A welcome step-up in quality from the recent batch of weak episodes, the sixth instalment of season seven of Fear the Walking Dead delivers a story that’s more engaging and which connects, on a basic level at least, with the wider series’ narrative in a way that’s often been absent in recent stories. It’s important not to get carried away with this partial return to form. After an encouraging opening episode, the bar has slid extraordinarily low this season. So it’s not that challenging for writers Alex Delyle and Calaya Michelle Stallworth to step over it. But even taking into account its own shortcomings, Reclamation suggests that there might be something still worth salvaging amidst the radioactive detritus of Fear.
On patrol near her trusty SWAT van, Al hears the approach of a helicopter delivering an assassination squad from the Civic Military Republic. The still-mysterious leaders of the CRM are determined to track down Isabelle, the pilot who deserted them to evacuate Luciana and the group to safety before the nuclear bombs went off. When Morgan finds Al, the pair escape under CRM fire when Grace retrieves them. But when things take a turn for the worse, Al is confronted by a fateful decision: how to protect Isabelle without sacrificing her friends or denying herself the future she truly wants.
While it does not advance the season’s story arc in any significant way, the events of Reclamation do not feel inconsequential in the way that some recent episodes have. The narrative takes care to stitch Al’s dilemmas into her own, and into the series’, backstory. And the story returns to use Al’s preoccupation with the ‘video interview’ in a fresh way that, in all senses, puts her in the frame. It allows her own life story to come into view in a way that does not feel forced and sees Morgan deliver what’s far and away the best single speech in the season to date: as he urges Al to set down the camera, the device she’s used to maintain her separation from the world, and embrace the life that she could have. There’s much that’s welcome about the execution of Reclamation too. Gone, at least for now, are the terrible ‘exterior’ studio sets, with the production back on the road and in open country. Director Bille Woodruff is able to helm action sequences effectively and knows how to wrangle impact from gory and bloody deaths.
Things are still marred by recurring problems that have bedevilled the season. Morgan’s ability to appear in almost any location across the entire wasteland continues to defy the laws of motion. The characters’ inconsistent treatment to the threat of nuclear fallout continues to irritate, as do the frequent logic-defying conceits of the plot. And everything in the episode pivots on the CRM’s questionable staffing decision to dispatch a reclamation ‘team’ of just two (painfully inept) troopers, in order to give Al, Morgan, and Grace survivable odds (and keep within the show’s modest episodic budget).
But one element that’s both innovative and surprisingly successful is the love story that's threaded through all of the gunplay, peril and capture-and-escape sequences. It ought to feel out of place, but it unfolds as anything but. With all the attention the episode pays to callbacks and closing character circles, Reclamation delivers what serves as a satisfying endpoint for video story-gatherer Althea Szewczyk-Przygocki. Let’s hope that this improvement in the show’s own storytelling abilities is not a one-off aberration, but a sign of better things to come.
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: