If you’ve seen the Fear the Walking Dead mid-season finale (sounds like “certified pre-owned,” doesn’t it?), then read on. Otherwise, save this post for a rainy day…
For those who have indulged in the ultra-successful The Walking Dead, “Fear the Walking Dead” may come off as “light” in comparison. Although it does not divert from the soap opera feel of the original, this series takes a different approach to the zombie apocalypse: contemplation of the new world in which we live as the the old world continues to disintegrate. No, this does not mean the characters sit in high-back leather chairs and sip expensive brandy as they ruminate, but a couple of families and new “friends” try to find some respite. They are looking for their own version of Alexandria without the threat of Negan (“Negation”) and his bloody baseball bat.
In the beginning, other than drug addicted Nick, in a consistently excellent performance by Frank Dillane, who could easily star as Eric Draven in a The Crow reboot, his family is late to catch on to the “virus” sweeping the world. Only his mother, Madison (Kim Dickens), seems to get the picture, though her husband, Travis (Cliff Curtis) takes a dumb-witted “wait and see” for almost far too long attitude. As society collapses in their little slice of suburbia, Travis picks up Daniel (Ruben Blades) and helps to rescue the rest of the Salazar family, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spindola). In short, the equally cool and contemplating, Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) joins the troupe, and gets them off shore on his yacht, Abigail. The group is off to Mexico, where Victor has a planned rendezvous with his lover Thomas Abigail (Dougray Scott).
Victor and company arrive at this Mexican vineyard/compound with a supposedly loyal Mexican staff to Thomas, who has been bitten and is near his demise. In the meantime, Celia (Marlene Forte) is clearly the bilingual queen bee who runs the roost and has a knack for converting people to her way of thinking as if she’s a politician who doesn’t simply appeal to the crowd. Victor and Thomas were supposed to take poison from Celia in the guise of “The Host” from a Roman Catholic communion – the same hosts she used to send a local congregation into some of the walking dead she keeps secure on the property. But when Victor shoots Thomas and chooses not to die along with him, Celia lays down the law and Victor has to go – along with everyone else. And what transpires sets up the several different paths and scenarios for the second half of season two.
Granted, there are many characters to enjoy on the show, especially, Nick and his intuitiveness, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and her burgeoning toughness, Victor and his refined approach to mayhem, and Daniel with his years of experience that helps him maintain calm in the heat of the moment. The mid-season finale, however, created some “out of nowhere” character issues for several personalities. All of a sudden, the cool, calculating, Daniel, who comes off as a sort of grandfather to the group because he’s “been in the shit,” suddenly falls apart with a mental breakdown we didn’t see coming. He imagines his dead wife speaking to him, and for all those he murdered in Central America during the horrific eighties where several terrorist groups fought governments, where communists fought fascists or the status quo, and involvement from the United States and Cuba led to increased turmoil, fear, misinformation, and bloodshed. Granted, we had a hint that Daniel was a little off because of what he had done in his past, but there was no inclination he would completely lose his composure and fall apart to the point where he’d have hallucinations and see the faces of those he killed in the faces of the walking dead. He went from being a survivor to a man whose guilty conscience suddenly overwhelmed him like never before, and he ultimately came to the realization that before he dispatched other souls, that as a young boy forced to kill, he had been a victim himself from political dogma. Now, if his daughter Ofelia had proven in a previous episode that she could really handle herself instead of existing in her father’s shadow, we could see Daniel acknowledging this to relax just enough to let the past overwhelm him as he looks at an ugly future of living with death on a even grander scale. Unfortunately, his ultimate collapse was not established well enough within the beginning of the story. Even when he finds Celia’s stash of walking dead family members in a large holding cell, and suddenly imagines the dead around him in a river when he was a boy, the connection is both abrupt and should have occurred well beforehand to set him off-kilter as we witness his slow demise. “Fear the Walking Dead” could have easily established this with the hundreds if not thousands of undead secured in the arena during the first season.
