Fear The Walking Dead S01E06 “The Good Man” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC
Writers: Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson
Director: Stefan Schwartz
Essential Plot Points:
- With the military pulling out, Travis and Madison’s original plan is back on. Get out, go east. But first, they need to rescue their people. Daniel reports back, saying he’s found the stadium full of walkers and is ready to unleash them.
- Andy pleads with Daniel to let him live, explaining that he can get them into the facility and tell them where their loved ones are being held. Daniel wavers on this and finally, Andy agrees to tell Travis, explaining that Daniel has no reason to keep him alive and begging to be cut loose.
- Daniel releases the walkers and leads them to the compound, causing all hell to break loose. On the way there, Travis, being Travis, lets Andy go. Daniel, being Daniel, isn’t happy. Regardless, they lead the others into the facility to locate Nick and Griselda. Chris and Alicia are left to guard the car. It goes exactly as well as you’d expect. A pair of soldiers take the car, threaten the kids and threaten to take Alicia by force. Chris tries to defend his sister and is knocked out.
- Inside, Strand, who is dressed suspiciously like someone noticed and corrected last week’s pimp cosplay, makes his move. Or rather, does so after Nick hands back the key he stole from Strand. The two run into Melvin, the guard who Strand bribed last episode. Badly injured, Melvin begs them to kill him. Strand assures him he’s on the way and relieves him of the cufflinks he bribed the soldier with and his gun. The watch he lets the dying man keep.
- Daniel’s “break an egg with 2,000 angry dead people” approach causes problems for everyone. The evacuation Exner ordered is cancelled when the dead storm the fences and she tells her staff to flee using ground transports. Liza pleads with her but Exner insists she leave. Liza has the opportunity to board the last truck out of Not Quite Dead But Any Time Now City, but opts to go back in and look for her family.
- She finds them, just as they find Strand and Nick who are trapped behind a keylocked door with a horde approaching. Nick begs his mother to go but, at the last second, Liza arrives, swipes the key card and lets them through. Followed by the Walkers.
- The fight spills into a kitchen where very nearly everyone gets a chance to kill a Walker or two. Then they run into Exner who’s had to euthanise all her patients. Liza begs her to come with them but Madison tells her to leave the Doctor behind. As they go, Exner raises the bolt gun one last time.
- Finally, they make it back to the car park. The car isn’t there. Chris and Alicia are, both apparently unharmed. The soldiers were more concerned with getting out alive than fighting or assaulting anyone.
- Andy, on the other hand, is absolutely up for a fight. He arrives, pulls a gun on Daniel and in a mystifyingly shot moment, decides to shoot Ofelia instead. Travis snaps, tackles him and beats him half to death.
- They leave, discovering the mass graves of Walkers along the way taking the LA river drainage canal to Strand’s house on the coast. There, he encourages them to eat and rest while he packs. Nick, who heard Strand mention “Abigail” in the cell asks where she is. Strand shows him: a yacht moored off the coast.
- Liza hugs Chris and heads out to the beach. Madison, sensing she’s upset, follows her. Liza reveals she was bitten in the fight and begs Madison to kill her, and not have Travis do it. Madison refuses and Liza points out she asked her to do the same thing a few days ago. Travis arrives and Liza tearfully explains what’s happened. Travis hugs her and, slowly, asks for the gun.
- Chris and Alicia hear a gunshot and run down to the beach. They find Liza’s dead body. Nearby, Travis kneels in the surf and breaks down, sobbing with grief as Madison holds him. Behind them is a city on fire, in front of them, the ocean…
Last week I asked whether the show that had just inflicted “Cobalt” on the world could put together a coherent season finale. Turns out it could. Mostly.
So, the good first, or more specifically, the “Good Man”. This is the episode where Big Trav finally steps into the spotlight. Everything he’s experienced over the last five episodes brings him to this point and Cliff Curtis, as ever, relishes being given meaty stuff to do. He gets plenty of it too, including a decent, contemptuous showdown with Daniel, the incident with Andy and the closing scene with Liza.
