of brilliantly-nuanced writing, a hallmark of Fear the Walking Dead from the start, we were given insight into what happened to the Avenging Zombie Angel of Death to make her such a gung-ho advocate for the strength of the undead.

Put simply, in a very moving scene, we saw Martha sitting in a crashed car next to her husband who is dying, impaled on a street sign, the victim of the haste shared by many other motorists, not of whom stop to help Martha by the way, to out-drive the impending end of the world. (Newsflash everyone – it’s EVERYWHERE.)

Wrapped in pleasing disbelief and grief, Martha watches her husband die and turn, forcing her to do what so many others have had to do and “kill” the one she loved, in her case with a fetchingly-jagged piece of glass.

 

Nothing like being the member of the Zombies Make Us Better cult doing the pursuing (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Her grief feels so real and agonisingly authentic that it’s as if you can reach and touch it, and you can well understand how, left alone and ill-prepared out in the middle of the Texan countryside, she goes completely and utterly mad.

It’s a reaction to not just the grief of losing the man she loves, but her inability and powerlessness to help him, and her anger at everyone who failed to stop and help her when they could, and you can feel for her in her isolation, both physical, metal and emotional.

Yes, for the same Martha who we see kill Good Samaritan after Good Samaritan – all part of Clayton’s (Stephen Henderson) network of “Take what you need, leave what you don’t” truckers – in her near-messianic fervour to stop people helping other people, a criminal weakness she can no longer abide.

It’s shocking seeing one person after another, good to the last one, turned into zombies by Martha and used by her to turn the next person she comes across, but it’s a piece of extraordinarily well-written powerful storytelling that establishes Martha as a layered, all-too-human Big Bad and not some one trick, half-drawn caricature like Negan whose shtick grew very tired, very quickly.

Her actions are nothing but horrific and utterly inexcusable, but they are the product of a broken and shattered mind, one so lost to the darkness of grief and loss that there is no reasoning with it.

Lord knows Mo-mo (Morgan, played by Lennie James) tried but she was having none of it, driving off and leaving everyone on the highway as their truck exploded, and they were left to wander down the highway, slowly and with no protection against the gathering horde.

So much for lending a helping hand huh?

After all, Mo-mo, Laura/Naomi/June (LNJ, played by Jenna Elfman), Sarah (Mo Collins), Wendell (Daryl Mitchell) – who by the way lost his wheelchair and thus ability to transport himself in the truck fire – Jim (Aaron Stanford), knee deep in yelling and whinging, Al (Maggie Grace) and Luciana (Danay García) are all in this position because Mo-mo wanted to help people.

 

“Leave the safety of the brewery, they said.”
“It’ll be fun, they said.” (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Of course, only Jim is gauchely churlish enough to publicly start laying into Mo-mo, accusing him of ruining things for them all – conveniently forgetting that Mo-mo saved his life in the first place – before apologising and then laying in all over again when the hospital in which they’re sheltering is overrun by zombies. (It’s an apocalyptic tantrum that helps no one, least of all Jim.)

You get the feeling that Jim, who pays for his lack of gratitude with a bite to the back from a stray zombie (the episode ends with him yet to turn), is alone in his regret with LNJ saying to Mo-Mo, as they shelter on the roof of the hospital thanks to generator-assisted lifts, that she knows he can get them out of this mess.

Quite how is another question entirely since they don’t have wings, the hospital is full to brimming with the undead and they’re surrounded on the ground too, but her faith and willingness to keep living the Gospel o’ Mo-mo (catchy isn’t it? Just send $99.99 in monthly instalments to the address on your screen and you too can be marooned far above the ground) is admirable and you get the feeling, flaky though Mo-mo has been at times, that it’s a sentiment shared by the others.

And also by Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) who after failing to find everyone but finding the burnt-out truck wreck – pssst! They’re on the hospital roof surrounded by tons and tons of … oh, never mind), and setting off half-heartedly for Galveston to see the sea so Alicia could feel like she’d done something “good”, stumble across John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Victor (Colman Domingo) whom we don’t see but know are the people Alicia is looking across the alligator-infested water at.

Despite everything they’ve been through, they (except for Jim who shall brew beer no more) still believe in the value of helping others, an amazing mindset to cling to when you take into consideration everything they’ve been through.

By rights they should’ve given up the Good Samartian-ism, just like Martha, but they haven’t, making their faith in doing “good”, as Alicia termed it, real, muscular and transformative, the kind of thing that cant survive pretty much everything thrown at it, including hordes of ever-present zombies.

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “I Lose People …” (aren’t they always in the last place you looked?) …

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Blackjack” (S4, S13 review)

(image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND HOPE AND DOOM BUT NOT IN EQUAL MEASURE

The zombies may be thick on the ground in their very own apocalypse but not so much hope or any sense of optimism for the future.

Most survivors, including the new villain of the piece Martha (Tonya Pinkins), who has an interesting facial beauty regimen that seems to consist of mud and existential bitterness and is the owner of a bright shiny new zombie once known as Quinn (Charles Harrelson), seem to have decided that the undead have won and decided to sit down at the table of nihilistic self-preservation with the nasty angels of our nature.

Our worst Darwinian impulses have won! Long live any sense of hope for the future (and the availability of fresh pasta and chocolate too, alas).

But a curious thing is happening on Fear the Walking Dead – hope is blooming and being expressed by pretty much everyone in the main cast, people who had largely previously given up on any kind of warm-and-fuzzy feelings of joy and the innate goodness of humanity and were doing things like, oh I don’t know actually shooting wonderfully upbeat John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) who had gallantly stood in the way of Naomi/Laura/June (BLJ, played by Jenna Elfman).

Now though? Well, it’s practically a great big Hope For the Future Party with everyone turning up with presents, balloons and a cake in the size of “We ain’t done with the better angels of our humanity yet” (Sure it’s a lot to fit on a cake but get a talented cake maker and you’ll manage it, trust me.)

The one who got the ball rolling way back when is recovering victim of accidental gun violence John Dorie who long ago professed his belief that it’s worth fighting for another day, mainly because if you don’t why the hell are you still alive? He may seem ridiculously naive and ill-informed but don’t forget he was a policeman who saw humanity at its worst before the world went to undead crap and he knows what it is he is asking of the human race.

He’s no innocent abroad, and after repeating over and over to Victor (Colman Domingo), with whom he is stranded on a temporary island while they wait for the storm surge flooding to go down, that a better tomorrow (with or without Orphan Annie) awaits and is worth sticking around for, you begin to understand his philosophy is one very much grounded in having seen the very worst of people, but also the very best, so he knows we’re capable of it, come what may.

 

(image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

Granted, all that optimism is derailed in “Blackjack” by a great big alligator who’s patrolling the water between the island and a way “home”, wherever that may be, and his two failed attempts to row there on a shaky threadbare wooden raft and the back of a four wheel drive truck, but you get the feeling, melancholy closing shot or not, that he will rebound.

After all, he has something, or rather someone in the form of NLJ to look forward to finding, and that is a powerful motivator, especially in a world where connectivity is almost a dying art.

One person who learns the power of connection, even if it’s briefly bittersweet, is Luciana (Danay García) who comes across a wrecked small town in search of Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) – who, we find out is safe and sound, well relatively speaking since this is the you-know-what at mile marker 84 with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) – and an old ailing man named Clayton (Stephen Henderson) in a car wreck, mere hours from death.

He’s a lovely old man who still believes in the power of kindness and generosity, even in the midst of the breakdown of civilisation, a person who pulled away from friends and family before the end of the world only to spend the aftermath doing what he could to help his fellow man via … yep, he’s the Truck Guy, the one who lost his good Samaritan vehicle to the roguishly lovable Sarah (Mo Collins) and Wendell (Daryl Mitchell).

He knows what it’s like to isolate and worry only about yourself, and as he talks with Luciana, eager to make up for her own recent sins, you get the feeling his optimism in the power of doing the right thing is borne like John out of rueful past experiences and not one too many feel good Hallmark movies.

