Written by Nick Bernardone & Jacob Pinion and directed by Archer star Aisha Tyler, this week's episode of AMC's Fear the Walking Dead offered a sense of closure and also served as a springboard for what's to come for the remaining three episodes. In "J.D.," June (Jenna Elfman) heads out on a personal and and "professional" mission to hunt down Virginia's (Colby Minifie) right-hand man Hill (Craig Nigh). First, to learn what they knew about Teddy (John Glover) and his "The End is the Beginning" cult. Along with that, Hill took something of John's (Garret Dillahunt) that she has every intention of getting back.
To do it, she's forced into a partnership with a stranger (Keith Carradine) who is much more connected to June than either of them realize- and who might just have the answers that Morgan (Lennie James) is looking for to turn the tide in their favor. Meanwhile, Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista) head out after June- but as Dwight quickly learns, Sherry has an ulterior motive for joining him. One that involves her returning "home" for revenge. So with all of that in mind, this is the point where I throw on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and meet you after the spoiler image buffer- see you in a second!
Okay, the best way for me to approach this review is in two ways. First, a righteous thanks to writers Bernardone and Pinion, and director Tyler, for pulling off a different kind of episode than the previous five outings. After a steady stream of gut-punches to our feels and with only three episodes remaining, this season needed an episode that both offered closure and moved the narrative forward in a strong enough way to ensure that the final run of episodes doesn't feel forced. This was that episode, and the trio more than rose to the occasion. The writing felt raw, real, and respectful to the characters who carried the responsibility of bringing them to life.
But along with the emotion, there was also the added responsibility of sharing new details on Teddy and his group that would align with what viewers were told in the past and not feel like a "deus ex machina" (like the fact that no one ever said John's father was actually dead). Once again, mission accomplished. Under Tyler's direction, the quiet moments (like John Sr. looking through his son's cabin) crush as hard as the spoken words and serve as an excellent counter-balance to the tension-filled, nerve-wracking ones (we thought for sure John Sr. was dead).
I already gave away the second way I'm approaching this review in the headline, with a look at the three components that made this episode work: a "goodbye," a "hello," and a serious "uh-oh." Let's take a look at all three:
"Goodbye": This was the proper memorial that John deserved, and the fitting closure June and John Sr. needed. Watching Elfman and Carradine work through their characters' grief while circling each other to see if some kind of bond could be had was a true joy, with both finding their way back to a sense of peace and purpose. I was told by an actor friend of mine that acting while reading off of something is one the most difficult feats to pull off. If that's the case, then Elfman proved once again why June's deserving of more of an upfront leadership role- and we would definitely watch more of June and John Sr. on the road.
"Hello": THANK YOU FOR NOT GETTING RID OF KEITH CARRADINE! Well, at least not yet. I don't need to sing Carradine's praises- his long and storied career more than speaks for itself. But in terms of the TWD universe, Carradine is a natural fit and already vibes as if he's been on the show for some time now. Carradine brings he combination of grizzled life experience with a desperate need to atone and do what's right. That's proven to be a winning combination in the past, and Carradine's John Sr. would fit that role perfectly now. Plus, we all know it would only be a matter of time until he and Morgan were best buds- and it's safe to say that Morgan could use a new "best bud" right about now. Our second "hello" goes to "Dwight & Sherry 2.0"- the couple that I was slowly getting annoyed by (just being honest) found a way to right their ship and learn from the examples around them. Having Amelio and Evangelista's characters no longer with the anchor of the past around their necks gives both actors better opportunities to grow Dwight and Sherry. For the first time in a long time, I was rooting for those crazy kids.
"Uh-Oh": I know what I'm about to say may sound warped and twisted, but this was where the fun started! Well, for the viewers- not so much for our heroes. The past becomes prologue, as we learn that Teddy was the part-time mortician, full-time serial killer (with cult-like tendencies) that John's father set up to make sure the conviction stood. After everything went to poop, John S. learned Teddy escaped- and now John Sr.'s been tracking the group ever since. And John Sr. makes it pretty clear- these folks won't stop until all life is gone except for Teddy and his "The End is the Beginning" folks. Talk about escalating a big bad's threat level to something we haven't seen before- and with that key in place, we can't shake this feeling that things might be getting a bit "nuclear." Between learning that new intel and then realizing how wells it tracks back to previous seasons, how could a viewer not be having fun with the red strings on their "Charlie Kelly/It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" conspiracy board?
And since we're talking about "crazy conspiracies," did anyone notice Grace (Karen David) in the background, checking out what was going on from a distance? It felt like she was doing a little reconnaissance, checking out who the new player was in the community. Might be something to keep your radar fixed on… we're just saying…