- 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,
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.
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” …