“Close Your Eyes” focused on the few things that still make Fear the Walking Dead watchable, and in doing so delivered the best episode in a while.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day. And even in the tumultuous trainwreck of its fourth season, Fear the Walking Dead still has the capacity to deliver an emotionally-engaging episode, even if, like always, it was undercut by some lingering stupidity and contrivance. Like “Laura” in the first half of the season, “Close Your Eyes” narrowed its focus, honing in on Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) as they took shelter from the storm in a sagging, waterlogged house.
I’m not a hater, so allow me to say up-front: Debnam-Carey was outstanding in “Close Your Eyes”. She’s a fine actress, and no matter how absurd I find the direction her character has taken throughout this season, that fact remains. She’s the last holdover of the show’s better days, and a reminder that there is absolutely something worth salvaging here – even if it’s only her. And to her credit, Alexa Nisenson delivered a performance beyond her years, even though whenever she speaks I find myself repeating the mantra, “Snitches get stitches.” I’m working class; that’s just how we think.
It’s easy to like and care about Alicia, but “Close Your Eyes” demands you care about Charlie too. And the fact the episode succeeds in that on some level proves a couple of things: one, that someone behind the scenes knows how to write passable English dialogue, which was news to me; and two, that this storyline has been pretty dumb since the beginning. Allow me to explain.
We shouldn’t give a single discount shit about Charlie. Since her inception, the character has been presented as a manipulative weasel whose actions have resulted in the deaths of two beloved characters and the complete re-characterisation of a third. She’s public enemy number one. And yet, here we are. In “Close Your Eyes” she explains how she can’t even remember the real faces of her parents; only their withered, rotting visages after they turned. It’s easy to mistake her for someone much older, but really, she’s just a kid. She’s lost and alone and vulnerable. Most of the things she did, they weren’t her fault. Not really.
I have a problem with this, because when you think about Charlie as a victim, Alicia’s character simply breaks down. Her mad revenge plot seems ludicrous. This has long been the most intelligent, resourceful and pragmatic of Fear the Walking Dead’s characters. That she’s so intent on executing a child, without ever really attempting to understand her rationale, smacks of lazy character writing. Grief doesn’t cut it as an excuse. This is the apocalypse. Everyone has lost their family, their friends, themselves. What, then, is to be done?
Try blaming Charlie, especially after “Close Your Eyes”. It doesn’t work anymore. In managing to make Charlie sympathetic, the show has made Alicia idiotic. And yet it seems like the better option to just commit to Charlie’s villainy; to have had Alicia off her when she closed her eyes to cloyingly fantasise about her lost family. It might seem harsh. But it might have been more palatable than what we ended up with, which was the two on a best pals road trip. When Alicia handed over what has now become her signature weapon, my eyes rolled so hard they almost plopped out onto my desk.
I like my zombie shows to be dark and miserable and frightening, but I also like them to be touching and thoughtful and interesting, because if they’re not, why would you care? The problem with Fear the Walking Dead – excuse me, one of the problems – is that it can’t operate in both modes. It can’t veer back and forth. It’s all of one thing, or all of the other. And that makes episodes like “Close Your Eyes” really good in a standalone, contained sense. But it also makes it difficult to reconcile them with the rest of the season. So, I liked the show for the duration of this episode. And I have every confidence that I’ll hate it again next week.