The Walking Dead: World Beyond – “The Wrong End of a Telescope” (S1, E4 review) / Fear the Walking Dead: “Alaska” (S6, E3 review)

Hiking ain’t what it used to be (image via World Beyond wiki (c) AMC)

THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SCARY, CREEPY, GROWLY THINGS …

Are you afraid of things that go bump in the night?

If so, then (a) you shouldn’t be in the zombie apocalypse in the first place and (b) you don’t want to wander into the derelict, ivy-overgrown high school that Iris (Aliyah Royale), Hope (Alexa Mansour), Silas (Hal Cumpston), Elton (Nicolas Cantu), Felix (Nic Tortorella) and Huck (Annet Mahendru) take shelter in after a reasonably chilled walk through the forest.

Why avoid this rundown remnant of the civilised world over all the others?

For a start, there is something wandering the halls and rooms of the high school that seems to take great delight in dragging zombies back and forth across hallways and backwards, horror movie-trope like, into rooms; there is also a whole haunted house vine going on, made all the more potent by the fact that we witness flashbacks to happier days when students roamed the halls, and one in particular, with a shock of purple hair, was batting eyes at a potential love interest and featuring heavily in yearbook entries.

(We later see her lying desiccated and quite, quite dead on the floor, something that has much much more impact because we saw her when she was alive and giddily vivacious.)

If that’s not enough freaky thing per square metre of plot then how about the lingering dark, the fact that everyone splits up which is never a good idea (you hear me, Iris? Not a good idea) and the overwhelming sense that, possibly more than anywhere else they’ve gone, there is a sense of things greatly lost suffusing every last room in the place.

If the zombie apocalypse wasn’t Halloween every damn day then you’d say it was the perfect place to stage an All Hallow’s Eve adjacent episode, one which was scary and action-packed while retaining all of the emotional resonance that has become this series’ readily-recognisable calling card.

And boy did we get some emotionally evocative moments.

Flashback to meaningful father/daughter time (image via World Beyond wiki (c) AMC)

Take the sweet conversations between Iris and Silas (who, and it wasn’t just Huck who noticed, actually smiled! He’s happy out in the Empties-filled beyond in a way he wasn’t allowed to be back at the university) as they sit trapped in the main dance decorations-strewn auditorium.

Iris has always been there for Silas in a way no one else wanted to be and so the bond was there anyway, but watching them dance to Silas’s grandmother’s favourite waltz – the moment when all the long-dead students appeared around them in a merging of the past and present was heartstoppingly beautiful – and grab a little friendship normalcy when so little of it is available to them was touching in the extreme.

They are there for each other in a way beyond what even normal friends would manage which makes sense because as Elton observes, hiking across country in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, does tend to bond a group of people.

Speaking of Elton, he unwittingly became the wedge in the group this episode when Felix, who with Huck wants to get the gang back home to the university (it’s not there anymore but he doesn’t know that), convinced him to start talking Hope (who admits she wanted Felix and Huck to find them and take them home but has now changed her mind), Iris and Silas into heading back from whence they came.

I get the feeling that isn’t going to be an easy sell because the remaining three true believers don’t see any point in retracing their steps – though as the post credits scene possibly showed (how very Marvel of them!), perhaps Iris and Hope’s dad is no longer alive to be found, the victim of yet another diabolical CRM plot – and are finding themselves coming alive in a way that all the safety in the world didn’t engender.

We were also served up some tasty backstory, witnessing Hope and her dad, who may or may not be a zombie test subject (while it’s sad if it is, it would add a huge helping of poignancy and emotional complexity to this already rich in emotions show), grappling with what it means to be alive, to be a father and daughter in a weird and unusual time, and to grapple with the messy business of growing up.

They were neatly inserted pieces of exposition that went a long way to extending and enriching Hope’s character who has well and truly moved beyond her teenage malcontent archetype, and which also served to underscore why Hope and Iris are so close.

Once again in “The Wrong End of a Telescope”, we were treated to World Beyond‘s impressive capacity for going gently but deep into some very dark places, literally and emotionally as it turns out, and for deftly reminding us that even in the desperate fight for survival (I’m looking at you high school zombies, some of which took Silas back to some very nasty places) that the human heart doesn’t stop beating and that our innate humanity remains and must be tended to and nurtured since while survival is one thing, living, really living, is altogether another.

Wildly apocalyptic was an odd choice for this year’s dance but it kind of worked (image via World Beyond wiki (c) AMC)

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

Zombie martial arts – the new apocalyptic way to get fit … and STAY fit! (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SOME UNEXPECTED LOVE AND HOPE …

Apocalypses, by their very definition, are not usually harbingers of good and uplifting news.

When words like “catastrophic”, “complete destruction” and “end of the world are superglued to your dictionary entry with all the finality that comes with the downfall of civilisation, it’s highly unliklely that the Bluebird of Happiness is going to come tweeting into your life, pink rose petals, effervescent joy and giddy hope trailing in its chirpy wake.

