This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 2
Generally speaking, I tend to take a more philosophical approach to writing my reviews. Zombie shows in particular have a lot of meat on the bone in this regard, and offer a lot of food for thought. Puns aside, this week’s “Welcome to the Club,” directed by none other than Fear the Walking Dead’s own Lennie James, tackles the notion of identity-defining morality in an episode that’s filled with plenty of twists and turns. You can read more about James’s first time in the director’s chair in our interview with him here.
This may be James’s directorial debut, but he nonetheless delivers one of Fear’s strongest episodes. I certainly appreciated the old-school horror movie vibe he brought to this week’s morality play. And he gets strong performances from Rubén Blades and especially from Colman Domingo in particular. Which makes sense, given “Welcome to the Club” is really Strand’s story. Indeed, Nazrin Choudhury’s script posits that who we are versus who we want to be can seem like an insurmountable distance. As far as dramatic conceits go, this “conscience gap” is fertile ground when deconstructing someone as morally conflicted as Victor Strand.
As we soon find out, though, Strand’s gap is really more of a gaping chasm. He’s quick to point fingers at Alicia and Daniel for his moral deficiencies, but the blame is really his alone to bear, as it should be. But more on that in a bit.
In the meantime, “Welcome to the Club” busies itself with several unexpected reunions. As you’ll recall, Virginia arbitrarily split the bigger group up at the end of last season. Strand and Alicia wound up at the same settlement, pulling latrine duty since their arrival two months earlier. So imagine their surprise when they later discover Daniel cutting Virginia’s hair. What’s more surprising is that he has no recollection of Strand or Alicia. Naturally, his friends believe he’s putting on an act. How else to explain how a once-ruthless member of a Salvadoran death squad could be so easily intimidated by Virginia? He doesn’t seem to remember Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) either, even after she plays a bit of a Traveling Wilburys song he once taught to her.
In one of the episode’s better twists, and in another surprise reunion, this time between Daniel and Morgan, we discover his amnesia is nothing more than a clever ruse. Blades is great at portraying two very different states of mind, proving that Daniel is just as cunning as ever.
Strand hasn’t lost his edge either, when it comes to pulling the wool over people’s eyes. He would have Alicia believe he is a changed man, no longer capable of the selfish behavior that’s gotten people killed in the past. He’s trying hard to retain his identity, to honor Daniel’s parting words to remember who he is. This is interesting advice, given their acrimonious history. So I wonder if what Daniel really meant was for Strand to embrace his cowardly instinct for self-preservation. Luckily, Colman Domingo is at his best when he’s bringing out the worst in Strand.
Strand’s not the only coward in the group, however.
Enter Sanjay (Satya Nikhil Polisetti). He’s part of a bigger group of prisoners that now also includes Strand, Alicia, Charlie and Janis (Holly Curran), which is tasked with clearing out an old sugar warehouse. As we already know, this is way more difficult (and deadly) than it sounds. But when Strand and Alicia learn from Virginia’s younger sister Dakota (Zoe Colletti) that there’s a secret weapon stored in the derelict building, they decide to acquire the weapon for themselves.
That the weapon is housed in an old sugar warehouse is important, if only because we encounter molasses-infused zombies. Not only is the spilled molasses sticky, it means the undead now possess a sticky, inescapable death grip. There’s a B-movie schlockiness to this that’s fun without being too silly. The makeshift cattle chute the prisoners construct to corral the zombie horde is also a clever bit of fun. That is, until the walkers begin to overwhelm the jerry-rigged barriers. Two armed rangers are easily taken out by the horde while the prisoners manage to defend themselves with nothing more than spears.
But things go from bad to worse when Sanjay abandons his post at the gate. Strand tracks him down to the trailer where he’s hiding. There can only be one coward in the group—and in this case, it’s Strand. In a particularly dark turn of events, he sacrifices Sanjay to save everyone else. But by killing Sanjay, Strand is also surrendering any last traces of his humanity. In other words, he’s finally embracing his true nature. He doubles down on this later by lying about trying to save Sanjay, but this is vintage Strand. While his actions might be morally repugnant, I still much prefer this version of Strand to the watered down version we got last season.
In another neat twist, the secret weapon turns out to be a MacGuffin. By demonstrating his mettle and ingenuity in clearing out the warehouse, Strand has proven to be the very weapon Virginia was searching for all along. He even receives a key to the city for his troubles—which means his days of cleaning latrines are over.
Now that he’s able to call his own shots, Strand reassigns Alicia to another settlement, where she can no longer remind him of the decent person he might have been. He’s not comfortable being a sheep, even if only by outward appearances; Strand would rather be a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
My only quibble with the episode is that Alicia didn’t have more to do. Yes, I realize this was really more Strand’s story this week, and Debnam-Carey does well with what she’s given. But, in my mind, a day-one character and the last remaining member of the Clark family should be shouldering more of the story. Here’s to hoping Alicia’s best moments are still ahead of her this season.