The first is offhand, as he shoves the smaller, older man against the truck to get him out of the way. This is Travis as Papa Bear, a man who will do anything to protect his family. That’s the driving force behind everything he does in this episode, from going into the military base to saving Liza by killing her. None of it’s easy, all of it will only ever get harder, but it’s the only course of action he has. Travis isn’t Fear The Walking Dead’s Rick; that’s very clearly Madison. However, he is this show’s Hershel, an endlessly good man who will do anything to protect the people that matter to him.
That’s why he beats Andy half to death in a genuinely nasty scene. It’s not just that Andy is clearly unbalanced and dangerous but that he’s opened fire on Travis’s extended family. He’s finally in the headspace Madison’s been in from the second episode: survive, protect, end anything or anyone that threatens the people who matter to him. That’s why the final shots of him kneeling on the beach are so powerful. The ocean represents the boundless new world Travis is thrown into, both post-apocalypse and post murder. The fact that Madison is by his side is both a symbolic uniting of their often disparate approaches and the anchor he desperately needs. The good man is at sea in stormy waters but he’s not adrift, and that’s immensely powerful, interesting stuff to base a second season on.
As, to my rank amazement, is Strand. After last week’s disastrous parade of cliché, it’s difficult not to look at him as undergoing an emergency course correct. Here he’s immaculately dressed, far less amoral and infinitely more focused. His scenes with Nick sparkle with a nicely unpleasant Dodger/Fagin energy and his backstory is clearly rich and nuanced, rather like he’s starting to look himself. The moment where he packs a photo that’s clearly very dear to him, whom we don’t see, promises much with him for season two. And, thank God, none of it’s as repellent as many of his lines were last week.
This week’s other MVP is, remarkably, Liza. Elizabeth Rodriguez has been one of the cast members the scripts have served least well but here she’s on top form. Her final scenes in particular, especially with Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis, are brilliant and packed with emotion. Liza’s a good woman, someone who wants to help and is faced with the worst possible way to do that. The fact her final words are information about what’s killing her just cements her position as one of the show’s most underused, and biggest, assets. She’ll be missed.
It’s not all reclaimed wine and roses – or in this case, water and emergency rations – though. The script, when it’s on point, is great. When it isn’t, it’s awful. Strand’s, “I must remain in constant motion,” line feels like it’s wandered in from a different show as, on occasion, does he. Likewise Chris and Alicia remain completely useless throughout the episode. I can see what they’re going for; that these two are the last innocents left in the group. However, they kill the pacing the show’s fought for every time they’re on screen and need a purpose, badly, in season two. Otherwise Chris in particular may be following his mum to Fear The Walking Dead Valhalla.
Worst of all, though, are the two action beats the episode doesn’t so much fumble as hurl violently and incompetently to the ground. The moment when Andy shoots Ofelia is directed in an intensely odd way. It looks, from the eye line of the characters that Daniel is ordering the soldier to shoot his daughter which Andy then does. I’ve watched it three times and it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did the first time. If it’s actually Daniel begging for his life over his daughter’s then it’s a honking and bad character turn. If it isn’t, it’s bad direction.
The other moment is just straight up gratuitous. We see a soldier get bitten as the compound falls. He realises he’s dead and runs into a set of helicopter blades, mincing his own head. As a moment that shows how bad things have got, it works. As long as you don’t think of him reaching for a gun, or begging a friend to kill him or any one of a dozen beats that would communicate the same thing without the pointless gore.
But, amazingly, these are minor quibbles. The episode is pacy, action-packed, pays off nearly every plot in the season and most of all relishes the chance to cut loose. This is a show that’s run in place, very badly at times, for at least four of its six episodes. Now, at last, it’s off and moving and looks set to go some interesting places. That by itself would be quite an achievement, but on the way, it’s finally made me care for these characters. That’s amazing and promises much for season two. Roll on life on the ocean wave. Let’s all go meet Abigail.
- Travis’s story arc. It’s been very easy to mock it for the last month in particular but now we’ve got some payoff that’s changed. He’s a painfully good man who is going to be broken again and again by the choices he’s going to have to make. Or, the show could pull a massive left turn and have his endless ethical choices pay off. Either way, he, with Madison as his Shane or Rick should make for an electrifying central dynamic to season two.
- Strand, amazingly. Colman Domingo was great with terrible material last week. This week he’s amazing with good material. That last scene with Nick, and the constant sense that Strand isn’t surprised this has happened, is fascinating. Plus now he’s not a moustache-twirling stereotype he’s a welcome and interesting addition to the mix. And who is or was Abigail? And who’s in the picture?
