Directed by Heather Cappiello and written by Nick Bernardone, this week's episode of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 brings the spotlight back onto Victor (Colman Domingo) and his Tower. As he sits for "The Portrait" which will show the world as he sees himself, we see how cruelly selective he's become in who he admits to his sanctuary. But when an unexpected visitor in the form of Morgan (Lennie James) arrives seeking help for a sick Baby Mo, Victor will find himself face-to-face with the man he tried to kill. A man whose help he needs. The only man Victor can trust. Or so he thought. From this point forward, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down a spoiler image buffer because we're about to do a deep dive into the penultimate episode before the midseason finale- not only the best episode of the season but quite possibly the best hour of Fear TWD in the show's seven-season run.
Holy s**t, Colman Domingo! Sorry, but after the hour we were treated to this week it felt more than deserving. If I had to put this in professional wrestling terms, Domingo is the kind of quality actor who can have you hating him as a "heel" one second and then cheering him as a "babyface" the next. In Victor, Domingo continues to deliver a miserable, selfish sonofabitch who we still wait on the edge of our seats with the hope that he will say or do that "one right thing" that will make all of the bad shit he's done a little less bitter of a pill for the viewers to swallow. So we hate seeing Victor embrace his role as "big bad" with the biggest of bear hugs as possible. We're disgusted by the way he turns away people asking for his help based solely on his "instincts." We're appalled by the arrogance that comes with believing he can even control such fluid things as art & its meaning.
But then Victor turns on the artist by throwing her painting off the roof and accusing her & Howard (Omid Abtahi) of not truly seeing who he is. And the next thing you know, Morgan and Baby Mo are inside the Tower and Baby Mo is getting help. Yay! Victor's not so bad! But then we find out he plans on holding Baby Mo hostage unless Morgan goes on a mission for him. Boo! Victor sucks! Then we get one-on-one moments between Victor and Baby Mo that are heartbreaking, sweet, and insightful into Victor's past. Yay! Victor's not so bad again! Then we see him building bridges again with Morgan, vowing to help find Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) together and build the Tower into something she would want to come home. Yay! Victor's gonna make us cry! And in each of those terms, as Victor went from us wanting him dead to us wanting to give him a hug, Domingo led us along like a scene-stealing pied piper taking us down every single one of Victor's internal journeys.
Now if only Morgan hadn't tried poisoning him… just imagine how different things would've been. Because it's only when the truth is revealed about who had it in for him that we truly understand the true masterstroke of Cappiello and Bernardone's work. This was never about Victor being redeemed. In fact, "The Portrait" was just the opposite. This was about Victor "breaking bad" (appropriate considering it's on AMC) to a place from which there is very little chance of coming back. Those moments between Victor & Baby Mo that viewers were loving earlier in the hour? Not as touching when you see how Victor is now using Baby Mo (now with Karen David's Grace in the Tower after exchanging her help for Morgan's life) as a weapon against Morgan, looking to corrupt her against him while Victor assumes his role as her "new father." And as if there needed to be twisted icing on the already sweetly disturbing cake that is Victor's mind, he recovers his portrait and has the now-torn & blood-strewn painting mounted on the wall as an almost "Dorian Gray" vibe to it.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: A look at some of the highlights that caught our attention over the course of the hour:
James's Morgan and Domingo's Victor have one of the more interesting love/hate dynamics on television. Victor hates that Morgan can see who he truly is- warts and all. Morgan hates the potential to do good & save lives that he sees Victor squandering by his selfishness. Up until this week's episode, I've viewed their dynamic through the lens of "big brother/little brother." But this week, it felt more like a father-son structure with Victor both hating Morgan as representing the ideal of the kind of man he could never be while still seeking his approval. And that's why the betrayal that Victor feels was done to him by Morgan stings worse than the others. This one felt personal & cut deeper, leaving something that used to be Victor in its wake.
Morgan confronting June (Jenna Elfman) about working with Victor and throwing in her face her time working for Virginia (Colby Minifie) surprised us, and we were glad June answered back with a reality check about what if anything he could've offered them in return.
This evil group of Stalkers is/was not one to be messed with, from catapulting walkers to unleashing lumbering nuclear time bombs. We'll explain why we included "evil" in their description in a minute, but a quick note to The Walking Dead. This is how I should've felt about the Reapers.
Based on his reaction to the news, am I the only one who thinks Wendell's (Daryl Mitchell) not done with Strand when it comes to him not letting Sarah (Mo Collins) in & then choosing not to tell him.
Did we think anything was going to happen to Baby Mo? No, but that didn't stop us from nearly losing our collective shit during that scene where Victor lowers her down to Morgan. Every second felt like a minute.
How excellent was that exchange and embrace between Morgan and Alicia after Morgan realized he was in a much friendlier camp than he realized? We not only learned that the bad Stalkers are no longer connected with Alicia's group but also that Alicia needed Morgan's help to save her people.
Finally, another reason why "The Portrait" deserves top honors was its ability to have so many familiar faces show up and have their appearances actually mean something. Viewers saw Grace, June, Wendell, Dorie Sr. (Keith Carradine), Sherry (Christine Evangelista), Dwight (Austin Amelio), and more making their presence known even if they didn't have a ton of on-screen time. There were no wasted efforts, with each character's presence neatly tying together the past six episodes' worth of storyline perspectives into a larger tapestry. Now bring on Padre… or is it P.A.D.R.E.?