“J.D.” helps to atone for the death of a fan-favorite character, and its emotional payoffs just about excuse a few too many contrivances.
This recap of Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 13, “J.D.”, contains spoilers.
Killing off John Dorie in “The Door” was a ballsy move for Fear the Walking Dead to make. It annoyed a fair amount of people, several of whom contacted me directly telling me that they’d be abandoning the show as if it was my fault. Offing fan-favorite characters never goes smoothly, but it can make for very emotional and genuinely shocking storytelling when it’s done right. I personally thought the manner in which John was killed was affecting, and surprising, and worked both on its own terms and in the wider context of how his death impacted other characters. On that level, it’s hard to know what to make of “J.D.”, which is intimately tied to John Dorie despite his passing, and even goes the extra mile of introducing another character named John Dorie.
J.D. Senior left John years ago, but never stopped being a part of his life. Every personal and professional decision John made was in response to his abandonment, and his farewell episode was rife with pointed symbolism. A perfectly chosen Keith Carradine plays his father in Fear the Walking Dead season 6, episode 13, and he arrives like the aged, curmudgeonly ghost of John himself. Naturally, he begins to haunt June.
June has had little time to grapple with John’s sudden death. Her decision to remain at Lawton’s new hospital is something she has tried to deal with internally but is forced to address directly in “J.D.” when Morgan, still stingingly bitter from the loss of Grace’s child, blames that event on June. He’s lashing out, obviously, but to June it makes little difference either way. He’s giving voice to the guilt she already feels.
What-if scenarios torture everyone in “J.D.”. What if the senior John Dorie never left? What if June remained at Morgan’s settlement? What if Sherry returned to Virginia and the main show and killed Negan herself? And so on, and so forth. The irony in that is that there’s plenty of development in the overarching plot here. Thanks to a series of extraordinary coincidences, June, Dwight, and Sherry don’t just meet Carradine’s J.D. but discover that he also has intimate knowledge of Teddy and his cult. As it turns out, he was the criminal who J.D. abandoned his principles to frame, which is what led to him leaving his son behind in the first place. While both John Dories are law-enforcement sharpshooters with a stoic Old West masculinity about them, the essential difference between them is that the son was eventually able to forgive his father for this abandonment, but the father was never quite able to forgive himself.
All of this is good stuff. I really don’t like the fact that we have to accept some puzzling geography in order to facilitate this meeting, and the fact that J.D. has been living down the road this whole time isn’t going to withstand any serious scrutiny, so there’s a sense here of how the show was plotted at its very worst. Luckily, though, the character drama remains better than ever. The payoffs to the contrivances – especially the moment when June reads John’s letter to her aloud – are effective enough that you can overlook the convenience of it all. I don’t think J.D. will become a series regular, but he’s clearly being positioned as a way not just to bring the rest of the group into direct conflict with Teddy but to allow the spirit of John Dorie to live on a little longer. You can’t argue with that.