“The End of Everything” was a more focused and greatly improved episode, with strong character work and a romantic undercurrent, even if it that lingering stupidity of it all is still lurking in the margins.
This Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 5 recap for the episode titled “The End of Everything” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I’ve decided I’m going to stop making declarations about the quality of this show. It just isn’t worth it. We have a good episode, and I say that the show is improving; the following week we have a terrible episode and I say that it isn’t improving after all. Then what do we get? Well, we get Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 5, the best episode of the season. At this point, the only word I can get away with applying to it all is “inconsistent”.
The trouble with inconsistency is that you have to tune in on the off chance that you get a good episode, but then you end up sitting through a string of rubbish ones. I could say that an hour like “The End of Everything” makes that commitment worth it, but that might be overselling things. It was good. It was, as mentioned, probably the best episode of this tortuously idiotic fifth season, but that’s like being the healthiest person in a doctor’s waiting room. Just because you don’t feel too ill doesn’t mean there isn’t something life-threatening lingering below the surface.
But the surface of Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 5 didn’t suggest any deeper maladies — not many, anyway. It was a refreshingly focused installment that honed in on Al (Maggie Grace) and her captor, Isabel (Sydney Lemmon), a compelling and disappointingly temporary new presence who reps that enigmatic three-ringed militia who kidnapped Rick Grimes and clearly have plans to mold “the future” in their own blacked-out image. We found out some more about them in “The End of Everything”, but nothing concrete. They remain a peripheral presence that I suspect will matter more in various spin-offs than they do here.
It scarcely matters, because Isabel is representative of something I always like in this kind of fiction, which is the idea that even the worst or most faceless groups are made up of complex individuals. Isabel needs the tape that Al made exposing certain tell-tale documents related to her organization, and because she’s loyal to that organization, she’s willing to go to great lengths to retrieve it. But is she willing to abandon her humanity? Is she prepared to ignore what is quite obviously a romantic attraction; to pass up the opportunity for some real human connection in a world where there are barely any humans left, and almost none of them have a double-digit IQ? How do the decisions she has made in her past — namely, having to kill a partner — inform the decisions she feels she has to make now?
I enjoy moral quandaries of this sort. It’s all too easy in post-apocalyptic material to just arbitrarily divide survivors into heroes and villains. This group is bad, therefore everyone in the group must be bad, or it’s too complicated to write and depict. And the same goes in reverse. This is why Shane — remember him? — was the best character by far in early seasons of The Walking Dead. And it’s why Isabel elevates “The End of Everything”. Despite her silly three-pronged trident-style bayonet (we’re really going in for the whole signature weapon thing, huh?), she doesn’t come across like a cartoon or a played-out archetype. She seems like a real, complicated person.
Maggie Grace’s Al hasn’t ever been a great character, and still isn’t, but Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 5 is the closest she has come. Her constant reiteration about the importance of “stories” is still dopey, even if fundamentally I agree with it, but some of the writing here helped to flesh out her mentality. That clash of preserving the past and building the future came to the fore. Do we abandon who we were to become something new? Or do we try to reclaim our old selves, adamant that even the worst circumstances can’t dampen the essence of what we left behind?
This all leads to a predictably sexless smooch, and a rather silly shot of Al and Isabel quite literally going their separate ways. But the path to get there incorporates a rock slide and a mountain climb, with the upper hand switching back and forth as both women learn more about each other and their respective intentions. For all its downsides — and “The End of Everything” wasn’t totally immune to them — the ability to craft a tense or creative action set-piece is something that Fear the Walking Dead has always retained, even at its worst. For once, that action informed the character work, rather than distracting from it.
I have quibbles. Some of the lines were utterly awful. Some of the individual moments were corny. And Isabel ultimately left — one assumes for good, or at least a while. Given the show’s history, I can’t imagine that Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 5 represents any kind of consistent improvement. It’s obvious at this point that more than two characters at any given moment are more than this show can handle, and all the usual cast are annoying or uninteresting or have no direction to follow. It is what it is. But as I said at the top, this show is inconsistent. In that case, we might get another episode as good as “The End of Everything” eventually. Then again, we might not.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.