- The scene with the walker horde, Nick, Strand and everyone else on the other side of the door should be a watermark for future episodes. That’s legitimately the first time I’ve seen this show work; family dynamic combined with imminent danger, action and top-notch direction to create a sweaty palmed moment of hideous tension. Just amazingly good. Especially Strand’s increasingly frantic refusal to die and Nick’s peaceful, sweet, “Go!” to his mum. That’s what this show should have been weeks ago. Now, at last, it’s here.
- Exner. Sandrine Holt did so much with so little this season. Part of you hopes she isn’t dead because the quiet, awful pragmatism of, “we talking blood or bond?” is a great fit for this show. The rest of you, given how perfect her final scene is, hopes she’s done.
- Madison methodically grabbing what medical supplies they could from the infirmary, unconcerned about the dead bodies around her. That and her nice moment of bonding with Strand suggests she’s going to do just fine.
- Strand and Nick’s running styles tell you everything you need to know about them. Strand’s elegant, measured and precise. Nick is a wild-armed, sprinting ball of energy. If this show doesn’t work out for them, they’ve got my vote for the main cast of True Detective season three.
- Liza using some of her final moments to give the others information on the disease that’s ended the world is heartbreaking: “I’ve seen it, I’ve seen what it does. The bites don’t turn you but the infection’s not treatable. The infection kills you like anything else.”
- It also neatly positions the walkers as a horrific consequence of the disease, something the lead show doesn’t concern itself with. I would love it if we got some answers about the cause of the outbreak in season two. And what about mysterious hoodie enthusiast from a few episodes ago? WHAT DOES HE KNOW?!
- Daniel. From fascinating patriarch to torturer and walker shepherd in four episodes. Lots to fix in season two.
- Daniel’s ludicrous, not to mention awful plan. Somehow he walks briskly ahead of the horde of surprisingly fresh walkers for the mile or so it takes to get to the gates and then has no issue murdering dozens of people. Hopefully there’ll be consequences in season two.
- I can see what the show’s aiming for with Nick comparing the zombie apocalypse to being an intensely sociopathic drug addict hyper privileged white teenager. I can also see how epically it misses the mark.
- Strand’s, “I must remain in constant motion.” Really, Lex Luther? Well that’s not annoying or obtuse at all. Thanks for the update. Also are you sure you’re in the right show? Because sometimes the writers certainly aren’t.
- Chris and Alicia are now very much the “Robin, the Boy Victims” of the show. They desperately, desperately need something to do. And it’s not a romance plot. Ever.
- The weirdly judged action beats. The more I look at it the more the Andy scene is just a mess. It really does look like Daniel tells him to shoot his daughter, and Andy does it. I desperately hope there isn’t payoff to this in season two.
- Helicopter Soldier. You can tell the show’s super excited to be finally cutting loose but euthanasia by rotor blade is the sort of beat that would make an ’80s schlockfest zombie movie go, “Whoah now! You sure about that?”
And The Random:
- There are multiple shot of the week candidates because while Stefan Schwartz fumbles the ball a couple of times he’s really spot on everywhere else. The shot of the neighbouring family, unaware of what’s coming, is great. Likewise the tracking shot down Daniel’s walker horde is really smart and solves the problem of just where the stadium is in relation to the safe zone. Every single shot of ruined LA is great too.
- But this nails them all. Madison, on her way out of her house forever, stopping and looking at the marks of her children’s growth and the life she’s leaving. Subtle, simple and very moving.
- This episode’s Apocalypse Jukebox is stuffed to the nines. It opens with “It Comes Back to Haunt Us” by Timber Timbre. Then “World Undone” by Calexico plays over the drive to Casa Strand. And finally “Kettering” by The Antlers, also prominently featured in the brilliant Sense8, plays over the end credits.
And that’s season one of Fear The Walking Dead and the, at times, dreadful life choices of its characters. Despite that, this is a really strong season finale that sets up an interesting second season. Before that though, Rick and the Alexandria Power Hour returns! See you next week for grime, southern angst and dead folks!
Review by: Alasdair Stuart