This week’s episode of ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ features not a single one of the show’s original cast or characters, and hardly moves the plot forward at all. It’s also probably the best episode of the season so far.
‘Laura’ is a classic bottle episode restricted to a couple of locations with a limited cast and hardly any action. The focus is on character development for two of the least talkative new characters introduced this season. Nearly the whole thing is a flashback filling in the connection between John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Naomi (Jenna Elfman) – if that is her real name, which still isn’t certain yet.
We open with John cleaning his two classic six-shooters. He lives in a cabin near the river that’s surrounded by a ditch he’s dug to slow down zombies. When one approaches, he puts the gun away and takes care of it with an axe instead. The guns are not for shooting.
John lives alone and has a very dull daily routine. He plays Scrabble solo (and struggles to get an obvious word practically already spelled out for him in tiles) and talks to himself a lot. He has enough electricity (not explained how) to power lights and a TV that he watches movies on via VHS. He is perhaps going a little stir crazy.
One day, a live woman washes up on shore. She’s injured, so he brings her inside and nurses her back to health. She is scared and distrustful by nature, and tries to steal his truck only to find that the battery is dead. He remains super nice, considerate and patient with her. He’s just glad to have company. Because she won’t tell him her name, he calls her Laura.
Laura is very clear with him all along that she intends to leave as soon as she’s strong enough. Nevertheless, John is hopeful that she’ll change her mind. He tells her that he used to be a cop, and that he performed as a trick shooter in a Wild West show on the side (hence the pistols), but he doesn’t like using guns anymore. Laura only admits that she was a nurse when he guesses as much from the way she directed him to stitch up her injury.
Laura agrees to go with John on a supply run to a nearby town. They travel there by canoe, and discover that a truck had crashed off a bridge into the river. John asks if that’s how she wound up at his cabin, but she insists that the truck wasn’t hers. Zombies crossing the bridge will occasionally fall through the hole in the railing, which is why they keep washing up downriver.
The town is deserted but appears strangely untouched. The General Store hasn’t been looted and is mostly well stocked with food and supplies. John takes only what he needs. He even signs out the videotapes he borrows with short review comments. On the way back home, they attempt to repair the hole in the bridge railing with some makeshift fencing.
Laura’s resistance to John is slowly wearing down. She tells him that she lost a child. He teaches her how to fish. When he offers her a pair of boots, she declines, saying that she prefers sneakers because she wants to be able to run.
When Laura’s wound is healed enough to remove the stitches, she tells John that she’s ready to leave. However, when another zombie washes up on shore, she agrees to stay long enough to help him fix the fence again. He seems disappointed and turns sulky.
On the way back to the bridge, John discovers that Laura stole one of his guns. He gets very angry about this, and takes out a lot of aggression on zombies. While trying to move a car to block the hole in the railing, the two of them are swarmed and have to climb into the car. Laura begs John to use his gun to shoot the zombies, but he refuses, dangerously fighting them off in close quarters with a knife instead. He nearly gets the two of them killed. Afterward, he tells the story about why he doesn’t like guns. When he was a cop, he tried to stop a robber by winging him in the leg, but the man turned and the bullet hit an artery. The man bled out, and John felt deeply uncomfortable with the way everyone treated him like a hero.
The car blockade proves even less useful than the fence. Hearing noises from the river, a horde of zombies shove the car out of the way and plunge into the water. That night, they swarm John’s cabin. He and Laura fight desperately to stop them from overrunning the place, but there are so many that they fill the ditch, allowing others to walk over them and cross. Laura falls into the ditch and zombies pile on top of her. With no other option, John finally uses his guns, rapidly blowing away a dozen zombies with incredible precision and saving Laura.
Once the cabin is safe, John gives Laura one of his guns and continues to be sulky about her leaving. He blurts out that he loves her. She kisses him. They fall into bed. When morning comes, however, John wakes up alone. Laura is gone. A note written in Scrabble tiles says, “I LOVE YOU TOO IM SORRY.”
As the episode ends, the preceding events are framed as John telling his story to Morgan. He frets that he waited too long to tell Laura/Naomi that he loved her, and if he’d said it earlier, maybe she would have stayed and maybe she’d still be alive today. The moral Morgan derives from this is, “Ain’t no waiting, not in this world.” He tells John that they need to go save their new friends – Alicia, Strand, Luciana, and Althea – from getting themselves killed. “Let’s not waste another second,” he says.
This may be a bottle episode, but it’s very well written and emotionally engaging. In just one hour, these two characters prove far more interesting and compelling than any of the show’s original cast. Fans of Madison and crew may be disappointed that the change of direction this season has shifted away from them, but it seems like a wise decision to me.
Something tells me that Laura/Naomi didn’t die at the baseball stadium after all and will turn up again. She also still has a lot of backstory left to fill in regarding why she’s so cagey around everyone and how she came to wash up at John’s cabin. I hope we get to see more of that.