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When you see that an episode other than a premiere or finale is written by the showrunner, you know it’s an important episode. And “210 Words Per Minute,” written by Fear the Walking Dead bosses Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, was the most important episode in terms of character development for Morgan (Lennie James) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) since they crossed over from The Walking Dead.
Morgan spent the episode holed up in an abandoned shopping mall — a nod to zombie maestro George Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead — with Grace (Karen David). In the mall, they had three objectives: help a bitten man who reached out to them over the radio die peacefully, secure supplies for the group, and get the X-ray machine in the mall’s walk-in clinic working so that Grace could check if she had developed cancer from the radiation she was exposed to during the power plant meltdown. But really, being alone together in the mall waiting for Dwight to come back with the convoy gave the potential lovers a chance to talk.
Morgan drew a gaggle of walkers away from him and Grace by getting them to follow a remote-controlled car, which he smiled while he piloted. Grace asked him if he used to drive RC cars with his son, because she had never seen him smile like that before and figured that the car must have brought back a happy memory. Morgan wasn’t ready to talk about it then even though Grace had been opening up about herself, talking about how she’d been alone her whole life because she was afraid to get close to anyone and now it was too late because she has no future.
They made it to the mall’s generator, and before they turned it on, Morgan opened up. He told Grace that he bought an RC car for his son Duane, and the boy used to race it up and down the sidewalk until it was too dark to see. “He made me smile,” Morgan said. “He did. I’ve always been a kinda serious guy, except with them. That’s how I knew it was right. First date with my wife, Jenny. Found myself smiling this giant, stupid smile all night afterward. I don’t think I could have wiped it off my face even if I tried.” This is the most specific thing Morgan has ever said about his family, and it’s the most at peace he’s ever sounded with their loss. This season has been about Morgan trying to make peace with the past and figure out what he’s living for without his family, and this was him getting closer.
Before they could make it inside the urgent care, they realized that Chuck, the man whose distress call brought them to the mall, was still alive and on the roof, so they went up and spent his last night with him. He wanted to see the stars one last time, but it was a cloudy night, so Grace went and got a toy projector and projected some constellations onto the underside of a metal overhang for him. In the morning, they buried him under some trees. That was the most meaningful help we’d ever seen the Helpsters provide. They showed Chuck that he was not alone, that he was cared for even by people he’d never met before, and that the world was not lost. There were still good people out there.
They went back inside, and Grace decided that she didn’t want to know if cancer was growing inside her or not. “He didn’t want to die here in this mall,” she said. “I don’t want to, either. So I’m just going to believe there’s more than today, Morgan. No matter what happens.” When they powered up the generator, they turned on a merry-go-round, and they rode it together.
Dwight had his own journey of coming to terms with his past, too. He arrived at the mall with Morgan and Grace, but he left to meet up with the rest of the convoy and bring them to the mall. Before he left, he advised Morgan to be wary of Morgan’s own motives with keeping Logan (Matt Frewer) away from the oil fields. “I’ve already been on the wrong side of taking what people need, and you know that,” he said, referring to his and Morgan’s shared history with the Saviors. Dwight was a member of that group and took what he wanted from people who were weaker than him, and Morgan was on the other end of that. “You turn off your conscience, your heart. When that happens, it’s harder to turn ’em back on.”
Dwight was thinking about this when he was captured by one of Logan’s lackeys. The guy tied Dwight up and planned to torture him until Dwight told him where the oil fields were. Dwight told him to look at the burns on his face. Nothing this guy could do to him would be worse than what he’d already been through. And in fact, Dwight had been traveling with an unloaded gun, because he was trying to not be an “asshole” who killed people casually anymore. The lackey had no qualms with being an asshole, though, and started burning Dwight’s letters from Sherry (Christine Evangelista) in an effort to get him to talk. Dwight broke free, overpowered his captor, and pointed the now loaded gun at his head. But rather than kill him, like he would have done in the past, Dwight let him go free, like Daryl (Norman Reedus) once did for him. “Someone gave me a second chance, and that’s the same chance I’m giving you,” he said. “When you walk out of these woods, you’re gonna have a choice to make. You can go on being an asshole, or you can figure out someone else to be.” Hopefully that act of magnanimity doesn’t come back to punish Dwight later this season.
Dwight went back to the mall with the rest of the gang and met back up with Morgan and Grace. He allowed Daniel (Ruben Blades) to give him a shave and a haircut, signifying that he was a new man. Daniel also saw Morgan looking at the merry-go-round and smiling the same big smile he had when he was driving the RC car and thinking about his son. But then, when it was time to leave the mall, rather than go with Grace and allow their feelings for each other to develop further, Morgan decided to go alone to meet up with Al (Maggie Grace). He reverted to his old fearful self who can’t get close to anyone because he worries that everyone he gets close to dies. And there is indeed a very good chance that Grace will still die. Grace may finally be thinking of the future, but Morgan is still looking at the past. When he loses people, he loses himself. He’s still afraid he could go back to how he was.
The tearful final scene between Morgan and Grace was well played. Lennie James is one of the best actors on either show in the franchise, and when he’s given good material, he nails it. He’s just not always given good material. But this was a good episode, the best since Episode 5. And it had a signature Fear the Walking Dead 2.0 weird thing, with Grace thinking jelly beans are called “candy beansies,” a phrase that will get stuck in your head and you will surely think of next time you eat a Jelly Belly.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. It’s available to stream on Hulu.