Fear the Walking Dead does what I have to assume is intended as an extended Dawn of the Dead riff this week. More importantly, the show returns to regular high-definition (albeit dull and colorless) photography.
The episode starts with a man named Chuck radioing Channel 4 and asking for help. Specifically, he wants someone to kill him. He’s been residing in an abandoned shopping mall, but recently got bitten and is on the verge of death. “By the time you get here, I’ll already be gone,” he says. He doesn’t want to become a zombie, but he doesn’t have a gun to shoot himself with. He says that he’ll lock himself in the security office so that he can’t hurt anyone, and asks that someone come to put him down and bury his body. He just wants to rest in peace.
Morgan, Grace, and Dwight heed the call. They break into the building and find that the mall is surprisingly pristine inside. It hasn’t been looted at all, which almost seems impossible. The bottom level may be swarming with zombies, but the upper floors are clear. When Grace passes out, Morgan sets her up to take a nice nap in a comfy bed in a furniture store.
The group don’t find Chuck, but he left behind a note specifically addressed to Grace (he’d apparently been listening to their broadcasts for a while before reaching out), along with an old iPod loaded up with an audiobook copy of A Tale of Two Cities.
Dwight worries that Logan may have also heard Chuck’s messages and could be heading for them. He offers to go meet up with Salazar (who’s leading a caravan) and return with some trucks to load up. However, before leaving, he sends out a radio transmission announcing exactly where he’s going.
Morgan and Grace stay at the mall to look for the presumably zombified Chuck. Grace’s fainting spell has her extremely worried about her health. She spots an Urgent Care center that should have x-ray and ultrasound machines she can use to see if the radiation poisoning has given her cancer yet, but it’s on the first floor with all the zombies. They’ll also need to get to a generator first and turn on some power.
Morgan has a clever idea to use a remote controlled toy car to lure zombies away from the Urgent Care, but Grace strays off when she thinks she sees Chuck among the zombies She gets swarmed while trying to sneak up and kill him. Morgan has to rescue her, and they lock themselves in a GNC-style vitamin store hoping that Dwight will return by morning. Grace starts listening to her audiobook in fast-forward speed, explaining that she only makes short-term commitments now because every day could be her last. Morgan finds this attitude sad.
When the glass doors to the store begin to crack, Morgan and Grace retreat to the service hallways in the belly of the building. They encounter some zombies that Morgan has to fight in the dark, but eventually make their way to the generator room. They turn on the power and the entire mall lights up, including a carousel. Unfortunately, when they get back to the Urgent Care, their attempts to open the security gate set off an alarm that draws zombies.
Grace and Morgan retreat up a flight of stairs, but now that the escalators are working again, zombies follow them upstairs until Grace figures out how to reverse the direction and sends them back down again. The two discover another security office, where they’re able to turn off the alarms and find keys to the Urgent Care. They also spot Chuck on a security camera monitor, still alive.
Chuck went up to the building roof hoping to see some stars one last time before he dies. Sadly, it’s a cloudy night. Morgan and Grace introduce themselves, and Grace is able to sort-of grant Chuck’s wish with a night-light starfield projector from a store in the mall. They all have a nice moment under the false stars.
In the morning, Morgan and Grace bury Chuck under a flower bed in front of the mall. Grace then tells Morgan that she’s decided not to screen herself for cancer after all. She’d rather not know, and live for the moment each day. She even returns her audiobook to normal playback speed. After clearing out zombies, she hops on the carousel and cajoles Morgan into riding with her.
On the Road
Dwight stops for a pee break and gets waylaid by a redneck working for Logan. The man locks him in the back of a truck and threatens to torture him for the location of the oil fields, but Dwight acts like a smartass back to him. He broadcast his location specifically expecting to lure Logan away from the mall, and he’s been through so much bad shit in his life (evidenced by his burn scars) that he isn’t afraid of a beating or torture.
The redneck gets to him, however, when he finds Dwight’s collection of letters from Sherry, and threatens to burn them. Dwight breaks free from his restraints and wrestles the gun away from the man, turning the tables on their situation.
Rather than kill the redneck, Dwight lets him live. He delivers a speech about the importance of second chances and lets the man go, telling him that he should reconsider whether he really wants to be an asshole.
The next day, Dwight meets up with Salazar and leads the caravan to the mall so that they can fill the trucks with supplies before Logan finds the place. Salazar is disappointed that the mall doesn’t have a Cinnabon, but Dwight finally allows him to give him a haircut and a shave. Ugly burn scars aside, Dwight looks like a whole new person without the scraggly hair and beard.
Seemingly from out of nowhere, Morgan tells Grace that he’s not going with the caravan. He’s going to meet up with Althea and give her some backup. Although unstated, it’s pretty clear that he’s developing feelings for Grace and is afraid to let that go any farther when she could die at any time. The both of them shed some tears as they part company.
As obviously as the mall setting is meant to be evocative of George Romero’s classic zombie movie, this episode makes no attempt to mimic Romero’s satire of American consumerism. That seems like a missed opportunity, but it’s also probably for the best. That would feel out of place in this show, and I doubt the writers would know how to handle it anyway.
In practical plot terms, it seems wildly improbable that this mall could continue to exist unmolested so far into the apocalypse. By their nature, shopping malls are very visible places designed to draw traffic towards them. This isn’t some hidden-away location that everybody’s forgotten about. Even the moderate zombie infestation on the ground floor wouldn’t be too much of a deterrent to someone motivated to get all the useful goodies inside. Chuck survived in there all by himself for a time. He couldn’t possibly be the first person to think of it.
The episode requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief on this major issue. If you can get past that, fortunately, it has some good character work, especially from Dwight and Grace. The remote control car bit and the escalator fight are also pretty fun.