After an impressive and assured opening episode, the seventh season of Fear the Walking Dead has begun to struggle. There have been problems with quality and consistency that have affected both story content and on-screen execution. Fourth episode Breathe With Me is easily the weakest instalment of the season so far. And while there’s certainly enough time for the show to rediscover its earlier form, there are some discouraging, recurring trends that are becoming harder to ignore.
Sarah had been part of a group that was rescued by helicopter just before last season’s nuclear detonations wrecked large swathes of the US. When she regains consciousness, she’s pleased to be reunited with her compatriots. But when she learns that her brother Wendell is still missing, she refuses to accept the others’ view that he must be dead. She sets out alone on a rescue mission scouring the surrounding countryside, dodging walkers and the worst of the radioactivity. Her efforts to raise Wendell on the radio connects her instead to Morgan and to Josiah, and triggers a whole series of unplanned confrontations.
Breathe With Me does benefit from a couple of decent set-pieces and some poignant visuals of the abandoned farmland and empty acres that Sarah moves through. The script does try to say some (admittedly quite superficial) things about the themes of family, acceptance and forgiveness. But so much else about the episode is off target. It’s frustrating to be reintroduced to Luciana and the gang only to lose sight of them right after the opening scene. There are several wild plot contrivances and leaps of logic, as Sarah's quest gets re-routed several times. And some misconceived (and unintentionally silly) melodrama messes up what should be a riveting fight to the death. When an intended murder weapon is a disembodied head in a box, the writer does need to consider the question of tone with more care than is evident here.
But that particular headache is part of a much bigger issue hampering the episode. And that’s the way it dissolves dramatic tensions that previous episodes have put the work in to build up - and to no good effect. There are two decisive showdowns that should be bursting with fireworks that barely even fizzle here as damp squibs. Even the hunt for Wendell takes a frustrating turn. There is a moment at the episode’s end that does jank attention back to the wider threats still menacing the survivors. That’s a more promising prospect, but there still remains an urgent need for the series to move beyond uneven standalone stories to set out a compelling new narrative.
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: