'Fear the Walking Dead' Season 6 Episode 7 Review: True horror finds Alica and Dakota out at Buck's Landing

Alicia's search for a missing Dakota leads her to a cabin in the woods in an episode that makes zombies scary again


                            'Fear the Walking Dead' Season 6 Episode 7 Review: True horror finds Alica and Dakota out at Buck's Landing
(AMC)

Spoilers for 'Fear the Walking Dead' Season 6 Episode 7 'Damage From the Inside' 

Given that this episode marked the show's midseason finale, it seemed natural to assume that big things would be happening this episode, especially given the promos featuring Dakota's (Zoe Colletti) disappearance. After all, in the chess game that's been building towards Virginia's (Colby Minifie) eventual downfall, kidnapping Virginia's sister is the kind of gambit that very quickly sees a lot of pieces taken out on both sides. The show stays true to this season's anthology format, however, with an episode that does the seemingly impossible. After hundreds of episodes filled with lurching walkers becoming about as familiar as passing trees, the show manages to make zombies terrifying again.

Despite revolving around one of the most recognizable threats in horror films - the zombies - neither 'The Walking Dead' nor its spinoffs have really been about that genre, leaning more into post-apocalyptic survivalist stories. Every now and then, though, the franchise dips back into its horror roots, and in this episode, they go all out. After Dakota's protective escort is attacked, Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) calls in Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) to help find her. Tracking Dakota leads them to a cabin in the woods, owned by a taxidermist who's let Dakota in - and isn't quite willing to let her go.

The cabin itself deserves recognition for the role it plays in establishing the episode's quietly mounting dread - that and the soft lighting that suffuses every scene with an uneasy coziness that just doesn't feel right. Ed (Raphael Sbarge) is every bit the mad scientist, pouring his lonely obsessions into his work, going so far as to refer to the zombies he augments as "my creations", always a red flag. This episode is paced slow, the bizarre and surreal threat culminating in one of the most terrifying scenes in 'The Walking History', as disturbing classical music is played in the background to lure in the silhouettes of malformed walkers, in front of which Ed begins his villain's monologue.

The show holds off on actually displaying these malformed zombies right up until the end and it's worth the wait. Ed's enhancements make for truly grotesque walkers, the stuff of nightmares, all pouring in at once to devour their creator. It's a classic horror tale that uses some of the genre's best tropes - hubris, obsession, a mask of kindness that always feels a bit off and monsters turning on their creator. Sadly, leaning into these tropes robs Alicia, Charlie and Dakota of their agency somewhat, as it takes Morgan (Leslie Jones) showing up at the last minute to save them.

Morgan's arrival makes the 'Buck's Landing' story feel like a bad dream, a detour from the main story - things go back to business fast as if they'd never happened. In the larger scheme of things, Ed's story could have been entirely skipped - it bears little relevance to the plot aside from convincing Alicia not to turn Dakota over to her sister. The anthology format of this season allows for stories like this to be told, however.

This season feels like the show's makers are taking a back-to-basics approach to storytelling. Different kinds of stories each get their moment to shine without being bogged down by the larger scheme of things. In a show where zombies are so prevalent, it was inevitable that horror would have its day and director Tawnia McKiernan deserves all praise for a story that makes zombies more disturbing than they've been for a very long time.

'Fear the Walking Dead' will return in 2021.