TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘Blackjack’

"You just gotta believe. You just gotta fight for that next day."

| September 11, 2018

Spoiler Warning for Season 4, Episode 13 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series. Spoilers from “The Walking Dead” will also be discussed.

Danay Garcia as Luciana. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The second half of Season 4 of “Fear the Walking Dead” has been far weaker than what came before it. Alicia and Charlie’s “Close Your Eyes” standalone and this episode prove that there is still worthwhile story to be told, however. By featuring the entire cast and blending tension and mystery with humor and hope, this is a strong chapter that pushes the story forward and sets up the final act of the season. Luciana, Strand and John take center stage after being absent for several episodes, helping themselves and each other.

A bulk of the episode follows Strand and John who have been marooned on an island that is surrounded by floodwaters from the hurricane. They were last seen heading out into the storm in search of Charlie, but unfortunately, the show basically skips over their entire struggle during the actual hurricane to once again only show the aftermath. It’s unclear exactly how long the two have been on this island, but it is clear that they have very separate priorities: Strand just wants to spend his time reading in a cabin while John is working hard to build a raft to get back to the mainland. The two aren’t alone on the island as an annoying chirping bird is also present and appears to be drawing walkers to their location with its shrieking noise. John points out that he has never seen this type of bird alone and that it is another sign that the world has gone mad. The makeshift raft that John has built is apparently seaworthy for the both of them, but Strand states that he no longer wants to go out on the water, likely a reference to his days aboard the Abigail in Season 2. John is totally determined to reach the other side of the floods and pleads with Strand to come along, noting that it will take a long time before the floodwaters lower, especially if the levees broke. This episode really shows the differences between John and Strand and provides a clear explanation for why both are they way they are. Where John is hopeful and optimistic, Strand is depressed and broken.

Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie and Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

The moment John’s raft hits the water, it becomes clear that he isn’t going to make it across the water…not even close. Strand bursts out laughing, but his mood shifts dramatically as a frightening figure is seen lurking just under the surface while moving quickly in the direction of the raft. It’s an ALLIGATOR. Nature has thrown another curveball at the characters, and they are now trapped in an even worse position. Strand snaps back into his laughing mode as he thinks about the ridiculousness of the whole situation. A walker steps into the water and is pulled under and ripped apart by the alligator. John notes that because the walkers don’t have any sense of fear and wander into whatever is in front of them, the alligator is able to feast on the dead without any worry of being attacked by humans. Still, John is persistent on finding a way to cross, and Strand questions the odds of ever finding June again. John responds by defending his optimistic point of view that the world keeps trying to defeat, “You gotta fight for everyday. I found someone I want to fight alongside.” He also shows off a piece of blackjack candy that he managed to hold onto during the storm and that happens to be June’s favorite; “Little things like this, make you want to keep fighting.” It’s goes without saying that both the world of “The Walking Dead” and our real world need more people like John Dorie.

It would’t be a “TWD” show without someone unnecessarily risking their life to complete a task. The two discover a trapped camper van that is precariously dangling at the top of a hill. The cover of the van would be the perfect raft for them to sail across the water, according to John, who is unable to climb up and retrieve it due to his still recovering gunshot wound. He hilariously manages to guilt Strand into climbing up the van, but a bottle of scotch ultimately distracts the conman. He falls into the van with a grabby walker and the two tumble down the ravine, splashing into the water. Due to luck and plot armor, Strand is miraculously uninjured and unbitten, but John is PISSED that Strand would be so ridiculously careless about the situation. This is where the two men separate again as John uses his skills to create a raft. John is an extremely convincing man and does his best to provide comfort and persuade Strand to join him to sail across the flood. It’s clear that Strand is hurting from the loss of Madison, stating that he lost his drinking buddy and is now drinking to forget. John agrees to drink with him, but only once they’ve reached the mainland. Since Season 1, Strand has always been brutally pessimistic, but there’s a shift in his character as he agrees to tag along with John and set sail in the alligator ridden waters.

