Season 5, Episode 5 of Fear the Walking Dead finally caught up with Althea (Maggie Grace), who'd been missing since she was captured by a mysterious masked soldier in the season premiere, and her story was even more interesting than we were expecting. Not only did it add dimension to the mystery of who took Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), it also had an emotionally affecting love story for Al and the soldier, Isabelle, played by guest star Sydney Lemmon. (Fun fact: Sydney is Jack Lemmon's granddaughter.)
Before we get into Alsabelle, here's what we learned about the chopper people who have appeared on The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead: They're from Indiana. They have developed bite-proof clothing. They're incredibly disciplined and committed to their mission, as shown by Isabelle killing her partner when he threatened their operational security, and her dedication to obtaining and destroying Al's videotape of the group's maps to protect their secrets. Isabelle and her dispatcher on the radio were both unemotional about Isabelle's partner's death, and the dispatcher made a decision to send a "reclamation team" to kill Isabelle, which shows that the mission is more important than any individual. But they're also idealistic, as shown by Isabelle's faith in the future the group is building, as well as her decision to spare Al's life because she grew to care about her. "We are a force who are not living for ourselves or for now," Isabelle told Al. "You have your stories, already making every day the past. We have the future."
We still don't know what the three-ring symbol group is called, or what they're actually doing to build for the future. We know Isabelle returned home with her "payload," but we don't know what that payload is. The group's M.O. remains opaque. But we know a little bit more than we did, and more will be revealed. The group has a human face now, and there's no way this is the last we've seen of Isabelle.
For the purposes of character-building on Fear the Walking Dead, Isabelle's role was to get Al to open up more. Since we met her last season, Al has been hidden behind her camera, getting stories from other people while sharing nothing of her own. But when Isabelle found a tape at the bottom of Al's bag that was very important to her, Al explained her backstory: When the world fell apart, Al went out chasing the story instead of saying goodbye to her brother, and the tape is her apology to him for choosing her job over her family. "Now he's dead and the story is all that's left," she said.
Al and Isabelle bonded over their commitment to their respective causes, and Al saved Isabelle when she lost her grip while they climbed up a cliff to reach the helicopter fuel Isabelle had stashed away. They made camp and shared a beer, and Isabelle told Al she wished they'd met before the world ended or after it came back. "Everything's so ugly nowadays," Al said. "This is nice."
They made it back with the fuel to where Al had stashed the tape, and Al turned it over, knowing full well that Isabelle was going to kill her after she destroyed the tape, all in the interest of operational security. But Isabelle had persuaded Al to put her faith in something bigger than herself, in a future where people would be alive to hear stories like the ones Al's been collecting, and so Al gave Isabelle the tape about her brother and asked her to make sure he mattered and his memory survives. Isabelle put her gun to the back of Al's head, but she couldn't pull the trigger.
"I want you to live," Isabelle said. "Don't chase this story. Do not try to find me. I hope you get back to your friends and that you can all get home somehow." Al turned around to face the woman she'd nicknamed "Happy," because she'd refused to tell her her name, until now. "My name is Isabelle," she said. "I'm from Indiana. And I got to see the prettiest thing I've seen since the end of everything." They kissed passionately, and then they went their separate ways. Isabelle took off in her chopper, and Al reunited with Morgan (Lennie James) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey).
Al didn't tell her friends the truth about what she'd just been through -- she said she got chased by walkers into the woods and had been trying to get back, saying nothing about Isabelle -- but she did tell them the truth about who she is. Her last name is some long Polish name whose spelling I'm going to completely botch -- something like Sefczekpragocki. She's allowing herself to get closer to people.
It's detrimental for the long-term health of Fear the Walking Dead to make it a launch pad for the Rick Grimes movies, because it no longer exists on its own terms. When that mystery runs out, it will be hard for Fear to establish stakes that high again. But until then, Fear seems like it's going to deliver very solid, entertaining episodes like this one. The ride may not sustainable, but it's fun while it's happening.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.