Whether or not it was a part of the plan from the beginning, Fear The Walking Dead needed this two-hour season finale. Each individual episode that makes up this long goodbye—“Wrath” and “North”—is stronger than last week’s (though that’s not saying very much), and they actually complement each other. “Wrath” leads into “North” organically, and without any leaps back or forward in time. (It’s almost as if they help make up a season of scripted drama or something.) So these two installments probably could have handled the weeklong break. But the pacing has been far too slow this season, especially in its back half, and FTWD just had too much time to make up. The reliance on flashbacks–including one whole episode that used them to tell a story that had just been told—squandered whatever momentum was gained after scattering everyone to the desert winds near the border.
The finale tries to make up for lost ground and then some, taking care to provide an update on the circumstances of all the Angelenos, including Chris and Ofelia. It’s a solid effort, with direction from Stefan Schwartz (who also shot the season one finale) and Andrew Bernstein, who oversaw the Abigail compound’s destruction in “Shiva.” Kate Barnow tackles the writing in the first half, which has another desert traveler in Ofelia, while showrunner Dave Erickson returns to wrap things up in “North.” Together, they stick to the show’s roots. Defenses are breached and beliefs are shattered, but even with a walker free-for-all, the focus remains on the ever-changing family dynamic for the Clark-Manawa clan.
Although they’ve spent much of the season separated or at odds, Madison and Travis smooth out the remaining rough edges on their latest reconciliation. They admit to doing even more horrible things while they were apart, but reassure each other that they did what they had to do to keep their kids safe, even if they currently have only one of their three teens in their care. That’s what “catching up with each other” now means—finding out what previously-unthinkable act has been performed. They echo Chris’ sentiments when they acknowledge these decisions as being part and parcel with the lives they lead now. The difference is that Travis and Madison still see it as a line to be crossed, while Chris thinks there are no more lines.
Oddly, whenever the couple does work together, it never seems to bode well for the larger group, which raises the question of how solid their relationship was before the outbreak. In the old days, they were both focused on Nick, which left Chris and Alicia on their own. Madison hadn’t previously shown much regret about basically asking Travis to put her son before his, but this week, she goes out of her way to figure out his whereabouts, then prevent Travis from finding out the truth.
The road to the reveal of Chris’ fate was a bumpy one, as Madison became Miss Marple once more, latching on to throwaway remarks from Brandon and Derek about their dead buddy, who had been a teen without a driver’s license in Los Angeles, for crying out loud. (Way harsh, guys.) I was a little skeptical of the San Die-bros not using aliases in these circumstances, but Travis was too cagey to reveal much about his backstory or family, and Chris became a born-again outlaw when he left Travis, so it’s possible that Derek and Brandon knew nothing of the Clarks or Strand.
Yes, Chris essentially dies offscreen, but it’s a fitting end—and not because the character had worn out his welcome, or had never been fully fleshed out in the first place. He foreshadowed his own death last week when, while dissembling for Travis, he said Derek and Brandon would dispatch him just as quickly as their longtime friend James, if he were ever wounded. And they stayed true to character, finishing Chris off on the side of the road after a car accident. Although it defies belief that two guys in the flat bed of a truck would have stayed put let alone in one piece after it rolled “a dozen times,” they’ve only got a dislocated shoulder between the two of them, and Chris’ broken leg makes him dead weight. There are flashbacks once again, but they’re put to Rashomon-like effect: Brandon and Derek depict themselves as angels of mercy, but Travis sees through the ruse and imagines his son being at their mercy.
Chris’ death isn’t shocking in and of itself; viewers knew what he was getting into, even if he didn’t. The scene still packs a wallop, the camera panning out to underscore Travis’ remove and the bros’ indifference. Chris’ pleas are muted because Travis wasn’t there to hear them, and they fell on deaf ears anyway. But it wasn’t just Brandon and Derek who ignored them; Travis hadn’t really been paying attention to what Chris needed even before people started dying off left and right. Neither he nor Madison’s been much of a parent to anyone but Nick.
