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.

 

Torn apart by teeth or bullets: Lose yourself in Fear the Walking Dead season 4

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
In Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 we will see the world of Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her family through new eyes — the eyes of Morgan Jones (Lennie James), joining the story from the world of The Walking Dead. The characters’ immediate past mixes with an uncertain present of struggle and discovery as they meet new friends, foes and threats. They fight for each other, against each other and against a legion of the dead to somehow build an existence against the crushing pressure of lives coming apart. There will be darkness and light; terror and grace; the heroic, mercenary, and craven, all crashing together towards a new reality for Fear the Walking Dead. (official synopsis via Den of Geek)

Change is in the air at Fear the Walking Dead, and I don’t mean that the zombies are looking a lot less fresh and a whole more decayed.

For starters, The Walking Dead spinoff show, which in my humble opinion, is now a better series than its parents, has a new showrunner with Dave Erickson handing over the reins to Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg (Once Upon a Time).

Quite how they will alter the tone and feel of Fear the Walking Dead can only be guessed at right now, but with Scott Gimple stepping in as executive producer, it’s a fair bet that there will be some major changes to Fear.

 

 

You can only hope they don’t homogenise the show too much since its big selling point was that it was a slower, more thoughtful and meditative sibling to The Walking Dead, a show that had some action sure but never let that get in the way of some insightful character studies and apocalyptic meditations on the human condition.

Fingers crossed they respect the heart soul of the show and let Lennie James as Morgan be influenced by the characters and storyline and not the other way around.

There are a number of other additions to the new season – see Den of Geek for all the lowdown there – which promises a whole new Fear the Walking Dead (bit still not too much please) but the same old fallen humanity.

Fear the Walking Dead season 5 premieres 15 April on AMC in USA / Showcase in Australia.

Fear the Walking Dead: “Things Bad Begun” / “Sleigh Ride” (S3, E13 & E14 review)

It’s very much a case of a Punch and Judy show-esque “Behind you! Behind you!” with all the nasty and brutality that entails (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/ AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A GREAT BIG HELPING OF PARADISE LOST …

Being a doublebanger finale, “Things Bad Begun” / “Sleigh Ride” was always going to be an epic, grand, monstrously big, finish to the exceptionally robust and compelling storytelling of Fear the Walking Dead.

And so it proved, but oh the narrative riches contained within.

For a start, the writers didn’t resort solely to staging a great big bombastic battle for the dam.

Sure that happened with the Proctors, led by the calmly menacing Proctor John (Ray McKinnon) who adopted Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as his private nurse and good luck charm – she talked him through an anesthesia-free operation to remove a spinal tumour during which John seemed also homespun nice – storming the dam, using the tunnels of water by, yep you guessed it, Victor.

He somehow managed to turn an entirely selfish act into a noble one, from his perspective anyway, arguing that betraying everyone including Madison (Kim Clark), Nick (Frank Dillane), Daniel (Rubén Blades) and dear sweet Lola (Lisandra Tena) to get himself a position of power was exactly the sort of thing that self-sacrificing people do all the time.

Only it wasn’t – Victor knew it, everyone else knew it and when it emerged that Victor hadn’t quite delivered on his promises because Nick and Troy (Daniel Sharman) had warned everyone the bad guys were coming – guess what? Troy regretted nothing; the hordes, the deaths, the motivating racism, none of it and Madison, um, killed him for his unrepentant troubles – John knew it and it was only because of some dramatic last minute sacrificing by Nick (who actually knows what the word means) that Victor managed to somehow, once again, get away with it.

Frankly he didn’t deserve to but then you had a hard time finding anyone who really deserved to get out of the whole mess alive, besides Lola and Alicia who at least has decided what matters to her and followed through on it.

The double-ep finale was a settling of accounts but oddly enough not everyone paid the price you might have expected.

 

Frenemies together again and once Victor has, surprise surprise an angle he’s working (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/ AMC)

 

Take Daniel, for example.

After interrogating Nick and getting him to admit, indirectly at least, that Troy is, or rather was, a horde-shepherding, racist douchebag, and staring down Victor only to have a bullet almost rip his face off when Mr Self-Sacrificial tried to be embellish his Proctors-aspirational badassery, Daniel found himself at the bottom of a concrete tunnel, bleeding profusely and seeming ready to finally pay for his sins (a phrase he has repeatedly used through the show).

But just when you thought he was down and out, he rose to the occasion once again, dispatching a few well-armed Proctors like it was nothing, shooting a few more of them atop the dam and rescuing Nick after he’d set off the C4 and demolished the dam.

