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by Thom Yee

Why I’m Watching… Fear the Walking Dead season 2

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There was a time long ago (last fall) that I dared to call Fear the Walking Dead a show I enjoyed more than The Walking Dead.  It was a time before the great herding of zombie gulch, the Wolves’ attack on Alexandria, Carol setting everybody on fire, and the solidification of The Walking Dead as less a show but a legend, and thus, in retrospect… it may have been a foolish statement to make.

And yet, here we are at the start of Fear the Walking Dead’s second season, a newer, bigger, longer season and perhaps an unexpected one after a first season that left many unmoved and/or nonplussed about the whole thing. If you think about it very hard or for too long, it actually becomes fairly obvious that, for a variety of reasons, Fear is at a significant disadvantage compared to its parent show. It’s a west-coast family drama rather than a southern-set survivalist nightmare fantasy, it stars characters who haven’t learned anywhere near what we’ve learned of their world, and it’s specifically designed to be a slower, more measured take on a concept we’ve come to associate with extreme violence. They’re not as strong, they’re not as tough, they make stupid, rookie mistakes, and they still hold on to ideals that we’ve long since abandoned.

In a lot of ways, running Fear the Walking Dead immediately after The Walking Dead is a stroke of programming genius in slowly lulling the parent show’s massive audience into continuing with its smaller, lesser progeny. In sort of the same way NBC used to get us to watch whatever show ran between Friends and Seinfeld on the Must See TV of the ‘90s, it’s an admittance of the show’s comparative weakness that it works best in this almost parasitic state. So why am I watching Fear the Walking Dead now in its second season? I guess mostly habit.


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Fear the Walking Dead images courtesy of AMC

2×01: “Monster”

Last year, Fear the Walking Dead started off with a simple premise — what was happening in the rest of America while Rick was asleep and the zombies were taking over. The Walking Dead was never a show concerned with its origin, and here, with Fear, was a chance to see how things could break down on such a massive scale that society would never be able to find its way back. But after Fear’s first short season, we have the answer, it was the government’s fault, and now that everything’s broken down, where do we go from here? What’s going to happen to this already dysfunctional family? Really… what’s the point?

“Monster” picks up mere hours after the conclusion of last season, a season that left Madison and Travis in charge of their family of three stepchildren and the leftovers of an immigrant family, and assisted by the mysterious Victor Strand whose yacht, the Abigail, was their only means of escape. And what a boat! The blended Clark/Manawa/Salazar clan were really lucky they met someone like Strand, a man with massive personal resources, a man who was more than prepared to leave everything behind, a man who took them all on even though he… clearly has plans of his own, a man who… knew exactly what he was doing… in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Wait, what have they gotten themselves into?

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Strand. What does he want? What’s his plan? Is that sweater as comfy as it looks?

It’s obviously, patently, transparently clear that Strand will be a central source of conflict this season as he does things the rest of the cast disagrees with and as Daniel, the sceptic and former torturer, keeps poking and prodding him to try to find what makes him tick. That’s a fine storyline to proceed with and a necessary source of drama given that it’s only the seven of them, isolated on a boat, a situation that almost literally calls for these people to create their own problems. Oh wait, there’s eight of them. Even with this smaller cast, it’s so easy to forget sometimes.

Of our eight principal characters, Ofelia Salazar, daughter of the torturer, is easily the least established and the one with the least to hold onto in this show, having lost her mother probably less than a day ago and having learned of her father’s shady past only a bit earlier than that. In “Monster” she’s easy to overlook, and one hopes that she either dies soon or somehow becomes this show’s Carol. Also on the more forgettable and easily marginalized side of the episode is Chris, who’s just lost his mother as well in last season’s finale, and though he’s given ample space to emote and be mad about things, he’s another character that most of us don’t really care to think about too much in the greater context of this franchise.

That’s the biggest problem Fear the Walking Dead faces right now, especially after this episode quickly made it clear that these people are far from alone on the open waters. Danger is coming, at 25 knots compared to the Abigail’s 20, but when it arrives, will we care about who gets hurt? We’re now at the stage of the show, after the set up and before the crux, where characters usually start to become annoying, and it’s hard to say whether this Walking Dead spin-off has what it takes to clear that hurdle as if it were a mere speed bump or an apocryphal, early arriving shark (as in jump the). Travis and Madison’s relationship is crumbling and I barely care, Alicia’s screwing everything up in broadcasting their presence to the increasingly more dangerous outside world and it’s stupid, and Daniel’s prodding of Strand is warranted but too heavy-handed for me not to question. About the only character I like at this stage is Nick, who jumped fearlessly in the water, first to save Chris and then to help whoever was trapped in the wreckage (turns out it was a zombie, surprise!), but Nick’s no Daryl. Or Michonne. Hell, he’s not even a Carl at this point.

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The dead! They’re in the water! And they have life preservers!

Over an extended, non-origin season, we’re going to need more people soon, that much is clear, and that’s the task our series now has in addition to trying to make us care about these characters who are at possibly their worst stage of development — sadness, bitterness, and denial. I’m going to stick around because I still like this show more than a little (and because I have nothing better to do), but this episode didn’t exactly give me a good reason for you to watch it.

Fear the Walking Dead — “Monster” final score

3


Items of Note

  • Strand: “Rule number one, it’s my boat. Rule number two, it is my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three: someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight.”
  • Still! Still those old man clothes on Nick! That old man died afraid and naked!

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