Fear the walking Dead SDCC 2016 Coverage By R.C. Murphy
Taking the stage first in the two-hour Dead block in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con, Fear the Walking Dead kicked off the festivities with the teaser for the latter half of season two.
For the most part, the trailer focus on Nick’s pilgrimage to Tijuana. He meets some kind people, some not so kind people, and even more people with a bizarre connection to the dead. It’s like he’s drawn to this stuff. Madison drags Alicia, Strand, and Ofelia around Mexico looking for Nick with no results. They wind up taking refuge in a hotel which randomly rains dead bodies. But it must be an okay place, Alicia stopped to shower. Travis and Chris’ bonding trip is off to a rocky start as son insists repeatedly that he can take care of himself against the undead or any obstacle in his way. There is a lot more close-quarters fighting with the infected on the way. Alicia does some slightly-very dangerous things to shake her undead assailants. We’ve also got more than just the gangs and weirdos in Tijuana to look out for, as well. Chris and Travis’ problems aren’t all internal for the remaining seven episodes.
Producer Gale Anne Hurd said, “We’re really going to see a lot of things you’ve never seen on television before.” Having seen the TWD trailer, that bar is pretty high. I don’t think FtWD can deliver on the spectacle coming from its sister show. However, if they can get even an ounce of the energy from that trailer to translate to each episode’s timing, I may consider watching it again.
The characters fans saw earlier in the season won’t be quite the same. Producer Dave Alpert said he’s enjoyed watching the characters turn into “battle-hardened warriors.” Kim Dickens echoed the sentiment, saying what Madison did in the mid-season finale revealed a new side to her. We’ll see a more extreme Madison from here on out, perhaps? Madison isn’t the only parent stepping to the plate. Cliff Curtis claimed Travis won’t be a sad-ass when the show returns, he’s prepared to become a, “bad ass dad.” Pretty much every actor spoke up to say their character would get a harder edge for the new episodes. Matter of fact, Mercedes Mason said she wants Ofelia to “pull a Carol” and become “a really violent butterfly.” Coleman Domingo had a different outlook for Strand. He considers Strand a symbol for Western civilization. As his character survives, he will continue to break down.
There was a new face on the panel. Danay Garcia will join the show for the remainder of season two as Luciano. She plays a part In Nick’s story line.
Will the new blood and a kick in the pants for the characters be enough to make it as interesting as the trailer promises? I sincerely hope so. There’s too much potential in that cast to continue to watch them flounder with a poorly-managed script. The danger becomes if splitting the group and the story leads to forgotten characters or story-telling shortcuts which defy what little logic these characters operate by currently. I know there’s not much sense in a guy who covers himself in zombie goo all the time, but you know what I mean. Fear the Walking Dead will continue its second season on August 21st at 9 PM on AMC.
Warning: This article contains episode spoilers and a strong opinion.
How on earth does the show’s producers expect anyone to give half a damn about this show? I don’t get it. Since day one there’s been nothing personally at stake for the main family. The only deaths are fringe losses, people who weren’t even fully fleshed out with a personality, let alone on screen long enough for the viewers to care about their fate. Liza kicked the bucket, so what? Travis’ reaction and Chris’ weird corpse cuddling pretty much made her death a circus side show. Daniel lost his wife, who was only on screen to be the religious figure and when she became problematic for the writers, she died. Even in this episode when we should have genuine concerns about Travis’ survival, it’s not there. Not even remotely. My biggest concern was making it to a commercial to get more coffee before I fell asleep from all that excitement. We got one infected man on screen. He kills people we don’t know. Yawn. Snooze. Wake me when it gets interesting.
Interesting doesn’t mean Madison lords over the yacht crew, nagging every single one of them about this, that, or the other. We get it. She’s a mother. She cares about all these people. There are other ways for her to say, “I love you” without nitpicking every decision they make. I’m waiting for the scene where she follows Nick into the bathroom to wipe his backside. Then on top of this become The Madison Knows It All Show, she’s apparently the only able-bodied person on board who can handle any tough task. Strand is conveniently unwell after his swim—I told you he wasn’t shot; FTWD’s social media people tried for days to make viewers react to his possible injury and all I did was laugh. Daniel is looked over once again because he’s not family. Ofelia could wander around nude with a flamingo on her head and no one would notice her. Nick is grounded because mommy is worried about him. Chris can’t handle his own mental mess long enough not to screw up. And Luis? That guy is still around? Just listen to the dulcet tones of a man in the apocalypse whining about money. Pro tip, dude, money means jack-all now. That leaves Madison to play the cavalry and she’s no Agent May (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
But why does Madison have to stage a one-woman rescue? Here’s the quick version of the plot: The yacht crew (read: Madison) decides they won’t head south as planned just yet. Madison cashes in a favor from Strand, buying them half a day to find Travis and Alicia. Daniel manages to get information on the pirates from Reed and leaves Chris to watch their captive. With the information, they find a possible location for Connor’s crew. On the pirate side, Travis is locked up by request of Alex, the woman they left adrift in episode 203. She blames Travis for her plight. In the main cabin, Alicia is treated to a dinner she doesn’t get to eat, cooked by Connor himself. He’s called away and Alicia runs into Jack. Jack teaches her how to track other boats for looting. Eventually they concoct a plan to steal a boat and run after the approaching Abigail because Alicia assumes the boat’s early arrival means her family wasn’t taken to shore as promised. Back on the yacht, the crew is hailed by Connor, who tells Reed—his brother—to bring the Abigail in. Madison replies. They agree to a hostage trade. Just then, Chris shoots Reed. But it’s okay, even at point-blank range, Chris doesn’t destroy Reed’s brain. They truss up and head bag the new infected and Madison takes him to do the trade. Alicia hides from the pirates when they look for her. Travis is taken to the docks. The trade works . . . until the bag comes off Reed’s head. Connor flails and is bitten. Travis fights free from the last pirate on the dock. Madison just stands there. Alicia and Jack have a “How dare you” moment before she slides down the side of the dry-docked boat Connor made his home. Madison, Travis, and Alicia return to the Abigail. Jack watches, looking like a kicked puppy.
Now we’ve got no immediate danger for the family. No tension save the meager and trite “family comes first” bull everyone repeats ad nauseam. And they’ve killed off the only season-arcing baddies. Where to go now? Mexico and the mysterious people who still take cash to cross the border? That’s not interesting. That’s idiotic. Any person with half a brain understands money means nothing. So the guy says no he can’t take them. What’s stopping them from just sailing to the Baja coast and skipping the border crossing altogether? This show continues to fail to have a plot. Every time they get close, everything resolves in favor of the yacht crew. I get more excitement watching my turtle kill snails.
Surprise! Spoilers! It’s the only surprise we’re discussing this week.
Once we were all done scratching our head over Nick’s game of tag with an infected man, the show ran a course so predictable, I could not make myself focus on the screen. This is insane. Why can’t the show manage to start interesting and stay there? Not only that, but I keep catching their attempts to play games with viewers. “Oh, we teased Jack and the Never-Competent Pirates in 201, we better let them lay low until 204. That’ll really shock the audience!” Yeah, no. The arrival of Jack and the others—who are so inconsequential, they don’t get proper credits online so I cannot confirm their names without rewatching the entire episode and I’m so not mentally prepared to do that, it’s akin to torture—was about as exciting as I’d thought it’d be. They cook up a ruse to get onto the yacht using the pregnant woman’s condition to their advantage. Once Madison sets her eyes on the distressed woman, it’s all over. Strand is the only person to freak out appropriately, but he can’t arm himself because Daniel stripped the magazine from his gun. Now we know why all the paranoia last episode. They needed Daniel to be the one to do the dumb thing and salvage the most boring pirate invasion I’ve seen on television to date.
The pirates climb onboard, point a gun, and have run of the ship. Chris even asks, “Do I shoot them,” at one point, like they haven’t been actively trying to dodge these pirates for three episodes. Did they magically forget the threat which had been on their backside not that long ago? Even a warning shot would have proven the group we’re watching has some chance to make it for the long run. If they can’t? Why the hell are we still following them? Why torment viewers with boring characters if the endgame means they die?
With the pirates onboard and Strand without a weapon, he bails. Takes a raft and scurries like a rat off a sinking ship. He’s shot at, popping the raft. Really, Strand’s escape attempt is to take him from the main story and force flashbacks on the show—like the endless flashbacks on TWD season six weren’t bad enough, now this show’s caught the way-back virus. I’m all for character development, but everything we learn from Strand’s flashbacks could have been handled within the plot timeline. There’s no reason to detail his business plans. We already know he’s shady enough to rob someone. The only new information is his homosexuality, again something they could have included later in the season as an actual surprise. Instead they try to salvage his character from Stereotype Land by info-dumping his background and sexuality in unnecessary flashbacks. While they did attempt to drag out the Big Gay Surprise until the episode’s ends, I knew right away what would happen when Thomas touched Strand’s tie in their first scene together. For those with their head in the sand, it’s a thing. They’re a couple. Men on television do not do casual tie-grabs and hand-holding, let alone kissing. Again, this show can diversify itself to oblivion, but cannot weave these characters into a cohesive story with true depth.
During the pirate raid, Travis farts around pretending he can’t start the yacht. That’s pretty much the plot for the episode. The side plots are Strand’s flashbacks and Alicia negotiating her family’s survival with Jack. Everyone else is tied up and left in the main cabin to bicker or plot escape attempts they never actually see through. There’s no actual action until Connor, the pirate leader, arrives. He sees use in Alicia and Travis, so bags their heads and drags them to his speed boat. Connor isn’t as lame as the other pirate characters. He has morals. But it may be an illusion of a coherent character. He may just be a walking bag of morals. Time will tell.
On shore, Nick’s bizarre game of tag turns into a quest to find a location Strand sent him to. Nick meets with Luis, Thomas’ assistant, who is supposed to lead Strand to the house in Baja. Luis has no clue about the others on the yacht or the plan to take them to Mexico. But because Nick says Strand sent him, Luis grabs a raft and off they go to get the others. They arrive just in time to kill the remaining pirates Connor left. Madison manages to do one thing—stab the man who did all the talking before his boss arrived. The gang is stuck there on the yacht until Luis knows Strand is safe. They’re only getting to Mexico with him. Time to turn around and find the man left for dead. Oh, look, he’s still alive. Hooray. What about Travis and Alicia? They can’t even make a supply run on an empty beach without nearly dying, how are they supposed to attack armed pirates?
I don’t know how they expect fans to hang around for two more episodes, let alone stick out the entire fifteen-episode second season and the already-purchased sixteen-episode third season. There’s nothing exciting. Scenes which should hold our interest fizzle into predictable messes or are so incomprehensible, they frustrate viewers. I keep waiting to be wowed. I want to be wowed.
Pretty sure this is going to end in disappointment again.