Or did he rescue Nick? Like all good season-ending cliffhangers, the fate of Daniel, Nick, Victor and Alicia hangs in the balance – the first two possibly crusged by rubble; the latter two lost in the rubble-filled wild water swirl of the dam explosion, with only Madison washing up in the town below – but at least Daniel tried to do the right thing, which is a damn sight more than Victor, who claims no sinning at all of any kind, has managed.

The thing is, it speaks to the sophistication of the writing for Fear the Walking Dead that they don’t necessarily need to kill people off to make a narrative statement. Sprinkled through these two episodes were some intense one-on-ones between people like Madison and Victor, and Daniel and Nick with all of them revealing something about the torment or longing all of the characters are harbouring in the midst of the apocalypse.

That’s always been the great strength of the show, its ability to make a point without cheap death stunts or endless recourse to zombie moments; it’s used them yes but not as a be-all and end-all, something its parent show The Walking Dead could learn a great deal from.

Of course, half the main cast could be dead, crushed under rubble or drowned but I suspect they’re not, since they don’t need to die for us to understand that the apolcaypse has changed things, ruined things, elevated some things, downgraded manty others. It’s there in every anguished conversation, every glance; in fact, it’s suffused throughout the show in such a nuanced, evocative way and so immediately obvious, that you don’t need the show to resort to cheap, nasty stunts that make an impression sure but add little to the overall narrative or emotional impact of the storytelling.

These two episodes were brilliantly well-written, beautifully calibrated, giving us the requisite cliffhanger and action but with the kind of inspired imagination that has elevated Fear the Walking Dead well beyond any kind of simplistic comic book adaptation.

 

Ever since the apocalypse hit, Madison has seen a lot more of her son than ever before; the locations for their catch-ups, however, left a great deal to be desired (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/ AMC)

 

Where Fear the Walking Dead really excelled this time around, adding a beguiling and poetically sense of the fantastical to the show, was Madison’s dream sequence, which was threaded throughout “Sleigh Ride” – and yes the song was part of the soundtrack, as was Peggy Lee’s “The Christmas Spell” – and featured her preparing a perfect turkey Christmas dinnwer with all trimmings and decorations, to which she’d invited Troy, Victor (armed with presents), Daniel, Taqa (Michael Greyeyes), Jeremiah (Dayton Callie) and another Rancher or two.

In other words, a gallery of the dead, many of them reduced to that state at her hand, directly or indirectly, a picture postcard-Christmas by Currier and Ives death scene that was given full import by its dissolution, once she swept out onto the windswept prairie grasslands, into an unending field of gravestones.

The message was hope and loss, life and death, existing side-by-side, cheek by jowl, pointing to the imperfect, messy way that life deals with things, even in the apocalypse, and how even in dire times, there’s a part of you that hangs onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, things can get better.

You know deep down that’s probably not going to happen, with death more likely that boughs of fairy lit holly these days, but Madison’s vision/dream/alternate twist on the present, all experienced most likely while she floated down in the damn explosion’s trubulent afterwash, point to the power of hope but also of recrimination and guilt, and as the appearance of Travis (Curtis Manawa), who almost lifts Madison out of the water (in her mind, at least), of overwhelming loss.

It was powerful, deeply creative, clever television that said a great deal in a way that its parent show has never really managed as effectively; as much poetry as bleak reality, Madison’s twisted perfect Christmas dream was a beautiful though confronting thing, the centrepiece of two riveting episodes of television that neatly summed up a season when imperfect people struggled not so much with the undead, although there were plenty of them, but with the existential demands of a world gone mad where none of the old rules apply but all the people who once subscribed to them still, rather traumatically, remain.

  • And that, my friends, is that for season 3, with Fear the Walking Dead renewed for a fourth season, and The Walking Dead season 8 (“All Negan, All the Time”) due to premiere 22 October USA and 23 October Australia …

Fear the Walking Dead: “This Land is Your Land” / “El Matadero” (S3, E13 & E14 review)

Behold I have become the destroyer of worlds … it’s highly unlikely that Troy, now an official mass murderer, would be so poetic though he did attempt it to bullshit away the full effect of Jake’s death (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND WAY MORE HUMANITY (AND WAY LESS OXYGEN) THAN YOUR AVERAGE PIECE OF APOCALYPTIC STORYTELLING …

The thing that has been most compelling about Fear the Walking Dead from the word go has been its willingness to wear its humanity on its sleeve.

