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

(image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)



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” …




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