We are 24 episodes into the Morgan Jones era on Fear the Walking Dead, and after providing the series with a much needed boost and new energy with his arrival, it’s sad to see how much Morgan is bringing the show down midway through its fifth season. When Morgan left The Walking Dead, it was meant to be a fresh start for the character, who had already cycled through his character arc a couple of times on the parent series: Nice, caring man loses his mind and transforms into a dangerous lunatic, regains his mind, and loses it again.
The thing about Morgan, however, is that he’s a far more interesting character when he’s in the midst of a downward spiral. Unfortunately, on Fear the Walking Dead, that brand of madness no longer suits the iteration of the series from co-showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg. As spinoffs go, Fear — in its fourth and fifth seasons — is more akin to The Sarah Jane Adventures than it is Torchwood to The Walking Dead’s Doctor Who. It’s not exactly kid-friendly, but compared to The Walking Dead, it’s wearing kid gloves.
Morgan’s a good guy, but he’s a one-dimensional good guy. That’s suitable for a supporting characters — see Siddiq on The Walking Dead — but Morgan has become the Rick Grimes of Fear the Walking Dead, only he doesn’t have the shades of grey that Andrew Lincoln brought to his role. Morgan is tormented by his past and trying to make up for it, but his actions are on a straight line: They are morally clear. Rick Grimes continued to engage in behavior that occasionally tormented him, that required a moral calculus: He did bad for the overall good.
Morgan has none of those shades, and worse still, he’s not only the nominal lead of the series, but all of the other characters take their cues from him. Even Strand — the closest thing the series had to a morally conflicted character — has fallen in line. All the characters on this series are “good.” Fear the Walking Dead is as close as one can get to a “family” show set in the zombie apocalypse.
This week’s midseason premiere is the perfect example of how Morgan — as written — does a terrible disservice to Fear the Walking Dead. The series is currently mired in what is essentially a season-and-a-half effort to help others. As part of that effort, the first 55 minutes of this week’s episode was essentially a documentary PSA for Morgan’s crew. Althea made a video (a very cheesy video) showing all that the crew does to help other people, including helping to get an inhaler to a child living in a house surrounded by landmines. They took the video, stuck it in a VCR, hooked it up to a generator inside of a truck stop, and left it playing on a loop for others who might be skeptical of their intentions to see. That video was almost the entirety of the episode, and the closest thing to something interesting happening in that video was Morgan getting stuck on a landmine (we knew he would survive, however, because he’s the lead on the show, and also because the PSA documentary featured footage of him speaking after the incident with the landmine).
The episode contained almost no dramatic conflict. All of the characters, likewise, have been painted into a narrative corner, except for Alicia — who may be on her way out. The troubled Nick is gone. Strand has been neutered. Daniel has been turned into a nice grandpa-type. Dwight grins! John and June are in love — and at this point, that’s their only known characteristics — Grace is dying very slowly, Charlie is just kind of there nodding approvingly, Sarah provides an occasional dose of comedic relief, and Luciana? The show has no idea what to do with Luciana anymore. She’s barely even a character.
The last five minutes, at least, reintroduced the “villain” Logan, who is another one of those Fear villains who isn’t menacing in the least. Moreover, his motivations are even less interesting than the more mysterious motivations of the Trash Lady last year. Logan wants gas. That’s it. The next seven episodes this season will be a battle over gas between a group of do-gooders and Logan, who needs gas because “humans aren’t made for walking.”
There is a way out of this problem for Fear the Walking Dead, and it’s not necessarily in killing Morgan (which would be a waste of Lennie James, who is otherwise a terrific actor). Dave Erickson, the original Fear showrunner, envisioned a future in which Madison would eventually become the villain. This is what Fear needs to do with Morgan. He needs to have another mental meltdown, but this one should be one from which he cannot return. He should recruit a few of the Fear character — Daniel, Strand, Charlie, and Sarah — and engage in some kind of civil war. This would theoretically allow Alicia to take her rightful place as the lead of the series (if Alycia Debnam Carey remains), and it would create some real dramatic conflict between a bunch of do-gooders turned bad and a bunch of do-gooders reluctant to kill their old friends. Best of all, it would finally remove Fear from this dreadful “help others” storyline, and it would necessarily result in the loss of a few characters on an otherwise overstuffed cast.
Fear the Walking Dead desperately needs to rehabilitate Morgan’s character, and the best way to do that would be by turning him into the show’s villain.