As Luciana hustles to get him a final beer, and succeeds to Clayton’s obvious delight – he’s also charmingly thrilled that there are others like him and he endears himself to you damn near instantly – you’re reminded that here is someone who knows how bad it can get, but also how good too, and if you can keep being that positive in the face of all that undead shit-on-a-stick, then you’re worth listening to.

 

(image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

The other flagbearers for Humanity Isn’t All That Bad are Mo-Mo (Morgan, played by Lennie James), LNJ and Althea (Maggie Grace) who are now with him, and the unlikely heroes of Sarah, Wendell and Jim the Beermaker (Aaron Stanford) who are happily, to everyone’s great surprise, jumping on the hand out the “Take what you need, Leave what you don’t” boxes.

Sticking around somewhere on the highway while Mo-Mo – by the way he hates being called that nickname, dreamt up by Sarah, so make sure you use it as much as possible – tries to gather up the gather Fear the Walking Dead flock (he’s back to wanting to hang around, hallelujah; well, for this week only), they are born-again good guys.

It’s an amazing transformation and one that displease Martha no end, a woman who turns people into zombies based on the twisted, fractured idea that they are stronger that way.

It’s an horrific idea, especially in the case of Quinn who had no sooner heeded LNJ’s entreaties to listen to his inner Nice Guy Voice than Martha sent him to the land of the undead, something which becomes distressingly clear when Quinn answers his walkie-talkie with a guttural, mindless zombie groan.

Any sense that Martha is only sort of anti all this feelgood future stuff was blown away under a hail of gunfire as she drew up alongside the truck, speeding to pick Charlie and Alicia, and now with added Luciana (thank you radio channel 14!), and peppered it full of holes.

Quite who survives this mess isn’t clear although next week’s promo would suggest, everyone gets out unscathed bar the truck which likely now sports a nice airy natural air-conditioning interior.

Where we’ll land with Martha is anyone’s guess – I am putting my money on her NOT undergoing a Paul-ian type road to Damascus epiphany – but at its heart, her story and its intersection with everyone’s favourite trucking survivors is ultimately a battle between believing in the best and believing in the worst.

“Blackjack” excelled by painting the case for the former in very realistic colours, borne of long and bitter experience, and not fairy floss-coated giddy optimism, giving a taut and heartfelt case for the fact that rock bottom can be a place from which to rise again (something embodied in other apocalyptic tales like the book Station Eleven) and not simply the bitter twisted place Martha now chooses to call her spiritual home.

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “MM 54” …

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Weak” (S4, 12 review)

Naomi/Laura/June has got the whole Badass Gun Pose Stance down pat (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SOME REASSURING AND CHILLING IDEAS ON WHAT CONSTITUTES STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS

We are kings and queens of the fight-or-flight response, and for good reason; back in ye olde prehistoric days, hanging around for a fight you couldn’t win or staying in the path of some threat or another, could spell the end of your time here on earth.

Not exactly an evolutionary winning moment right?

Sadly that’s still the case for many people but for most of us, it’s an academic issue with the worst we face some kind of embarrassment and a stinging sense that maybe we could have handled things a whole lot better.

For the good, and not so good, folks of the zombie apocalypse, namely the one unfolding in Fear the Walking Dead,  weakness vs. strength, and what exactly constitutes the latter, is a matter of life and death.

“Weak”, which is a fairly literal sense of episode-naming if ever there was one, explores what “strength” means for a number of people with Naomi/Laura/June (NLJ played by Jenna Elfman) and Morgan (Lennie James) holding fast to the idea that being strong means looking after and standing by other people, whether you love and care for them or not.

For Al (Maggie Grace), who lost and found and lost her SWAT again, and the briefest of newcomers ever Quinn (Charles Harrelson), who found himself swayed by NLJ’s gospel of apocalyptic kindness and caring until the Mysterious Dirty Woman With Attitude and a Zombie Pet turned him into her latest project of twisted liberation from feeling weak and unempowered, the answers were altogether different.

Well, at least at first.

