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Fear the Walking Dead - Blackjack and MM54 - Double Review: "We Can Make It"



The second half of season 4 scattered the characters to the wind. They have been roaming vast, empty spaces with nothing to do but confront themselves. Now, as the season winds to a close, everyone is being drawn back together, pulled into a smaller space with a dangerous enemy.

The Filthy Woman means business. Bad business. The group finds the walker she left behind, quickly realizing that something BAD has happened to Quinn and the SWAT van. She doesn’t leave them guessing long, calling up on the radio and sharing that Quinn isn’t weak anymore. Speaking directly to Morgan, the Filthy Woman insists that he stop making people weak. If he stops leaving boxes, she’ll leave them alone. Despite the twisted writing on the walker’s face and the rather obvious clues to how unstable this woman is, Morgan decides to keep leaving boxes and even writes the radio channel on the outside now. Everyone else has their concerns, but they follow his lead. He is especially determined to find the man Sarah and Wendell stole the truck from, a crime they are still coolly nonchalant about.

We find out what happened to Polar Bear.

After the storm, Luciana went in search for Charlie, but she found a car crash victim instead. She was determined to save him. The man asked her to stop trying to help him, though, realizing his wounds were fatal. But when she wondered if there was anything at all that she could do, he mentioned how much he would enjoy one last beer. Luciana went searching for that beer. She kept talking to him over the radio (“Channel 17. No one uses that.”). Empty trucks. Empty bottles. Luciana hit the open road to search, and there she found it. One of the boxes with a bottle of Jim’s beer. And the man gifted her some journals he kept showing places he stored supplies. He was Polar Bear, the trucking angel of the apocalypse.

“Just because you couldn’t help me doesn’t mean you won’t be able to help someone else.”




Later, responding to the message on the box, Luciana reached out to Morgan and Co.

This prompted a reunion and some retribution to go along with it. The Filthy Woman overheard the conversation and pursued them to dole out some punishment for disobeying her and still offering a helping hand. (The Filthy Woman would never get a job on Sesame Street). She opened fire on the truck.



“MM 54” begins with a flashback revealing how The Filthy Woman came to be. Once upon a time she was just Maude, a woman trying to flag down help to save her husband, after their vehicle crashed in an oddly similar manner to Polar Bear’s. Now it’s impossible to really feel pity for a maniac murderess, but a pang of sympathy is certainly in order. No one would stop to help them. Cars just kept speeding down the highway. Maude kept returning to the car to reassure her husband someone would be there soon to help. The next day he had turned, and Maude dug his grave with her bare hands. She lost the remainder of her sanity, becoming a serial killer targeting the truckers leaving boxes at the mile markers. She killed one after another, seeking the man she viewed as their leader: Polar Bear.

There might not be a more sinister scene this season than when The Filthy Woman, formerly an English teacher, corrects a future victim's grammar. She can barely keep it together at that point, but one gets the sense she wants to rip this person apart for misusing a word. It’s hard to interpret the Filthy Woman’s state of mind, but she views people who help other people are enablers who make those they help weaker. Or something like that. She’s dangerously unhinged. And Morgan and Company are dangerously too slow to pick up on that.

The storm of bullets forces them to abandon the truck. It catches fire. Wendell’s chair is broken. Sarah and Luciana sustain minor injuries. Jim basically freaks out, but Wendell gets a hold of his shotgun. Out of ammunition, The Filthy Woman decides to stop and unleash Walker Quinn on the group. June is knocked down and just barely saved in time by Morgan. This gives Wendell time to blast The Filthy Woman, but everyone’s marbles are spinning too fast to keep her from escaping again—with the van. At this point, my stomach was a combination of churning frustration and worry. Walkers came pouring out of the woods, drawn by the fuel explosion, and the group had to flee on foot.



