This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 12
I’m just going to throw this out there: the second half of Fear the Walking Dead’s sixth season hasn’t been kind to moms. First, Virginia is killed off in “Things Left to Do” shortly after revealing to Dakota that she’s actually her mother, not her sister. And then, “In Dreams” spends most of its runtime selling the downbeat notion that Grace dies in labor. Instead, it’s her daughter Athena that doesn’t survive childbirth. Definitely not the best episode to air on Mother’s Day. (I realize this is not by design, but the episode is still a downer nevertheless.)
That being said, while “In Dreams” might deliver some interesting moments, overall it’s not one of Fear’s finest hours. Coming on the heels of a great episode like “The Holding,” this is a bit disappointing. Maybe my own disappointment stems from the fact that Grace has never been among my favorites. This has nothing to do with Karen David, who is a fine actor in her own right. It’s just that Grace has never felt like a fully-fledged character, instead existing more as motivation for Morgan to create a safe haven to raise her unborn child. When she finally gets something to do, when Grace finally shows some real agency, it all happens in a surreal, magenta-soaked dream state. What’s real? What isn’t? What is Grace’s subconscious trying to tell her, and why?
To answer any of these questions, we first need to understand what Fear is telling us, and why. The end result is a convoluted episode with converging storylines that almost cancel each other out. On one hand, Grace is afforded a look into the future, one in which Morgan’s settlement is thriving and her daughter Athena is now 16 years old. But it’s also a future in which Grace herself doesn’t exist, having died in childbirth.
And on the other hand, “In Dreams” also takes place in the real world. In the present, Grace and Morgan are waylaid by a roadside bomb as she’s about to go into labor. To make matters worse, Riley (Nick Stahl) and his goons are hunting them down. If I had to choose one of these stories as this episode’s focus, it would be this latter plot. After last week’s episode, there’s so much more I want to know about Teddy and his cult. Which makes this journey into Grace’s subconscious feel like more of a detour than an uninhibited character study.
If anything, I’d argue this episode affords valuable insights into the minds of showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who penned “In Dreams” along with Nazrin Choudhury. Chambliss and Goldberg have always approached Fear’s characters with an outsized optimism that doesn’t quite gel with the grim nature of the Walking Dead universe. (Take the misguided Good Samaritan storyline from last season, for example.) Personally, I find it interesting where they expect to find most of these characters in 16 years.
Morgan is alive and well, his hair now gone to white. Not only is his settlement thriving, he’s doing a great job raising Athena. His ax is still planted where he left it outside the walls, a testament to his peaceful utopia.
June (Jenna Elfman) is a doctor now, albeit a self-taught one. Charlie (played here by Mary Katherine Duhon) is her apprentice. June is still sporting John’s hat after all these years, which is bittersweet.
Daniel and Strand (Rubén Blades and Colman Domingo) squabble like an old married couple. That these two would remain close after everything they’ve endured together feels right to me. Who else would be willing to put up with them, if not each other?
Dwight and Sherry are together, too. They’re parents of two kids in this imagined future. Their son is named after John, which is another nice nod to Dorie. We also discover that Al has left to find Isabelle and that Alicia has started her own settlement in the ruins of Madison’s old stadium.
It’s this last development regarding Alicia that I find the most telling. While I respect that Chambliss and Goldberg see her following in her mother’s footsteps, we’re simply told about this, rather than it being shown to us. I realize this would have been one detour stacked upon another. It just reinforces the notion that Alicia is not central to Fear’s current or future visions of itself.
In any case, as much as I didn’t like this episode’s twist ending, I do appreciate that Chambliss and Goldberg would be willing to turn their own optimism on its head. Any clarity she might have gained while unconscious is for naught. Not only is poor Athena dead, but now Riley finally has what he wants—namely the key that Morgan wears around his neck.
While this real-world plot with Riley is the more successful of the episode’s two storylines, it still has its own problems. For instance, Morgan is quick to kill Riley’s sidekicks, yet he merely wounds Riley himself? Why? By the same token, why doesn’t Riley just kill Morgan and take the key? After causing so much trouble for each other, why would either character ever let the other one live? In Riley’s case, we already know Teddy wants to wipe out all life outside the Holding. If I had to guess, I assume Teddy’s plan involved wiping out all nonbelievers in one fell swoop. Even so, plot armor never really does a story any favors; it feels like a cheat because it is a cheat.
It’s worth noting that there are only four episodes left this season, so expect things to become even more fraught for Morgan and his crew. By the end of the season, I expect we’ll find out what “the cost of peace” really means for our survivors.