“Alaska” solidifies Fear the Walking Dead‘s hot streak by weaving a love story or two into a tale of plague-ridden undead. Somehow, it works.
This recap of Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 3, “Alaska”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The framing device for this latest, inexplicably good season of Fear the Walking Dead is Morgan’s plan to repopulate his secret ghost town utopia with all his friends and their loved ones, which is probably why “Alaska”, the latest and perhaps best episode so far, opens with him doing Rachel’s shopping. He isn’t sporting the fearsome Old Testament beard we saw him rocking in his cameo appearance last week, but he’s still newly motivated, determined to monologue about his reawakening as a no-nonsense man of action while fastening dead bounty hunter Emile’s ax head to his trusty staff. He’s a changed man, you see. He’s still reluctant to hold baby Morgan — for reasons that’ll presumably be obvious to anyone familiar with his flagship show backstory — but he’s determined to give her plenty of aunties and uncles to grow up with. We’ll have to see how that goes.
In the meantime, “Alaska” focuses on Dwight and Al, two characters I historically haven’t cared for who here are suddenly likable thanks to an easygoing dynamic and typically fraught personal issues. Both are pining for lost love. Dwight’s search for Sherry has been his on-going arc ever since he crossed over to this spin-off, and as he notes to Al a bit later in the episode, “You’re talking to a guy who walked halfway across the country because his wife left him a note.” This quest has defined his entire character such that you have to wonder what might be left for him to do once he completes it. If the end of this episode is anything to go by, we’re going to find out.
But that last-minute development works because the focus for much of the runtime is on Al and her long-distance relationship with Isabelle, or as Dwight calls her “the beer lady”, a Civic Republic Military pilot who she met in one of last season’s few passable episodes. It’s revealed throughout “Alaska” — so-called because Dwight and Al play a game in which they collect the driving licenses from the dead in a grim perversion of that old license plate game — that Al has been monitoring CRM communications and listening in on Isabelle’s callsign, “Ground 17”, making regular stops at “Drop Site Baker”. Since Al is deeply dissatisfied with the job she and Dwight are carrying out for Virginia, which is to clear out ruined buildings, document their decline, and figure out what caused it so the same mistakes can be avoided in the future, she’s determined to live a little by tracking down her lost lover.
These two have a suddenly great relationship. It’s actually weird to see their newfound chemistry and their easy familiarity. Dwight is so immediately supportive of Al’s personal quest that he offers to fake her death so that Ginny doesn’t hunt them down for desertion. And he happily accompanies her to Drop Site Baker, which is a helipad on the roof of a multistory office building, where outside they find an elusive Alaskan license on the body of a man who has presumably plummetted from the top. A good omen? Or a bad one?
As it turns out, a mixture of both. This office building contains a tell-tale “The End is the Beginning” graffiti tag, another way these episodes are being linked, and it’s filled with rats. That doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, but once Dwight and Al are introduced to the building’s barely-living occupants, who’re all on death’s door and boasting angry-looking pustules, Al puts two and two together. They have bubonic plague, and the rats are ferrying it around. As reported by Laura, one of the workers who have been in the office since the beginning of the outbreak, her friend Mark was shot by the CRM while investigating their rooftop helicopter. He’s Alaska, the body they found outside. Regardless of these dangers, though, Al is still determined to meet with Isabelle, and Dwight is determined to get her there.
Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 3 is good at staging relatively mundane sequences as though they’re life-or-death. In the episode’s opening, Dwight and Al explore a funeral home using good chunks of first-person Handicam footage and run afoul of a zombie preserved in formaldehyde, which staggers in on high heels. Here, they crawl through a claustrophobic tunnel of rats and discover on a higher floor a flimsy barricade designed to cut all the infected zombies off from the rest of the building. It’s a grim visual, and an intriguing new threat, not entirely unlike the super-sticky molasses variants last week. And as it turns out, Dwight is already infected, his showing symptoms already — he has a pustule on his neck — suggesting that he probably contracted it days prior when a rat got into his sleeping bag.
“Alaska” is also able to mine this for pathos. When Laura eventually catches up with them hiding out in a bathroom, they all clear the barricade together, and in the aftermath, seeing her former friends and colleagues warped by the plague and their zombification and the blunt-force trauma that put paid to both, she breaks down. She doesn’t want them filmed since nobody should remember them in this state. It’s eventually that driving license Al collected outside that helps to bring her around, giving her a little piece of her old friend to keep close. As Dwight said earlier, “Hawaii and Alaska don’t just fall into your lap.” With this good deed done, Al is ready to go up the final stairwell to the roof.
Dwight has left Al a video for the journey, a happy farewell telling her to crack one open for him when she gets wherever she’s going. It’s a touchingly low-key goodbye, but it triggers something in Al. As she hears the chopper blades beating in the distance, she fires off a flare and radios Isabelle to tell her it isn’t safe to land. The building is packed with the dead, who’re all infected. She might be too. She’s sacrificing her new lover and adventure for Dwight, and Maggie Grace sells the moment really well, letting it rest in her expression and her voice. Isabelle lets her know there is beer in the supply crates and hopes it won’t be the last one she enjoys. She also tells her to stay off this channel, closing off this subplot for the rest of the reason. Drop Site Baker has been burned. The CRM is proceeding to Drop Site Delta. And on it goes.
There is beer in the supply crate. But there are also antibiotics, enough to heal everyone inside, including Dwight. This might feel a bit like a last-minute a*s-pull of convenience, but I didn’t mind it. The tone felt just right. Al explains to Dwight that she lost a brother once and tapes were all she had of him — she didn’t want that to happen again. It’s as good a justification as any. On their way out, they find the spray can used to graffiti the wall and surmise that the plague infection might have been intentional. This raises an intriguing large-scale problem — who would deliberately infect an office building full of survivors with the bubonic plague?
No time to ponder. At that moment they hear a voice over the radio inquiring about the flare. It’s a voice Dwight recognizes — Sherry’s. He heads outside and there she is, after all this time. They run to each other and kiss while Al tearfully, smilingly looks on.
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