As if that wasn’t frightening enough, they then seek shelter in a hospital near a city, with a river of walkers at their backs. Not since Alicia and June’s waterpark foray in the first half of the season have the characters been in such a tight spot with the dead. The doors don’t hold, there are dead inside the hospital as well, and they must climb the stairs to escape. Only to be cut off, necessitating that someone must get to the generator room and turn the elevators back on. That person, who ends up trapped (but alive for now), is Al. Everyone else just barely makes it into the elevator and reaches the roof. It is claustrophobic and suspenseful in ways that the franchise hasn’t been since the early days. But the roof is yet another trap.

There is no way down. Jim has been bitten (I am so deep in denial about this I can’t stand to talk about it), and Morgan blames himself. It is a dark moment for everyone. Sarah and Wendell have indirectly caused the deaths of two people by robbing one and kidnapping another. Al is caught many floors down with no way out in sight. Jim has to face his impending death. (“I have beer to make.” He says, in a husky voice that is almost a whisper almost a plea.) And Luciana has a concussion.

The whole back half of the season has been building to this scenario, where everyone’s new resolve to help each other will be tested. The foreshadowing of Morgan’s confession earlier that he loses himself when he loses people. Of course, he was going to lose someone. Now we’ll find out if he can reconcile that loss and persevere despite it. I only hope the show doesn't sacrifice any more characters only to prolong Morgan's spiritual journey.

"I need something good."

But this isn’t just Morgan’s story, and there are three other people whose souls have been on the front lines so far this season. Two of them, Dory and Strand, are revealed to be marooned. That is a hefty metaphor. They are also actually marooned, as a flood created a new body of water that encircled them, leaving them castaway on a tiny landlocked yet waterbound island. In “Blackjack”, Dory is building a raft, determined to escape as soon as possible. Strand mocks him and hangs out inside the abandoned ranger station nearby, reading summer’s most featured on TV classic Moby Dick. He won’t be guilted any longer over that time Alicia shot Dory in the gut. He left “God’s own wine cellar” behind for what?!


Still, when Dory's first raft sinks with him in it and a crocodile shows up in the water, Strand digs up some pity. We clearly don't have enough time left in the season to get payoff for Strand's development this season. He's been battling his own worst self from the start, with Madison's death pushing him back down. Strand is keenly aware of his own shortcomings and seemingly content to wallow in them. But time and time again we've been shown another side to Strand. I can't help but feel that he could grow into a good leader for the group, which doesn't feel possible as long as Morgan is around. Strand avoids all of Dory's attempts to peer into his soul. Meanwhile, Dory will not even consider that they might not escape. They have basically no food, but he won't eat the candy in his pocket. It's June's favorite, and he's going to save it for her. Is there any version of this show where this love and hope will be rewarded? Maybe.

The other person is Alicia who doesn't want to risk losing herself again. Alicia and Charlie contact Morgan's group at the end of "Blackjack", just in time to hear The Filthy Woman's warning. They find the burnt truck at "MM 54", with their friends nowhere to be found. Alicia does the most practical thing she can. Turns around and drives in the opposite direction. At first, Charlie believes that Alicia is still looking for the others. But she realizes quickly that's not the case. Alicia says she's taking Charlie to Galveston to see the beach. The way she sees it they can't know when everything will fall apart again, so they have to just make the present worth it. Then they find a "beach" by a body of water that wasn't on the map. Charlie spots a hat in the water and lifts it out. It's John Dory's. The one he lost when their second attempt to escape the island failed. Then Charlie sees them. We're not shown that it is John and Strand she sees, but the smiles that light up their faces give it away. And that's the note the episode ends on.

The individual episodes so far this season have been visually beautiful and emotionally electric, with many incredible performances. The season as a whole is harder to put into a box. Its last two episodes, which air Sept 23rd and Sept 30th, are responsible for tying everything together, for providing payoff. This is a season that shouldn't end on a big cliffhanger, but it's running out of time to to formulate a satisfying segue into the next season. Let your expectations proceed with caution.



Notes:

Though Wendell and Sarah continue to be a little bit sketchy, I want them both to survive this season. We found out that Sarah quit the Marines because they wouldn't accept her brother. Wendell shared his own story about how helping someone put him in the wheelchair and how he had to face that. The siblings have spunk and grit to spare, and we deserve more of them.

Still in denial over losing Jimbo.




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