 

There’s nothing more relaxing in the midst of the zombie apocalypse than stopping to smell the daisies … and pack stuff into boxes while you do it (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

While NLJ and Morgan began as converts to the kumbayah cycle of life and connectivity, risking their continued wellbeing on reconnecting with the people they lost in the storm – can we just take a moment to reflect on the fact that pretty much all this separation is needlessly self-inflicted? Thank you – and stayed that way throughout, many others questioned whether being connected to other people was a liability or a blessing.

Take Quinn We Barely Knew Ye.

While NLJ and Al were off trying to Find People, Quinn slipped in, stole the SWAT van (which technically was fuel-free and going nowhere; clearly Quinn was a walking talking carrier of diesel aplenty) and took it for a joyride until a bus full-o’zombies – like Barrel o’ Monkeys but way more deadly and not as much fun – got in the way.

His aim was solely to look after good old Numero Uno and it seemed to be working since despite NLJ’s intervention – which also cost her her life while Al slept off a raging near-fatal fever (yay for antibiotics on the bus, and handy narrative contrivances what ho!) – he got the van and a ticket to ride in armour-plated glory wherever he wanted to go.

That, he thought, was strength and to an extent it was true; but as soon as he encountered Mysterious Dirty Woman With Attitude and a Zombie Pet, he realised, very briefly, that looking out for yourself only works if you have eyes in the back of your head.

Which it turns out, Quinn, who had just accepted NLJ’s sweet-talking offer to become a literal Groupie – it has a whole other meaning in the apocalypse, including a lamentable dearth of concerts and line of coke – did not have; goodbye alive Quinn, hello Zombie Quinn, latest acquisition of Mysterious Dirty Woman With Attitude and a Zombie Pet.

Group philosophy 1, Lone Wolf Survival 0.

Of course, Mysterious Dirty Woman With Attitude and a Zombie Pet has well and truly picked her side, and sure it’s working for her now but I suspect it’s not a winner in the longterm, although with the scant screen time she’s had so far, it’s anybody’s guess how it will all play out.

 

Sarah made the mistake of asking Morgan what he thought, instantly realising she would be stuck there for hours while he pontificated (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

As for Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), Sarah (Mo Collins), who is fast becoming my favourite wisecracking character – the rapport between her and Wendell is a true delight and a welcome change to the intensity of so much else on the show – and formerly recluse beer maker Jim (Aaron Stanford), they’re pretty group dynamics agnostic.

Right now, it’s working for them since they have a possible ticket to ride back to Alexandria … or elsewhere in Texas … or Alexandria … or wherever the hell it is that Morgan, Man Most Likely to be Racked by Existential Indecision at a Critical Juncture, decides is where he finally wants to stop.

Oh, who are we kidding? Like he’s capable of making that kind of decision.

The truth is, these four are together right now simply it suits them with Morgan determined to Find People, which he duly does when NLJ and Al, now with added Augmentin, come zooming up just in the nick of time.

Victor (Colman Domingo), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Luciana (Danay García), Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) and John (Garret Dillahunt) are still M.I.A. – apparently everyone has completely forgotten where each other lived; damn that narrative amnesia! – so we’re barely on our way back to Communityville but the case has been made fairly decisively and conclusively that Group GOOD Solo BAD.

OK, not that decisively since we’re not sure how the others have done, and The Walking Dead has proven time and again that really you’re likely better off alone; well, away from Rick anyway – but the main thesis, that there is strength in numbers and weakness without, was proven a few times in this smartly-written episode, adding some meaningful philosophical musing to a show still thankfully enamoured with the idea that it is possible to have action – zombie killing! – and thinking in the one episode and have each perfectly complement the other.

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

 

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “The Code” (S4, E11 review)

Vogueing in the apocalypse isn’t a big hobby but there are still devotees among the survivors (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

 

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND WAY TOO MUCH MORGAN FOR ONE EPISODE …

“Morgan, it’s not me, it’s you – I think I should start seeing other characters.”

