This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 3
In my four seasons of covering a zombie show, “Multiple zombie roadblocks, strung together with entrails” is still not a sentence I ever expected to write—and yet that’s exactly what’s in my notes for “Humbug’s Gulch.” The episode’s opening minutes follow our band of “serious people” as they slowly but steadily hack and slash their way past the aforementioned “bowel blockades” in their search for Althea. But as it turns out, “Gulch” isn’t so much about who’s missing as it is about who’s found—namely the newest Walking Dead character to jump their way into Fear the Walking Dead—Austin Amelio’s Dwight. But more on this exiled former Savior in a bit.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that this episode is directed by Colman Domingo, who also helmed last season’s “Weak,” which first introduced viewers to Martha (a.k.a. The Filthy Woman). “Gulch” is well-shot, with many of its nighttime scenes evoking an eerie, fog-bound dread. Domingo also balances the action well with quieter character beats. And yet, there are also moments of pure cheese that practically deep-six the episode—and the majority of those scenes take place in a local tourist attraction known as Humbug’s Gulch.
Cue the imitation Ennio Morricone spaghetti western score as John and June encounter the eponymous Wild West-themed town (replete with actual tumbleweeds). As it turns out, Humbug’s Gulch (though not this Humbug’s Gulch specifically) is where John once made a name for himself as trick shooter Six-Gun Sam. While seeing zombies in cowboy garb shambling through a one-horse town is entertaining, this episode seemed more appropriate for a show like the cheekier Z Nation. Especially when you consider the eye-rolling improbability of taking out two zombies with a single bullet.
But my problem with this episode goes beyond the San Antonio Split.
And no, it’s not Luciana’s earnestness when she says to Alicia, “If we can crash a plane for someone, if we can almost die for someone…whatever comes next, how bad can it be?” If only it were the drugs still talking. I appreciate that Chambliss and Goldberg are aspiring to loftier, more optimistic ambitions, but this is still the apocalypse we’re talking about—and Fear being Fear—things can always be worse.
No, it’s the heavy-handed way in which this season is reminding viewers that everyone is worthy of redemption. In other words, these fearsome zombie-killing survivors are suddenly overwhelmed by insecurity and low self-esteem. Newcomer Dwight is the embodiment of this paralyzing self-doubt, to the point that he no longer feels he deserves to live.
All of this being said, I do like how Dwight’s happenstance encounter with John and June gets a lot right about what this season is trying to accomplish. John putting his trust in a stranger is a tremendous leap of faith—which is only underscored by most viewers’ previous knowledge of who Dwight is, past sins and all. But this is true of most strangers in the Walking Dead universe. Everyone has lived through their own private end times, battling both the undead and personal demons along the way.
This is truly driven home when Dwight comes face to face with Morgan, who is quick to let bygones be bygones. This is a bigger leap of faith on Morgan’s part. But this speaks to the season’s bigger message—that while no one is innocent, everyone is worthy of redemption.
So, in addition to finding Althea, the group is now committed to helping Dwight find Sherry. (Am I the only one who was reminded of the search for Carol’s daughter Sophia in TWD’s second season? And we all know how that turned out, right?)
As for the episode’s big twist, I imagine I wasn’t the only one to guess the three kids were somehow behind those zombie roadblocks. While I like the idea that our more seasoned survivors are being hoodwinked by children, this also flies in the face of our heroes’ altruism. If anything, the group’s collective blind optimism only serves to make them appear weak at best—and gullible at worst.
To my mind, “Gulch” isn’t let down by Domingo’s direction. Rather, it’s Ashley Cardiff’s script, which would have us believe in the power of positive thinking in one moment, only to show us the folly of following one’s heart in the next moment. Fear can’t have it both ways—nor can our world-weary survivors.
In any case, share your thoughts about this episode in the comments below. Can John Dorie do no wrong? Is Austin Amelio a good addition to the cast? And what do we think these kids are really hiding?