This, my friends is a show that is now firing on all cylinders. "Fear the Walking Dead" turned in its most satisfying hour yet this season, featuring wonderful moments for every character amid growing dangers.
This show is once again everything "The Walking Dead" stopped being many years ago. Whereas "TWD" is about rebuilding society, "FTWD" is still very much about just surviving from day to day. Nothing exemplified that better than the disparate storylines of this episode.
On the one hand, we had Luciana (Danay Garcia) on her own journey of redemption with guest star Stephen Henderson as a dying man in search of a beer. It sounds silly, but it created a very poignant exchange between the two and taught Luciana to never give up on doing the right thing and helping people.
"I Gave You the Chance to Be Strong"
The battle of this back half of the season is an exploration of what it means to be a survivor of this apocalyptic world. As we've seen across two shows, there is no one right way to survive. Victor (Colman Domingo) has managed to do it mostly in a drunken stupor. No, there are as many ways to survive as there are people, but those who do survive are strong, right?
So what is strong? According to the "strong" woman (Tonya Pinkins), the still unnamed serial killer running around and murdering people she feels are weak because they're helping others, helping others is a sign of weakness. Only by being alone and surviving do you prove yourself strong.
Morgan (Lennie James), who has lived that life on more than one occasion -- like when he ran halfway across the country like Forrest Gump to join this show -- tried to argue that it is by helping people that you are strong, and it makes you stronger. This is Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) philosophy over on "TWD." Strength in numbers, perhaps?
The most harrowing thing about the "strong" woman is that she seems to know Morgan. At first we thought she was some specter from his past come back to haunt him, but she seems to know the more recent developments of his life, as well. She even turned his mantra around on him when she told him, "You lose people, you lose yourself."
She knows the darker side of Morgan, that nearly monolithic killer that lives inside of him. She knows of his mental struggles and how he's dangerously lost control on more than one occasion? So who is this woman?
Well, there are "lost" periods of time in Morgan's story. Yes, he was in the pilot with Rick, but he would subsequently only make sporadic appearances for several years before he rejoined the show on a more permanent basis. In that span, he appeared to lose his son and at times his mind. Perhaps she comes from this chapter in his life.
How does John (Garret Dillahunt) have so much hope? We finally catch up to him and Victor, last seen heading out into the storm to look for Charlie (Alexa Nisenson). Well, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) found Charlie weeks ago (by our calendar), while John and Victor found a flash flood. What's worse is that due to the poor state of the levy infrastructure, the waters have not receded, leaving them stranded on a tiny island.
Even worse yet, there's a hungry and massive alligator in the surrounding waters. While it was ultimately crushing that John's first two raft attempts ended in abject failure, it is his unending spirit that makes him such an uplifting and inspirational character. Morgan may be the lead of this show now, based on his top billing, but John is its heart.
The most decent and kind-hearted man in the universe never lashed out at Victor for being his usual selfish drunkard self. Instead, he vowed to help him and never gave up on him. John's capacity for compassion seems to know no bounds. Plus, his sheer cleverness seems unlimited as well. He out MacGyvered MacGyver with his second rig, as well as his car battery/horn distraction combo.
This is genius-level practicality. John is clearly an under-utilized asset to the team. And it's no wonder he was able to survive so long on his own, with how creatively his mind works. What's more remarkable is that nothing yet has broken him, though our closing moments with him have us a little worried he's falling into despair.
We're really starting to like this ragtag group of survivors, and we're rooting for them to all get reunited soon. Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), Sarah (Mo Collins) and Jim (Aaron Stanford) are already such a delightfully madcap trio, the death of any of them would be a real blow -- well, maybe we could spare Jim. It's a testament to the writing and the cast that this chemistry is coming together so quickly.
On another positive note, the humor we were promised for "Fear" is finally starting to land. It helped bringing in known comedians Collins and Mitchell, who have provided much of the comic relief, but there were funny moments between Victor and John this week, as well.
The highlight was Sarah trying to act like a badass and pull a knife on Morgan, who knocked it out of her hand with the handle of a shovel before she could even threaten him. Change of plans, she and the guys decided. We'll do things Morgan's way. That way is to find the rest of their people, as well as the owner of the truck, and then Morgan even thinks he can help the "strong" woman.
First, though, they all have to survive their first encounter with the season's major nemesis. The "strong" woman, in Al's van, came charging up out of nowhere and blasted the truck with Al's roof-mounted guns. We didn't expect such an immediate confrontation between the two parties.
Kudos for mixing things up by having the "strong" woman true to her message, coming right at them fearlessly with everything she's got. The moment was made even more effective, coming literal moments after Charlie and Alicia reconnected with Morgan via the walkie channel note he left on those care boxes.
Not only did they get the momentary excitement of hearing that their people had survived the story, it was followed immediately by the cacophony of gunfire. Joy to despair? This is badass Alicia, though, so we fully expect her to go charging in and try to save the day. We'll see how that turns out for her.
We're now worried that not everyone is going to make it out of this season alive, and it's been a long time on either show that we enjoyed every single character and kind of hoped that no one would die. Usually, we're bloodthirsty and ready to watch the bodies drop ... and then get back up. What are you doing to us, "FTWD"? You're making us "weak."
"Fear the Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.