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Fear the Walking Dead - Humbug Gulch and Skidmark - Review - Not to Shine it Up

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While some zombie programs tend to lean towards horrors both physical and psychological, Fear the Walking Dead’s fifth season would rather be an action-adventure drama where characters dig deep within themselves to find new reserves of endurance, ingenuity, and kindness. This change in vision from new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg may have come too late in the show’s run to draw new viewers, and it has likely pushed away existing viewers who want more of the mother show’s dark grit and violence. What the show is doing though is having fun exploring what this apocalyptic world is and who its characters are. Without volumes of comics to draw from, conflicts and development take longer to come into focus; but the upside is that those parts aren’t rushed or dragged out to pay service to recreating big comic book events. An added bonus that is both exciting and frustrating this season is that the future is a mystery. There are no dual timelines, no guarantees, and that only contributes to the suspense.

“Humbug Gulch,” directed exquisitely by Colman Domingo, spends most of its time in a ghost town with John and June and their new friend. Introducing Austin Amelio’s Dwight to this show through his misunderstanding with them is a smart choice. Viewers who don’t watch the mother show get to learn about his search for Sheri from a fresh perspective, and John and June are just the people Dwight needs to meet. Their interactions with him range from precious (John’s “I shot a person’s little finger off” as his example for really bad things he’s done) to very precious (June and John alternately talking Dwight out of his despair.). The trio’s escape from Humbug Gulch complete with rooftop scramble and the San Antonio Split is nonstop goodness.
For the stranded members of the group, there are two mysteries to solve. What is the deal with the people in the black suits who took Al? And who is leaving the roadblocks of gutted walkers and dangling noggins? There were multiple clues that the answer to the second question wasn’t as threatening as it appeared. The unseen architects killed all the dead that pursued a weakened Luciana, leaving nothing more harmful than a gruesome billboard as their calling card. Morgan and Alicia discovering the truth, thanks to Dylan’s bond with Luciana, only brings up more creative possibilities for the show, as well as dilemmas. Are the children all dying of radiation sickness? Surely they were exposed to their sickened parents. There’s also no way they can take all those kids out on a little plane (an option “Skidmark” takes off the table anyway. They can’t leave the children behind…..but will they have to? We haven’t seen the last of Grace (Karen David), so will they have to leave the radioactive children behind to die with her? Assuming the children are okay, it’s hard to imagine them all becoming series regulars or even recurring characters. Alicia’s hopeful but also overwhelmed reaction is where I’m at as well.
“Skidmark” brings Colman Domingo back from behind the camera to deliver a long-awaited reunion with Daniel (Rubén Blades). Having recovered from being “shot in the face” and swept away in a flood, Daniel lives a solitary yet peaceful life with a feline pal. He reaps the benefits of traps set by an unknown person that seem designed just as much to hurt the living as to protect supplies. He is, of course, unwilling to work with Strand. The scene where he turns Strand out and fires the gun to bring the dead, leaving Strand to shamble away into the night brings goosebumps. Strand can’t just leave the plane behind, and he sends in Charlie to sneak around Daniel’s property. She ends up inside Daniel’s car. Daniel reveals he knew she was there; he also disabled the plane. An unfortunate series of events result in a small herd gathering, so Daniel decides to sacrifice himself to allow Charlie, Skidmark and the others to escape. He leads the dead away with a radio, in a twisted parade. New Strand won’t let Daniel put himself in harm’s way like that. Cue the propellor scene which puts the plane and the herd out of commission. This isn’t the last we’ll see of Blades this season, but Daniel checks out temporarily to take care of some unfinished business (Troy?).
This season lacks some of the structure season four had, with only very broad obstacles and goals set for the characters to confront. Splitting the group into separate more intimate stories will help raise the personal stakes. Strand’s group is very much left on the fringe though, especially now that he has reconciled with Daniel, and I wish Charlie were with Alicia so those two could build on their bond from season four. For now, John and June helping Dwight search for Sheri, while Morgan and Alicia try to save everyone else, is a good enough start to the season. There is energy missing from the episodes so far. A nuclear reactor melted down, causing waves of casualties, but unless the children were affected it’s just a background plot point. No one appears to be in any sort of pressing crisis. Al’s adventure with the helicopter people or person will hopefully be a great showcase for Maggie Grace. As the season stands so far, four episodes in, the only thing on the line is whether or not Alicia and the group will be able to help anybody. There need to be smaller individual conflicts, whether internal or external, to give weight to the success or failure of that broader vision. Hopefully, the missing pieces are on their way in episode six.
Other Thoughts:
Max and Annie's elaborate hoax leaving Dylan behind in the splattered van was creative.

I still want a flashback episode exploring how the children have survived.

John and June flirting in the old timey saloon was delightful.

How long do we think the group will stay split up?
Do we want them to go back to the denim factory and clash with that rando or just move on?

Should we be worried about this whole radioactive thing? I would probably be less worried if I hadn't recently watched HBO's stellar Chernobyl.

The Little Prince book returns.

My stance is that, despite the blood we saw in season three, Troy definitely survived Madison's hammer blows. That's why we saw his unconscious body swept away rather than his undead form.

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