With the format of the first part of the season now clearly established, episode three turns the spotlight on another isolated pairing trying to survive in the radioactive wasteland left by the nuclear detonations. In Cindy Hawkins, attention turns to father-in-law John Dorie (Senior) and daughter-in-law June in enforced residence in demented Teddy’s underground bunker. With June convinced that the two of them need to wait out a whole year for the worst of the radiation to dissipate, the duo settles into an oddly comforting daily routine. The unacknowledged problem is that both of them are haunted by fears and obsessions that begin to take their toll on their mental well-being and affect their behaviour.
There are some intriguing ideas threaded through the plot of Cindy Hawkins, and the performances of both Jenna Elfman (June) and Keith Carradine (John) are assured and emotionally astute. While John uncovers more of the shelter’s dark secrets, his determination to discover the whereabouts of serial killer Teddy’s last undiscovered victim gradually consumes him. He quickly jeopardises everything that he and June have sustained and protected until now. As he stumbles towards the truth, John is guided by the insistent prodding of Cindy’s ‘presence’, returned from the grave. Ghosts and apparitions have always been an uncomfortable fit in The Walking Dead universe and that’s the case again here. The showrunners quickly scrapped Rick’s visions of the recently deceased Lori (complete with diaphanous white dress) as long ago as Series Three of the original show. And 'spectral manifestations', even those that are figments of someone's distressed imagination, feel just as out of place now.
Ultimately, the central conceit of the plot feels wholly misplaced, particularly at this early point of the season. While Teddy was a monstrous figure and Cindy a victim deserving of long-overdue dignity and respect, her killer was last season’s nemesis and someone who’s now a pile of radioactive bones. With the state of the world currently obscured by the dust of the fallout clouds, and the show’s ensemble of characters scattered far and wide, this story feels peripheral to what should be the main event: advancing the key conflicts and fracture lines of season seven.
In the closing act, the script by Nick Bernardone and Jacob Pinion does move matters on in an effort to stitch this pair’s dilemma into the wider framework of the series. But there’s not enough time set aside for this. It ends up feeling clumsy and rushed and undersells what should be a decisive first confrontation between Strand and Morgan. Matters are not helped by some far from subtle camera work, and studio-bound surface exteriors which look unconvincing and underwhelming. This episode is a marked dip in quality, but at least by the end characters and viewers alike are freed from the isolation and claustrophobia of Teddy’s underground tomb.
Season seven of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is screening in the UK on the AMC channel and to rent on Amazon.
Read our previous reviews of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD below: