I realize that functioning technology may be harder to come by in the apocalypse, but you’d think self-proclaimed journalist Althea could scrounge up something better than a VHS camcorder. Even with its time-jump this season, ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ is only set a few years after civilization fell. These aren’t ‘Mad Max’ times.
Episodes this season have thus far employed a very schematic visual design where flashbacks are filmed in full color while flash-forwards are desaturated nearly to black-and-white. This week’s entry adds a third style, the cruddy standard-def video (complete with pillarboxed 4:3 framing and analog tracking errors) of Althea’s interview recordings. The episode routinely cuts to these as the characters tell a story about the fateful day that led to their current predicament.
The flashback timeline picks up several weeks into the siege by the Vultures. Food supplies are running low, and the survivors at the baseball stadium must resort to eating cattle feed pancakes. Madison draws up a plan to separate into teams and search locations the Vultures may not have thought to pick clean yet.
Strand and new guy Cole (who have had a tepid flirtation) go to the greenhouse at a garden store, where they encounter zombies with cactus needles piercing their faces. (Why did the zombies stick their faces into cacti? They don’t eat plants.) When they come up empty-handed there, Strand decides to let Cole in on a secret. He shows him a stash of food and supplies he’s hidden in a truck as an insurance policy for himself in case everything goes tits-up with the rest of the group. He offers to share this with Cole, but Cole can’t get on board with that plan. Angered by Strand’s selfishness, he heads back to the stadium alone.
Nick and Luciana stop at a library that’s been stripped so bare even most of the books are gone. All they find is a zombie librarian who tied herself to a shelf and committed suicide by slitting her wrists. Luciana finishes it off, and tells Nick that they should leave and start over someplace new. When he asks where, she picks up a map book and points to a random page. Rather than a new destination, the map gives Nick an idea to go north for seeds and garden supplies he can bring back to the stadium. (How about that garden store Strand and Cole were just at?)
Alicia and Naomi (Jenna Elfman) explore an old theme park called Whirlin’ Waves. They spot what looks like an abandoned survivor camp at the top of the tallest water slide and have to navigate past a pool filled with zombies to get to it. Alicia drops her knife but the both of them work their way up a slippery, slimy slide. Inside the settlement they find a bunch of useful medical supplies and a machine gun. Alicia breaks off the barrel of the gun when she falls down the slide, and uses it to club zombies. (We’ve seen her carry this in the flash-forwards, having sharpened it to use as a knife.)
While Alicia is distracted, Naomi decides that she doesn’t want to hang around waiting for the stadium to fail, so she tries to sneak off a steal a car. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get very far because it has no gas. Alicia catches up with her and talks her into staying with the community.
Back at the stadium, the Vulture named Mel invites Madison out for a hotdog and once again pitches her on the idea of joining his team. She remains firm that she’s not going anywhere.
Cole returns to the stadium and is surprised to see Strand following him, bringing the truck filled with his secret stash to share with everyone. In fact, it turns out that everyone except Madison seriously contemplated abandoning the stadium, but they all eventually had changes of heart and decided to stay and help her make it work.
John (Garret Dillahunt) tells Morgan that he used to be a cop before the apocalypse. Morgan says that he’s only hanging around long enough to help bury Nick, and then he’s going on his way. He still insists that he doesn’t want to be around other people for a while.
When Alicia, Strand and Luciana finish telling their stories to Althea, they all end by stating that they regret their decision to stay at the stadium. That was a fatal mistake, and “We could have stopped it all” if only they’d left.
The S.W.A.T. van stops, and Strand, Alicia and Luciana dig a hole in a field – not to bury Nick, but to dig up a secret cache of weapons they’d hidden. They’re planning revenge on the Vultures. Althea feels used, but Alicia talks her into staying with them to get the end of the story.
Morgan insists that they bury Nick next to a tree.
In with the excavated supplies, John recognizes a backpack. Inside it is a vintage six-shooter pistol that matches his. The backpack belonged to Naomi. She’s the “Laura” he’s been searching for. John is distraught when Luciana tells him that she didn’t make it out of the stadium and is dead. Morgan agrees to stay with him as the others drive away on their revenge mission.
Frankly, this isn’t a terribly exciting episode. The revelation that staying at the stadium was the mistake that sealed the characters’ fates is pretty anticlimactic. Although the abandoned water park makes an interesting setting for a zombie outbreak, not much notable happens there. Not much notable happens at all, honestly. The plot feels like filler.
The fact that Naomi turns out to be the woman John is searching for feels awfully convenient and contrived. What are the odds all these characters would happen to cross paths? Something about John’s story isn’t adding up for me. Could it be that Laura/Naomi isn’t really the love of his life, and she was trying to escape from him? Does John have a dark secret we haven’t learned yet? Is there more to that story, or am I reading too much into this because the rest of the episode didn’t hold my attention?