Fear the Walking Dead 5.09 Recap: “This Was By Far the Ugliest Mustard I’ve Ever Seen”

The mid-season hiatus for Fear the Walking Dead was so short this year that I barely even noticed the show was gone. It’s back this week to kick off a new storyline, and to frustrate viewers with an annoying stylistic tic.

Frankly, I already find it annoying the way the show will lapse into near-black-and-white photography for long stretches just to look bleak or something. Although this episode has more color than usual, almost the entire thing is shot in crummy standard-def camcorder video that’s really hard on the eyes.

Aside from the final scene, the big gimmick at play is that the episode is presented as a documentary that Althea is making about our heroes’ efforts to do some good in the world. Al found a few more cameras and passed them around, to justify occasional changes in point-of-view. The purpose of this documentary is to serve as a promotional tool so that people will know they’re on the level and not scammers. However, even Althea has to acknowledge the flawed premise that, in a world with limited electricity, it’s going to be very hard for anyone to watch her movie. (Not to mention that she’s shooting it on VHS, which was already long obsolete before the apocalypse hit.) Nevertheless, she’s decided to press on with making it, hoping to figure out a way to distribute the film later.

I would argue that a true journalist would switch to a more practical medium to get the message out. For as many towns as they’ve passed through, one of these characters is bound to have come across a working typewriter in an abandoned thrift store somewhere.

Since the airplane incident, Morgan and company have expanded their operation and grown in optimism for the future. A number of people saw the plane flying and have reached out asking for help, which has allowed the group to start fulfilling its stated purpose. They’ve gone out on more relief missions and are most of them are in much better moods, even joking around a fair amount. Salazar is frustrated that Dwight refuses his offers of a haircut.

After her recent failures and near-death experience, Alicia has decided to take up a life of pacifism and has started studying stick training with Morgan. She won’t even kill zombies anymore.

Thanks to the information Logan (Matt Frewer) provided them, the group were able to find the oil refinery known as “Tankland.” Wendell stayed behind there, while Sarah spends much of this episode driving a tanker full of fresh gas back to her friends. With no small amount of delight, she tells a story about how she screwed over the untrustworthy Logan and abandoned him on a road in the middle of nowhere.

The centerpiece of the episode is the story of one particular relief mission that almost went disastrously wrong. Morgan received a call from a woman named Tess, who has locked herself and her sick son in a house with a yard seeded with land mines. Her husband went out in search of an asthma inhaler for the boy and hasn’t returned. Zombies knocked down a portion of the fence and set off some mines, the sound of which only attracted more zombies. Unfortunately, Grace herself doesn’t know exactly where the mines are hidden; only her husband does. She’s also agoraphobic and refuses to show herself outside. Morgan, John, and some others try to fend of zombies and repair the fence while June heads to the nearest town to find another asthma inhaler. Although she does eventually discover one, sadly it’s in a bag carried by Tess’ zombified husband. He won’t be coming home to help.

The fence eventually gives in and a bunch of zombies get through to the yard. Although a few are taken out by mines, a couple lurch through without hitting any. Morgan races in, hopping from crater to crater in order to take out the zombies before they reach the house. Unfortunately, after doing so, he steps on a pressure mine. If he takes his foot off it, the mine will explode. Althea tries to help him defuse it. (She says she was once embedded with an Army mine-sweeping unit. Isn’t it amazing how she keeps revealing all these convenient new skills right when they’re needed?) However, after witnessing Morgan’s bravery, Tess finally steps out of the house and warns that they’re doing the wrong thing. She watched her husband reset mines a hundred times and walks him through what to do. Morgan leaps to safety with just enough time to get away before mine detonates harmlessly.

This mission successfully accomplished, the group hold a celebratory cookout with improvised pad thai. Tess and her boy attend, in pretty good spirits considering that their husband/father just died.

Alicia tells Morgan that she’s giving up the stick training to do her own thing. She’s also become obsessed with finding out who’s been writing inspirational messages on trees.

The documentary ends with all the characters making a direct plea to camera for people to join their efforts and try to help in any way they can.

Bad Things Brewing

Of course, an episode this seemingly upbeat can’t close without a dark twist at the end. The episode finally transitions back to high-definition video for the last few minutes, in which we meet a new character (a guy with dreadlocks not yet given a name) watching Althea’s movie on a VCR. He’s at a gas stations and steals some gas from the generator to use in his motorcycle. On the way out, however, two cars drive up and Logan intercepts him, in a very bad mood. He believes this guy is one of the people from Tankland and demands to know where it’s located, but the man insists he’s not part of that group. He seems to already know who Logan is.

Logan lets him live, but orders his goons to shoot up the guy’s motorcycle. He tells the man to deliver a message to Morgan and company, warning them that they’ve made an enemy.

Episode Verdict

I think I made it pretty clear at the beginning that I hated the camcorder gimmick of this episode. That sort of thing is fine in small doses, but nearly a full hour of it gave me a headache. The episode isn’t bad in other respects. It has a lot of good character stuff in it. However, it also seems kind of inconsequential, to be honest. The landmine sequence is a brief highlight, but not a lot else of note happens other than characters being interviewed about their feelings. That could have been condensed down to the first act of another episode.

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