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.