‘Fear the Walking Dead’: Post-Apocalyptic ‘Romeo & Juliet’ (RECAP)
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 10, “Mourning Cloak.”]
Do you sometimes wish Fear The Walking Dead played like a Netflix original? If so, you’re in luck: The “Mourning Cloak” episode is this show doing its own version of the coming-of-age movies (Tall Girl, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, etc.) for which Netflix is known. Call this the TWD-verse’s spin on the form: Romeo & Juliet… and zombies.
Because there’s only one character on Fear in that age range — with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) having grown out of teen-dom several time jumps ago — there’s only one character this episode can center around: Charlie (Alexa Nisenson). We’re also introduced to a new character named Ali (Ashton Arab), who is, you guessed it, Charlie’s love interest.
For an episode centered on Charlie, a decent amount of the plot does revolve around Ali. We learn that he’s been tasked with catching butterflies for Strand (Colman Domingo) — why Strand would waste vital resources sending his people out so he can keep butterflies in jars is anyone’s guess — but what he really wants is to be a ranger. Ali meets Charlie on one of his butterfly runs and brings her in. Strand’s shocked to see her and isn’t inclined to let her stay, but she says she doesn’t have any ulterior motive: She just wants to be somewhere she can actually live, and the tower seems like the best place. She also declares that she’s “a few weeks” from her 13th birthday. How does she know that? Has she been keeping track of every single day that passed since the world ended?
In a perfectly obvious twist of events, Charlie and Ali end up paired together on a mission to get elevator parts for the tower. Before they leave, Howard (Omid Abtahi) pulls Ali aside and tells him that while they’re gone, he needs to find out why Charlie’s really there. If he can do that, he just might earn the title of ranger.
For a bit, things veer directly into the “teen drama” category; Charlie and Ali bond as they bowl in an abandoned bowling alley. But their friendship only goes so far, as they get to the elevator and Charlie admits she lied about why she’s there — Morgan told her to turn off the beacon that night so that the walkers would leave. Furious, Ali waits until she’s handed him the components the tower needs, and then he traps her in the elevator as a stream of irradiated walkers stumble in.
In another obvious turn of events, Ali ultimately doesn’t leave her. He comes back and kills the walkers, and he admits that he had a hard time killing a walker in an army uniform because it reminded him of his father, whom he left rather than watching him die slowly. This seems like a weird detail, but it comes back around — as Ali’s saying that they can leave and not go back to the tower, Charlie collapses.
Back in the tower, June makes her diagnosis: Charlie has radiation poisoning, just like the rangers who went on the elevator mission before her. June doesn’t know how long she has to live, but “not long” seems to be the consensus. Ali, determined to give her some joy in her numbered days, frees all the butterflies in Strand’s office, and he and Charlie dance and spend quality time together there. He promises not to leave her like he left his father. “I’m going to be there every step of the way,” he says.
…well, that’s not entirely up to him. As the episode ends, Ali gets thrown off the tower for trying to turn off the beacon to fulfill Charlie’s mission. Howard comes back from murdering a child to — rightfully — get berated by June (Jenna Elfman). Howard threatens Charlie, too, but June says that as the only doctor, she’s the most important person in the tower, and Strand knows it. She demands Charlie be allowed to stay with her, and Howard relents. There’s also a beat or two during which Dorie Sr. (Keith Carradine) agrees with Howard, which he later tells June is because he thinks he can get Strand to listen to him, but he has to seem like he’s on their side. “I thought I had Ginny’s ear, too,” June says. “This won’t work, John.”
As the episode ends, June comforts a grieving Charlie. “No matter how much time you have left,” she promises, “you will live to see Strand go down.” Charlie sees a mourning cloak butterfly land on the wall, and she smiles.
- I’m torn between being almost certain they’ll find a way to deus ex machina Charlie out of this and thinking this is Fear’s way of getting out of the “How would Madison react to learning Charlie killed Nick?” thing. If Charlie’s already dead when Madison (Kim Dickens) gets there, that solves the problem.
- On the other hand, if they kill Charlie off before Madison arrives, that’s a bummer from a storytelling standpoint. As Alicia’s semi-adoptive little sister, she could’ve been a good source of conflict between mother and daughter. Would Alicia and Strand lie about what happened to Nick to protect Charlie? How would Madison find out the truth? (You know she would.) How would Madison then react to not only discovering she’d been lied to by the people closest to her, but also that her son’s killer was alive, and also that her son’s killer is a child?
- I am tired of radiation sickness being used as a plot device on this show. Alicia had it. Grace (Karen David) had it, although it ended up being pregnancy. Now Charlie has it? It doesn’t make a ton of sense that Charlie has it, either, considering we never saw how that happened. It wasn’t like Grace, who was in a power plant as it melted down, or Alicia, who got irradiated blood in her mouth.
- June using her status as a doctor to manipulate Howard was very cool and very quick thinking. Seeing her and Madison interact again after the arc June’s had will be interesting.
- On the subject of Howard… I was hoping Ali would get scared, try to run, and fall off the roof, rather than Howard throwing him. I guess he still could’ve, since we don’t see Howard throw him, but the implication is clear. I was always rooting for more Howard characterization and an earnest exploration of his friendship with Strand, but it seems like Fear is intent on shoving him into the “irredeemable” category and locking him in there. How would Howard even come back from child murder? He can’t. He’ll probably die before the end of the season, which is a waste of Omid Abtahi and a waste of an intriguing character.
- Rating: 2/5. Lennie James does well directing here, but that’s not where the problems lie. “Mourning Cloak” does very little to set up the Strand-Alicia war in a half-season that was supposed to be entirely about that conflict. Again, it introduces a new character to kill them off in the same episode, and again, it uses radiation sickness to put a main character in danger. Here’s hoping things pick up soon.
Fear The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC