by Thom Yee
There’s a very specific type of melancholy that I’ve always felt during this time of the year as the days got longer, the darkness waned, and summer continued its inevitable approach. It’s too bright! It’s too damned hot! And most of our favourite TV shows have finished their seasons. In one respect, however, we’ve come very, very far from that place, with summer television programming giving us some of the most acclaimed and most anticipated new series in recent history, as well as a brand new episode of one of our greatest shows only yesterday forever changing our feelings on the words, “Hold the door!”
All of which is another way of saying Fear the Walking Dead sucks.
Now, I want you to remember — at least I want those of you who have stuck with the show this long to try to remember — all the way back to the fall of 2010, as we neared the end of a year full of promise, of biodiversity and youth, the Rapprochement of Cultures, and only the beginning of one of the greatest things of all time (Community season two). Suddenly, almost without warning, The Walking Dead sprung forth, unleashing a wave of zombie hysteria we may never recover from. Whatever you’ve thought about the show over the years, whatever qualms you may have with the show now, whether you’ve long since given up on it or have vowed to stick with it until the bitter end, that first season of The Walking Dead hit hard and fast and gave us one of the most talked about television series of this decade. Now imagine if Fear the Walking Dead came out first.
Which is another way of saying Fear the Walking Dead sucks.
Watching this week’s episode of Fear, what struck me the most about the episode and, by extension, the entire season, is how little I wanted to watch what was happening, and that got me to thinking about how it’s possible that these stories were ever written. Regardless of the inherent weaknesses of Fear’s premise as a family oriented drama taking place in the early days of the zombie apocalypse, there’s nothing about the show that explicitly states that these stories need to be so boring or up their own ass, and the more I thought about it, I realized that the true weakness of Fear the Walking Dead is that it’s become a show defined more by what it can’t be than what it can. It can’t be The Walking Dead, and I think that’s the only guiding light the writers of this show have to work with right now.
So in “Shiva”, one nut runs off into the desert and the other nut sets the whole villa on fire. The conflicts that come to a head in this episode, the midseason finale of the second season of Fear the Walking Dead, are born entirely from the characters themselves and the conclusions we reach by episode’s end manage to make the various members of the fear team partially the bad guys of their own story, but mostly just some crazy idiots that ruin everything. We already kind of knew that when, to save only a couple of members of their own family (a task that they ultimately failed), they unleashed a zombie horde that probably killed everyone still left in LA (and an entire troop of soldiers only following orders), but at least that strategy made a kind of sense in reaching a specific goal. Instead of that basic sense, in this episode, one man’s madness destroyed everything for everybody.
Personally, I hate Daniel’s story this season because it specifically took a character built on worldliness and realism and suddenly made him a crazy, paranoid weirdo who followed the apparition of his dead wife to the point of having no reason of his own. He very suddenly went from a man sceptical of authority and dangerous enough to do something about it to unhinged, and what’s worse worse, it’s a development that was not at all seeded in previous episodes and it kind of puts the blame for the entire fire on the shoulders of a hollowed-out, stereotype of a non-character we thought we’d already left behind. Griselda was already an old, non-English speaking damsel in distress that nobody cared whether she lived or died, now you make her spirit the reason why everything here went wrong?
While all of that went on, Chris continued his descent into his own kind of madness, now openly threatening random families on his quest for… whatever he’s going for, and it’s also a turn that feels a little bit too extreme for what’s come before. I get that he has a low opinion of himself, I just don’t think that taking a family hostage was in his character, nor do I think that his is a story that any of us have any interest in following any further.
Nick has an awakening of his own as he comes under the sway of Celia’s beliefs on the state of the zombie world, and of all of the drastic swings on the show, his probably makes the most sense even if it took Strand’s in-episode explanation of Nick’s character as an impressionable recovering addict to remind us of why this one character turn might fit. Though I miss the special ops Nick that could make a stealthy beach infiltration from, like, three episodes ago, I kind of get how his headspace would allow for his particular type of delusional transcendence. As for Strand himself, the only other character of our eight principal cast members with much to do, at least he remains true to the Victor Strand we’ve known, even though I miss the Victor Strand who seemed so far ahead of the game for all of season one as he spends too much of this episode mourning over his lost love rather than forming plans for the immediate future that would see him kicked out of the villa.
It’s Celia herself that could have had the greatest impact in “Shiva” as the apparent matriarch of this entire what-is-dead-may-never-die cult, and though we learn a little bit more of what she’s thinking, she’s a character never allowed to meet her full sinister (or not) potential when Madison traps her in with the infected she’s been housing this entire time. Celia’s beliefs form an interesting contrast against the “all life is precious” mantra bandied about by Morgan in the parent show, or at least her beliefs could have been interesting if she hadn’t been killed so early, and though I don’t particularly mourn for this loss, her death along with Connor’s feel more like this show’s deliberate attempt not to develop an actual long-term bad guy because that would be too much like what happens in The Walking Dead.
I don’t know who Fear the Walking Dead is for anymore. It’s a show that seems to be trying for a more spiritually resonant than action-oriented take on its subject matter but is so unable to tell a whole story and so handicapped by what it thinks it needs to be that it’s quickly becoming nothing for no one. As Celia herself puts it before her (un)timely demise, “This is not apocalypse, this is our beginning, the end of death itself. Life eternal.” Or in other words, this might be a good time to stop watching the show. Because the rest of the new TV shows this summer? They’re too damned hot!
Fear the Walking Dead — “Shiva” final score
Items of Note
- You see Strand’s pecs? No wonder he was able to bag a smooth rich guy like Thomas Abigail.
- Hey, all of our screencaps in this recap are of Latin women! Too bad all of them were chosen for their complete lack of agency.
- To be clear, I didn’t hate Griselda because she didn’t speak English, I hate that she was a stereotype of a character that lacked her own voice.
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