While its parent program The Walking Dead often showed bad things happening, and yes, showing how badly it affects the people involved, it has never really shown the full existential drip feed of life in the apocalypse to the extent that its progeny has.

Fear the Walking Dead rarely show people getting their apocalypse on without considerable moral repercussions nor are its bad guys or girls ever as one note; lordy, even Troy (Daniel Sharman), head cheerleader of the zombie horde cleansing movement, has some weirdly redeeming qualities (not many mind you but they are there, you know, somewhere).

The brilliantly-etched humanity of the show was on immensely evocative display in these two episodes, with every character facing up to an titanically epic event – the overunning of the Ranch by Troy’s shepherded horde and the imprisoning of the survivors, bitten or otherwise, in an airless bunker – in ways that spoke of the toll its taking on them.

Sure, they did what needed to be done and did it, for the most part, impressively well, but there was always an undercurrent of frailty, of moral loss, a slow, crippling ebbing of what it means to be human and it made the storytelling all the richer.

Take Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as prime example #1.

Trapped in the larder with all the survivors of the Ranch, it quickly dawned on Madison’s “least favourite child”, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and Lee aka Mad Dog (Justin Rain) that there wouldn’t be enough air to keep them alive beyond the two hour marker, what with the block air shaft showing a determined reluctance to do its job. (You had one job! ONE JOB.)

Kinda of a big deal when you’d like to live for as long past that time period as possible, and when failure to do so, at least by your bunker companions, means that you’ll be trapped in a room below ground with newly-minted zombies.

Yeah, not exactly an optimum survivability scenario is it?

 

Long live Alicia, new temporary leader of the many ranchers who survived the zombie horde’s arrival and … oh, never mind … (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

 

Realising how high the stakes were and with Ofelia and Lee off to find out why the air wasn’t flowing, Alicia stepped up, despite significant reluctance to take centre stage, painfully and with a real sense of the anguish it was causing her, moving to cull the numbers in the bunker by despatching, with real grace and sadness, the dead people walking aka those bitten by zombies in their midst.

Granted, it involved massively big doses of morphine to everyone affected, which means their deaths were as humane as possible under the circumstances, and the unstinting moral support of Christine (Linda Gehringer), who sadly didn’t survive the asphyxiation ordeal, but the whole process, necessary though it was, took its toll and you could see the agony written all over Alicia’s face.

She knew it had to be done, and she was brave enough to do it, but it sucked away a little bit more of her humanity, and convinced her that there was no safe place left in the world, that Madison’s quest to circle the wagons and fend off the bad guys was a fool’s errand that could never be satisfactorily completed.

This led her to strike out on her own, battered by the loss of Jake (Sam Underwood), in the hope she could find the idyll he spoke of, find some peace, and maybe retake some of her humanity back in the process.

Her willingness to do what needed to be done while still remembering she was a person contrasted powerfully with Nick (Frank Dillane) who, god bless him and his aspirations to completely shoot hole’s in his status as Madison’s favoured child, ineffectually handled Troy’s horrifically bloodthirsty acts and to add insult to injury, went on a drug and alcohol fuelled bender at the trading post.

Yep, pick the exact last thing you should do after you’ve covered for the guy who killed almost everyone at the Ranch and Nick went ahead and did it!

He even decided that he and Troy were the bad black sheep of the piece, as Troy had alleged, and that he might as well live up to that; yeah, not the brightest thing he’s ever done and proof that humanity is a gift well served in some (I’m looking at you Alicia!) and poorly entrusted to others (Nick you freaking idiot).

 

Not quite the reunion Daniel had in mind and way more portentous than he meant it to be (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

 

The other great and powerful moment of raw, palpable humanity came when Madison (Kim Clarke), who played the part of the cavalry with Victor (Colman Domingo), Ofelia, Lee and the others, rescuing Alicia (and alas no one else) from the Bunker o’ Hell, stood her ground and ensured that Ofelia got her wish to be see her father again.

She moved heaven and earth and sold a shit load of guns to the mercenary souls at the trading post, staffed largely by ex-fast food workers by the looks of things, to get Ofelia drugs and drinks to ease her final moments as the zombie bite she suffered while clearing the air shaft took its toll.

Sadly Ofelia died just minutes before dad Daniel (Rubén Blades) made it to her side, imperilling Madison who almost earned a summary execution for her troubles, leading to one of the saddest father-daughter reunions I’ve ever witnessed.

