Recap Digest: Fear the Walking Dead 1.6, "The Good Man"

Oct 05, 2015 by Alex Castle

“You can’t save everyone,” Alicia tells her stepbrother Chris with a chilling matter-of-factness, echoing her mother and his father’s difference in approach to the zombie apocalypse. Each episode has carried the characters a little closer to understanding that Things Are Never Going to Be the Same, but this was the one where they really started acting like it, with often fascinating results.

As the Clark-Manawa-Salazar clan plots to bust into the impromptu military base where junkie Nick, Nurse Liza, and deceased Griselda are being held, Andy the captured soldier offers to draw them a map in exchange for his life, an idea Daniel rejects because as we learned last week, Daniel is a ruthless bastard. Sensing Travis' weakness, Andy persuades him to let him go, and Travis does.

As for how to infiltrate a heavily guarded military position, the show makes a really interesting choice by having Daniel release all the “skinbags” from the stadium and lead them right into the gates of the “secure” perimeter, overwhelming the soldiers and giving our heroes (relative term there) easy access to the building, where they find and rescue Nick and Liza.

It was an awful choice, basically serving up the entire National Guard to the walkers so they could get three people back, but it’s a brilliant insight into how something like this would probably go in real life: people would start looking out solely for their own interests at the expense of everyone else. They didn’t even bother to tell their neighbors the Guard had bugged out, and even left the perimeter gate to the neighborhood open.

And where all these folks were awfully squeamish about killing zombies only a couple of weeks ago, they certainly got into the swing of it here, even Travis, whose pacifism took a cattle bolt to the head when Andy showed up looking to avenge his torture at Daniel’s hands and shot Ophelia. Travis beat him to death with his bare hands, so I guess he’s done trying to trust people and resolve everything peacefully.

Everyone did not make it out alive: Griselda died in last week’s episode, of course, and Liza was bitten during the escape, and having learned exactly what the virus does working in the MAS*H unit, begged Travis to finish her before she turned. While I suppose he had to do it, it seemed odd that he did it in the front of her forehead. Wouldn’t it be more humane to do it from the back? This will probably also renew Travis' tension with his son, who is unlikely to accept any explanation for his father killing his mother.

The whole crew ended up at Strand’s cliff house, a nearly ideal position to defend from an undead horde, though Strand indicated that he wasn’t staying and neither was anyone else, presumably because they’re all going to board his yacht Abigail and ride out the infection at sea. If I didn’t know better I’d think this show was over – because how many zombies is this crew going to run into in the Pacific? – but it’s been renewed for 13 episodes next year.

I was of two minds about this finale. On the one hand, it was the best and most interesting episode of the short, six-episode season, finally bringing the masses of zombies together with the character development that we’ve been watching all season (some of us more patiently than others), giving some stakes and weight to the zombie-killing (and Liza-killing) sequences.

On the other hand, I was getting the feeling over the first five episodes that this show wasn’t really going to be about zombies so much as about society turning on itself as a result of the zombies and gradually collapsing into the lawless hellscape Rick Grimes and company have been wandering for five seasons. While this was a great episode, it also brought us pretty much right up to the lawless hellscape at its close.

So what is this show going to be now? Just a west coast version of The Walking Dead? It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that at some point down the road there will be a time jump and these characters will run into Rick and Daryl and Michonne, and as potentially interesting as that might be, I was kind of hoping to savor the fall of civilization a little longer.

Vulture’s Simon Abrams concurs:

It’s no wonder that Travis feels like the sky is falling on him after he kills Liza. The problem here isn’t that he’s acting as if killing his ex is a world-ending moment. For Travis, that might as well be true. What rankles here is that Travis allows himself to be convinced so quickly. This is a guy who’s spent the last couple episodes agonizing over everything. He’s changed since the show started, so at this point, it’s not that far-fetched to think he could theoretically be ready to pull the trigger so quickly. But Travis’s transformation from a knock-kneed beta-male to a man of action is dissatisfying because it simultaneously seems too fast and not fast enough. If we saw Travis agonizing over a decision that most people would not be able to logically accept, that would make Liza’s demise feel like a major moment.

Still, in that moment, you can see more clearly what Fear the Walking Dead should focus on in season two: quelling the urge to speed up for the sake of speeding up. This is a show that should luxuriate in drama like the one in “The Dog.” That drawn-out episode was easily the show’s best to date. Erickson and Kirkman should embrace the show’s slowness, and make every decision feel like a convincingly major moment. The show is at its best when it ambles from one moment to the next, not when it sprints between broad beats. One can only hope that Erickson and Kirkman make like tortoises, and slow season two down so that it stands apart from all the other zombie stories we’ve already seen before.

