This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 4
Sensitive gunslinger John Dorie may wear his heart in his sleeve, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about him. That is, until this week’s “The Key.” Fear the Walking Dead’s sixth season continues to build momentum with another strong outing, though this episode stumbles just a little bit here and there. But most of “The Key” works, and works well, thanks in no small part to a solid, understated performance from Garret Dillahunt. Clearly, showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg know they have an extremely talented ensemble cast at their disposal, and so far this season they’ve been putting these actors through their paces. But in order to do that, characters must be allowed to breathe, to expand their roles through smaller moments that lead toward a bigger journey. Luckily, Dillahunt is up to the task.
Thanks to this season’s two-month time jump, we catch up with John after he’s settled in a bit at the Lawton settlement. He’s sporting a beard now, and has a whole little routine that calls to mind his time alone at his little cabin in the lake. This is a man who’s comfortable with solitude, but he always likes being useful. A former lawman, John is a natural fit for Ginny’s rangers, and it’s a role he takes seriously. Still, he pines for June (Jenna Elfman), to whom he’s been sneaking letters via Janis’ inter-settlement laundry service. These newlyweds were separated right after their wedding ceremony at Humbug’s Gulch and haven’t seen each other since.
It’s through one of these letters to June that we come to learn more about John. Without his bride, John’s thoughts have turned to his family, especially his father. It makes sense that John values his upbringing, fraught with troubles though it might have been. His father was a good man, and John wishes to be that same sort of man—trustworthy, levelheaded, and imbued with a sense of civic duty. Of course, his father wasn’t perfect, and this is something John has struggled with for a long time. John is a good man. A decent man. But decency has its own price, much the same way Strand’s amorality costs him so dearly.
While “The Key” may be a measured character study, it also unexpectedly becomes a police procedural when one of John’s fellow rangers turns up dead. Ginny is quick to assume Cameron’s death is an accident but John’s police instincts tell him not to let this go. He even tries to set up a crime scene, but Ginny isn’t having any of it. Cameron had a weakness for moonshine and he got tangled up in the perimeter fence behind his house because of it—end of story. Of course, viewers are trained to understand nothing is ever so cut and dry.
On paper, it makes sense to lean into John’s aptitude for detective work, but it isn’t quite a good fit for a show like Fear. I appreciate challenging genre norms, as this episode seeks to do, but the results can so often be mixed. In this case, maybe it’s because Cameron’s death is clearly the product of foul play that the whodunit aspect seems like an afterthought. “The Key” plays its hand too early, with all signs almost immediately pointing to Ginny as the culprit. Because of this, any twists and turns along the way fall a little flat—and stand out in contrast to Dillahunt’s earnest portrayal of a man struggling to do the right thing.
All of that being said, I do think knowing how duplicitous Ginny (Colby Minifie) can be ultimately serves this season’s bigger narrative. “The Key” pulls back the curtain to reveal an all-powerful Oz that’s anything but benign or benevolent. As John continues his investigation into Cameron’s death, we learn just how petty—and dangerous—Ginny can be. Why else would she speak ill of the dead before the body is even in the ground?
As Janis herself reminds John, she already ran afoul of Ginny once before after she and her brother escaped another settlement. Since then, Ginny has had it out for Janis in a big way. The fact that she and Cameron were lovers and were seeking to escape Lawton together is just one too many bees in Ginny’s bonnet. Which is why Janis is framed for Cameron’s murder and will be executed to set an example for the rest of the settlement.
This all speaks to the episode’s broader theme of doing what’s right for the greater good. While Ginny may appreciate all that John has done for Lawton, she nevertheless wants him to stop pulling at threads. “A place is only as safe as people feel it is,” she tells him. In other words, security is an illusion. But a former cop like John can’t abide such an odd compromise.
“Making people feel safe is good,” he agrees. “Actually making them safe, that’s better, yeah?” But in the end, for all his sleuthing and all his good intentions, he can’t stop Janis’s grisly execution. John could easily go public with the truth about Ginny, but to do so would upend whatever stability Lawton currently enjoys. And for his troubles, for compromising his morals to maintain the status quo, John is finally reunited with June. Which begs the question: Is John any better than a double-dealer like Strand?
Of course, Morgan turns up in “The Key,” this time accompanied by Emile’s bloodhound. The two of them are tracking Grace. Morgan still worries she might not recognize him anymore but all of this is temporarily forgotten when his car is rammed by the two men we saw in the season premiere. In addition to being part of this new “The End is the Beginning” cult, they’re also Emile’s associates. They’re not so much interested in Morgan as they are in the key he’s wearing around his neck.
I was surprised they were dispatched so quickly, but it’s just as well. With only four episodes left, Fear still has a lot of ground to cover. Fortunately, this is a journey worth taking.