Mo Collins as Sarah, Daryl Mitchell as Wendell, Jenna Elfman as June and Lennie James as Morgan Jones. (Photo credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

John is one of the most resourceful characters on the show currently and he provides further proof of this by rigging the van battery to a horn that he then places away from where they plan to launch the raft. The idea is that this horn will draw walkers into the water, therefore distracting the alligator. They begin rowing out into the floodwaters, but because nothing ever goes as planned, the horn quickly dies out and the walkers turn away from the water, effectively sending the alligator straight to their raft. This all sounds ridiculous — and it is. However, it does make for an especially tense scene as the alligator rams into the raft and breaks a hole in the bottom, causing it to flood. John wants to try and swim for the mainland, but Strand warns that they aren’t close and makes it clear that he only came along to humor John’s idea. They only really have one option: to distract the alligator by making noise and drawing the walkers back into the water, allowing them to swim back to the island. When they return, there is a vastly different tone present. Strand returns to the peace of his cabin, while John sits on the shore, staring at the mainland. He takes out the piece of blackjack candy…and eats it. Quite possibly the most hopeful character on the show is taking a darker turn as he sees that he may not make it off of this damn island. It’s a disturbing sight, mostly because John has been a beacon of light since he was introduced at the start of this season. With his hope ripped away, will John begin to lose himself like so many before him have done? Will he actually ever reunite with June? Things aren’t looking great for these love birds.

Much of this episode also follows Morgan’s crew after the eye-opening events of the previous episode. June, Althea and Morgan leave the semi and head over to the mile marker where Quinn last radioed in, but he is nowhere to be found…because Filthy Woman killed him with Pervis the walker and is now using him as her pet. Speaking of Pervis, he ends up stumbling upon Sarah, Wendell and Jim while they are waiting for the others to return. In one of the coolest kills of the season, Wendell uses spears attached to the back of his wheelchair to kill the walker much to Jim’s annoying worry; if there was any wonder as to how Wendell has survived this long, here is the answer: he can take care of himself with no problem. There’s more great banter involving Sarah and Wendell, specifically in regards to Morgan’s hilarious nickname “Momo” and their point system for killing the undead. When the others arrive, there is plenty of confusion at the deceased walker with writing on it’s face, but Filthy Woman radios in and hauntingly warns them that by placing the help boxes, they are effectively making survivors weak. She also tells Morgan that she knows exactly who he is and what he is capable of, hinting that she watched his interview tape and is aware of some of what he has been through. This causes concern among members of the group that Morgan isn’t being totally truthful about his past, but he states that he has a lot of things to make up for…much like another character who is focused on this episode. We know what Morgan has done, but the “Fear” characters don’t.

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Jenna Elfman as Naomi, Maggie Grace as Althea. (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

While the intent of Morgan’s crossover to “Fear” is still unknown, and some elements of it are rather iffy, it is downright incredible that elements of his character are being honored here. One of the most important points of Morgan’s story is “Here’s Not Here,” when he meets Eastman and is taught the art of aikido, putting him on a path of peace which would save his life. Years later, and on a different show, the impact of Eastman is still being felt. In this episode, Morgan buries Pervis, a clear nod to what Eastman used to do in burying the walkers as a heavy reminder that the dead were once people. This small and simple scene is likely not a major point for many viewers, but it is crucial in understanding Morgan’s character and his history. Eastman is impacting characters that he never met, or was even aware of, hundreds of miles away on a different show via Morgan. If there’s anything to take away from this crossover, it’s that human beings are united in more ways than we think and that there is some real power to the simple act of being kind and helping people.

Sarah drives the crew to the location of where she and Wendell stole the semi from it’s original owner, a man nicknamed “Polar Bear,” who also kept detailed journals. Al reads through the journals that were kept on the truck and states that she really wants to hear more of his story. Sarah and Wendell are questioned as to why they would steal a truck from someone, an act that they vehemently defend due to the fact that he left the keys in the semi. There’s a small and important moment for June and Morgan as they place a new help box at a mile marker, looking at one another as affirmation that, even with the threat of Filthy Woman in the air, they are still doing the right thing. Morgan writes a message on the box, urging anyone in need of help to contact him through the radio channel. This allows for the characters to slowly begin to come back together as a radio signal from a familiar voice comes over the walkie. It’s Charlie, who has found one of the boxes while traveling with Alicia. Alicia is initially concerned due to the fact that she doesn’t know who left the box, but her face shifts to complete relief when she hears Morgan’s voice. Unfortunately, Filthy Woman interrupts the happy reunion to voice even more eerie thoughts about helping people. She basically threatens the characters, but Morgan stands up to her and makes it clear that the members of the group will find one another and that they will continue to help people. Helping others doesn’t make people weak, it makes everyone stronger. Morgan even offers to help Filthy Woman, noting that he was once where she was, going around killing people with no regard for life…until someone helped him. Again, Eastman’s legacy is still being felt.

Danay Garcia as Luciana, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Clayton – (Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC)

It’s extremely annoying and not at all beneficial to go several episodes without showing central characters such as Luciana. This episode shows that she is definitely a character that deserves more screentime and should be featured more heavily as she is truly the standout here. After chasing Charlie into the storm during the Mid-Season Premiere, Luciana decides to search for her and uses the copy of “The Little Prince” to try and track her down. This book leads Luciana to a local library, where Charlie is nowhere to be found. She exits the library and finds an infected pounding on the window of a crashed car nearby; thinking that Charlie might be trapped inside, she kills the walker and opens the door only to find an elderly man named Clayton (Stephen McKinley Henderson) with his leg jammed. The man explains that he has been trapped since the storm hit, and Luciana vows to get him out, claiming that she “has some things to make up for.” That’s really the common theme of this episode, specifically for the characters of Luciana and Morgan, establishing a truly beautiful parallel between the two. Unfortunately, as Luciana tries to free Clayton’s leg from the jam, it becomes clear that he isn’t getting out of this situation. Clayton seems to have accepted his fate. He does have one final request, however, and Luciana promises to honor it. He just wants to enjoy a beer before he slips away from this harsh world. How could you not at least try and get this man what he wants?

While the storm was mostly glossed over, there are some excellent shots of the ravaged landscape. There is debris everywhere, making it even harder to find supplies. Luciana scavenges the area in search of Clayton’s final request. She finds a beer truck, but it was looted long ago. She also finds an case of root beer, but that’s obviously not what she’s looking for. This particular quest has shades of Beth Greene’s story in the “TWD” episode, “Still.” Feeling hopeless, Luciana radios into Clayton and lets him know that she’s sorry she couldn’t help him. In a powerful statement, he lets her know that she will go on to help many people in her life. By the stroke of luck, and the desire of Morgan to help people, Luciana finds one of the help boxes with Jim’s beer and Morgan’s message. She returns to Clayton and surprises him with the beer, explaining that she couldn’t help comfort someone (Nick) in his final moments and that she’s letting history repeat itself in this case. It is revealed that Clayton is actually Polar Bear and is the one responsible for the help boxes; this kind man just wanted to help people, proving that good people CAN survive in this world…until they can’t. Clayton dies offscreen, and Luciana buries him before radioing on the channel and thanking whomever left the box for giving a dying man peace and joy. Morgan responds and there is another gracious moment of reunion as the semi picks up Luciana. Unfortunately, this positivity doesn’t last too long as the SWAT truck comes barreling up behind the semi with the Filthy Woman driving. She echoes Morgan’s line about him “losing people and then losing himself” before unleashing a hellfire of machine gunfire on the semi. Has this maniac just killed more of our crew? Why do happy moments never last long in this franchise?

“Blackjack” is a strong episode, especially following up the previous two episodes, which are notably weaker than the series’ normally high standard. This chapter touches base with each of the characters and serves to show that helping others is a crucial element to one’s own survival in this world. That being said, there is always consequences to doing the right thing as seen in the shocking cliffhanger. There are plenty of tense moments this episode, including the shooting and the game of chicken with the crocodile. There are also plenty of excellent character moments that provide development for characters such as John and Luciana. The standout performances of this episode are definitely Danay García, Garret Dillahunt, Colman Domingo, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lennie James, each managing to fully showcase a ranger of somber and upbeat emotions during the hour. Special praise should also be given to the cinematography of this episode, particularly during the scenes with John and Strand on the island, creating a feeling of hopelessness and isolation. The next episode looks to provide some answers in the form of Filthy Woman’s backstory, while also dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. Will we finally learn this mysterious killer’s name? Do we even want to know?

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Television

Jeffrey Kopp Jeffrey Kopp is the Editor-in-Chief of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead." Reach him at editor@ninertimes.com or @JeffreyKopp97 on Twitter.

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Jeffrey Kopp Jeffrey Kopp is the Editor-in-Chief of the Niner Times. He is a senior double majoring in Communication and Political Science. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead." Reach him at editor@ninertimes.com or @JeffreyKopp97 on Twitter.

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