SPOILERS AHEAD … AND WAY TOO MUCH MORGAN FOR ONE EPISODE …
“Morgan, it’s not me, it’s you – I think I should start seeing other characters.”
That, dear readers, is my imagined opening gambit in a conversation with good old Morgan (Lennie James), a character who whinged about being alone, who then whinged about being with Rick and the gang in The Walking Dead and who then whinged about being with just about everyone he met in Texas.
He’s like an apocalyptic Eeyore but with way less charm and charisma, a character who is no doubt supposed to be learned and thoughtful, who thinks about the Big Issues, but simply comes across as that person you don’t want to sit next to a work lunch.
You know the one – no matter what topic of conversation you bring up, they manage to find a negative angle so expansive in its whinging potential that you are left gasping in wonderment at their endless ability to complain while gnawing off your feet as you increasingly realise this is the only way you will ever escape this person’s presence.
Little wonder that in last week’s episode, when Morgan, unhappy despite everyone being super nice to him and goodhearted John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) even calling him a very good friend, let’s be Apocalyptic Facebook friends and send each other Christmas cards via a now non-existent mailing service, urged everyone from Victor (Colman Domingo) to Luciana (Danay Garcia) to Naomi/Laura/June (Jenna Elfman) to come with him back to Virginia because … honestly I don’t know why.
Normally, I have nothing but admiration for the writers of Fear the Walking Dead, who write with nuance, insight and understanding of the human condition in a way their parent show has never quite mailed.
But in “The Code”, it became increasingly apparent that they have no idea what to do with Morgan and honestly I don’t think it’s really their fault.
In fact, I would argue that that particular flawed character die was cast far earlier when Morgan was gifted, or really cursed, with the mantle of being the Wise Zen Master of the Apocalypse, the Thinker not the Doer, the Prognosticator not the Actor, the one who mused but didn’t do anything with it.
But has it maybe run its course as a narrative device?
I get it – you need a character who will act as the conscience of a show, the one who, especially in the Darwinian moral vacuum of the zombie apocalypse when humanity is on a whatever-it-takes free for all, asks people to think before they act, who urges constraint when others rush to bathe in the blood, real or metaphorical (usually the former) of their enemies.
But “The Code” exposed how little gas is left in this narrative engine.
Morgan repeatedly came across as annoyingly directionless, a man who, after he fell asleep in the back of a truck laden with supplies and woke up to find himself in Mississippi at a truck stop with power, water and lots of handy survivor consumables, decided he was going back to Texas to help his friends after just deciding he was leaving them behind to go to Rick et al.
Geez Morgan, make up your mind will ya?
Even more glaringly, the characters he met at the truck stop who turned out not to be the good Samaritans of “take what you need and leave what you don’t” cardboard variety but rather charlatans looking after their own self-interest – so basically pretty much everyone in the apocalypse bar much-missed Madison (Kim Dickens) – who left the real good guy by the side of the road way back in Texas, actually made way more sense than him and let’s be honest, were way more fun.
Now I know we’re not supposed to root for the bad guys, or the semi-bad guys, or the situationally-challenged flawed human people, but honestly next to Morgan’s indecisive nothingness, they came across looking and smelling pretty sweet.
Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), a wisecracking wheelchair-bound black man and his adopted sister Sarah (Mo Collins) initially playing the good cop routine to the hilt, offering up supplies to Morgan and sending him on his way in his very own new automobile.
When he pretends a bridge is washed out and goes back to meet up with them, encountering likeable but opportunistic micro-brewer Jim (Aaron Stanford) running from zombies on the way, the twosome show their true colours and even abandon him to be gobbled on by zombies with his hands bound.
Yet even then they come across as more reasonable and hallelujah more decisive than Morgan who can’t even decide to leap off the car on which he is sheltering from the zombie horde until well into the night where he somewhat magically spots a Swiss Army Knife lying on the ground. (By the way has anyone noticed that in the apocalypse, it’s always a full moon all the time, ALL THE TIME; the moon just as wacky as everyone else now the zombies are everywhere.)
Sure they leave him to his fate and drive off, all three of them, to go to Virginia in search of Rick and the Promised Land of New Beginnings – don’t do it guys, it’s not worth your time; stay right where you are! – but a few wise words of musing from Morgan and hey presto! Tehy’re born again Good Samaritans, dispensing boxes hither and yon and on their way back to … yup, TEXAS. (Honestly, it all happens way too easily, compromising Wendell, Sarah and Jim’s characters all of who are very anti-hero likable.)
See Morgan cannot work out what he wants to do; it’s gone beyond silly and is just plain annoying and impressive though Lennie James is as an actor, he isn’t being given much to work with at all.
Compare “The Code” – supposedly ‘We got a code and we keepin’ it alive,’ says Wendell. “You gotta help people when they need that help and then you gotta keep yo’ truck movin’…Keep on truckin’.’ – with last week’s taut, Alicia-centric episode “Close Your Eyes” which gave Alycia Debnam-Carey an amazing amount of beautifully-scripted material with which to work.
Lennie James alas is given nowhere that kind of substance on which to chew as an actor, forced to put up with a character who vacillates like its a national sport, moving from pillar to the post in some desperate attempt to set some kind of new personal best time for himself.
That lack of backbone in a character’s motivation doesn’t do much for Fear the Walking Dead either, which previously benefited from having an amazingly strong and nuanced lead character in Madison; she set the tone with her mix of decisiveness, compassion and vulnerability for the show which had the can-do action feel of The Walking Dead but enriched with a real, earthy, caring humanity.
By defaulting to Morgan, when it should really be Alicia, as the star of the show, Fear the Walking Dead risks losing everyone it built with Madison, taking a show that acknowledged the world was now a crueller and nastier place but that it was still possible to be decisively compassionate into that Darwinian bargain into one that isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be.
The lead character, for better or worse, and this applies to ensembles as much as any other, establishes the look and feel of the show and the writers need to fix the problem of Morgan before his fence-sitting takes everyone else down with it.
- Up next on Fear the Walking Dead in “Weak” …