In one emotionally-charged scene, the kind Fear the Walking Dead does so well, we witnessed the kind of heart-searing loss that the apocalypse has delivered to everyone, and the high price paid for sins, real or imagined.

It was powerful, arresting, desperately human television which left you reeling, not because of the epic nature of the storytelling, thought  that was definitely there, but because it focused on the intimate, soul-scarring human toll that survival is taking on everyone.

We all know that living in the apocalypse isn’t easy but Fear the Walking Dead, fearless in its narrative bravery and willing to take the time to really tell a story and address its authentic, damning effects on the soul, is excelling still in taking the time to show us what humans to people, on a stripped back, existential level, when the new brutal realities of life call for all kinds of horrific choices to be made.

  • And so onto the series 3 finale, “Things Bad Begun” / “Sleigh Ride”, where everything, as you might expect, goes right royally and cliffhangeringly, to shit and Alicia’s idea that there is no safe place proves rather prescient …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Brother’s Keeper” (S3, E12 review)

So much for posting selfies on Instagram and kissing boys behind the bleachers … apocalyptic teenage Alicia is definitely not living the teenage dream (photo by Richard Foreman Jr / courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND MORE ZOMBIES THAN YOU CAN POKE A POINTY STICK AT …

So you know how they – yes the mysterious “they” who are responsible for pretty much everything it seems – always say revenge is a dish best served cold?

How about undead with trailing entrails and an unearthly growl?

Not all that appealing on one level but definitely capturing the revenge vibe which, let’s face it, it not exactly cute puppies, warm hugs and all the cheesecake you can eat.

In “Brother’s Keeper”, which saw Jake (Sam Underwood) and Troy (Daniel Sharman) circling around the turgid drain of brotherly love, revenge was all the rage, particularly if you’re a zombie since mindless raging is pretty much all you have left to do, beside chomping down on stray living creatures like cows and yes sadly, Jake.

Troy was smitten, in his lifetime state of delusion which had received an extra helping hand of detached from reality when he was exiled from the ranch and left out in the wilderness by Madison (Kim Dickens), by the idea of making everyone at The Ranch suffer.

But, and this is a tribute to the quality of the writing that uniformly the storytelling on Fear the Walking Dead, his motivations were actually far more nuanced and decidedly filial.

In his state of ravaged sanity, the product of more abuse than anyone should have to endure, Troy saw herding a massive, and I mean dust storm-creating massive horde of the undead towards The Ranch as some act of brotherly love.

That he, Troy, son of the cruelly slain Jeremiah (Dayton Callie), wasn’t going to take the necessary death of his father lying down – not that he saw it as necessary; adding to Jake’s torment, he did, an acknowledgement that diabolically increased the intensity of his emotional pain – and so, in a plan straight out of the “what the living f**k are you doing?” playbook (best avoided if you can) Troy spent two days sending a sh*t ton of the undead towards a whole lot of wholly innocent people at The Ranch.

 

It’s always the same … post a party on social media and all the undead lowlifes in the neighbourhood turn up (photo by Richard Foreman Jr / courtesy AMC)

 

The only reason anyone knew it was happening though was because, in a Bond villain-esque moment, Troy visited his unhinged soul brother Nick (Frank Dillane) and cryptically hinted that “a reckoning” was coming.

Ah vaguely redneck Biblically malevolent language is such a hoot isn’t it? All kinds of doom and death and destruction tied up in a great big pile of camp craziness.

For reasons known only to Nick, and seriously wouldn’t you have run down the hill to tell people, Madison’s #1 child – yeah sorry Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) but you know it’s true, he waited until morning light to saunter down and let Alicia, Jake, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and Lee aka Crazy Dog (Justin Rain) know that (a) Toy was alive (b) he was babbling like an end-times prophet on way too much mescaline, and (c) doom might soon be upon them.

Well hurrah Nick and wouldn’t like bacon and eggs with all that doom and gloom?

Naturally, the only way to sort out whether anything was actually going on for sure since Troy was not exactly the most reliable of people with a few thousand holes in his credibility rating, Jake and Nick set off to find him and see if the Bond villainy was real or imagined.

Sadly, real which c’mon they must have known would be the case.

As the horde of the undead ambled past them Z Nation-like, Jake and Troy had a brotherly moment, but not the kind you’d see featured in a Hallmark movie around Christmastime.