Surf’s up, and so are the spoilers. Surf at your own risk.
The episode opened with, predictably, the survivors the yacht crew would encounter later in the episode. New characters usually bring in a breath of fresh air, but we already know how this will end. We’ve seen this dance before between Madison and Strand. There is no reason to keep dragging new survivors out if they’re only going to kick the bucket. Save the budget for guest stars and hire a few new writers to call them on rubbish plot management. This episode has no real plot, by the way. It’s a pit stop sponsored by deus ex machina. They needed to buy time for Madison to get good and riled about Strand’s Mexico secret, so the boat broke. Then when they needed to make a quick getaway, suddenly an all-day repair took two minutes. There’s no tension in the plot. The group gets in trouble, finds survivors they’ll leave for death, and magically survive to screw up someone else’s life the following week. The only variation is location.
Madison, Strand, Ofelia, and Travis stayed on the stalled boat during repairs, the kids and Daniel hit the beach to salvage supplies from a plane wreck. While searching, Nick ended up in a pit with not one, but two infected. Chris wanders off from the group and finds the lone survivor from the wreck. The man’s spine is shattered. Chris gives him a brutal mercy killing. Before Travis finishes finding the hand lodged in the water cooling system, the beach crew are greeted with Alex—the woman from the first scene—and a lot of infected. They grab what they found in the wreckage and bail, snagging Alex’s life boat and her injured friend Jake. There’s another predictable fight amongst everyone, with Strand firmly on the “No” side. They reach a compromise; Alex and Jake will be towed after the yacht until San Diego with some food and water. Before they made it a mile, Strand doubled back and cut the life boat free.
Madison is insufferable. I could go on for days about how flat her character is. She only has an opinion to differ Strand’s. The character doesn’t even make sense to Travis, who has been downgraded to an indentured servant’s social level given how little choice Madison gives him while she wants to save the world with nothing but a boat and friggin’ rainbows. Madison becomes the perfect pawn for writer’s to manipulate. Someone’s gotta be nosey and bitchy? Better send Madison. What about Daniel? He’s the Old Wise Man, shouldn’t some of these mental battles be between him and Strand? Hershel and Dale weren’t ones to pass the buck, let alone to a woman, when group tensions rode high. Why is Daniel any different? Oh. Wait. They don’t want to make a minority character “problematic.” Instead they use Madison as women tend to be used in post-apocalyptic fiction, only there to make matters worse. Diversity is the one thing they got right for FtWD. It’s also something they keep toeing around, leaving Madison to be the bothersome one for fear of backlash. Just write people. Come on. You can do that, guys. No more stereotypes, please.
I feel like I’m losing my mind when it comes to the dialog on this show. There were several instances where conversations had no resolution, yet the characters moved on with the plot as though they’d actually said something in the previous scene. When Madison confronts Strand about Mexico, there’s grandstanding about putting family first—probably a red herring about Stand having family—and threats thrown around, but I never felt like they agreed on what to do about the house in Baja. Later in the episode, it’s like they sat there and negotiated a cohabitation plan. The conversation was nothing near that. Then there’s the virtually incoherent conversation with Alicia and Nick on the beach when Nick puts on the captain’s shirt. I was on board with Alicia marveling that her brother is actually with the family, but it took a metaphor turn which didn’t pan out with the performances. Do you know why? It’s a horrible bit of dialog. When dialog doesn’t make sense, actor’s more often than not cannot salvage it for the performance. Instead of the director and writers finding something which fit for Nick and Alicia, they kept the clunky line and killed—yet again—the relationship between brother and sister. The love the writers put on the page is as warm as the crabs crawling from that one infected guy. These people could all be total strangers and it wouldn’t change the relationship dynamics on the yacht one bit.
This is the song that doesn’t end . . . There is nothing unique or original about this show. Finally, I said it. They rehash things done by other shows—even their own mother show—put it near water, and call it new. The episode title fits the entire show so well; a creature eating its own tail, creating an unending cycle. In the show’s case, the cycle is driven by poor writing. They sit at their computers to scribble an episode and pat themselves on the back for being so creative, drowning out any who say their writing isn’t the bee’s knees.
On to next week. I predict more water, more fighting, and clowns juggling chainsaws.
Can we rename the show Neurotic People on a Boat? Pretty sure we’re seeing the emotional trend for the season: Trust No One. Unfortunately for FtWD, they’re not The X-Files and all the paranoid decisions the characters make don’t drag us into the tension the writers are trying to make happen. Much like “fetch” their attempt to make something happen with these characters isn’t working. Matter of fact, I believe I loathe Travis more now than before. Aren’t we supposed to be on the same side as the family? I understand writing Nick as the antihero, but Travis’ constant freak-outs over nothing, or at least anything he can articulate clearly, are driving me insane. He endangers the family by calling out for people who may or may not be friendly, babbles endlessly in an attempt to drum tension, and flips his lid when Chris learns the proper way to dispose of the infected. The only time he makes any sense is when he tells Madison no at the episode’s climax—if that’s what you want to call it—and she wants to take on more mouths to feed.
Let’s backtrack to the plot now that I’m done venting about a main character who needs to go back to the writer’s room for a rewrite.
The yacht is being tracked by a large vessel. Strand tells everyone the only way to shake them is to drop anchor in a cove and wait for the following ship to pass. Travis suggests Catrina Island, where he hopes to talk to the ranger on duty at the station. Lucky for them, the ranger George, his wife Melissa, and their three children are holding the infected on the island at bay with a fence. The yacht is allowed to stay at the dock for the night. Strand, Daniel, and Ofelia stay onboard. Daniel is only there to obsessively track Strand and pilfer through his things. Ofelia gets a one-off scene where she says she understands her father now because he’s cruel, just like the new world swarming around them. On the island, George fills Travis in about the outbreak. In a few sentences, the writing team takes the easy way out, using the forest service stations nationally as ground zero for outbreak information in each area. Essentially, they destroy fifty percent of the nation’s population off screen by simple telling Travis, “Well, these stations went dark so just assume every human there died.” We know they die. We’ve watched TWD and understand cataclysmic events. Why write this weird logic leap to explain what we already know or can guess? Again, the writers show they have no faith in the viewer’s ability to tell a story themselves unless they’re guided by the nose the whole time. I don’t like television which assumes the average viewer isn’t intelligent.
Then comes the meddling this show is infamous for, because what else will Madison do with her time? Somehow the episode comes around to Melissa begging Madison to take her youngest son and only daughter with them when they leave. Melissa can’t go, her MS is pretty much a death sentence and she knows it. George is a nutjob and won’t leave the island. Their eldest son is as unreasonably unstable about leaving their home as his father. While this is going on, Nick searches the house for drugs. He finds pills he says are bad news, but leaves them where he found them when the daughter finds him snooping. The next morning just as everyone’s getting ready to head out—including the children—the boy comes in to say the girl took a pill. It rolls downhill from there in predictable fashion.
These characters are cursed. Every time they touch something, people die in droves. One might say the writers do it to show kindness has its cost same as hatred and fear-mongering. I say it’s because they honestly do not know how to go about getting characters from their morning coffee before work to where Rick and his people are emotionally on TWD. It’s so much easier to jump into the middle of the story and build background in as they go. With FtWD, they’re at the beginning with only forward to progress. Yet they keep chaining down character growth by giving them emotional templates to fill, not actually delving into what makes the characters work. We should see different people now, subtle, but different. Travis and Madison are the same obnoxious people as in episode 101. The others? They’re dang near invisible, they’re so dull. It’s a shame. Alycia Debnam-Carey was amazing on The 100, but one wouldn’t know it from the lackluster material they’re giving her as Alicia.
What good does it do to say, “Hey, write this better,” when AMC keeps purchasing a new season before seeing the full numbers and fan reactions to episode 201? They have their moneymaker, they’re going to shake it until they break it. Which may be soon, given fan’s lack of interest only two episodes into the second season.
New season, new outlook on how the show will progress. It’s something I do with every show hitting its sophomore season; drop expectations and watch like it’s a whole new beast. Only this beast is no monster. The mistakes are so similar to season one, I couldn’t maintain optimism the entire episode. As usual with Walking Dead properties right now, they wrote to do a couple cool things in the episode instead of writing for plot integrity or to repair the damage they did to the characters’ identities, or lack of identity.
Everyone is still flat stereotypes. Madison spends the episode micromanaging, ignoring Chris, and contradicting herself. Travis is a tool, unable to cope with his son because Big Tragic Death. Chris spends half the episode cuddling Liza’s corpse, and no one thinks this is concerning behavior. Ofelia is a ghost, seen but only heard once or twice. Daniel is the Wise Old Man collecting information. Nick is useless. Alicia gets the role of “naïve young girl who lures enemies to their location.” Because how else would they bring in human enemies without Alicia doing something completely against character? Anyone raised in the digital age knows to prioritize personal information. Alicia knows humans are dangerous. Military men, who are supposed to help civilians, threatened to rape her. There was ample footage of riots from when the outbreak started. The only reason Alicia talks to Jack is to introduce human threats. What about Strand? He’s still an A-class jerk lording it over everyone because he has the means to control them—without his boat, they’re dead. I could’ve told you what each character would do without watching the premiere.
The plot is pretty simple. The gang splits, some prepping the boat, the rest grabbing the gear. And Liza. Chris won’t leave Liza, even after the infected find them on the beach. The fighting hasn’t gotten any better. They still film them like a Blair Witch outtake. Instead of making it exciting, the fights are yawn-worthy. These people couldn’t rip wet paper, but they can narrowly escape being wrestled to the ground and eaten. Everyone makes it on a dinghy, Travis with his burden coming in at a laughable pace to give a dead guy time to shamble into the surf and set up a cool kill. But to be honest, I’ve seen so many things killed by boat propellers, their whole clunky setup isn’t worth it punchline. I would’ve been more impressed if they gave into the urge to use the gag altogether as long as the gang are on water. To top it off, Madison—who just bludgeoned several infected—gets queasy about the kill. She wasn’t queasy before, why now? On the big boat, everyone goes to their corners or piddles around the yacht. They argue about rescuing refugees, Strand making the call to keep going. Alicia does the dumb thing. They have a funeral at sea for Liza, which Chris has a fit during and after. When Chris cools down, he opts to skip eating the mystery fish Daniel caught and goes for a swim. Nick joins him. Somehow both missed the smoldering wreck in the water.
There’s so much fake fog, it’s ridiculous and looks like a set on a pond. Nick hears someone in the wreck and goes to play savior. Did I mention the infected in the water? Well, they’re there, too. Inside the boat, Nick does maybe five seconds of searching for the survivor, thirty seconds struggling with a dead woman, and grabs the travel log for the wrecked boat. Nick only lives because Travis hollers. Seriously. The dead woman just stopped fighting because of a noise. What? Is it a smell thing? Nick was wet, so only his movements and noise drew the infected? There are so many better ways to show this than for the infected to just stop when a foot from food. No one dies. There’s human enemies on the way. They could be Alicia’s Jack and company, or a separate band of pirates. They’ll get all grr with everyone, Madison will play tough woman, Travis will try, and eventually Strand will bully their way through since he is the only one with answers, it seems.
Boy I hope they get it together soon. If they pull out Monopoly on the yacht, I’m jumping in the infected-laden ocean.
Slow your roll. This review contains spoilers. Are you ready?
The family is finally back on track with their original plan—pack everything they need and drive out to the desert to wait out the worst. That last part is hysterical. They’re not paying attention to what’s going on around them. Travis is convinced the government will find a way to fix the infected. Daniel is far more practical. He knows it’s “us versus them.” Which them, though? The infected and their mindless search for sustenance? The soldiers imprisoning them in the Safe Zone? The government doctors kidnapping anyone and everyone with symptoms of illness, both physical and mental? For Daniel, it doesn’t matter so long as he and Ofelia survive. The only reason he stays with Travis and Madison is because they’re heading to the medical facility to retrieve Liza and Nick. He won’t leave the city without Griselda. Daniel’s practicality demands they kill Adams so he doesn’t alert the remaining soldiers in the city. There’s an argument, of course. Travis wins the round, with an assist from cold-hearted Madison, and they take Adams along to provide a map for the military compound housing Exner’s clinic.
Except then the bleeding-heart lets Adams go. Why? Because Adams whines endlessly about being tortured. Cry me a river. Going from what we saw on-screen, Daniel gave him a couple paper cuts. This is why it was vital they establish the torture on-screen in episode five. Without it, the story line with Adams falls flat and makes no sense later on when Adams catches up with the group to confront Daniel. Why go back for revenge? Adams wasn’t permanently harmed. His wounds were entirely superficial. He showed no genuine mental anguish during or after the lackluster torture scenes. It’s another case of the writers drumming up tension without actually establishing any.
Not even the massive wave of infected in the second half of the episode manages to make an impression. As part of the plan to sneak into the military compound, Daniel utilizes the stadium overflowing with infected to distract the soldiers. There’s the usual footage starring clueless men shooting through a chain link fence. All the actual hand-to-teeth action is seen through Liza’s eyes as she’s preparing to evacuate with the clinic staff. In slow motion. While she stands still for two and a half minutes—I timed it—doing not a bloody thing. There are times for realism; any person faced with a zombie horde would freeze. However, with an already snail-paced first season and copious slow-mo shots, this was a bad call by the production crew. There’s no sense of urgency from the characters. They’re watching dozens die at the hands of people they assumed were just sick. Yet they stand around, twiddling their thumbs. Even when Liza discovers that Exner murdered the clinic patients who couldn’t be transported—the helicopter evacuation team tucks tail after discovering the infected horde—her reaction is, “Oh. Well, they’re dead. You, the woman who killed them, should come with my family.”
A lot of questionable behavior by the survivors gets swept under the rug. One exchange cannot be overlooked. While Travis, Madison, Daniel, and Ofelia are in the compound searching for their kidnapped family members, Chris and Alicia wait with the cars in an underground garage. Once the feces hits the fan, some of the soldiers tuck tail and run. A few find the kids and demand they hand over the keys to the SUV. Alicia and Chris fight back as best as they can. Then one of the soldiers stops and threatens to rape Alicia. This is not okay anymore. I’m tired of every man on TV with questionable morals resorting to rape in order to prove they’re not the good guys. Quite frankly, it’s lazy and predictable. Plus, it makes no sense. “Oh, we’re being chased by zombies? Let me stop and try to rape this chick.” Yeah, no. That’s simply not how the flight-or-fight trigger works. These men feared for their lives, not their libidos. Stopping to grab a little action before securing their safety goes against human nature. Writers, leave the rape threats on the cutting room floor. Surely as a group we’ve all moved past this bad-guy trope.
What about Nick? Well, he’s still got a friend in Strand—the well-dressed man he shares a cell with in the clinic. They break out after it’s obvious the soldiers are fleeing. Do they help anyone else? No. It’s another nail in Nick’s likeability coffin and doesn’t do a thing to make us find common footing with Strand. They’re sitting ducks in the compound, soldiers or not. The guy they needed to get a ride to freedom is somebody’s dinner. Then they walk the wrong way down a hallway with an automatically locking door. Luckily Liza happens to find them, and the others trying to save them, and unlocks the door. As reward for the assist, Strand takes them to his oceanfront property. They’re not staying in the gorgeous house. Strand is a nomad at heart. He knows setting up camp is a death sentence.
There’s business to take care of before they can leave the house for the yacht floating just off the coast. First, Ofelia has a bullet wound from Adams’ attempt at revenge. It’s not clear where, exactly, she is injured, just that it isn’t likely to kill her. Second, their only trained medical person was bitten in the rush to escape via a detour through the military compound’s kitchen. Liza takes a walk down to the beach. Nosey Madison follows. Turnabout is fair play in the apocalypse, spurring Liza to ask Madison to kill her before she turns—a talk which went the other way around about the time the Safe Zone was established. It takes so long for this talk, Travis finds the women. He ends up putting Liza down, despite both women agreeing it’d do irreparable damage to his fragile psyche. The episode ends with another drawn out set of slow-motion shots ranging from Travis’ anguished lament in the surf to Chris discovering his mother’s body.
