This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 9
Every now and then, a long-running show has a chance to reinvent itself, with varying degrees of success. Fear the Walking Dead looked to do this last season, by bringing in new showrunners and introducing new characters. Viewer response was mixed, with many Fear loyalists bemoaning the change in tone and a time jump that completely disregarded the previous three seasons.
This season, Fear has endeavored to present a kinder, gentler zombie apocalypse, which has meant leaning heavily into themes of altruism and redemption. Obviously this more optimistic approach isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I myself have expressed my doubts about the sustainability of such hopefulness. That the first half of Season 5 would have us believe random people could rebuild a plane flew in the face of reason, and strained the very idea of optimism to its breaking point. And yet, here we, nine episodes into the season, and Fear has once again managed to reinvent itself.
By shooting the entire episode as an on-the-fly documentary, “Channel 4” quickly establishes itself as a very different kind of episode in the Walking Dead canon. At times confessional and intimate, the low-fidelity video recordings lend the story an immediacy and verisimilitude that go a long way toward humanizing these seasoned survivors. Indeed, this is probably the most connected I’ve ever felt to the characters, who come across as genuine, even vulnerable at times. Seen through this particular lens, the group’s earnestness is both understandable and quite believable. Honestly, I could watch an entire season shot in this style. And kudos to Althea, whose insistence on documenting everything is finally bearing itself out.
“Channel 4” also details the various logistics that go into helping others. As their circle of influence grows, the group requires more trucks, more fuel, more time on the road—more of everything to keep the caravan rolling. Much of this isn’t glamorous work—and, really, nothing is glamorous about the zombie apocalypse. But doing the laundry and preparing meals are just as much a part of the group’s everyday reality as killing zombies. It’s very effective, this juxtaposition of domesticity and relentless carnage. The group’s laughter around the campfire is earned, a respite from the blood and gore.
What’s smartest about viewing the world through a video camera is the group’s conceit that the recording function as part PSA, part recruitment film. We’re here to help, and here’s why. To that end, any potential survivors watching the video will get to see an actual rescue mission unfold. The group walks into a literal minefield when they try to assist the reclusive Tess (Peggy Schott), whose husband Ben has died while scavenging for an inhaler for their son. These scenes at Tess’s home are exciting and tense, as invading zombies begin detonating mines buried all over Tess’s property.
There are moments when you truly feel like part of the action as debris and viscera rain down from the sky. The cameras’ mics even pick up the constant buzzing of flies, drawn to the fresh carrion littering Tess’s front lawn. Morgan has a close call with a mine, but there’s never really any doubt that he’ll escape unscathed. Even so, this minefield sequence feels fresh and new, putting us in the main characters’ shoes like never before.
But what makes “Channel 4” work is Fear’s continued dedication to helping those in need, and Tess is no exception. Not only does the group convince Tess to leave her home for the first time in two years, she joins the group’s makeshift outpost. In the end, everyone wins.
What’s most notable about the episode is the many moments of levity, from Daniel campaigning to cut Dwight’s hair to John Dorie’s hot take that caviar tastes like bait. Like bonding around the campfire, these humorous moments are earned, and the documentary-style filmmaking only heightens and brightens their camaraderie. Even Alicia has a chance to let her guard down, to appear vulnerable as she’s training with her new staff. Her awkward reaction to being recorded is my favorite moment of the episode.
Overall, “Channel 4” makes a strong case for the group’s more altruistic approach toward their fellow survivors. I did find it a bit odd that Logan (Matt Frewer) is so quickly dismissed as untrustworthy. This reassessment is glossed over. If they really don’t trust him, I want to know why. I also want to know what happened to Annie, Max, and Dylan, as they’re nowhere to be seen. Even a quick glimpse of them would have been nice, given how important their rescue was in the first half of the season. These are quibbles, though, and not deal-breakers. If anything, after a muddled first half of the season, “Channel 4” has renewed my faith in Fear. If this show has taught me anything, it’s that everyone is worthy of a second chance.