No, theirs involved Jake holding a gun to Troy’s head saying he had to end it here, Nick saying “No, don’t do it, think of the pain and regret!” – yes that’s right folks, Nick was more worried about Jake’s fragile emotional state than he was about the lives of many others back at The Ranch; priorities, Nick, priorities! – and Jake failing to follow through.

Push came to shove, undead hordes to the squabbling three and before you knew it, Jake had been bitten, had had his arm chopped off, died, turned, all while Troy tearfully realised that maybe a card saying “I love you brother” might have been a way less messy an option.

 

Let’s hear it for brotherly love and … yeah, well, maybe not the type that leads to zombie chomping (photo by Richard Foreman Jr / courtesy AMC)

 

So the sh*t, or in this case, desert dust royally hit the fan, and the horde arrived at  The Ranch and quickly overwhelmed the circling of the wagons aka Winnebagos defence, forcing everyone bar a few hapless Ensign Ranchers to flee for the cutely-named Pantry wherein lie lots of food, water and guns … and bloody big doors to keep zombies out.

Getting in was relatively easy for everyone bar Ofelia, Alicia and Lee who had to fight their way to safety through a group of fairly determined zombies but getting out could be a mite tricky.

Fortunately Madison, Qaletaqa (Michael Greyeyes) and Victor (Colman Domingo) are coming back with a tanker of water and Nick and Troy are still out there somewhere but man alive, there’s a lot of the undead to dispatch before anyone can kick back and watch a Texan sunset anytime soon.

For all the gory zombie action, and it was freaking spectacular truth be told, “Brother’s Keeper” was a beautifully nuanced Shakespearean tale of brotherly love and delusion that carried a huge amount of emotional romance.

It emphasised again that Fear the Walking Dead‘s great narrative strength is its ability to tell emotionally-impacting very intimate stories within a broad broadstrokes canvas, focusing on the fact that for all the big action set pieces, the apocalypse is really about how the lives of various people and groups are affected.

While big dramatic baddies may look enticing – The Walking Dead is almost fatally addicted to them now; yeah I’m looking at you Negan – what really matters in these apocalyptic tales is what’s happening at the human level.

“Brother’s Keeper” captured this profoundly and movingly, giving us the big zombie battle we all crave but remembering that for it to mean anything at all, we need to see the humanity behind it, something that was on palpably powerful display in this exquisitely well-wrought episode.

  • Next time on Fear the Walking Dead … “This Land is Your Land” where who has what plot of ground looks to be less of a concern than, you know, actually surviving to stand on it …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “La Serpiente” (S3, E11 review)

He may be existentially damaged after years of staring into the darkest parts of the human condition but lordy can Daniel shoot a gun (image courtesy AMC / Photo by Richard Foreman Jr)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE BASEST PARTS OF HUMANITY, BOTH COLORECTAL AND OF THE SOUL …

“La Serpiente” was a really shitty episode.

No, I mean, really … shit everywhere as Madison (Kim Dickens), Victor (Colman Domingo) and Qaletaqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes) followed the shhhhh! super-secret squirrel route into the Lola’s kingdom of damned water (again literally; honestly, not being crude just for the sake of it).

Unfortunately for their personal hygiene, sense of self-worth and mounting dry cleaning bills, Victor’s amazingly direct route into Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink Land (if you’re the surrounding people of Tijuana who take a while to figure out “Hey we could take the water they give us by force!”) involved crawling through faecal matter and killing a zombie who was blocking a pipe that when cleared … well, honestly you really don’t want to know.

Suffice to say, it was not pretty; so much so, that when they arrived at DamLand, the wettest land of them all, and didn’t get shot by Daniel  (Rubén Blades), one of the first things pretty much everyone demanded was that they wash.

Just another one of the sacrifices you have to make to stay hydrated in a world where all the water engineers and pipe maintenance folk are more interested in some human sushi that practising their craft.

As it turned out, well initially at first, all they got for all of their jeans-soiling trouble was Lola (Lisandra Tena) aka She Who Shall Not Corrupt Her Soul – for the record Madison respects her stance to stay apocalyptically virginal and not kill anyone; thinks it’s massively shortsighted and going to get her killed but respects it … all together now “Awwww” … see ya Lola – refusing to give them a drop off the much-need H 2 and O.

This was largely because Efraín Morales (Jesse Borego), one of the Lola’s true believers – well mostly; he was all for “release the river! God will get us more water!” – ratted on Daniel shooting at the rioting villagers as the retreat, leaking water tank in tow.

