By Nick Romano
July 07, 2019 at 10:03 PM EDT
Van Redin/AMC
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When Morgan came over to Fear the Walking Dead and became the spin-off’s new star, he came with a lot of baggage that shaped the direction of the entire show. Both series in the Walking Dead universe were always connected, but Fear slowly went from telling a different story in a different part of this universe — a family drama with Madison and zombies — to, at best, serving as an extension of the main series. At worst, it can be a dumping ground for everything that doesn’t fit in The Walking Dead proper.

Last week’s episode, “The End of Everything,” brought more information on the helicopter group that took Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes than any other episode of either show combined. It was enlightening, but it’s unclear if this will have any impact at all on the story at play in Fear or if, as I suspect, it’s really a filler episode meant to keep interest up for what will eventually come down the line on The Walking Dead. (June senses something happened when Al was missing, but Al just laughs it off.) Even Dwight’s presence, a story we didn’t necessarily need to (or want to) see given so much screen time, is another constant reminder that, yes, this show will pull back the curtain even more on The Walking Dead. The problem is, it’s done through characters that aren’t necessarily compelling or strong enough to carry an entire series, leading to the character and narrative issues we’ve seen most notably in season 4 and again in season 5.

Morgan is that guy you keep running into at parties who recycles the same story with each new person he meets: “I used to think I could only be a killer, but then I met this guy who turned me into a pacifist and taught me how to fight with a wooden staff. Sometimes I lose myself again, but then I get by with a little help from my friends.” That tale hasn’t changed in the bulk of the time he’s been on The Walking Dead, and it hasn’t changed at all in the time he’s been on Fear. So, why anyone thinks he’s interesting enough to succeed a character like Madison is beyond me.

And now, his story is infecting other characters to become the story of Fear. Alicia gives the same sort of spiel (with her own variation) to Annie about how lost she was after the deaths of her mother and brother before she found the light again. Luciana does the same for Dylan, John does it for Dwight, and Victor and Daniel danced around the topic for a spell. It’s one note that’s disrupted every so often by side arcs, like this week’s re-emergence of Grace, but even then Morgan managed to sneak in the word “stuck” around her. (How about we not remind ourselves of that truly mind-boggling season 4 plotline?) When that schtick becomes the main through line, it bogs down everything else.

For one, we’re now six episodes into the new season and the group has only now come up with a viable plan to get out of the mountains. Their earlier plan (Victor’s team securing a plane from Daniel) was screwed up because of some silly developments (Victor broke the plane when he used its propellers to save Daniel from a herd that wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t for Sarah; and Al, deciding to venture off by herself in completely unknown territory, got kidnapped). And they continue to hit road bumps that feel either unnecessary or annoying when up against the tediousness of everything else.

In “The Little Prince,” the group decides to take a note from Luciana’s children’s book and repair the plane they initially crashed in the mountains to fly themselves out, even though it doesn’t make much sense why any of them would know how to repair an aircraft when they barely knew how to pilot it. The kids help put together all the parts Morgan’s team assembled, but Annie is still determined to stay behind in the mountains.

Those kids feel far more interesting than the main characters and their motivations make far more sense. At the truck stop, we see Annie taking a breath in the mirror before showering with warm water. The others, who once held automatic rifles at Morgan and Alicia, are now sitting and laughing in front of the television screen watching cartoons and eating snacks. It’s a sense of comfort, one that scares Annie because, as she later explains to Alicia, all their parents died the one time they broke from their routine. A group of walkers followed their scouts back to the campsite where they were based, and when the herd nearly broke through the walls, the kids were sent off into the woods to wait. Annie returned to check on their parents three days later and found they had been infected by the radiation and locked themselves in the cabin to die. Annie’s parents’ dying wish was for her to protect her brothers and the rest of the kids. So, she’s determined to remain in the woods. At the end of the day, she’s a kid and she craves a sense of normalcy. Hiding in the woods, what she considers a tried and true method of survival, is her normalcy and these modern conveniences both break that feeling and remind her of what they lost.

Alicia continues trying to persuade Annie to bring the kids with them on the plane, but there’s now a ticking clock on everything. Grace comes back on the radio asking Morgan to bring her their generator. She needs it for the power plant because there will be another meltdown. It won’t stop the meltdown but will buy them more time. (This doesn’t sway Annie, by the way, because the kids were able to survive the first meltdown in the woods.) Morgan is also trying to get Grace unstuck, which *eye roll*. She assures him she’s not stuck and that she needs to do this.

Further complicating things are Victor and Charlie. Realizing Jim’s Brewery has a hot air balloon, they use it to fly themselves over the mountains to deliver the propeller parts needed to fix the group’s plane. Cue the ridiculous (but this time mildly enjoyable) sight of a giant inflatable beer bottle floating through the sky. However, it just so happens they don’t have enough fuel to get them all the way to the truck stop (surprise surprise) and so they crash in the woods around the power plant. While all this is going on, Alicia realizes that her talk with Annie didn’t do anything and the kids quietly scurried off into the woods. So Alicia goes off in search of the kids and Morgan goes into the radiation-coated woods with no protection to find Victor and Charlie, who are now faced with encroaching walkers that they know they can’t kill.

And then there’s Dwight. John went off to help his search for Sherry, a mission that mostly includes talk of John’s optimism in the face of such hardships and Dwight mentioning his past with Negan without getting into too many specifics. (Same old story in a different context.) They end up realizing Dwight was searching in the wrong spot the whole time. At the new spot, John finds a letter from Sherry meant to tell Dwight to stop looking for her because she’s leaving the area and couldn’t handle the thought of Dwight dying in search of her. John doesn’t tell Dwight about the letter because the guy’s so happy to have new hope. But, it seems clear this is just to further delay the inevitable. It spells itself out: Dwight is going to refuse to get on the plane without Sherry, John will have to reveal she’s not even there anymore, Dwight’s gonna feel bad about it, there will be another speech about how Dwight can find the good in the world as he goes into a downward spiral, etc. etc. It’s clear because this arc has happened before — too many times over.

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