Entertainment Weekly’s Jonathon Dornbush focuses on Travis' arc as the titular “Good Man”:

The ghost of Daniel’s recent torturing past comes back to haunt him, as Andy points his gun at his former captor. Ofelia tries to talk him down, and rather than shooting her father, Andy puts a bullet through Ofelia’s shoulder. It’s not Daniel who strikes back, however. It’s Travis.

Yes, after episodes of peaceful resistance, trying to prevent violence rather than incite it, Travis enters a blind rage of flying fists, pummeling Andy into submission. It’s days, weeks of pent up anger spilling forth from a man who has tried to, at every step of the way, be the good man, and how is he repaid by being good to Andy? Seeing one of his allies shot. Travis can’t sit idly by, can’t let his actions have resulted in an innocent life possibly being taken, so he leaps to action after restraining himself for so long. It’s a spark of change for Travis that will undoubtedly have repercussions in season 2. And even in the episode’s final scenes, the Travis we see is very much a product of that moment. It’s difficult to believe that the Travis who does what he does at the finale’s cliffside is the same man who stopped Madison from killing an already turned neighbor for the sliver of hope that she might still be human.

Noel Murray of Rolling Stone compares Fear the Walking Dead with its parent show:

Neither of the shows has ever lacked for fleshed-out non-flesh-eating characters. (Over the course of five seasons, the parent series has built up a formidable stock company.) But there’s a moment near the middle of the episode when the undead hordes shamble down a flickering hallway toward Fear’s stringy-haired, self-destructive junkie protagonist Nick Clark, and while the music, photography, and lighting are all creepy as hell, it’s hard not to hope — just a little — that maybe this annoying boy-band reject will get eaten.

That’s no knock against the actor, Frank Dillane; and really it’s not a major knock against the show as a whole, which has mostly been a well-crafted piece of action-horror. But this spin-off is still at its weakest when it focuses on the players instead of the game. And that’s a big problem with this first season fade-out, because after its rush of violence and danger fades, the drama settles back down to the Clark, Manawa and Salazar clans, all making major decisions that should matter more than they actually do.

Roughly the first two-thirds of the finale follows the three families' escape from their suburban compound in El Sereno, and their attempt to retrieve their relatives from a nearby makeshift military installation. Maddie Clark, Travis Manawa, and Daniel Salazar keep venturing deeper into the darkness of the city, and further into a nightmare. These are scenes of raw-boned survival. There are monsters outside and unknown troubles inside, and every decision is potentially fatal. That’s what show can be when it’s really rolling.

Also good in “The Good Man?” The return of Colman Domingo’s Strand, the slick-talking pragmatist, who gives the reassembled bunch a plan to follow and leading them out of the heart of the city and to his fortified, well-supplied oceanfront house. In the last two episodes, he’s been compellingly dark and rational, cutting through all the waffling and foolhardy heroism with a curt, “You can’t save everyone.” Thank goodness this hustler survives the finale; here’s hoping Domingo’s already signed his contract for Season Two.

And The New York Times' Jeremy Egner looks ahead to season two:

How damaged will he be when the show returns? Who will he even be, now that his signature optimism has encountered the chopper rotor of postapocalyptic reality?

As for the other key figures, Madison, after starting strong sort of slipped into a thankless role of splitting the difference between Travis and Daniel, when she’s not cursing or caring for Nick. Here’s hoping the producers can find something more interesting for her in Season 2.

Daniel, the fatalistic torturer, ended up with a dead wife and a wounded daughter for his troubles. I doubt the fatalism will be changing anytime soon. With Griselda presumably part of that gruesome ash pile out back, Ofelia and Daniel have to reassemble their relationship, and Ofelia must make some sort of peace with her father’s violent past.

Alicia’s and Chris’s main job for next season: Find something to do. They had another fairly uneventful episode on Sunday — well, at least they did until Chris’s mother died. Before that, the children’s main job was to wait in the car until three surly troops stole it from them. (The military did not come off well in this show.)

For his part, Nick, who began the season in a junkie hellscape, had an odd moment of epiphany in the finale. He concluded that, with the world falling apart, his heroin addiction was the best thing that had ever happened to him. “I’ve been living this for a long time and now everyone is catching up with me,” he told his mother. We’ll see how smug he feels when he’s going through withdrawals in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

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