Directed by Heather Cappiello and written by Ashley Cardiff & David Johnson, this week's episode of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead saw some time pass since June (Jenna Elfman) walked out of Morgan's (Lennie James) growing new community after having put a permanent end to Virginia's (Colby Minifie) reign. But the growing, unknown threat from the "The End is the Beginning" folks have brought Morgan and right hand Daniel (Rubén Blades), as well as Strand (Colman Domingo), Sherry (Christine Evangelista), and Sarah (Mo Collins) together to see if they can put aside their differences to take on a threat that Morgan sees as looking to wipe them from existence. But a medical situation involving Grace (Karen David) sends Morgan on a medical run, leaving Daniel in charge of a day that began so hopeful- but would end anything but. Here's a look at our review of "Handle with Care"- which means we are officially throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and will meet you on the other side of this spoiler buffer image…
We were going to joke about us wanting some of whatever it is they've been putting in the water in Georgia since the second half of The Walking Dead's ninth season that's spread across three series, but we don't want to take even a second to not praise the caliber of directing and writing that viewers have been treated to since then in the original series, Fear TWD, and TWD: World Beyond. Director Cappiello and writers Cardiff and Johnson can rest easy knowing that their names will be readily added to an already impressive list. And let's make it clear- coming off of the previous two episodes, "Handle with Care" had a heavy load to carry.
First, they had to come up with a chapter that would match the emotional knockouts from the previous episodes' deaths without turning into that "death of the week" show. On top of that, they crafted a poignant and heartbreaking showcase for Blades' Daniel- in a sense, offering a "love letter" of sorts to the long-running Fear TWD fans who've felt the show's earlier backstory hasn't been given enough of a focus. Add to that the need to establish a new "big bad" to not only replace Virginia but also establish it as a threat worthy of the warnings viewers have heard from the creative team as well as from the characters themselves since last season (and earlier, it seems). Did they pull it off? Beautifully, leaving viewers feeling heartbroken, angry, paranoid, and counting down until Thursday's next episode drop- a "perfect storm" of reactions that Fear TWD has elicited a lot out of us this season.
That said, this is Blades' episode- not that the honored musician and actor needs to prove to anyone his talent- his decades in the entertainment industry speak for themselves. But from the moment we see Daniel's face in the opening minutes to us watching him leave with Strand to his new home in Lawton, we know that this is Daniel's story to tell- and it's one that may just represent the best and worst of surviving within the TWD universe. Daniel is a man trying to live down a tragic past of regret by doing right by the future- but as June says to him during her exam, he's never had a chance to slow down and process everything that he's gone through. But it appears he is now, and it doesn't go well for him or the community.
An "accident" results in a series of events that result in Daniel letting in walkers to the community to fish out whoever stole the community's weapons check supply, nearly shooting Strand, and sending Grace and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson)- and ending with the revelation that Daniel had the weapons stashed in his shed. Yet, Daniel has no memory of any of this- and with that, Blades takes us into territory previously unvisited. Because we're now faced with a Daniel who can't push back or challenge the allegations because he can't trust his own mind anymore- and he's now realizing it. Between deadly decision, tragic losses, and the fallout from being shot in the face, Daniel has much to come to terms with- add into that everything he's faced since he's returned to the series (including two wicked blow to the head) and his self-doubt becomes even clearer. Blades demonstrates the battle some find themselves having with their own minds masterfully, doing as much with his expressions in the quiet moments as he does with a cast that offers him all of the support he needs.
Of course, most of what you just read storyline-wise might need to be taken with a ten-ton grain of salt because there's also the very real chance that Daniel's right and that the "The End is the Beginning" folks have a mole or two on the inside. Grace and Charlie's (Alexa Nisenson) recollections to Morgan don't match what Daniel remembers- a red flag or an instance where we saw the earlier moment from Daniel's potentially flawed perspective? By the end of the episode, Strand and Daniel leave, John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia are both dead- two potential major players off the playing field, June is staying at another settlement, and other things are in play that seems to be keeping our heroes apart- again, work of others from within? We were even offered a number of "odd glances" at certain prime moments that left us questioning Luciana (Danay García), Wes (Colby Hollman), and others' motivations. And as much as we would like to think that Strand is being completely altruistic by taking in Daniel at the end, considering their past and what recently went down? Well, let's just say we side with Morgan when it comes to have some serious doubts- just not for the same reasons we're having ours.
And you know what? It was great! Because the episode respected the viewer enough to know they could multi-task: feel for Daniel on a humanistic level while also piecing together their "Charlie Kelly/It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" conspiracy board to figure out who they can (and can't) trust. Do we have any idea who we can trust aside from Morgan and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey)? Not a clue (though we're keeping a glaring eye on Grace as a mole meant to keep Morgan off his game)- and that's what makes for excellent television. And this season of Fear the Walking Dead has truly been an example of excellent television.