That’s it. There’s no momentum catapulting these characters into season two. It’s inexcusable. They knew well in advance that FtWD would have a second season. It wasn’t like they wrote season one completely blind to the show’s future, as so many infant series do nowadays with fickle audiences and wary network executives. The Walking Dead franchise is more or less all AMC focuses on as their cash cow. So why end this show in particular in such a boring way? Yes, they kill a main character. Yes, it should be tragic. But it isn’t. Liza isn’t given enough screen time to make fans like her enough to mourn. The slow-motion ending drags down the tempo and Travis’ breakdown in the surf is almost parody. I do not have high hopes for season two. If this show sees a third season, it’s simply because AMC is milking this cow until the teats run dry, then putting it out of its misery.
Whether it’s through bad calls from the government, medical professionals, and police forces or if the mass panic in large cities like Los Angeles is the perfect breeding ground for new zombies. More often than not, I find myself watching the background action in every scene. Why continue to shove poorly written characters in our faces when the best part of the show happens without them? Numerous fans have told me they’d much rather the show follow Tobias. He seems to be the only one fully aware of the ramifications of these attacks and what it means for mankind’s future. But he’s only on screen for a few minutes total halfway through the season. It’s like the writers want to hide his intelligence after realizing how moronic the lead characters are when it comes to common sense.
Head’s up! There’s episode spoilers in the rest of this review.
Some of you surely think I’m overreacting, that there’s no way the same people who gave us Rick Grimes and company can produce such wholly flawed characters. I’m not talking flawed like Carol’s sociopathy or Daryl’s antisocial nature. We’re talking characters so poorly written, if they were actual people, they’d find it impossible to function in normal society without ending up injuring themselves or others. Madison in particular cannot operate under basic logic. In the beginning of this episode, not much time has passed since we left off in episode 2. So she should still feel the adrenaline rush—or at least the let-down from it—after bashing in Artie’s head with a fire extinguisher. You know, her friend and coworker. The man she risked her life to help despite Tobias’ warnings. At no point does reason say Madison should force her children to wait at the house for Travis and his family when she knows these infected people can and will hurt others. Not to mention, she watched an infected neighbor chow down on the birthday party crew, so she knows danger is at their door.
Does she make Captain Addict and Princess Stubborn climb into the car? No. Madison sits them down to play Monopoly. Her dingbattiness must be inherited by the kids.
When they hear a noise at the door, Nick just wanders over to open it, letting in a stray German shepherd. Hold that thought for a second. I have a bone to pick with the writers about that dog. It’s always been a big mystery on TWD: where are the animals? We’ve seen a few, either eaten later on or too feral to re-domesticate. It only makes sense that this show would attempt to show what happened to them. It doesn’t make sense to introduce a gorgeous dog, only to kill it off-screen minutes later. There’s no point in forcing fans to listen to a dog’s whimpering and yelping as its attacked. Matter of fact, that is flat out cruel. Yes, people react when animals die. It’s a lazy way to garner emotions from the audience when they aren’t connecting to the humans in the story. Make us care when people die. Quit using animals to make up for two-dimensional characters.
When the infected neighbor breaks into their house and kills the dog, Madison and the kids return the favor and break into the house next door. Nick steals their shotgun. Madison snags the shotgun shells. Alicia wanders around, wondering what’s going on because he mother refuses to tell her that zombies exist.
Across town, Travis, his family, and the Salazars are forced out of the barber shop by a fire in the strip mall. Griselda’s foot is broken when a police water cannon topples a scaffold. Luckily they just happen to be right next to Travis’ truck. Going to the hospital isn’t an option—duh. Hospitals are ground zero for all infections and viruses. We’ve always said the first institutions to fall would be anything medical. That’s one thing the writers for the show got right.
Unable to find help for the injured woman, Travis opts to bring them with him to the house. They arrive seconds after the dog dies. Madison attempts to cut them off before they find the infected neighbor inside the house. Despite hearing the munching noises, Travis strolls up to his undead buddy and almost gets the same treatment as the birthday party crew. Daniel saves Travis, despite Travis demanding no one shoot the shotgun. The makeup effects for the infected in this scene are amazing and detailed.
Back at the neighbor’s house, Alicia backtracks by herself to grab the shotgun shells Madison dropped. She’s attacked by their neighbor, Susan. Chris comes to her rescue and gets punched in the nose as thanks. With everyone together, they should be ready to head to the desert, right? Wrong. Travis demands they wait until daylight. The Salazars argue whether or not they should go with the others, considering Liza is going to school to be a nurse and may be the only medically-inclined person they can find given the scene at the hospital they passed on the way to the Clark house. Ofelia thinks that since the others are kind, it’ll mean they survive. “Good people are the first ones to die,” Daniel tells her. They’re still arguing when Travis and Madison finally get in the car and drive away in the morning. For a heart-stopping minute, I wanted them to just drive off and never be seen again. It doesn’t happen. Susan’s husband returns home. Madison rushes back to warn him. Too late. He reaches out to embrace Susan . . . splat! A soldier puts a round through Susan’s skull.
Half the National Guard suddenly appears in their little suburb, locking it down. They catalogue every living person in the neighborhood. The corpses are taken away in body bags. Now they’re stuck huddling in the middle of a crowded city where the infection rate is climbing.
They should’ve left the minute Madison got home with Artie’s brains on her jacket.
