This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 3
I have to say, we may only be three episodes in, but I’m really enjoying Fear the Walking Dead season 6 so far. Sure, maybe it’s the prolonged cabin fever talking—we are seven months into a pandemic, after all. Or maybe Fear the Walking Dead has finally hit its stride.
Before we really delve into this episode, though, I will say this: I haven’t given many 5-star ratings to Fear over the last five seasons I’ve reviewed the show, but “Alaska” is as close to perfect as you can get. So much of what makes this episode work is due to Colman Domingo’s solid direction and Mallory Westfall’s smart, heartfelt script. But in the end, strong performances from Austin Amelio, Maggie Grace, and newcomer Devyn Tyler carry the day. In short, “Alaska” is beautiful in so many unexpected ways, from little visual flourishes to small acts of kindness.
Domingo and Westfall bring newfound clarity to familiar characters, imbuing them with a kind of authenticity that makes us root for them in a way that was difficult with the Clark family. It’s not enough that Al and Dwight need to reunite with Isabelle or Sherry—we want them to succeed, to find happiness, to beat the odds. With the Clarks, they were so often responsible for what befell them. (Seriously, they were.)
In any case, “Alaska” presents a straightforward enough premise: a recon mission that eventually goes off the rails. Just like Strand and Alicia turning the tide to their advantage in last week’s “Welcome to the Club,” Al and Dwight find a way to exploit their ongoing recon of doomed encampments. Their latest mission leads them to a funeral home, and it’s here that the episode employs first-person video. Fortunately, the first-person shaky-cam is used sparingly here, and to great effect—unlike last season’s “Channel 5.”
But as I said, Domingo is quick to dispense with the bodycam recordings, allowing viewers to truly appreciate the moodiness of both Jalaludin Trautmann’s cinematography and Bernardo Trujillo’s production design. From the lighting to the set dressing to the way the characters move through these spaces, there is a palpable, pervasive dread that hangs over every bit of action and every line of dialogue. While Al and Dwight might be proficient zombie-killers, the real danger they face is the inescapable reality that they’ve surrendered their humanity one scavenged driver’s license at a time. Indeed, this macabre game of theirs—collecting licenses from all 50 states—is dehumanizing to the dead and living alike. People so seldom mourn the dead now, to the point that a funeral home is truly a relic of a bygone era. So whatever happiness there is to be had, even if it’s lighthearted banter over a couple of skunky beers, it’s done so with a nod to existing in a world with little time for empathy.
That is, until they meet Nora (Devyn Tyler). She’s been holed up in the same office building since the world ended. I appreciate the irony of a travel agent who hasn’t been outside in years. But more about her in just a bit.
In the meantime, the clock is ticking on Al’s ambush/reunion with Isabelle, who’s been using the roof of Nora’s building as a drop site to conduct Civic Republic Military business. As you might recall, this mysterious paramilitary organization has been popping up throughout The Walking Dead universe. Last season’s excellent “The End of Everything” not only introduced us to Isabelle, it also shed some light on thw CRM. But it wasn’t until the new Walking Dead spin-off series World Beyond that we finally discover how far-reaching and pernicious CRM really is.
It turns out there’s yet another mysterious group spreading trouble, though, as evidenced by the cryptic, spray-painted message THE END IS THE BEGINNING. We first saw this scrawled on a marooned submarine, and now it’s turned up in the lobby of Nora’s office building. The very same building that’s teeming with Bubonic plague.
Which brings us back to Nora, whose fellow survivors are infected with the aforementioned plague. Dwight wants to stay and help but Al cuts and runs. She knows Ginny will never waste valuable resources on a lost cause like this one. Nora refuses to let them off the hook, though. The infected are her family, which is why it pains her to watch them suffer. But it’s not until she’s forced to kill her reanimated coworkers that “Alaska” makes the most out of small gestures. Like Al returning the sought-after Alaska driver’s license to someone who will actually cherish it, as Nora does.
In the end, Al risked everything to reunite with Isabelle, but experiences a last-minute change of heart. Who would have thought that a shot of a helicopter hovering against the night sky could carry so much hope and heartbreak? Grace plays Al with so much uncharacteristic vulnerability in this scene, especially when she delivers one of the episode’s best lines. “It is good to hear your voice,” she says over the radio to Isabelle. “Because there aren’t many people left.”
If you were disappointed that Al and Isabelle remained apart, fear not, as “Alaska” is poised to tug one more time at viewers’ heartstrings. Like Dwight, I never thought he’d find Sherry (Christine Evangelista). And yet after months (or is it years?) of fruitless searching, she’s suddenly within running distance. One could argue this scene belongs in a rom-com, not a zombie drama. But I disagree. In this bleak world, their tearful, joyous reunion offers the kind of earned happiness that was often missing from earlier seasons. In other words, I loved every second of this scene.
Of course, Morgan shows up in “Alaska” too, in a brief yet effective prologue. Lennie James does a lot with little screen time, ruminating on what it means to start over, to become someone else in the aftermath of personal failures. “I feel like I’ve been 16 different somebodies since it all ended,” he confesses to Rachel (Brigitte Kali Canales).
Luckily for Morgan and for loyal viewers, this really is a whole new ballgame.