“Weak” boasted some strong performances and teased an intriguing new villain, but sloppy writing undermined its efforts.
It’s probably worthy of note that “Weak”, the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead, was directed by Colman Domingo, known in the show as the self-interested grifter Victor Strand. And he’s pretty good! He knows how to frame a shot and build a tense sequence and tease solid performances out of his actors; particularly, in this case, Maggie Grace’s Althea and Jenna Elfman’s June, who both had some strong dramatic moments this week. But even Michael Phelps can’t swim against a tsunami, so despite Domingo’s admirable directorial efforts, the weight of the show’s incredibly lacklustre writing, aimless plotting and tired thematic underpinnings still made a reasonably-competent episode feel sluggish and ungainly.
It certainly doesn’t help that nobody, as far as I’m aware, cares much about Althea and June – or, for that matter, Morgan (Lennie James), who also showed up in “Weak” with his new buddies, Wendell (Daryl Mitchell), Sarah (Mo Collins), and Jim (Aaron Stanford). These people still feel like imposters in a show that has never been about them, and they’re all symptomatic of an approach that didn’t fit Fear the Walking Dead when it was first employed and continues to cripple a once-great spinoff. Their individual quirks might be interesting enough – Althea’s tricked-out SWAT van and journalistic impulses; June’s chameleonic nature and reluctance to commit – but beyond those affectations, what do these characters bring to the story? And what would be lost if they weren’t in it anymore?
What’s worse is that these characters can’t even keep their own personalities consistent. Separated from the rest of the group in the aftermath of the zombie-flinging storm, Althea and June are almost out of supplies and behaving desperately. June has drained the batteries both in Althea’s video camera – she has been compulsively re-watching John Dorie’s interview tape – and the long-range radio, and typically-uptight Althea seems pretty laidback about all this. In fact she only exhibits some real enthusiasm when she comes down with a mysterious virus, and even then it’s enthusiasm for completely betraying her established characterisation.
To stave off the illness, Althea needs medicine, which is apparently aboard the SWAT van that has been conveniently hijacked. Sending June in pursuit, they both almost die in the retrieval. And then it turns out that there was never any medicine aboard. Althea just wanted the van back.
On the one hand, I get it. I’d want the van back too. And the point of the chase sequence and June’s deliberation over whether to execute the hijacker was the soul-searching at the heart of the episode; a character without much personality trying to find one that fits. But it was still overwhelmingly dumb. The “Weak” episode title is supposed to refer to Althea being deathly ill, but it could just as easily be a summary of the writing that sprang this nonsense into being.
Elsewhere in “Weak”, things were slightly better. Tonya Pinkins turned up as a new villain – a kind of itinerant serial killer who keeps a pet zombie around like an attack dog and daubs weird mantras on their faces in Sharpie marker. Her unhealthy fascination with the undead as some kind of evolutionarily-developed upgrade to humanity is a bit played-out at this point, but I’m so sick of rival factions that function as non-too-subtle moral reflections of the heroes that I’ll take almost anything else at this point. Hopefully she’ll kill a couple of the main cast and take some strain off the writers. Trying to spin plates is all well and good, but you always need to hold a couple back to eat your dinner off.