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Fear the Walking Dead - People Like Us - Review: Hope in a Time of Flying Zombies

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"People Like Us" continues Fear the Walking Dead's winning streak. The mid-season premiere was written by Anna Fishko and directed by Magnus Martens.

While some post-apocalypse shows serve up "how much worse can we make humanity before our entire cast quits?", Fear the Walking Dead has done something much more daring this season. It has focused on how people come together and the risks and rewards of helping others instead of just ensuring one's own survival. Life still has value, and viewers aren't merely being dragged from one senseless graphic death to the next. The press release for the season promises heartbreak and hope in the coming weeks. And there is a bit of both found in this very strong incredibly well-acted episode that showcases the wonderful characters. (There's also a hurricane blowing in, so have your cake and eat seconds too!)

The first half of the season ended with a small handful of characters gathered around a campfire, people who had lost everything but each other, with their stories documented by a steely journalist determined to capture the truth. Morgan fled the the sickening cycle of violence and human atrocities in Alexandria, because he didn't believe it would ever end and that he would lose himself permanently if he lost anybody else to it. His experiences in Texas, however, have brought him a measure of peace. The same can't quite be said for his new friends. The stadium survivors, Strand and Luciana and Alycia, have taken up residence at a rather posh abandoned mansion. Strand drowns himself in fine wine, while Luciana is up to her eyeballs in stacks of moody vinyls. They decline Morgan's invitation to go back to Alexandria with him. (That would be a really long road trip even in the most non-apocalyptic of times.) As for Alycia, Luciana thinks she saw her hanging out in the gardens. A couple weeks earlier. This is the equivalent of Alycia and Luciana exchanging "S'up" texts.

"I don't know what's left, who to be, or what to fight for."

Out of everyone, I feel like we've spent the least time with Luciana this year. But an emotionally powerful story has been developed for her. That story includes Charlie. It's not coincidence that both Luciana and Charlie are nearly killed by the infected in this episode, mostly from being purely oblivious. Both have been undone by the pain from Nick's death. Charlie clearly can't handle the guilt, and Luciana can't handle the grief. The only savior for either of them is themselves and each other. Charlie needs Luciana's forgiveness. Luciana needs to know that her and Nick weren't wrong about trying to help the girl. I've read some people refer to Charlie as another Lizzie (the disturbed preteen on the mother show who viewed walkers as living things and murdered her own sister to make her one and would have done the same thing to an infant), but I strongly argue this is not the case. She didn't kill Nick in cold blood or because of any preexisting mental derangement. She killed him because he killed someone close to her, someone she knew much longer than the few weeks she spent at the Stadium. Just because Charlie hasn't broken down in a flood of emotion doesn't mean she has no soul. For a child to still be alive in this world requires a certain toll to be taken. I have no wish to see the show sweep her onto the casualty heap. When Charlie fled away from Luciana into the approaching hurricane, I felt the slightest grip of fear. But when Luciana picked up The Little Prince, I felt hope, hope that she will chase after her and that together they'll get through this.

"Everything I Need"

Morgan also offers the Alexandria ticket to John Dorie. His friend is mostly healed and living in a school bus with June and Charlie. He doesn't think he could make the trip to Virginia. But there's another factor. I think Dorie recognizes that he's been very fortunate to have had little contact with other people. His love for June compelled him to leave an idyllic lifestyle, one marked by Scrabble and fishing and old movies. And that peaceful world is the one he wants to take June and Charlie back to. A man as gentle and compassionate and strong and courageous at John Dorie is the equivalent of discovering a cold freshwater lake in the middle of the desert. It seems only a matter of time until something tries to wring him dry. In a brilliant development, Dorie, searching for Charlie, gets Strand to help him. There could not be a more creatively delightful pair of opposites. The man constantly looking out for number one and the man who would die for someone he just met. The man who languishes for weeks over a half empty glass and the man who would give away the last drop in the glass. Plus Colman Domingo's performances constantly make me think he would do an amazing one-man show. He could get up there and be all the characters in a Shakespeare play. Strand is absolutely tipsy the entire episode but still more charming than smarmy.

"You Were Supposed To Be Alive"

One of the midseason finale's most powerful scenes was when Morgan broke through to Alicia with her gun pressed into his chest, and he told her he couldn't let her kill June. Couldn't fail her like he did Nick. This came right after Alicia watched Al's recording of Madison talking about the life she wanted for her children. Remembering her mom's decision to help people, something we've seen Alicia be the first to do many times on the show, has inspired Alicia to shift her focus. Morgan finds her luring the dead to a fence so she can get to cryptic notes some poor soul pinned to them asking for help. When she discovers this person's location, she shows Morgan, who offers to go alone to check it out. But Alicia won't be left behind. Morgan has this mindset that Alicia is in danger of isolating herself from other people, but instead she is almost in danger of caring about them too much.

The need to save a single person is so great that she's willing to walk through hell and high water to do so. The brief sparkle of joy that lights up her face when they get close to the lumber mill is beautiful. Just as beautiful, though much sadder, is the sorrow and rage that crosses it when Alicia finds out she's too late to save the man writing the notes. Just days too late. She tells Morgan that she wants to be as good at helping people as she was at hunting down the Vultures. "I have a lot to make up for." Morgan says he does too and asks why she isn't looking out for Luciana and Strand, like her mom would have. Alicia comes back with that she certainly could be there for them and "you could be there for us too, right?". She fixes him with a glance that is equal parts challenge and plea. It's masterful work from Alycia Debnam-Carey. Even in shadowy silhouette you see everything Alicia is feeling.

Additional Thoughts:

So many cool little hints about the coming storm: the birds, the windmill, walkers blowing away like the prospective nannies in Mary Poppins.

There is so much fascinating stuff that happens in this episode that I was afraid to overstuff this review. But I want to shout out about what a cool character Al is. In a world where journalists are often shown on TV as being nuisances or idiots, her dedication to capturing and documenting the truth is refreshing. The hurricane arrives as she and June were out together exploring. They have to take refuge in her truck but, because she was repairing it, it's not as strong as usual. I guess they will definitely get a chance to learn each other's true stories now. Also, the odds are extremely good that the kickass nurse and badass story keeper will have many conversations that pass the Bechdel test. For the moment, though, John Dorie is their common thread. And June shares with Al she's not sure that John will love who she really is. (How do I know he will?!)

Speaking of that angel, Dorie is all wings this week.

Example A: His response when June asks if the cabin would even still be there to go back to.
"I locked it before I left."

Example B: He tries to bond with Charlie over a game of homemade cereal box Scrabble.
"I made some extra zs, in case you had a hankering for pizza."

Example C: He asks Strand to help him find Charlie
Strand: "What makes you think I would help? She shot my friend."
Dorie (extremely politely): "I took a bullet in the gut on account of people at this address, yourself included. The way I see it you owe me."

This show has a muted palette, but no moment in this episode was too dark. Bonus points.

Also, the mystery box. I don't think the box itself was left with any malicious intent, since it contained harmless and even helpful items. But the original people who placed it there may not still be waiting.  Still it's another great tease for what's "further down the road".

There is not one weak link in this cast, but so many amazing guest actors are set to appear this season it could turn into Walking With the TV Stars!

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