This review contains spoilers.
4.14 MM 54
There’s a lot to like about the Lou Diamond Phillips-directed MM 54. We finally learn more about Tonya Pinkins’s Filthy Woman, who is a former English teacher named Martha. We also learn more about what makes truckers Sarah and Wendell tick. We also bid farewell to a character whose death was arguably long overdue. More importantly, perhaps, is we get to see Morgan truly assume a leadership role, for better or worse. (Jim would likely argue “worse.”) With only two more episodes left this season, it’s good to see Fear The Walking Dead hitting so many right notes. It’s also great to see the group growing in number as the survivors slowly reconnect with each other. The end result is a strong ensemble episode that gives each character their time to shine—or to fail. In Wendell’s case, the former is certainly true.
Yes, it took a few episodes, but I’ve finally come around on Fear newbies Sarah and Wendell. (Jim, though, not so much, but that’s a moot point now.) The twins’ introduction in The Code set the latter half of the season down a less serious path, injecting humorous moments that often worked against the show’s dramatic momentum. This isn’t a knock against Mo Collins or Daryl Mitchell so much as it is against Fear’s writers, who often seemed to struggle with the sudden tonal shifts these characters brought to their scenes. In lesser hands, these blue-collar jesters might have been unbearable but Collins and Mitchell are likable actors who have a long list of comedic work between them. (Honestly, Stuart’s mom Doreen is one of my favorite MADtv characters.) In MM 54, writers Anna Fishko and Shintaro Shimosawa get to the heart of what makes Sarah and Wendell tick.
That Sarah was in the Marines certainly tracks with her no-nonsense, can-do attitude. She and Wendell may crack wise (“shit in a sandbox” is a real standout among many of their more colourful bon mots) but at the end of the day, when it comes to killing the dead, they take care of business. Especially Wendell, who’s this episode’s real standout. Seeing his pulley system for getting in and out of the truck’s cab is pretty great, but it’s how he deals with his totalled wheelchair that really brings Wendell into his own.
Unlike people like Jim (whose chief concern is apparently yeast cake), Wendell isn’t content to cower and let other people do all the dirty work. Indeed, Wendell isn’t defined by his wheelchair, even if Jim seeks to reduce him to a perceived liability. Such is the case with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. That she has a prosthetic arm isn’t just incidental to her character, it’s pretty much beside the point anyway. Major kudos to Fear’s writers for making Wendell such a major badass.
As for Martha, the more we learn about her, the less I think she works as Fear’s villain du jour. Maybe it’s her origin story, which is replete with the requisite pathos that constitutes the sort of turning point from which all super villains are seemingly born. This isn’t to sell Martha’s mourning of her husband short; rather, my issue is with how quickly and confidently she turns to a life of pure evil. (Plus, she’s quite pedantic—which is not the most likable trait even in the best of times.)
I realise her turn to the dark side is meant as a counterbalance to Morgan’s own origin story in The Walking Dead, in which Morgan loses his wife and son. Their deaths sent him spiraling off into madness. Were it not for Rick Grimes pulling him back from the abyss in the episode Clear, Morgan may very well have gone on to become someone more akin to Martha—a survivor who’s barely alive, a person hell-bent on watching the world burn.
This isn’t to say Morgan isn’t without his struggles. He’s uncomfortable being the group’s leader. He’s learning the hard way that a leader is forced to make difficult choices. But is it a leader’s responsibility to help those who won’t (not can’t) help themselves? Really, is it any wonder that it’s a crutch of all things that Jim gingerly sets atop the barricade that Morgan has erected at the hospital’s entrance?
I’m of two minds about Jim. He’s the kind of everyman that every good apocalypse story needs, functioning as the audience surrogate. But at the same time, the apocalypse isn’t the best venue for philosophical discussions concerning the merits of beer. Plus Jim is happy to throw Morgan to the wolves once again—or, in this case, to an encroaching zombie horde. This is pretty transparent manipulation on the writers’ part, making Jim especially unlikable just moments before handing down a death sentence by way of a zombie bite. I can’t say I’m sorry to see him go, but I’m surprised he’s not being sacrificed to the almighty season finale gods.
Meanwhile, Althea’s fate hangs in the balance. I have no doubt we’ll see her again, just as surely we’ll see John Dorie reunited with his hat.
As for Alicia, I appreciate her desire for something to turn out right, for something to be good. Hence her quest to bring Charlie to the beach, rather than find their friends. While she may have abandoned Morgan and company, her Galveston detour has led them to two more survivors, namely Strand and John. With only two episodes left, it’s only a matter of time—and a healthy bit of serendipity—before the entire group is reunited. Still, Fear The Walking Dead is definitely on the right path.
Hopefulness is the perfect carrot to dangle in front of its characters—and loyal viewers.
Read David’s review of the previous episode, Blackjack, here.