Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1 Episode 6
“The Good Man”
The theme is Family – blood or bond – a group of disparate people coming together in Los Angeles to overcome adversity, willing to do whatever it takes to protect one another. You’d be forgiven for thinking we were talking about The Fast and the Furious, and in truth, Dominic Toretto would be proud of the fierce familial loyalty on show in Fear the Walking Dead’s sixth and final episode of its debut season.
When life and limb are on the line, the characters of Fear are at their best when throwing caution to the wind in order to aid family members. At the very beginning of the season we were presented with a typical ‘blended’ family – Travis and Madison, and their kids from previous marriages. The most trouble they had to deal with was ensuring Chris, Travis’ son, never felt second best to Travis’ new family, and of course the usual stresses of interactions with the ex-wife, Liza.
Ensuing events have forced everyone to reconsider their relationships. Madison’s daughter Alicia and Chris have grown close, bonding over their experiences of the early days of the zombie outbreak. Madison and Liza have found respect for one another, appreciating their connection as mothers attempting to keep their children safe in uncertain times. Travis offered the Salazars sanctuary to repay their earlier kindness.
The uneasy alliances forged in the first few episodes of the season have grown stronger, and we’re able to see that the group are beginning to consider themselves as such, instead of the loosely associated and distinct family units they were before. If they’re to survive they’ll need to continue down this path of togetherness.
Last week we learned about Daniel’s involvement in violent political upheaval in El Salvador. He kept this secret from his daughter Ofelia, allowing her to grow up without having to carry its emotional burden. This continues the theme of parents doing whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of their kids – Daniel managed to escape his homeland with his family, and was then willing to lie to his daughter as a form of protection from the harsh truth that afforded her a new life in America.
The group’s aim this episode is to rescue Nick, Griselda and Liza from the military base – and to do so, they decide to use the zombie horde we last saw trapped inside the stadium as a distraction. This is a risky ploy, and unfortunately we never get to see the decision to unleash the deadly wave of undead being made. As desperate as the protagonists are to be reunited with their loved ones, you’d think they’d at least have one or two reservations about their ultimate course of action. Maybe we’re supposed to accept that as the Cobalt order has been passed, and L.A. and its citizens are to be abandoned by the army, the heartless agents of the order deserve to be sacrificed to the horde, however the army are unlikely to be the only people affected by our protagonists’ actions and so it’s difficult to fully embrace the plan. Indeed, they never stop to consider that they may be condemning the whole city, if not country (or even continent). It’s only after the distraction has been deployed that Madison worries if they’ll even make it out of the base, past the zombies.
The release of the zombies from the arena is comparable to the release of pressure that’s been building throughout the season. We’ve had relatively few encounters with the undead so far, but here the action, along with the blood and gore, flows thick and fast as the army is quickly overwhelmed. The change in tempo as chaos engulfs the installation is greatly appreciated, and is nicely punctuated by moments of calm, as we cut to the infirmary, where the medics calmly carry out their duties. Unfortunately, we never find out what happens to Dr Exner (Sandrine Holt) – last seen alone in the ward – she’s been a morally ambiguous character that deserves to be more than a loose end. Maybe she’ll turn up further down the line, but this seems a little like short shrift for now.
In the course of our protagonists’ escape, there’s a nice claustrophobic action scene as the group is ambushed by zombies in the kitchen area. The camera is trained uncomfortably closely on the actors’ faces, emphasising the confined space, and the proximity of the danger. Here any utensil or tool within arm’s reach becomes a weapon, and the group fight desperately to save one another from the champing teeth of the zombies.
Managing to maintain his cool throughout the chaos is Strand – introduced last week, we only find out a little more about this character. He’s mysterious and intriguing – prepared for the coming apocalypse with a plan in mind for the worst. At one point during the flight from the base, Strand calmly reclaims his cufflinks from a dying soldier and coldly refuses to end the man’s suffering. After he and Nick are saved by the group, Strand offers them refuge and informs them of his intentions to head west to the ocean aboard his boat. (When we eventually get sight of the vessel, courtesy of Nick’s view through a telescope, it looks suspiciously CGI’d, bobbing up and down a little too digitally on the blue screen of the sea.) This all seems too good to be true, and it’s tough not to assume that he has ulterior motives. Taking a whole group of people under his wing would be incredibly altruistic, and would quickly consume his supplies. Perhaps he’s analysing the group, with a view to recruiting only those he deems useful, as he did with Nick. Appearing dapper and composed at almost every turn, Strand offers Nick some advice: “The only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness” – and despite not outwardly exhibiting insanity, it’s possible that Strand will reveal sooner or later exactly how he intends to embrace it. He’s definitely one to watch, and presents one of the more compelling cases for following the series into season two.
The scale of the disaster hits home in this episode and the shots of the stricken city help to confirm this. The opening montage is particularly striking, as the camera pans over entirely darkened buildings, the only light provided by fires raging here and there. It’s an incongruous sight, resulting in the cluster of skyscrapers in downtown L.A. resembling a rocky desert outcrop.
As our protagonists head for the coast we’re treated to another view of the landscape, this time in the bright Californian sunshine – the skyline in the distance reminiscent of abandoned Atlanta in The Walking Dead. The vast expanse of the ocean holds hope, but also uncertainty for the group, as they head towards a life beyond buildings and structure.
The last twist concerns one member of the group revealing that they have been bitten, and thus infected, in the escape from the military base. The unenviable task of providing a merciful end falls to another of our protagonists, and the fallout of this action is sure to drive much of the early drama of the second season. How much season two will resemble the parent show is still up in the air, as we’ve reached the inevitable conclusion – zombies are on the loose in massive scale, the army has been overwhelmed and our group of survivors has bonded together to attempt to escape the terror.
By necessity, family has been redefined. Whom you’re willing to protect and who will be protecting you is all important. In order to survive, our protagonists must realise this – but there will be repercussions, accusations and recriminations in the near future. Once they’ve sorted that out, they can start worrying about that zombie horde they unleashed.
The action ramps up as the zombies we should be fearing are finally set loose upon Los Angeles. The set pieces are well executed and the tension is palpable. The shots of LA in disarray are striking and set the scene well.
It’s debatable if our group are responsible for the downfall of an entire society, but for them, saving family members was clearly the more important issue.
Strand continues to mystify, but in a very fascinating way – he’s so well informed that you wouldn’t be surprised to see a box-set of The Walking Dead on a shelf in his coastal mansion. Nonetheless, he’s so intriguingly portrayed by Colman Domingo that we just want to know more.
The final action of the episode nicely sets up potential turmoil for the outset of the second season. After banding together to make it this far, will the group be fragmented by decisions made here?
All things considered, this episode hits the mark as a season finale. The short season can be split into defined segments, and was plagued more by pacing issues than zombies, but the action here was a payoff for the tension that was built up (if somewhat unevenly) over the preceding five episodes.