And yet that is precisely what happened in episode three of Fear the Walking Dead‘s sixth season, “Alaska” – the title refers to the habit that Al (Maggie Grace) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) have of collecting licenses from their zombie kills, with the states of Alaska and Hawai’i being the rarest and thus the most prized – when Al came close to finding her one true love, the hilariously named “Beer Lady” aka Isabelle, played by Sydney Lemmon (see season 5’s “The End of Everything”), and Dwight actually, miraculously and joyously finds his long-lost wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista).

It is quite simply everything you could want in an episode about people struggling to not survive but live in the ashes of human society.

Granted, it wasn’t all (horribly decayed) beer, Cupid and skittles.

Virginia (Colby Minifie), who is about as far from sunshine and picnics and love struck couples as it’s possible to be, has sent Al and Dwight out to survey house after house, business after business, ostensibly to chart how everything went wrong there and how her glorious attempt to authoritarian society building can avoid the same mistakes.

It’s basically undead anthropology and as Al and Dwight battle zombie after zombie in place after place, you can understand why these two people, who have now become as close and supportive of each other as two devoted siblings, have begun to tire of post mortems and begun to long for work that looks at what went right and helping those in trouble find their way out of just surviving to actually living.

Al really is more invested in this than Dwight who appreciates that what he and Al have may not be much but that it’s a damn sight better than living in one of Virginia’s gilded cages of dictatorial horror and that since he’ll likely never see Sherry again, the wife he journey halfway across the states to find, that he bets make the best of a nightmarish situation.

He hasn’t given up so much as just accepted that they are where they are and they best make do; even so, when he and Al stumble across a bunch of office workers still living in the building they were in when things went south some years earlier, he is more apt to help Nora (Devyn Tyler) than Al who is more concerned now with finding Isabelle who she’s learned is close to landing on the roof of the building in one of the CRM’s helicopters.

Smiling – now that’s one thing you don’t see a lot of at the end of the world (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

To be fair to Al who is the one who was really championing helping the living rather than cataloguing the dead, she has to make an impossible choice between personal happiness – she admits to Dwight that the only time she felt good in the whole apocalypse was when she was with Isabelle – and helping Nora and her fellow beleaguered office workers who are, thanks to a plague of rats, slowly succumbing to bubonic plague.

How very medieval of them!

Dwight tries to talk Al into helping Nora et al. arguing that here is that chance that Al in particular wanted to give the living a chance to live instead of leaving them to join the ranks of the undead, but she is determined to get to the roof, hordes of stairwell-clogging zombies notwithstanding, and be with Isabelle and so they abandon Nora and her dying group and romp to a far more personal, hopefully happier future.

Events however don’t quite proceed as planned and after Nora saves them (AAAWK-WAAARD!), and they share a fairly intense moment of mourning with her as they return her boyfriend’s license to her – he is the zombie they kill on the street at the beginning of the episode – Dwight stays behind to help save the day (he’s actually sick with the Plague too thanks to a rat bite a few days earlier so opts to stay and do what he can) and Al races to the roof to be reunited with Isabelle.

Love, with some detours into gross selfishness, seems to have won the day but as the helicopter comes into view, Al realises (a) Isabelle could die if she lands on the building full of Bubonic rats (as if the apocalypse isn’t awful enough) and (b) she loves Dwight like a brother and doesn’t want to lose him after losing her actual brother (with whom she played the license plate game which became the licenses game of recent days).

So selflessness wins out, if not love, and everyone basks in the inner glow that Al did the right thing and by doing so discovered a cache of CRM goods on the roof that include the Cipro that will cure everyone alive of the Plague and strike a blow against Virginia’s death-obsessed mandate.

Three cheers then for doing good deeds and selflessly caring for your “brother”, an uplifting ending to an emotional and highly satisfying episode which beautifully articulated how close Al and Dwight have become as family and how deeply they want to do the right thing but how even more than that they want to find again that connection they once had with someone special.

“Alaska” is a step up from the first two episodes – it also includes a touching opening scene with Morgan (Lennie James) and Rachel (Brigitte Kali Canales) and her new bub which is all kinds of heartwarming, hope-for-the-loveliness – bringing Fear the Walking Dead back to the resonant humanity that has always (mostly) been at its beating core.

Watching the closeness between Dwight and Al is a delight, seeing how close a bond they form with Nora reaffirms your faith in people, witnessing Al’s desperate need to reunite with Isabelle which sacrifices for the greater good (and Isabelle and Dwight’s good too, to be fair) rips your heart and then puts it back again alone makes this a standout piece of televisual storytelling.

What really takes it home in a BIG way is when a radio call comes in and Dwight realises, against all possible odds that it’s Sherry!

Cue a run down to the bottom of the building, a run along a lane and two minutes of rapturous, kiss-heavy reunification between husband and wife.

The apocalypse maybe a million kinds of awful but as “Alaska” demonstrates exquisitely and affectingly well, it also has it rare moments of bountiful love and joy, the kind that might not fix a broken world but make it a whole lot easier to live in, and keep helping others to live in too.

Staring thoughtfully – only advised when zombies (and rats as it turns out) are absent (image via SpoilerTV (c) AMC)

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