Case in point: after Travis’ berserker rage claims one innocent life and leads to Alicia killing a med student to protect her stepdad, they go straight to looking for Nick again. Madison drives back to the Pelicano, which is now completely empty, save for the three dead bodies in the back room. Then a stunned Alicia looks on as Travis and Madison go through the dead family’s pockets in search of clues of Nick’s whereabouts. Madison’s turning exile lemons into rebellious-son lemonade, and it’s all just the same old story. Poor Alicia—not only did she offer to leave the relative safety of the Rosarito to keep the family together, but she killed someone to prevent Travis from getting his comeuppance. I’ve admitted to having judged her harshly earlier this season, though that was the result of the sulk she’d been written into. But given what all of the kids have been through, I’m starting to think the parents were the real problem all along.
Disillusionment runs through the two episodes, as even Luciana must face the facts about Alejandro after he’s bitten a “second” time. The pharmacist confirms what we already know, that he’s not immune to the virus, and Luci is left without a father figure or a spiritual leader. It’s a lot to process, but not for Nick, who liked living in the colonia only as long as it provided a safe haven. Now that he knows Marco’s coming for it with additional man- and firepower, he’s decided this quaint little town isn’t home after all. Their tolerance of the dead no longer holds any allure for him, if it ever really did. But Nick slips easily into the new role of leader, even as he walks the colonia residents into a deadly encounter at the border.
I never fully believed in the colonia’s acceptance of the dead, and I had my doubts about the kind of border story Dave Erickson could tell with a white guy who passed effortlessly through debacle after debacle. The finale attempts to tie up both of these themes, as the colonia residents do, in a sense, move on, just as Alejandro told them they would. It’s a journey north to the border, of course, where someone’s nativism (or perhaps just self-preservation) is showing as the Mexicans and Nick are fired upon. We can’t really hear the shooters’ dialogue, so it’s unclear who’s protecting what. But Nick’s life is threatened just as Madison gets her hopes up again, which really just sends us back to the beginning of the series.
The finale may have featured more efficient storytelling, but it ultimately resets the status quo. Again, this is more a family drama than an action-horror, but even families change. And why introduce other characters and motivations, if the story will always center on Madison struggling to connect with her son? If a healthy relationship with Nick is going to be Madison’s white whale, then why bother to provide anything more than scenery for this chase? It isn’t just Madison who should let go of Nick to focus on rebuilding her life with Alicia (who surpassed Strand in my affections). FTWD has to want to tell us such a story, too.
- I can’t decide which was more difficult to watch: the nose bite, or the boxcutter surgery.
- I felt certain that Marco’s arrival at the colonia would turn into that mall scene with the bikers from the original Dawn Of The Dead, so I was disappointed that while they were all wasted, it happened offscreen. Boo.
- That probably wasn’t the whole joint cartel task force, though, right? Surely, someone stayed behind to watch over the Gansitos?
- I don’t at all blame the refugees in the Rosarito parking lot for getting pissed about being left outdoors when there are all those goddamn rooms in the resort.
- Strand’s self-preservation instincts are as strong as ever. Let’s face it, he was never going to leave a place with liquor and ice.
- I’ll check the broadcast to confirm, but I think that was Sons Of Anarchy’s Dayton Callie who welcomed Ofelia to America.
- Speaking of Unser, was he a Minuteman-type or part of a still-existing border patrol? It’s far more likely the former, but given the presumed military presence at the border, it’s still possible it’s the latter.
- Is it too much to hope that Ilene/Sue Ellen Mischke/Brenda Strong will want vengeance for Oscar and Andrés? Because I really feel for those guys, and not just because they’re handsome. They stuck up for Madison & Co., and looked after Strand. They got the rawest of deals. But they were probably always doomed because their names aren’t Nick.
- Season grade: C. It was certainly resonant and even satisfying at points, but the characterization remains weak for everyone, and the gamble on the Mexico story just didn’t pay off.