This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 15
This is the point in a TV show’s season where reviewers like me dust off the ten-dollar word “penultimate”—which is just a fancy way of saying “second to last.” But it’s true: this is the penultimate episode of Fear the Walking Dead’s season 5. Which makes it a little odd that Fear would introduce its new antagonists so close to the finale. And yet, here we are, contending not only with Ginny’s cosplaying horsemen of the apocalypse, but a retread of the midseason premiere’s recruitment video.
As you might recall, in my review of “Channel 4” I praised the documentary-style footage. I went so far as to say I’d gladly watch more episodes shot in this way, but “Channel 5” has me eating those words. What worked in the midseason premiere isn’t working a second time. Maybe it’s because the group’s follow-up video is meant as a counterpoint to Ginny’s video, which itself is a response to our group’s first video—turning the whole thing into a kind of echo chamber. This is especially silly when you consider how few survivors the two groups are competing for. This limited audience is further winnowed down when you factor in how much happenstance is involved in anyone stumbling across these videos in the first place. Which makes Althea’s dramatic destruction of a working TV all the more egregious.
But I digress.
Ginny’s video positions her key-bearing settlers as a helpful, forward-thinking group. On paper, her agenda is not unlike Morgan and Alicia’s—namely, to help fellow survivors. But as we know, their mission statement differs significantly in its scope and especially in its execution. Ginny’s is not some small-time, penny ante operation. She’s thinking much bigger picture—helping entire settlements on a scale that our band of do-gooders is presently incapable of doing. But there’s more than a hint of menace to her method, which calls for weeding out those who are incapable of contributing to the greater good. Plus, as we saw what happened to Logan and his crew in “Leave What You Don’t,” Ginny’s definition of usefulness is rather fluid indeed. In other words, partnering with her is akin to signing a deal with the devil.
Our band of do-gooders is in need of a good adversary, but to my previous point, I find it odd that Fear would debut a new, more substantial threat so close to the end of the season. This is especially when you consider how inconsequential Fear’s villains tend to be. The Vultures and The Filthy Woman can’t hold a candle to The Walking Dead’s most memorable antagonists, like the Governor. Thinking back on Fear’s rogues’ gallery, it’s slim pickings: Connor, Celia, and Alejandro are all Season 2 antagonists—but do their names immediately ring a bell? Jeremiah and Troy Otto are probably Fear’s best of the worst, but that was all the way back in Season 3.
Again, I digress—mostly because “Channel 5” doesn’t have a lot of meat on its bones. Maybe it’s because this hour borrows too heavily from “Channel 4,” lending the episode an unintentional air of “been there, done that.” Worse, this joyless one-upmanship between Althea and Ginny’s dueling videos gets old pretty fast. Plus we get it: Let’s root for the home team. Root for Team Morgan.
Pervasive déjà vu aside, when it comes to Morgan and Grace, the documentary approach also gives the episode a disquieting sense of voyeurism. Consider how private Morgan is, and how uncomfortable he must be having a camera shoved in his face as he tries to express his true feelings for Grace. This has been a bumpy road for Morgan, this stilted courtship, and Althea is doing him no favors by recording it. Of course, this delayed gratification is likely a set up so Morgan can bare his soul in the season finale—all for the sake of maximum emotional impact. I know, I know, I’m being a bit cynical about this particular storyline, but Fear hasn’t handled the Morgan/Grace thread with the kind of care it deserves.
Season 5 has also given short shrift to John and June, the closest thing Fear has to a bona fide romance. Garret Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman’s chemistry turned last season’s “Laura” into one of the show’s best episodes, hands down. Since then, however, subsequent scenes between the two have failed to capture the simplicity and purity of their unexpected courtship.
Luckily, “Channel 5” marks a return to that previous sweetness. I love that John and June conspire to get married once they reach Humbug’s Gulch. After all this time, after everything they’ve endured—after so much bloodshed—we should want this kind of contentment for them. Seen through the lens of impending matrimony, I think Morgan has it right: Everyday happiness is good for the group’s collective soul.
These feel-good moments get lost in the shuffle of an episode that gets bogged down by its own narrative devices. The broken bridge is a heavy-handed metaphor for what Humbug’s Gulch has in store for our intrepid survivors. After leaving their vehicles behind and trekking 15 miles to Shelby (most of it on foot; how Grace is able to do this can’t be justified by hydrating), there’s one last hurdle the caravan must overcome. Discovering that the Gulch is overrun by a zombie horde, our exhausted, demoralized group is forced to swallow their pride and reach out to the very person who’s eagerly standing by to utter a devastating “I told you so.”
Whether this will make for a satisfying finale remains to be seen. After such a meandering, uneven season, I suppose reaching the end of the journey is an accomplishment unto itself.