Directed by Heather Cappiello and written by Nazrin Choudhury & Nick Bernardone, the penultimate Season 6 episode of Fear the Walking Dead is exactly what everything has been building up to. If we had to assign a theme to this week's chapter, then "USS Pennsylvania" is this season's Avengers: Endgame. On one side, you have the "Avengers" Morgan (Lennie James) and a united group of heroes taking the fight to "Thanos" in the form of Teddy (John Glover), Riley (Nick Stahl), Dakota (Zoe Colletti), and the "The End is the Beginning" folks. And then things happen. And then things really happened. And by the time the credits rolled, I was left shocked, pissed, lacking in any serious sense of hope, and speculating about a dozen possible future scenarios. Considering this is the last episode before the season finale? That's exactly the kind of toxic emotional cocktail I want to be left with- as much as it might righteously suck. So with all of that in mind, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and meeting you after the following spoiler buffer image for a deeper dive into the episode.
This was the "summer blockbuster" episode. The "popcorn" episode. The "edge-of-your-seat" episode. Because after a season-long building of emotional punches, viewers needed an episode that brought the danger into the spotlight. And "USS Pennsylvania" offered that and then some, and doing it in classic adventure style. From the moment in the beginning when the rest of the "Avengers" gathered behind and the claustrophobic setting of a nuclear sub filled with possibly 150 walkers offering a "haunted house/horror movie" vibe to Morgan's return from the "dead" (more n that in a minute) and an episode-ending cliffhanger the likes of which The Walking Dead universe has ever seen, all the components were in place to leave us… well… feeling exactly how we described we felt earlier in the review.
And then there's Colman Domingo's Strand. First, attention must be paid to not only what Domingo has been doing this season with Fear TWD (as well as his turn in Euphoria and as a talk show host) and during his entire run on the spinoff series. I know this might be a stranger comparison, but the best compliment I can give Domingo is that his portrayal of Strand is like a long-running pro wrestler like Triple H or Ric Flair. They have the ability to present characters who give us all the reason to hate them, and yet we keep coming back to them- keep buying into his promises of change and redemption. We know we should hate the things that they do, and we do- but always with an eye on looking to give them that "second chance" even if it's for the sixth time. Basically, Strand is the heel who the audience is secretly looking for a reason to love- and they'll find it. But it never lasts. Because Strand is Strand- and Strand is always looking out for Strand first. Morgan hit it right on the head when he told Strand that the reason he turned on Morgan wasn't for some "greater good" but so that he could look like the "big hero" to Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Now that Morgan's alive, that complicates things- and that's one of the reasons why I can't shake this feeling that Strand will sacrifice himself in the season finale. He would rather Alicia know he died a hero than have her look him in the eye after she finds out what he did to Morgan.
Here's a look at some additional thoughts on the episode:
- As twisted as the conversation was, there was something oddly sweet with how open and honest Teddy was with Dakota during the episode's opening. Teddy's definition of leadership and the leader's willingness to do for their cause was a fascinating take on a common theme in the TWD universe, but Glover finds a way to twist a leadership trait we've appreciated in others like Morgan and make it feel kinda "dirty."
- I know I wasn't the only one appreciating seeing more one-on-one time between Morgan and Strand, with James and Domingo nailing the exchanges between the two strikingly different men beautifully. Also wouldn't mind listening or seeing some more exchanges between Glover's Teddy and Keith Carradine's John Dorie, Sr.- dammit if JD, Sr. isn't due some serious payback.
- For an episode that takes place in such small spaces, the episode has not only a "big game" feel to it but also looked like it was made with some serious "summer blockbuster"-like money.
So we're going to be spending the next 4-5 days trying to figure out exactly how a Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 is going to happen- at least with anyone not named "Alicia." We'll see you back next week with our review of the ominously titled "The Beginning"– and check back throughout the week for previews of how the season is getting ready to wrap up its sixth season run.
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