Fear the Walking Dead showrunners explain their homage to Chinatown
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead titled “The Key.”
Something is rotten in Lawton. A few things actually, as we learned on Sunday’s “The Key” episode of Fear the Walking Dead. The installment acted as a John Dorie deep dive, as we learned the former police officer was now acting as security in Virginia’s settlement. But his rotting tooth was a sign that the seemingly idyllic town may also have something amiss at its core.
Dorie’s attempt to get at the bottom of a mysterious murder set in motion a clear cover-up that ended up costing Janis her life — and at an expediated rate after Strand sacrificed her to save John from interfering and jeopardizing his own. Dorie eventually set aside his investigation — even though Virginia was clearly protecting the real unnamed culprit — and was rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to ranger and a reuniting with his wife June. But at what cost?
We spoke to Fear showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg and learned how the Dorie deep dive was an homage to Chinatown, and what the decisions by the characters within could mean moving forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. What’s the symbolism here of sweets-loving John Dorie having this toothache that he has to take care of at some point? This is clearly not accidental timing.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: When we were working on the episode, we really wanted something that kind of served as a metaphor for what was going on to John Dorie as a person. The first time we met him, one of the first things he did was hold out a Werther’s and offered it to Morgan. And there's just something about that act that is so kind of tied into who John Dorie is — that the kind of innocence that he has. And we wanted something that symbolized that innocence eroding as he tried to make a life under Virginia's rule. And it seemed like the toothache served as the perfect way to do that.
As a side note, we've known that this was coming for John Dorie, cause someone who eats that much candy in the apocalypse without seeing a dentist is going to end up with some problems. But it really served to just be the kind of nagging reminder of him throughout the episode, that the worldview he has just isn't possible when he's living under Virginia. And then it really kind of drives nicely with what Janis says to him about this place being rotten and how it ruins everything.
So we see John Dorie starting to doubt himself and doubt what he believes in. And I think as he's kind of tearing that tooth out, it's him hoping he can kind of stop that rot, stop that decay. And I think we're left with the question of whether John Dorie will ever be able to repair the emotional damage that has been done to himself? Or is he just going to go down the road of so many other people who Virginia has taken in and corrupt Dorie in the same way?
Ian, I'll let you drill down on that a little more — no dental pun intended. But there’s a point at the very beginning where John is writing June this letter, and he writes “People give up some freedoms to live behind these walls, but, by and large I’m starting to believe it might be worth the cost.” After everything he goes through this episode, and then being reunited with the love of his life for overlooking everything that Ginny did, does he at the end of this episode believe it was worth the cost?
IAN GOLDBERG: No, I don't think he does. Because one of the things that he talks about in that letter in the beginning is about a world in which people know which way is up. And that was something that his dad believed. And I think that Dorie's dad is very much... It's such an integral part of his psychology in this episode because he talks about how there was a case that destroyed his father. And we also know that Dorie has had his own trauma and ghosts with his own police work in the past. The thing that he talked about with June way back in season 4; when they met about the person who he shot that he didn't mean to kill, and he was hailed as a hero and it destroyed him. And it's what sent him to the cabin in the first place, in a way from the world.
So, I think really what the episode for Dorie is all about is he wants to live in a world in which people can know which way is up. Where morality exists and law and order and civility and goodness toward everyone. And, by the end, he realizes that in trying to uphold that, he actually got Janice killed and it's not a world that he recognizes. And it's one that I don't even think he knows if he can live in it. He's so disgusted with himself and with the world in which he's found himself, that he's just completely broken by the end of the episode. Which is devastating for somebody who is as hopeful and bright as we've seen John Dorie so much over the seasons.
That whole big incident with his dad, how key is that, not in just in terms of this episode, but in terms of really forming who John Dorie is and his code?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: It definitely is a huge moment for, defining who he is and someone who, as we've seen, despite everything he's faced in the apocalypse, he still has maintained this real integrity in terms of right and wrong and a sense of justice. But I think the interesting thing that Dorie gains in this episode, and in particularly when he has that scene with rabbi Jacob — I think Dorie, in that moment, is starting to gain a much deeper understanding of exactly what his father did way back when he was a kid.
