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Fear the Walking Dead - The Code - Review: "Keep on Trucking"

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This week's episode was directed by Tara Nicole Weyr, who most recently took that chair on two of Lucifer season 3's strongest outings: "The Angel of San Bernardino" and "All About Her". It was written by Alex Delyle and co-showrunner Andrew Chambliss. To the surprise of no one treating themselves to this season, it's another great episode.

Before we get into the good stuff, let us address that ending note. A probably unhinged woman has been eavesdropping on radio chatter. She keeps a walker in her makeshift office and writes on its face. She's going to Texas and will encounter our characters at some point this season. I am slightly irritated. We haven't seen hardly anything about this villain, but she feels like something The Walking Dead would do. Fear this season has elevated itself into a much more thoughtful and moving vehicle. My gut reaction to this cartoonish crazy is disappointment that the show is stooping like this. But maybe I'm overreacting prematurely. We shall find out.

The episode focuses on Morgan, as karma comes for him in mysterious ways. He leaves Alicia as we saw in the midseason premiere and takes shelter in a semi he finds parked. It's full of the "Take What You Need. Leave What You Don't" boxes. Morgan snacks on one of his beloved peanut butter bars, dozing off afterwards. He wakes up in Mississippi at a gas station. There doesn't seem to be anyone around. Inside there are no walkers but more food, radios, running water, and power. A voice on the radio asks if "Polar Bear" is there. When Morgan identifies himself, a woman tells him to take what he needs. Morgan makes himself comfortable in the bathroom with a magazine and is promptly interrupted. The newcomer Wendell (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell) gazes at him curiously. It's as good a time as any to ask one of life's big questions.
"All my life people like you been using stalls meant for people like me. Why?"
"I'm going to be honest. It always seemed like a little apartment." (This is so true.)

Wendell is there with his "twin sister" Sarah (Mo Collins). Morgan is happy to meet such cool people and asks them why they do what they do. Sarah coughs something about having "a code" and that they did this before and now they just "keep on trucking". They couldn't be lying any more obviously if they were elected officials. But they load up a car for Morgan, who expresses a desire to go back to Texas for his friends. There's one bridge that might still be standing they tell him. He mentions the place back East to them. They don't seem interested. We will find out eventually they stole this truck. But something about this duo keeps me from categorizing them as "deplorable". Their bond to each other seems sincere enough to provide some truth to the sibling narrative. The fact they stuck together and survived this long says something about their fortitude. And both Collins and Mitchell present their characters without even a note of sinister edge.

Morgan gets to the bridge but decides not to go back to Texas. He calls Sarah and Wendell on the radio and asks them to give him a lift back to Alexandria. Morgan's decision here to abandon the crew back in Texas is sad but it's not one I can condemn. The odds of him even finding them were slim. The people back in Alexandria he has a bigger responsibility and connection to. But there are consequences.

The first consequence isn't so bad. In fact, it's great for us as viewers. He helps a person in distress, and that person is Jim. And Jim is played by Aaron Stanford. And Jim, played by Aaron Stanford, is a very passionate brewer. This couldn't be more entertaining. Jim's mission in life is to play his part in rebuilding civilization by providing it with "the goddamn staff of life". He gives a monologue on the value of beer that is at once utterly hilarious but also uplifting and even smolders while doing so.
There's a hitch though. Turns out Jim was attacked at his brewery by none other than Sarah and Wendell. They made off with his brewery supplies. And they quickly recapture him and Morgan. The real truck driver...they left him back at one of the mile markers.
"We weren't assholes about it. We left him the box." Wendell provides this clarification. And God bless Mitchell for delivering that line without so much as a lip twitch.

Conflict brews, as Jim is willing to bargain with Sarah and Wendell. Morgan is not. He won't give them directions to Alexandria. He changes his tune when Jim accidentally knocks him down a hill, and a crowd of walkers come sauntering over. Morgan manages to get on top of a car. But the others won't come to his rescue. Not even after he gives the directions. Morgan begs them to not leave him, to not walk away. But Sarah drops a bit of her "who cares" attitude and gets serious.
"You did. The bridge we knew it wasn't out. You said you were going to help your friends, but I guess we're not the only ones pretending to be something we're not."

They do leave. They don't come back. Not even after Morgan pours his heart into the radio, saying that he was a coward for not going back to Texas. But an old ruined "Take What You Need" box nearby contains a pocket knife, and Morgan is able to escape. Back to the bridge. The semi is parked there. Sarah and Wendell figured out he fibbed about the directions. Morgan has the power back now. He says he'll take them to Virginia, but first they're going to pick up some people and make some stops along the way. A montage shows the trip back, with stops at each mile marker ending in 4 to leave a box. Morgan reaches out to the truck driver, wherever they are, to let them know that their boxes mattered. That they helped. That they have the truck and are coming back to get them.
"We're bringing it back to you."

No I don't think the show needs a big villain figure when it's doing so well without one. Here in just this episode we had Morgan recognizing one of his demons by being left behind himself, two plucky but not too friendly pals doing a little stealing and kidnapping with good humor, a visionary beer artist planning world domination with his brand, and just enough sweeping shots of the beautiful, still landscape. This is my kind of apocalypse.

After Morgan saved Jim and asked who he was making beer for, Jim asked if Morgan had a point in life or if he was looking for one. And that's just the theme of this season and one of the reasons Morgan crossing over has worked so well. Because the focus is on finding a point for living in this world. It's not about surviving until the next flesh-eating or head-bashing monster destroys everything. It's about making a difference and starting something bigger than any one person or their baggage. It's redemption. It's progress. And the show will only be good as long as it doesn't lose sight of that.

Note: This episode can't hope to be as excellent as last week, but darn it if Aaron Stanford didn't deliver his beer monologue with more vigor and passion and skill than most actors show in all their performances in their whole careers.

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