This Fear The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear The Walking Dead Season 4 Episode 5
Based on previews alone, I wasn’t excited about “Laura,” which is a flashback episode in a season already full of time jumps. This is also a bottle episode, which can yield mixed results on any series. That “Laura” begins with a singing bass alarm clock also gave me serious pause.
All of that being said, who would have thought that this would wind up being Fear the Walking Dead‘s strongest outing to date? I do have minor quibbles, which I’ll get into in a bit, but this is definitely my favorite episode of the series so far.
So, yes, in a season that spends so much time looking back, yet another flashback may seem as superfluous as an appendix. But it’s not. What we get in Anna Fishko’s wonderful script is a very measured character study that would work just as well on the stage as it does on the small screen. As much as I love the way Garret Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman breathe life into their roles, Dillahunt is the true heart of this episode.
In this flashback, John Dorie behaves like he’s in the early days of retirement rather than living out his days in the zombie apocalypse. Quiet meals alone. Solitary games of scrabble. Enjoying a cup of instant coffee on the porch. It would be a good life, if not for the end of the world.
Or maybe it’s all the same to John.
He’s enjoying a good life simply because he holds goodness within his heart. As we’ll learn later, he’s moral, without being judgmental or sanctimonious. John’s decent for decency’s sake. It’s just how he’s made. But he’s not without his flaws. He came to the apocalypse a broken person, his heart burdened by a fatal mistake.
His life is upended by an unexpected visitor who washes up outside his lonely cabin. We know her as Naomi, but John takes to calling her Laura. Naomi and John are very different people, the sorts who may have never crossed paths, were it not for such unlikely circumstances. Elfman is by turns distrustful and reserved. As a result, when measured against John, she comes across as unlikable. She ransacks his home, tries to steal his car. Clearly, she is running from something, but what? Who attacked her?
For many in this world, wariness is a default setting; someone as guileless as John Dorie is the exception to the rule. So it’s understandable that Naomi can’t decide if he’s truly good or too good to be true. Slowly, very slowly, he draws her into his quiet, simple ways.
The real turning point in their courtship (because that’s what we’re seeing unfold, a budding romance) is a supply run to the local general store. That John hasn’t picked the store shelves clean is a testament to his selflessness. He takes only what he needs when he needs it. He doesn’t hoard. He even logs in the rental VHS tapes he borrows. He recognizes the honor system, even when there’s nothing left to honor.
Like so much of this episode, “Laura” asks viewers to linger on small details. The minimalist reviews of the movies John borrows speak well to the person he is. His take on The Green Mile is that it’s “Too long”—a funny observation, given that John has nothing BUT time now that the world has ended.
What’s most interesting about John, though, is his reluctance to use his revolvers. “[Guns] cause more problems than they solve,” he tells Naomi. “Bullets just attract more of the passed, from my experience.” It’s easy to mistake passed for past, as both interpretations are relevant to who John is now.
In trying to stop a robbery, he accidentally kills the suspect. He’s nonetheless hailed as a hero. It’s these very accolades (undeserved in his opinion) that drive John into isolation. Heroism is in the eye of the beholder.
As for their courtship, it involves movie nights, fishing together, and games of scrabble. In essence, the happiness they share is uncomplicated and unhurried. Yet as much as John wants her to stay, Naomi is just as keen on leaving. Which is why John’s honesty in the face of heartbreak is so meaningful, and yes, romantic.
“If you’re alive,” he tells her, “this whole world feels alive.”
He is willing to sacrifice his own home just to know she is somewhere safe. This is a big moment for the episode and an even bigger moment for the series as a whole. This is hope, real, genuine, writ large against a backdrop of death and despair.
Naomi can’t fight the impulse to leave, though. Her parting words to John are spelled out in Scrabble tiles: I love you too. I’m sorry. Indeed, John still carries these tiles with him. Which brings us back to what constitutes the present day in Fear. John and Morgan sit on the side of the road, two pacifists in a world that’s now built for violence. But Morgan remains optimistic.
“We’re alive,” he tells John. “We are part of the world.”
Indeed they are. But being part of this zombie-infested world means continually putting your life on the line.
As for my quibbles, they are relatively minor. I would have preferred if the dead remained more of an existential threat in this episode rather than an immediate one. What makes “Laura” such a standout is its more quiet, introspective nature. If anything, the zombies are more of a distraction when they do turn up, especially in greater numbers.
I have a more general quibble with this season’s disjointed timeline. In watching “Laura,” I wished this episode might have come a week or two earlier, especially since some of what we learn about Naomi in this hour is already revealed in “Buried.”
Now that John and Morgan have been drawn into this vendetta against the Vultures, I hope they don’t pay for it with their lives. Morgan is likely safe, being the big crossover character from The Walking Dead. I hope John Dorie is spared, too—because Fear needs more people like him to root for. Good people don’t usually fare well in this universe. Let’s hope John bucks the trend. Only then can this cruel world truly rebuild itself.