Not exactly a team player now are we Daniel? (His performance appraisal was beginning to look more than a little shabby; no water bonuses for you, angry old man.)

 

Poor zombies – always on the outside looking in (image courtesy AMC / Photo by Richard Foreman Jr)

 

Lola sided with Efraín at first, believing Daniel was about to leave her to run back to The Ranch to see Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) who is alive and well and poisoning people en masse – BIG mistake by Walker was proudly boasting to Daniel that he’d turned his daughter into the killer Dad never wanted her to be; strike one against father-in-law/son-in-law harmony and friction-free apocalyptic festive events – and only decided to give Madison 10,000 gallons a week (ever the cockroach of measurement systems, imperial even survives the end of the world) until the rains come.

Why? Glad you asked!

Because “La Serpiente”of the episode’s title, that would be Victor who never met a situation he couldn’t turn (mostly) to his own advantage, figured out a water for The Ranch to get their water, Daniel to bolster his position and for everyone, bar the water tanker attendants who ended up rather undead and on fire, and perversely wet through at the same time, to get what they want.

Right on cue, as Walker stomped off all upset a little too early that they weren’t getting water, and Madison was a mean lady and he would have to kick off The Ranch and he hated himself etc etc tantrum-tantrum-tantrum, the angry villagers arrived sans pitchforks and torches (honestly does no one respect the classics anymore?) to back up Daniel’s claims that Lola was being was too sweet and naive and that Victor, serpent-brain and all, was a cleverly-manipulative so-and-so.

It was some rather clever politicking and realpolitik strategising that saw two of the wiliest people in the show, Victor and Daniel, achieve a two-birds-one-stone goal while leaving Madison looking as lustrously above the fray as ever.

It was masterful work, and proof once again that Fear the Walking Dead is a great deal more intelligent and nuanced in its storytelling than its rather more blatant parent.

It also nicely examined, once again, how hard it can be to hang onto your humanity when every facet of this hard, cold, cruel and shit-covered (again, literally) new world cried out for parking your humanity, killing as needed and then trying to be warm and cuddly again if you can.

Madison, as much as anyone, appreciates there’s no way to kill and finagle your way to getting what you want and need then shove those necessity is the mother of ruthless invention back in their holes and carry on as if you’re not two steps beyond serial killer status.

Lola, at least, for now, remains largely shielded from that thanks to the willingness of the Victors and Daniels of this world (and Madison who damn well knew what was going on, and find it freaking hilarious thank you very much; later on, not in front of Lola, because no one has timing that bad OK?) to do the dirty work for her and keep her believing she can stay pure as the dam water before her.

 

Why, if only one of the tankers would explode so we could convince Lola she’s being naive and … oh, there it goes! (image courtesy AMC / Photo by Richard Foreman Jr)

 

And so, after a few heart-to-hearts where Daniel said he’s stay with Lola because he knew Ofelia was safe and didn’t have to see her – Lola arranged for him to see her anyway; once again awwwww she’s so dead – Victor and Madison had a lovely moment of friendship where the former demonstrated he does have a beating heart down there somewhere, and Daniel and Victor affirmed they get, I mean really get each other, water flowed back to The Ranch, Walker got picked up on the side of the highway in a smiling Murder She Wrote end of episode kind of way (where was a zombie Jessica Fletcher? Where?!) and everyone, for one more episode at least, lived happily ever after.

The reality, of course, as with any somewhat happy ending in the apocalypse is that the neat tying up of loose ends is not a permanent state of affairs, merely a temporary stay of execution, and trouble awaits pretty much everyone involved.

Lola can only hold off the water-starved hordes for so long without becoming The Damned Queen of the Water, soaked in as much blood as aqua, Madison and Walker, despite the knowing smirks are cruising to a fighting for The Ranch bruising, and Victor’s mind, the “La Serpiente”of the episode is still conniving, plotting and planning and, yes and, heading back to The Ranch where all that Machiavellian self-interest is going to result in the singing of “Kumbayah” around the camp fire with S’mores.

The world has ended, the rule of law and unsullied humanity with it, and no one, no one at all, gets to emerge unscathed, including those, like Lola who would most like to do so.

The apocalypse is a nasty piece of work people and Fear the Walking Dead did a masterful job once again of demonstrating just why that’s the case and how only the canny and the clever will ever get ahead (and get a glass of water and clean clothes).

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead … death, guns, zombies and much shooting … in other words pretty much what the apocalyptic doctor ordered and Lola, most certainly, did not …