Fear the Walking Dead is a wildly inconsistent show. At times, I question why I put myself through watching the show going through extended breaks before eventually coming back. The Key was one of those episodes that makes it worth sticking through the series’ rough patches.
Not so coincidentally, this episode prominently featured John Dorie. FTWD has had some good episodes in the post-Clark family era, but arguably the standout was Laura — the episode that focused on John and June’s relationship. It was the rare Walking Dead episode that openly encouraged hope and optimism without the subsequent splattering of such good feelings with a barbed wire baseball bat.
We’ve already seen that some of the gang have struggled mightily fitting under Ginny’s Frontier rule. Unlike Negan and Alpha, Ginny conveys her threats with a warm smile and the illusion of community. For some like Salazar, they’re way too suspicious to ever buy in, but for others that desperately want some sense of normalcy it’s good enough.
Put John in the latter category. He’s settling in nicely as one of Ginny’s rangers thanks to his past as a police officer. It’s a natural fit since it’s not like the Frontier is set up for many home invasions, car jackings or murders. Scratch that last one. Fellow ranger, Cameron, turns up missing for his shift and is found caught in a barbed wire fence getting munched on by walkers. This was a little confusing as Cameron was now full on walker and they’ve never been cannibals before, but maybe these walkers are just committed to finishing the meal they started even if it starts to go bad?
Perhaps eager to do something useful besides playing cop, John suspects this isn’t just a random accident and starts investigating even as Ginny wants to blow it off. It doesn’t take him long to get a lead with Cameron’s girlfriend, Janis (Holly Curran). Janis has been an essential help to John as she’s delivered a few letters to June on his behalf. Really curious now, John goes the gravedigger route and finds Cameron’s throat was slashed fueling his suspicion that this was an elaborate setup.
Janis reveals she and Cameron were planning to skip town due to Ginny being a crazy psychopath and all. Fair enough. They’d been slowly gathering supplies when Cameron had his unfortunate encounter with the fence. But now Janis gets arrested and framed for the murder.
John shares his findings with Strand and learns the lesson that eventually every character on FTWD does, trust Strand at your own risk. In fairness, Strand is one of the few characters that sees the long game and realizes John trying to clear Janis isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Strand is the guy that’s already in the lifeboat when the ship starts springing a leak. He’s 10 steps ahead of everyone else when it comes to self-preservation, which would make for a decent ally if not for the fact he’s just as likely to betray an ally to stay alive if it means staying alive.
Strand essentially sold Janis out and convinced her to plead guilty to save John from going down with her. Both Strand and John know Ginny killed Cameron, but only Strand gets that John outing her wouldn’t exactly extend his life expectancy.
This makes sense of course, but it goes against John’s noble mindset. Throughout the episode, we see him fidgeting with a toothache. For the amount of doctors the Walking Dead universe goes through, you’d think dentists would be just as in demand.
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Rabbi Jacob Kessner stops by for a chat and John shares his intention to break Janis out and make a run for it. Ginny would threaten June, but John knows June is invaluable thanks to her medical background. It’s the kind of selfless act that’s made John such a great character in an increasingly bleaker Walking Dead world. He’s got principles and values and won’t betray them for anything, including the love of his life.
John recalls a story of his father, who was finally able to bring a serial killer to justice…by planting evidence. It was the right thing to do in order to save many more innocent lives, but the toll it took on his father, both personally and professionally, was profound. You can tell John still wonders if his father made the right call, but the greater good was more important and John seeks to honor his father’s example.
But it’s no use. Janis is gone from her cell. Her execution was a lot less public than promised as she was strung up on a tree before getting dismembered and walkers munching on her legs. John is distraught and he realizes that The Frontier is no place for a decent, honest man. But what place does he have out in the wilderness and can he really live June to these people?
The only recourse is to put on a semi-happy face, accept Ginny’s commendation in front of the community and try to forget Janis. This disappoints John naturally, and also Dakota, who thought John might be the guy to take her sister down. Now John is fully under Ginny’s thumb. And to ensure that’s even more pronounced, Ginny magically frees June up from her spot so she can reunite with John.
The guilt is still too heavy for John to be his normal self and the pain from his tooth is becoming intolerable. At least he can solve one problem. John pulls and pulls before eventually grabbing pliers and yanking it out. The pain is gone. And with it, his guilty conscious? Maybe.
Meanwhile, Morgan is rolling with the dog, Rufus, who might be a bloodhound. Morgan can’t exactly get Rufus to find Timmy in the well though so he’s randomly driving hoping Rufus utters a helpful bark anytime soon. Warning Morgan about the car crashing into them might have been more useful though. Morgan and Rufus are fine and so are the two guys we saw earlier spray painting that ominous message a few episodes back.
They’re pretty sure Morgan knows something and Morgan doesn’t even know what to tell them. He does know how to make good intestines-spilling use out of his axe staff, but he does note their reaction to the key around his neck. So what the heck does this key unlock? The cell to Rick Grimes containment unit? More First Order cosplay? Who knows. Clearly the key means something of murder-worthy importance. Hopefully Morgan finds out before he’s the one bleeding out in the middle of an intersection.
The Key was a fantastic installment of Fear the Walking Dead. This is a show that always manages to pull an Undertaker zombie sit-up just as it appears to be on life support. So far this arc has provided some freshness to the status quo and is making me much more interested in what’s to come this season.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: AMC
Catch up with Fear the Walking Dead Season 6 on Amazon.