Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 Review: A Stumbling Start Gains From New Face and Returns
Fear the Walking Dead has become a difficult title to recommend, thanks in large part to its inconsistency. After a stellar third season made it one of the best shows on television at the time, and certainly the best Walking Dead show at the time, its fourth season went ahead and revamped it entirely. The revamp started off with tremendous promise, adding Lennie James as Morgan Jones from The Walking Dead and Garret Dillahunt and Jenna Elfman as newcomers who immediately delivered a fan-favorite episode. Then, the show began to stumble towards the finish of its fourth season as the bait of a bigger crossover with The Walking Dead took over its narrative. Season Five seems to be doing the opposite of the season which preceded it, starting off without a concise direction, but quickly getting more interesting as Ruben Blades returns as Daniel Salazar and Austin Amelio carries out the second crossover.
Early on, the beginning of Fear the Walking Dead's fifth season has the problem of not having a clear antagonist. The heroes of the show are aimlessly and apparently hopelessly trying to "help" people. This leads to a bunch of Morgan Jones being endlessly optimistic, something that didn't really work on The Walking Dead before Fear, but Lennie James is so brilliant in the delivery of every line and expression that it almost works. If there were a clear-cut villain working against the survivors, the story would have a more natural and interesting propulsion early on.
Furthermore, the show suffers from the teases of connections to The Walking Dead. There was a time when The Walking Dead was big enough to understand the necessity of connections and such teases could have helped Fear the Walking Dead find its footing. At this point, it has become redundant and unnecessary, taking away from Fear's independence as it already has an ensemble of characters and actors who are interesting and talented enough to carry the show themselves. It's time for Fear the Walking Dead to either wholly commit to The Walking Dead and meaningful connections to Scott Gimple's expanding Dead universe or drop the teases altogether.
Then come episodes three and four, possibly to the rescue.
Fortunately for Fear the Walking Dead, James, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Austin Amelio, and Ruben Blades are oozing with enough talent to offer the lackluster early narrative some compelling screen time. More specifically, James and Debnam-Carey play opposite one another delightfully, though the latter has certainly earned the right to more dialogue by now. James' nuanced, veteran skill commands the screen while his character's ideologies clash with those of Debnam-Carey's Alicia Clark, a character who has lost everything and managed to emerge with traits capable of making her a leader.
For the sake of keeping things spoiler-free, Amelio's debut and Blades' return also make for some of the more interesting beats of Fear's early episodes. Amelio comes with one out-of-this-world action concept paired with Garret Dillahunt's John Dorie, and their characters couldn't be more perfectly suited to be on screen together, while Blades is paired with a cat named Skidmark who will certainly prompt "If Skidmark Dies We Riot" threads on social media. The cat is hugely entertaining and quite a talented actor.
In its first episode, Fear the Walking Dead does offer up one of its most interesting set pieces since the dam went down in the Season Three finale. Launching at the site of an intense plane crash, the ensemble cast is almost together in its entirety as the post-apocalyptic world is once again reinvented as a treacherous threat. These seasoned survivors make anything they can into weapons -- including a propeller for Alicia Clark -- showing their strength and capabilities before they are unfortunately scattered across different locations again. In fact, a second action-sequence once again involving a plane in a later episode offers up another early Season Five highlight.
Separating its characters is something Fear the Walking Dead has long insisted on doing despite its best content coming from episodes where they are together. Fortunately, the separation is actually purposeful this time, as one character all-too-ironically points out, but this must be a very "small world" for them to keep coming back together.
The series gains a lot of momentum as it carries on, which will leave viewers on an optimistic note for what's to come throughout the new season. The narrative threads which it stumbled to introduce early on certainly have potential for rewarding payoff down the road. Looking back at its preceding season though, it's safer to go into the rest of the season more cautiously. If James, Debnam-Carey, and Blades are given their time to shine within an independent story, the season is destined for a brighter fate.
Have a question about Fear the Walking Dead Season Five? Send it my way on Instagram or Twitter. Fear the Walking Dead premieres its fifth season on June 2nd on AMC. This review is based on screeners of the first four episodes of Season Five.