And perhaps he's starting to look back on his father in a different way. Growing up, and up until this point, he's always kind of blamed his father for abandoning him and his mother. But now, he's finding himself in this position where he is willing to do what he thinks is right. And that's running away with Janis, even if that means he's going to hurt someone who he loves more than anyone else and that's June. So, I think, it's kind of that understanding and the commitment to it, to ensuring justice that makes him understand his father, and also kind of made some kind of secure in who he is. And it's only in acting that out when it all falls apart that he starts to question everything.
I love the fact that at one point the episode feels almost like Zombie Apocalypse CSI. Are we going to get an answer as to who killed Cameron and why?
IAN GOLDBERG: Yes. Most definitely. I won't tell you when, but, but you will find out. And it's funny you mentioned the crime aspect of it because we've talked about, in our anthological model that certain movies provide inspiration. Last week's episode was Die Hard in the zombie apocalypse. And the genesis of this one from the beginning is we really wanted to tell John Dorie's Chinatown. Both on sort of the crime investigative aspect, but also kind of in the position of the JJ Gittes' character in Chinatown; where he's haunted by his past and finds himself destroyed by a crime in the present. So, it was just that kind of scaffolding has been really exciting for us as we're crafting these episodes. To be like, "wouldn't it be cool to tell Chinatown with John Dorie?" And everything kind of extrapolates from there.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: And I think one idea that we've always kind of had in our back pocket is it was always said, like, "Wouldn't it be interesting to investigate a murder in the apocalypse when the murder victim can get up and walk away?" Like, how would you do all of this?
So why does Janis ultimately confess to the crime?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: I think it's several things. I think Janis is very appreciative of the lengths of Dorie is going to, in order to try to free her and and prove her innocence. But, Janis is someone who has lived under Virginia for much longer than John has. She lost her brother in an attempt to escape. She knows that Virginia is going to have this rigged. So, she is well aware that anything Dorie does is just going to not work. It's going to get her hurt, it's going to get Dorie hurt. So, her deciding to take the fall is really her trying to spare Dorie.
And as she tells him, she doesn't have anyone. Cameron was the one person she had connected to since she lost her brother and he's been taken away from her. So, as far as she sees it, she would rather take the blame and die so John can live and have that relationship with June. So, it's really kind of a noble sacrifice she's making there. Even though John doesn't really see it that way in the moment and can't accept her giving up.
I guess on that same note then, in terms of the Victor Strand of it all... First off, I’m definitely noticing a pattern with Victor Strand this season. But do you think he does the right thing in essentially killing Janis to save John? Is that a good trade off?
IAN GOLDBERG: I think he believes it's the right thing. And it goes back to what he says to Alicia in episode 602. And the reason he separated himself from her is he basically acknowledged that he was going to have to do things that were, I guess you'd call them regrettable, morally gray, to put a nice word on it. He knew that working things from the inside, in his mind, for the greater good of everybody — he was definitely going to have to do some things that he was not proud of. But I do think, in his mind, he believes that what happened with Janis was a necessary sacrifice. And whether that's actually true and whether his ultimate plan will come together as a result of these actions, that's sort of what this season is all about for him.
Morgan gets in this car crash with the graffiti artists. So we can now fill in the blanks here that they hired the bounty hunter Emile to kill the guy we saw at the very beginning of the season to get the key, correct?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Correct.
They're the only people we've seen from this group so far. Will we meet more of their kind? And, if so, when?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: Yes, there definitely are a lot more people in this group and we will meet them, I would say in the near future. They've got something they want done and they're not going to stop until it happens.
Okay, what can you say about what’s coming up next?
IAN GOLDBERG: Episode 605 is a Dwight and Sherry episode, which we are really excited about. We reunited them at the end of 603 but 605 is going to see them together for an entire episode. And, I think what people can look forward to is seeing who Sherry has become now. And in the same way that Dwight changed a lot since he left The Walking Dead and came to Texas, people might be surprised by who Sherry has become now as well.
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: I would say Dwight is perhaps going to revisit some things he did at the sanctuary and there may be a nod to “Easy Street.”
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