That, dear readers, is my imagined opening gambit in a conversation with good old Morgan (Lennie James), a character who whinged about being alone, who then whinged about being with Rick and the gang in The Walking Dead and who then whinged about being with just about everyone he met in Texas.

He’s like an apocalyptic Eeyore but with way less charm and charisma, a character who is no doubt supposed to be learned and thoughtful, who thinks about the Big Issues, but simply comes across as that person you don’t want to sit next to a work lunch.

You know the one – no matter what topic of conversation you bring up, they manage to find a negative angle so expansive in its whinging potential that you are left gasping in wonderment at their endless ability to complain while gnawing off your feet as you increasingly realise this is the only way you will ever escape this person’s presence.

Little wonder that in last week’s episode, when Morgan, unhappy despite everyone being super nice to him and goodhearted John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) even calling him a very good friend, let’s be Apocalyptic Facebook friends and send each other Christmas cards via a now non-existent mailing service, urged everyone from Victor (Colman Domingo) to Luciana (Danay Garcia) to Naomi/Laura/June (Jenna Elfman) to come with him back to Virginia because … honestly I don’t know why.

Normally, I have nothing but admiration for the writers of Fear the Walking Dead, who write with nuance, insight and understanding of the human condition in a way their parent show has never quite mailed.

But in “The Code”, it became increasingly apparent that they have no idea what to do with Morgan and honestly I don’t think it’s really their fault.

In fact, I would argue that that particular flawed character die was cast far earlier when Morgan was gifted, or really cursed, with the mantle of being the Wise Zen Master of the Apocalypse, the Thinker not the Doer, the Prognosticator not the Actor, the one who mused but didn’t do anything with it.

But has it maybe run its course as a narrative device?

 

Just so you know zombies are generally pretty shit at vogueing (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

 

I get it – you need a character who will act as the conscience of a show, the one who, especially in the Darwinian moral vacuum of the zombie apocalypse when humanity is on a whatever-it-takes free for all, asks people to think before they act, who urges constraint when others rush to bathe in the blood, real or metaphorical (usually the former) of their enemies.

But “The Code” exposed how little gas is left in this narrative engine.

Morgan repeatedly came across as annoyingly directionless, a man who, after he fell asleep in the back of a truck laden with supplies and woke up to find himself in Mississippi at a truck stop with power, water and lots of handy survivor consumables, decided he was going back to Texas to help his friends after just deciding he was leaving them behind to go to Rick et al.

Geez Morgan, make up your mind will ya?

Even more glaringly, the characters he met at the truck stop who turned out not to be the good Samaritans of “take what you need and leave what you don’t” cardboard variety but rather charlatans looking after their own self-interest – so basically pretty much everyone in the apocalypse bar much-missed Madison (Kim Dickens) – who left the real good guy by the side of the road way back in Texas, actually made way more sense than him and let’s be honest, were way more fun.

Now I know we’re not supposed to root for the bad guys, or the semi-bad guys, or the situationally-challenged flawed human people, but honestly next to Morgan’s indecisive nothingness, they came across looking and smelling pretty sweet.

Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), a wisecracking wheelchair-bound black man and his adopted sister Sarah (Mo Collins) initially playing the good cop routine to the hilt, offering up supplies to Morgan and sending him on his way in his very own new automobile.

When he pretends a bridge is washed out and goes back to meet up with them, encountering likeable but opportunistic micro-brewer Jim (Aaron Stanford) running from zombies on the way, the twosome show their true colours and even abandon him to be gobbled on by zombies with his hands bound.

Yet even then they come across as more reasonable and hallelujah more decisive than Morgan who can’t even decide to leap off the car on which he is sheltering from the zombie horde until well into the night where he somewhat magically spots a Swiss Army Knife lying on the ground. (By the way has anyone noticed that in the apocalypse, it’s always a full moon all the time, ALL THE TIME; the moon just as wacky as everyone else now the zombies are everywhere.)

 

And don’t even get me started on how bad Morgan is at Madonna’s sacred art form (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

 

Sure they leave him to his fate and drive off, all three of them, to go to Virginia in search of Rick and the Promised Land of New Beginnings – don’t do it guys, it’s not worth your time; stay right where you are! – but a few wise words of musing from Morgan and hey presto! Tehy’re born again Good Samaritans, dispensing boxes hither and yon and on their way back to … yup, TEXAS. (Honestly, it all happens way too easily, compromising Wendell, Sarah and Jim’s characters all of who are very anti-hero likable.)

See Morgan cannot work out what he wants to do; it’s gone beyond silly and is just plain annoying and impressive though Lennie James is as an actor, he isn’t being given much to work with at all.

Compare “The Code” – supposedly ‘We got a code and we keepin’ it alive,’ says Wendell. “You gotta help people when they need that help and then you gotta keep yo’ truck movin’…Keep on truckin’.’ – with last week’s taut, Alicia-centric episode “Close Your Eyes” which gave Alycia Debnam-Carey an amazing amount of beautifully-scripted material with which to work.

Lennie James alas is given nowhere that kind of substance on which to chew as an actor, forced to put up with a character who vacillates like its a national sport, moving from pillar to the post in some desperate attempt to set some kind of new personal best time for himself.

That lack of backbone in a character’s motivation doesn’t do much for Fear the Walking Dead either, which previously benefited from having an amazingly strong and nuanced lead character in Madison; she set the tone with her mix of decisiveness, compassion and vulnerability for the show which had the can-do action feel of The Walking Dead but enriched with a real, earthy, caring humanity.

By defaulting to Morgan, when it should really be Alicia, as the star of the show, Fear the Walking Dead risks losing everyone it built with Madison, taking a show that acknowledged the world was now a crueller and nastier place but that it was still possible to be decisively compassionate into that Darwinian bargain into one that isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be.

The lead character, for better or worse, and this applies to ensembles as much as any other, establishes the look and feel of the show and the writers need to fix the problem of Morgan before his fence-sitting takes everyone else down with it.

  • Up next on Fear the Walking Dead in “Weak” …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Close Your Eyes” (S4, E10 review)

Alicia’s Homemaking Tips #1 Stressed by the zombie apocalypse? Taking time out to stare moodily in an eerily-empty does wonders for calming the nerves (Image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AS WELL AS SHISH KEBAB ZOMBIES, UNWANTED WINDOW GUESTS AND REGRET, LOTS OF REGRET

When the world around you has gone to the undead dogs – frankly in a world where civilisation has fallen, the reanimated dead wander the earth and Lord of the Flies is less a literary title and more a life philosophy for all, you’d think some devoted, adorable members of “man’s best friend” club would be welcome, but it appears not – and reality bites a big one, the power of imagination is a pretty enticing tool to employ.

Even more so when you’re Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) and you’ve been stuck in an old house full of the dead and memories (this year’s big decorating themes!) where you’ve just undergone what is effectively a group therapy session, working through the death of your mother and brother (Alicia) and your parents and non-resulting beach visits (Charlie).

After all that, and some heated up food in rusty tin cans (hello god knows what kind of diseases), surely you’d be damn near entitled to sit back in a moving car – OK just Charlie this time; Alicia, keep your eyes on the road will ya? – and picture running into the ocean where you look back to see your alive parents vs. the turned version who lack the parenting skills, not surprisingly, that you crave?

You would and so it is that after weathering the mother of all storms – it looked suspiciously sunny throughout but who am I to question Texan storms and their brightness? – Alicia and Charlie go the beach, in their minds at least.

It caps off an episode where everyone went to hell and back, got wet and got dry, left a family of bodies (an actual family of bodies, thank you – mum, dad and the kids) lying outside before burying them, threw out the family photos (Alicia) and brought them back in again (Charlie), all part of a pretty full-on night of excavating out souls (metaphorically, thank god) and filling them in again with an altogether more happy set of feelings.

 

Alicia’s Homemaking Tips #2: Always bothered by annoying undead neighbours? Try curtains and turning your immobilising inner angst up to a soul-deafening 11 (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

This was, in fact, the great strength and weakness of “Close Your Eyes”, which put Alicia, heir apparent to mum Madison’s (Kim Dickens) beguiling mix of compassion and tenacity, in the solo spotlight.