First, adding unnecessary time to the pilot, killing what little momentum was in the episode with slow pans of Los Angeles, false zombie sightings, and sandpaper smooth character development. The latter is a huge deal-breaker for fans. They need a character to latch onto and love as a friend. I’d hoped the second episode would be better without the luxury of extra time to futz around, forcing it to focus on the plot. Yeah, not so much. All they managed was to make a bigger mess of the characters. Then, they continuously used slow-mo shots to try and ramp the tension throughout the episode. Except after an incredibly snail paced pilot, starting the second episode with a quiet slow-mo shot of Alicia walking down the street is the exact opposite of what they needed to do to catch fan’s interest again.
Caution: Show spoilers below.
The writers for this show can only write one female stereotype—the strong, independent woman who doesn’t need to listen to anyone, let alone a man, in order to keep her family safe. Madison was locked into this trap from the get-go. In this second episode, Liza is crammed into the same mold—vehemently refusing to deal with Travis even though the tone in his voice when he calls her to warn her about the strange happenings in L.A. says something is seriously wrong. Automatically, she jumps down his throat, much like Madison when he attempted to tell her there was something wrong in the church where Nick got his fix. Alicia does nearly the same thing after visiting her boyfriend Matt, only to discover he’s so sick, he should be in the hospital. Madison warns Alicia to back away, afraid Matt will turn into whatever Cal was before Nick ran him over twice. “People are getting sick. It could be contagious.” Predictably, Alicia fights her mother. “If he has it, I have it.” While it provided a great throwback to the harsh secret Edwin Jenner told Rick Grimes before the CDC building exploded on TWD, it makes no logical sense for Alicia to completely dismiss her mother’s concerns. At no point does she stop to actually process what is going on. The women all give into knee-jerk reactions, simply to create tension. It makes them all one-dimensional, dull, and predictable. Even Madison’s emotional breakdown near the episode’s end is telegraphed. Strong, independent women always cry when alone. Then when someone catches them, they brush it off. Yawn.
So what actually happened in episode two? Travis and Madison concoct a fool-proof plan: gather their kids, his ex as well, and drive out to the desert to wait out whatever is going on. Oh and detox Captain Addict. First, find Alicia. A task hindered by overworked cell phone towers and her stubbornness, as mentioned earlier. After they spend far too long arguing whether or not it’s safe to be around Matt, he finally sends Alicia away. This time she listens. Travis drops everyone off at home and heads out to pick up Chris and Liza. Chris dodges Travis’ calls like a professional disgruntled child. While he’s busy with his metaphorical fingers in his ears, Chris winds up smack dab in the middle of ground Zero for another officer-versus-undead shooting. The public doesn’t understand why the officers unloaded their magazines into the homeless man.
In a scene reminiscent of the 1992 L.A. riots, the crowd demands an explanation. Chris films the altercation, which only incites the protestors as they defend his right to film the police who tell him to stop. By the time Travis deals with Liza’s unreasonable refusal to listen to his warnings and they track down Chris, the riot is in full swing. An infected woman shuffles toward a female officer and is shot twice. The second she hits the ground, pure chaos erupts. Travis and Liza grab Chris. They run until the riot is too much to navigate, eventually begging for shelter in a barber shop owned by Daniel Salazar. His wife Griselda is the one who makes the final decision to provide a safe place for the family. Daniel’s daughter, Ofelia, is also there. The episode ends with them still trapped inside the barber shop while outside, the rioters blow up vehicles and loot shops which haven’t been locked up. Back at home, Madison is desperate to score meds to wean Nick off heroine. She leaves him with Alicia to break into the nurse’s office at the school, where she scores enough OxyContin to do the job. Hopefully. As she’s ready to leave, Tobias suddenly appears—never mind that he doesn’t have keys to the school or a reason to be there, really. But since he warned Madison about the outbreak, she relents and gives him back his knife. Oh and helps his steal food. Because that’s what good guidance counselors do, right? Sure. They also hand out drugs and encourage kids to have unprotected sex—my disbelief crash-landed the second she willingly committed a crime with the kid. Tobias and Madison aren’t alone.
Artie, the school’s principal, has a new, fresh look. He shambles after them. Stupidly, Madison tries to help and is attacked for her efforts. Her big, bad protector doesn’t so much as make Artie flinch with his itty bitty knife. When the infected principal turns on Tobias, Madison rescues her rescuer by bashing her friend’s head in with a fire extinguisher. She takes Tobias home, leaving the food they stole. Because that makes sense. If you want to die from starvation. The episode ends with the family living across the street becoming Infected Chow and Alicia finally demanding to know what’s going on.
The most frustrating thing about this episode is the fact that they more or less present Tobias as an apocalypse expert. He babbles tons of useful survival information. But when it comes to practicing these skills, nothing. Nada. It’s dumb move after dumb move. First, fruitlessly stabbing a man repeatedly in the chest. Second, leaving the food behind. They wrote him as the Harbinger and Encyclopedia, but negate these traits at every turn when Madison doesn’t accept what he’s telling her. The show is written almost as if each character is trapped in their own bubble, utterly incapable of actual interaction with each other. How do they expect fans to root for what should be a cohesive survival unit when the characters have no vested interest in one another? Yes, it’s early in the game, still. However, the season only has six episodes. There’s not much time left to build up the characters from their current two-dimensional caricatures. Without a connection to this family, all the groundwork they’re laying for the apocalypse— the riot scenes were brilliant if one ignores the family story line— is for naught.
