Here's a question worth contemplating: Are there any heroes left on Fear the Walking Dead? This week's season finale, "The Good Man," has a title that implies at least one of our protagonists will do something heroic or moral. But the episode tilts the other direction, forcing character after character to make uneasy moral compromises. By the end of the episode, even Travis has gotten his hands dirty.
"The Good Man" picks up where last week's episode left off, as our characters scramble to escape the military "safe zone" that has rapidly become the most dangerous place in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, there are three anchors holding them back from an immediate evacuation: Nick, Liza, and Griselda. (Griselda is already dead, but hey, they don't know that.)
Having tortured some key information out of his daughter's soldier boyfriend Andy, Daniel Salazar manages to outfit himself with an entire army of zombies on his way to the military compound. As the military opens fire on the thousands of zombies storming the base, Daniel and the other survivors can slip in the back to perform their rescue mission.
Of course, it also drives home how much Daniel is a straight-up monster. His decision to unleash 2,000-odd zombies onto an active military base is technically effective, but it's also pretty haphazard and cruel — like using a grenade to go fishing. Sure, his zombies manage to feast on some of the soldiers who were planning to abandon the citizens under their care. But it also dooms a bunch of military prisoners, and hospital patients, and much-needed medical personnel — to say nothing of the soldiers who didn't know the darker side of the military's Cobalt initiative. It's a little strange that none of our protagonists, including reliable do-gooder Travis, seem all that concerned about aiding and abetting this kind of violence. (Then again, what's a Walking Dead finale without a huge zombie attack?)
When the rescuers finally track down Nick and Liza, they end up with another ally in their ranks: Strand (Colman Domingo), the sharp-dressed man who shared Nick's cell. Though he didn't show up until halfway through the season, Strand is easily the best character Fear has introduced. Sure, he's absolutely ridiculous, but he's fun ridiculous — though it remains to be seen if his inconsistencies are intentional and not merely the product of bad writing. Strand is cold enough that he refuses to release his other fellow prisoners because there's no "value add," but not so cold that he stops Nick from bringing his extended family (and a few random quasi-strangers!) to share his house and eat his food. Strand, we later discover, has a fully stocked mansion, complete with a generator, that's basically a "surviving the zombie apocalypse" compound — but he plans to leave it behind as soon as possible, and he won't let anyone else stay in it, either.
There are vague hints that Strand isn't as callous as he seems — at the very least, he's sentimental enough to pack a framed picture in his duffel bag — but between his immaculate suit and his tendency to speechify in his velvety bass, it still kind of feels like a Bond villain suddenly wandered into Fear the Walking Dead.
As the survivors escape the military base, they're confronted by none other than soldier Andy. Having tortured Andy and acquired the information he wanted, Daniel was clearly prepared to kill him; it was only Travis' mercy that set him free. But as usual for the Walking Dead universe, that moment of mercy came at a heavy cost. Andy has returned toting a gun, seeking revenge on Daniel. When he shoots, hitting Ofelia in the arm, Travis pounces and pummels him into a bloody mess. It's only when Madison pulls him off that he relents, and they all depart for the safety of Strand's mansion, leaving Andy bleeding out on the ground behind them.
As usual, the most interesting and haunting moments in this week's Fear the Walking Dead are the ones that happen on the margin, giving us a small taste of an entirely different story. Early on, we see a happy-looking Los Angeles family sitting at a dinner table by candlelight, still unwilling or unable to accept how much the world has changed. (In yet another act of almost unfathomable cruelty that Fear basically glosses over, the survivors don't warn a single neighbor that the military plans to betray them.) At the base, a random soldier, knowing what will happen when he succumbs to a zombie bite, commits suicide by helicopter rotor. When the military evacuation team pulls back, Dr. Exner — knowing all hope is lost — euthanizes all her patients with a captive bolt gun before (it's heavily implied) she turns it on herself. And as the survivors leave, a towering pile of burned bodies sits in front of the abandoned bulldozer being used to push them toward a mass grave.
Those are the kind of subplots that make me wish Fear the Walking Dead was an anthology series, embracing the full range of stories that could be told about this world. Instead, when Fear returns for a 15-episode second season next year, we'll be back with Travis, Madison, and the rest.
Except, of course, for Liza. Fear saves one last nasty surprise for the end, when everyone gets back to Strand's mansion and everything seems to be safe. In the chaos of the military base, it turns out that Liza was bitten by a zombie. She's seen enough to know there's no hope, and she quickly decides she'd rather be put down than wait until she turns. She asks Madison to shoot her, using the same words Madison spoke when she raised the same horrifying possibility about herself: "Don't make Travis do it. It'll break him."
But Travis — who couldn't shoot a random zombie, with a sniper rifle, just one episode ago — has been changed by his experience at the military base (and, presumably, the lesson that being merciful to Andy almost led to more killing). Travis shoots Liza and wanders off to the beach to sob over her death, as Madison follows to comfort him.
As it turns out, that same beach holds the implicit promise of Fear's future. The show's characters will remain the same, but season two does appear to be setting up a soft reset of the show's basic premise by moving away from Los Angeles and toward the ocean. Standing on the balcony, Strand proudly introduces Nick to "Abigail": a beautiful boat, on which he presumably plans to ride out the zombie apocalypse (unless he discovers that zombies can swim).
It's as good a plan as any we've seen, and it solves a problem that has plagued the Walking Dead franchise from the beginning: the sense that any "safe haven" enjoyed by the protagonists is merely a place to hang out (and save on location costs) before the series moves on to the next big set piece. This time, the safe haven will move along with them, allowing Fear to explore any number of possibilities along the Pacific coast. It's an intriguing new direction for the series, and a sign that Fear will continue to find ways to forge its own distinct identity moving forward.
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