After running from Morgan in “People Like Us” just as the storm was arriving in all its sunshine-tinted fury – yes, I know it made for great lighting effects, especially when Alicia walked into the house and was framed by the glow of the open door; speaking of which, who leaves a door open anywhere in the zombie apocalypse? For shame, Alicia, for shame! – and finding shelter in the same house in which Charlie, newly-run from Luciana (Danay García), was hiding, the Person Most Likely to Step Up As Leader went through a trial of fire.

Keep in mind she’d never really dealt with what happened to her mother and brother, apart from obsessively killing zombies on the perimeter line of the home she loosely share with Luciana and Victor (Colman Domingo), and so being stuck in the house with Charlie, the person indirectly and directly for the deaths of her remaining family members, triggered all kinds of deep inward looks at her soul.

In a tour de force acting effort from Debnam-Carey, who pretty much carried the episode, we saw her go from threatening to kill Charlie and calling her garbage and a waste of a person – most telling was that as she said this, she wavered, saying she didn’t really want to kill her but she might irregardless, highlighting her inner conflict – to tolerating her to pretty much resolving the issues between them.

You could argue, and I did while watching “Close Your Eyes”, that it was all a bit too conveniently quick how Alicia went from “I will end you! Maybe …” … “No, I will! I mean,it could happen …” to “I’ll talk to you but I don’t like you” to “Let’s share things and actual do nice things for each other”.

Perhaps it was, and perhaps no one would ordinarily deal with their shit so comprehensively and efficiently, but hey, this is the zombie apocalypse, there’s nothing normal about it, emotionally or otherwise, so you could argue that go from go to whoa in the one storm-ravaged night could and would happen.

After all, emotions, raw, intense, near-material emotions, sit very close to the surface all the time in traumatic situations, and while yes, you have to get on with the business of surviving with no time to actually ruminate at length, it doesn’t take much to get them to the surface and tumbling out.

 

Alicia’s Homemaking Tips #3: Always put your car keys in the same place every time to avoid getting drenched by heavy train (and maybe nibbled by passing airborne zombies) while you try to find them (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

So conceivably you could have a therapy session of sorts in one night, especially when you’re cheek-by-jowl with a young girl you’ve tagged as your mortal enemy, and get it all sorted; or it’s simply narratively-convenient and you don’t want to make the mistake The Walking Dead has done often which is to have a character brood … brood … brood … brood … oh for god’s sake stop it will ya?!

Whatever the merits and authenticity of this type of emotional epiphany – and again people go deep when trauma hits so anything’s possible – “Close Your Eyes” made for exceptional TV with Charlie wanting to die and confessing her agony at seeing her parents turn in front of her, with every confession from the scared young, overwhelmed girl helping Alicia to understand that while her grief and loss was legitimate, perhaps the blame she was assigning didn’t allow for all kinds of factors.

Like the factor that Charlie was a kid … or the fact that everyone, including Alicia, had done all kinds of terrible things and everyone has blood on their hands … or that death is a horrible, awful thing and no one brings it on willingly.

As a perspective re-setting exercise, it was brilliantly-done, a reorienting of Alicia’s world view that helped her come to grips with the fact that she was her mother’s daughter, that compassion and tenacity are natural bed fellows, and that it’s possible to be both ruthless and still caring, even in the midst of the hellhole that is the zombie apocalypse.

The episode also brought home the idea that with Madison, it makes sense to place Alicia front and centre; her character is substantial enough and her arc nowhere near spent, unlike Mogrgan (Lennie James), who’s playing like a massively-broken old record.

Fear the Walking Dead has always excelled by concentrating on those small, oft-missed very human moments and “Close Your Eyes” was no exception, drawing us deep into Alicia’s broken world and watching as she found healing and perhaps a way forward, not just for her but for the whole group.

  • Next up on Fear the Walking Dead in “The Code” …

 

 

 

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 …