It’s fitting that an episode revolving around a train would be all about characters in transit, forced out of the comfortable environments they know and pushed into scary new circumstances. As Gus, Bear, and Jepperd jump a cargo train to Colorado, Aimee and Wendy leave The Preserve with the other hybrids and the Singhs become prisoners of the Last Men Army, moving pieces into place for an explosive confrontation by the end of the season. “Stranger Danger On A Train” is building up to something big, but it’s a transition episode rather than an event episode, making it less exciting than the chapters before it.
Unlike last episode, the Gus/Bear/Jepperd thread is the most compelling here, thanks to the appearance of Jimmy “Fat Man” Jacobs (Suli Moa), Jepperd’s old football teammate. Jepperd’s memories of the past rise to the surface when he’s running to catch up with Gus and Bear on the train, and he pushes himself the way he pushed himself on the football field to get on board. The train is hauling pandemic essentials like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and while the trio is lucky they don’t have to deal with passengers, they do have to contend with the Last Men patrolling the cars. But they also gain a new ally in Jimmy, who works on the train and is thrilled to catch up with his old buddy.
The rush of enthusiastic camaraderie makes the Jepperd and Jimmy relationship feel very natural from the start. While Jimmy seems like a generally chipper dude, we’ve primarily seen Jepperd as either a stoic badass or an irritated curmudgeon. Seeing him let loose and laugh makes a big impact, providing an emotional release that Jepperd hasn’t allowed himself the entire series. Jimmy wants to catch up, which means it’s time to learn more about Jepperd’s past, but still not get the whole story.
The biggest reveal is that he had a pregnant wife the last time Jimmy saw him, which immediately adds a lot of new layers to Jepperd’s character. He was going to be a family man before the Great Collapse, and Gus taps into his paternal instincts. We don’t know what happened to them, Jepperd just says that they are “gone,” but it’s a key piece in putting together the puzzle of Gus’ gruff protector. Jepperd is on an intense personal journey that is making him more selfless, and when he sees Gus’ lost Dog in a room full of Last Men, Jepperd puts himself in danger to retrieve the stuffed animal that means so much to this little boy who drives him crazy.
It’s a foolish decision that quickly exposes Jepperd, who doesn’t have the know-how to convincingly play a train worker, but he successfully gets Dog. Jimmy hasn’t had to play defense for his teammate in a long time, and he jumps at the opportunity to help Jepperd escape with his new family. This episode has some strong close-quarters combat, starting with Jeppard and Jimmy’s wrench fight and ending with Jimmy holding back the Last Men while the stowaways jump off the speeding train. The flashing lights of the tunnel make it feel like Jimmy’s back in the stadium for this fight, which is probably the last defensive play he’ll ever make.
While on the train, Gus and Bear see a sign for the Essex County Zoo and groups of zebras, giraffes, and elephants moving through the fields, having fled captivity and returned to nature. We’re getting closer to the intersection point for these separate storylines, but there might not be much of The Preserve when Gus and friends get there. After being marked, Aimee knows that the only way to keep the hybrids safe is by getting them out of the zoo. Before parking herself at the security console with her shotgun, Aimee gives Wendy a motivational speech and sends her off on an underground trek with the rest of the hybrids, hopefully getting them out fast enough to find a safe spot to lay low. There are about ten hybrid children at the Preserve, and the glimpses we see of them in the tunnel make me want to see a lot more, especially if they’re all in special-effects makeup and prosthetics.
The Singhs spend almost all of this time in the charred remains of their home, freaking out about what they’re going to do as prisoners of the Last Men. The only reason they’re alive is because Adi lies to Abbot about being close to finding a cure, making up some nonsense about hybrid genomes, ghost DNA, and resequencing genetic code to close some key gaps. None of it is in Dr. Bell’s book because it’s bullshit, and Adi starts to panic as he realizes he has no idea how he’s going to accomplish this.
Rani’s belief in him calms him down, and she makes a good point that his quick thinking has at least saved them from being killed. If he can do that, maybe he can solve the mystery of the Sick and save everyone. The start of their life with Abbot isn’t promising — their hands are tied and bags are put over their heads as they’re transported to their new accommodations — but at least they still have each other. On the plus side, their horse is set free, and we get some pretty shots of Trixie running through the empty community. The humans of Rockbridge think they can beat nature and keep living their old way of life, but in the end, their town becomes just another part of the wilderness for animals to reclaim.