This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 4
There’s a lot to like about “Skidmark,” which is ostensibly a typical day in the life of Rubén Blades’s Daniel Salazar—or at least a typical day for someone navigating the vagaries of life in the post-apocalypse. There’s the usual foraging for supplies of course. You’d figure that food and other goods would be hard to come by, several years after society’s messy implosion. But Daniel has always proven to be very resourceful—and ruthless—as circumstances warrant. You could almost say violence is Daniel’s métier, as it were. There’s something very satisfying about his efficient exploitation of this ruined world. Unlike Morgan and Alicia, whose lives are often endangered by their outsized altruism, Daniel takes more than he needs, hoarding it all in a huge, well-protected warehouse. There, he finds pleasure in the company of his tabby cat, Skidmark, and in listening to the blues. He’s also quite good at killing walkers, of which there’s no shortage.
In any case, a Good Samaritan Daniel is not…until he needs to be. But more on his change of heart in a bit.
In the meantime, Blades’s quiet, measured performance aside, there’s a lot I didn’t like about “Skidmark,” but this has more to do with Netflix’s zombie series Black Summer. Like Fear the Walking Dead’s first season, Summer is also set in the very early days of the zombie apocalypse. To that end, Summer amps up the panic and paranoia in a way that Fear never quite did after its first few episodes.
Perhaps what’s most notable about Summer is that almost every episode involves way more running than you’d expect in a show of its kind. Indeed, its survivors are constantly on the run, in both the figurative and literal sense—always trying desperately to stay one step ahead of fast, feral zombies. There’s no time for monologues, or moral handwringing. In Summer’s world, there’s no fight—only flight. And this leads to some pretty tense and exhilarating moments.
Which brings us back to my problems with “Skidmark” (and with Fear in general). In a post-Black Summer-world, the slow-moving walkers that populate The Walking Dead’s extended universe simply don’t seem all that threatening anymore. And I realize fast zombies aren’t anything new—Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead immediately comes to mind (and it’s just one example among many). Just like Daniel Salazar, Black Summer is efficient and ruthless.
There’s a point late in “Skidmark” when Max and Annie are suddenly confronted by a small group of walkers. Even though Annie somehow rolls her ankle, the kids are in no danger as long as they keep moving. Honestly, it’s almost laughably easy to stay ahead of these slow-moving walkers. And yet, Max and Annie still find themselves in harm’s way—that is, until the first of two cavalries ride in. Morgan and Alicia arrive first, then the kids’ armed compatriots, who are themselves just children.
At another point in the episode, as Daniel and Alexa Nisenson’s Charlie prepare to plunder a convenience store, a group of walkers suddenly drives the pair off—and I mean that literally. Daniel and Charlie hop into a SUV and slowly drive off with the intention of leading the small horde back to the warehouse where they can more easily be picked off.
While any sane person would simply leave these corpses in the dust, Fear’s writers would have you believe that Daniel doesn’t want these walkers to become someone else’s problem. Which seems quite magnanimous of him until you remember he’s sitting on an inventory that rivals what was once stockpiled beneath the Otto clan’s Broke Jaw Ranch.
Fear would also have you believe that Daniel’s willingness to protect Charlie from Strand would trump his better instincts for self-preservation. As I mentioned in my review of “Humbug’s Gulch,” these sudden changes of heart feed this season’s overarching need to redeem the irredeemable. Whether it’s Morgan or Alicia or Dwight or now Daniel, Fear is portraying these hard-bitten survivors (and killers—let’s not forget that) as Grinches whose hearts grow three times their size.
Even little, duplicitous Dylan isn’t beyond redemption. He’s still intent on misleading his would-be rescuers but is nevertheless intrigued by The Little Prince. Luciana recognizes his curiosity as a teachable moment. It’s enough to get through to Dylan, whose concern for Max and Annie outweighs his desire to continue lying.
What works best in “Skidmark” isn’t the way Strand uses a two-engine plane’s propellers to puree a few dozen walkers. No, the episode’s high point is much simpler, and quieter, than all of that.
As it turns out, Daniel is still heartbroken that he couldn’t find his daughter Ofelia before she turned, back in season 3. Were it not for Strand’s lies, Daniel would have gotten the closure he so desperately needs. This is a nice callback, one that honors what Fear once was under former showrunner Dave Erickson.
Daniel isn’t the only one to revisit a painful past. It’s easy to forget how little Morgan’s new friends actually know about him. He largely keeps details about his life back east tightly under wraps. This is especially true regarding his time before meeting up with Rick in Alexandria. To speak the names of his late wife and his son, it’s obvious the difficult toll this exacts from Morgan. But he understands that in order to be more in the moment, one must learn to let go of the past.
Black Summer may be long on action and thrills, but it comes up short in developing its characters. It’s in this small but important way that Fear ultimately succeeds—but only just.