As promised, Fear the Walking Dead starts with a little undead action. We find Nick Bennett in a church which has been turned into a shooting gallery for heroin addicts where they partake in “Junkie Communion.” He wakes, looking for Gloria, the girl he shot up with the night before. Unbeknownst to him, she’s already up and eating breakfast. Not too sure how much nutrition is in a guy’s face, but it doesn’t stop her from chowing down on a poor sap’s cheek and lips. Nick freaks, as one does when facing an aggressive cannibal with freaky eyes, and bolts from the flophouse. He’s hit by a car when he stupidly stops in the middle of the street to catch his breath.
In the first five minutes, they establish Nick as an unreliable narrator. This position is reinforced after he’s checked into the hospital. A cop asks Nick all the usual questions—what happened, why was he running, where’d he get the smack from? Despite being freaked out, Nick responds with sarcasm and lies, calling his delusional ramblings about blood and gore a, “Runner’s high.” The lies continue when he mother, Madison Bennett, arrives at the hospital. It isn’t until much later that Nick opens up to Madison’s boyfriend, Travis Manawa, about what he saw. He admits he’s terrified to think what he saw isn’t real, but cooked up by his drug-addled mind. “If that came out of me, then I’m insane, Travis. Yeah, insane. I really don’t want to be insane.”
The episode’s tempo drops drastically once Madison and her daughter Alicia leave the hospital and head to school. Alicia is a student at the school where Madison is the guidance counselor. Travis also works at the school as an English teacher. At this point in the show, Alicia is only present to show just how screwed up her brother is compared to a “normal” child raised under the same circumstances. She has a steady boyfriend, a place at Berkeley after she graduates, and a serious chip on her shoulder when it comes to trusting her druggie brother. The last, I’ll give them a pass. It’s gut-wrenching to see a sibling fall into drug dependency and unable to help them in any way that sticks. But couldn’t they do more with Alicia? Anytime she’s given decent screen time, she’s latched onto her boyfriend, repeating, “One more year,” referring to her great escape to college. And then the oh-so-essential personality point, her boyfriend, goes missing. At least she gets more screen time than Chris, Travis’s son, and his mother Liza. There is more zombie footage than their bit part in the episode.
The mid-episode doldrums grabbed hard and fast. In an eye-rolling attempt to break it up, the show kept zooming in on people facing away from the camera and playing, “OMG, this guy’s a zombie,” music. Or they latched onto Madison’s near-belligerent refusal to listen to Nick and Travis when they told her about Gloria and the murders in the church. For heaven’s sake, Travis put his hand in a gore puddle, yet it’s not enough to convince Madison there’s something going on. Instead, she accuses Travis of using her son as a Band-Aid on his broken relationship with Chris. It’s not until Nick breaks out of the hospital that Madison will consider going to the church to see what happened with her own eyes. Even then, she has a minimal reaction to the blood on the floor, yet completely breaks down over a needle in one of Nick’s books.
After Travis and Madison leave the church, they hit traffic—not unheard of on L.A.’s notoriously awful freeway system. They hear police warning people to stay in their cars and gunshots. Travis pulls onto the clearer road and they head home. The next day, however, we find out what happened on the freeway via a viral video the school’s staff watches together. After a car crash, EMT’s treat the victims. One man, lying on a backboard, attacks an EMT. Police beat him with batons, to no avail. Eventually they shoot him about eight times in the chest and, surprise, he stands again. Finally, an officer shoots the man in the head. This isn’t the first documented case of this nature. Tobias, a student Madison has taken under her wing because he’s prime bully bait, brings a knife to school the morning of Nick’s accident. He says, “We’re safer in numbers.” Madison asks why, but he doesn’t really answer. She voices her concern about his future if he continues acting out, bringing weapons to school. Tobias goes on to tell her, “No one’s going to college. No one’s doing anything they think they are.” The kids online are hip to what’s going down. All the adults have their head in the sand, apparently. Well, the adults and Alicia. She assumes the footage from the freeway incident is fake. When the police order the school to cut classes short, her belief wavers a little.
Nick’s a free man. So what’s the first thing he does? Call his drug dealer, Calvin. Madison and Travis think Cal is just Nick’s friend. Yeah, the only friend a junkie needs. Cal and Nick meet at a diner, then drive down to the Los Angeles River. Nick assumes he’s about to score dope. Cal assumes Nick is an idiot and plans to shoot him. They fight. Cal gets a bullet to the gut. Nick bolts like his stolen pants are on fire. Unsure what to do with the corpse, he calls Travis. Yes, because your mom’s boyfriend is always the first logical choice when dealing with murder. Being a good boyfriend, Travis brings Madison along and they all drive back down to the river. Only, there’s no body. Now Madison and Travis think Nick’s completely bonkers. That is until Cal shuffles up behind them when they go to leave. Madison tried to help. Cal mistakes her for a hamburger. Taking matters into his own hands, Nick runs over Cal twice to save his mother. It doesn’t kill the undead, just disables him enough he can’t attack anymore.
All Madison can say is, “What the hell’s happening?” Travis replies, “I have no idea.”
Which is pretty much how I feel after watching a ninety-minute episode for maybe twenty minutes of actual plot. This isn’t TWD, with its non-stop walker action, that’s for sure. But it’s also got a long ways to go in order to become a solid genre show which will keep fans in their seats instead of wandering off for snacks every time Alicia is on screen or Madison waves off Travis’ well-founded concerns for the thousandth time. They could have done so much more with the extra time for the pilot episode, and I don’t mean just cramming in more walkers or slow pans to show downtown Los Angeles.