SPOILERS AHEAD … GOODBYES TO A FRIEND AND AN ENEMY AND THE MOST UNDEAD AUTO SERVICE YOU’VE EVER SEEN …
One of the great hallmarks of Fear the Walking Dead from the very beginning has been its willingness to explore the horrific toll that something as cataclysmically devastating as the zombie apocalypse would have on a person at a deeply, intimately personal level.
While its parent show, The Walking Dead, was largely happy to stick to big battle scenes and fanboy viciousness, though it did of course have its more emotionally searing moments, Fear has resolutely stuck with few exceptions to go in deep and letting us know see existential pain and sorrow on a movingly intense micro level.
The first two episodes of season 6b, “The Door” and “Things Left To Do”, are emblematic in the most affecting of ways of this approach with the show’s audience having to say goodbye to a much-loved character and farewell to a big bad who proved to be a whole lot more vulnerable than you would think by the end of her monstrously broken journey.
It is wrenching on a thousand different levels, and where The Walking Dead can sometimes feel more performative in its grief than jarringly real, Fear, in these two episodes, makes us feel every moment of the two losses that take place over ninety minutes of apocalyptic drama.
The moment when June (Jenna Elfman) stumbles into the river outside her husband’s cabin to tend to what she is hoping and praying is a wounded man and not reanimated corpse and discover John has died from the gunshot inflicted by Dakota (Zoe Colletti) on the bridge upstream, is one of the most desperately sad scenes you will ever see.
As the scene slows right down, we witness an undead John reaching instinctively for the fresh flesh of his wife (not that he sees her that way anymore sadly) and June just kneeling there in abject grief, consumed by the terrible trauma of losing the love of her life and the one person who had made her feel as if life in this brutal world night have some meaning, hope and purpose after all.
Rather than rushing this profound moment of grief, the camera lingers as June slowly pulls a knife from her halter and plunges it mercifully into John’s snarling head, applying as much love and tenderness as you can when death is quite literally chomping at you.
By letting us know sheer in the real time enormity of this grief, and by also taking the time to show us why a traumatised Dakota would do this to someone she ostensibly cared for, Fear gave a us darkly human face to the loss and grief that is an every day part of life in the zombie apocalypse.
While we do get the obligatory scene of a sea of the undead trying to subsume Dakota, John and an ailing but healing Morgan (Lennie James) as they try to drive over the bridge and kill off the herd, the focus is quite firmly on June’s swirling, hope obliterating grief which is realised more fully when we see her tenderly burying her husband.
Vengeance is touched upon as she picks up John’s gun and clearly contemplates exacting revenge on a nearby Virginia (Colby Minifie) but with the gun quickly removed from her grasp by a loyal Ranger, June returns to showing her husband the kind of love and tenderness that breaks your heart because you know this is the last time June will ever get to express it.
But being Fear the emphasis on the human cost of the end of the world doesn’t just begin with John’s death and June’s mourning.
“The Door” is devoted for the most part to John’s on and off decision to kill himself; while he has fought hard every step of the way to stay alive in a world inimically opposed to it, he is on the verge of giving up, his need for justice rendered cruelly inert by Virginia, his need for love lost to June’s decision to stay at Lawton and his hope surrendered to the idea that there is nothing left to live for anymore.
It is sensitively, beautifully handled, with John’s every attempt to end his life stymied, rather ironically, by the undead stumbling from the river, triggering an almost automatic reaction to kill them with a well-placed shot and leaving the gun empty once again.
John’s discovery of Morgan and Dakota in a suspiciously well-stocked store in the nearby town does bring outside influences back into play for this most interior and final of self conversations, with Morgan desperately trying to convince his close friend to hang in there and hold true to the lofty values that have sustained him this far.
It looks John has been persuaded to stay alive, at least, though he refuses to join Morgan and Dakota at the new sanctuary about 40 miles away, but then Dakota ends that with a gunshot that snuffs in the cruelest possible way John’s new found decision to stay alive and see what good he can bring to a world greatly in need of it.
Just how in need of some goodness is the broken, undead world around him?
I give Exhibit A through Z – Dakota.
Ostensibly Dakota is the victim in this equation, having run away from Virginia, her tormentor or protector, depending on whose spinning the tale, and seeking sanctuary with Morgan and the gang who are increasingly being brought back together.
But when she shoots John, who is pleading with her to leave him alive, she becomes both monster and victim, with Morgan deciding to take her back to the new compound, where people like Luciana (Danay Garcia), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Al (Maggie Grace), and lock her up, not so much to protect her but to keep her alive so he can get back a heavily pregnant Grace (Karen David) and Daniel (Rubén Blades) who are being held as hostages by Virginia.
It is less an act of compassion than necessity with whatever goodwill Dakota had accrued lost, likely forever, when she killed John and destroyed not just one life but many.
John’s death at Dakota’s hand showed how the trauma of the apocalypse doesn’t just manifest in physical ways but also in emotional brokenness that is so profound that Virginia’s daughter – yep, one of the big reveals was that she’s Virginia’s daughter, not sister, a revelation that came with some serious admission about past life trauma by Lawton’s leader -sees the only way out is to kill people.
Yes, that is bleak, and while you could shout from the rooftops that vengeful violence isn’t a productive response – just have a look at The Walking Dead to see how pointless that particular approach is – that doesn’t stop Dakota, and later June, who takes Virginia’s life, from seeing if it will grant them any satisfaction.
In two masterfully written and powerfully acted episodes that brought our Fear family back together again after Virginia’s tactical scattering of the troop, we are given a deeply affecting portrayal of the damage that apocalyptic events wreak on the human psyche but also too how different people react to horrific events, some with compassion and hope, others with controlling anger and murderous rage. (Or if you’re Victor Strand, played by Colman Domingo, with self-serving ethical and moral malleability.)
In an upside world where all the old certainties have been swept away, Fear shows us that one thing remains and that is the power of loving and belonging, a wholly positive thing that sadly also comes with its share of sadness, loss, pain and regret, sadly often at the hands of those who have chosen to meet trauma with vengeful violence and left us all the poorer for that.
Coming up next … “Handle With Care” and “The Holding” …