Nick goes from stable and insightful and wanting to maintain the family unit to becoming a sort of hermit like sage – a rebel with a zombie cause. He’s learned that if he spreads the blood of the walking dead upon him that he can walk among the zombie horde without harm. He tells Celia that he understands why she keeps walking dead family members around, as if they’re people with a sickness where they are not responsible for their actions. They are to be cared for and not condemned, and when it comes to Holier-than-though Celia, and the former junkie who’s self-assured, one wonders who is playing who. Regardless, Nick smears blood on himself, heads back to the Abigail or town, plays “zombie whisperer,” and retrieves Celia’s walking dead son, Luis (Arturo del Puerto). She puts her son behind a locked gate, a glorified community jail cell for the damned, and tells Nick that everyone can stay in the Abigail – Celia Flores – compound, but Victor still has to go because his actions led to Luis’s death. Nick has faced much adversity in his life, with drugs, personal relationships, and family, but this is a sort of rite of passage for him. He’s a man now because he completed a mission of his own doing to save his family and impress Madison, though his mother still sees him as “her little boy,” or the no good drug addict son who gave her grief for too long, and must do as she says. (Things may have been different if Nick hadn’t come off as being so cavalier when telling his mom that he could walk among the undead with impunity). Maybe this is why even as the compound collapses into fire and mayhem he refuses to go with Madison and company as if another act of rebellion as he sulks among the dead. His intent is to stay with Celia because unlike his mother, he feels their is a mutual respect between them that mother fails to provide – and she may have never provided such respect, which could have influenced his drug addiction. Regardless, the sudden shift from Nick is too abrupt.
Travis, is another one who wants to preserve the family, though he’s slow to accept what’s happening around him as he continues to apply an old way of handling things, such as contemplation, negotiation, and kindness, when he needs to step up and become a man of action – think of Ray Milland as Harry Baldwin in Panic in Year Zero!. At times, Travis doesn’t seem as invested as he might imagine because he usually takes too much time and over thinks, and seems to be mentally and emotionally trapped in a world before the outbreak, though he did get a brainstorm of sorts and buy time for family and friends when Abigail had been boarded by unsavory characters. His family is certainly not the Brady Bunch by any means, and once his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) learns that his father reluctantly stepped up and shot his birth mother in the head, the teen begins to unravel. He hates his dad, hates his step-mom and step-siblings, and engages in strange behavior: freezing during a zombie attack and almost letting Madison become lunch, walking into Madison and Alicia’s room and brandishing a knife, and holding a little kid hostage. The problem is that Chris’s decline, or maybe it’s all a grand misunderstanding, seems more conjured than anything else. One could say Lorenzo James Henrie is not conveying enough through body language to give us a look at what’s really going on behind his eyes, or maybe this is what the show’s “bible” has called for. Regardless, it’s not working.
After Chris runs off from the main house of the compound, Travis gives chase. Once he discovers Chris holding a young boy hostage at gunpoint, he disarms him. Mind you, he doesn’t punch his son in the face, which would seem warranted at this point, but bitch slaps the gun from Chris’s hand. Once again, Travis is holding back and not stepping up as he should. To make matters worse, Nick locates the pair, and Travis tells him to inform Madison that they couldn’t be found. Where the hell did that come from? Travis isn’t one to tell such a grandiose lie, or to ask someone else to do such a thing, especially his wife’s son – but since as a former junkie Nick has lied a gazillion times a day, Travis may think one more is acceptable. However, once Nick relates the lie to Madison, Nick has put his relationship with Madison into an even worse state, especially once the truth is revealed, and we know it will be. In addition, Travis’s tall tale is an absolute betrayal to Madison and their marriage. Granted, the love between the two has been strained, if at many times non-existent as if they’re playing roles for their three children. So why not simply tell Nick to relay the truth that he needs to take care of Chris and set him straight? This can revert back to Travis’s dimwittedness on occasion, but instead of standing up and being both a husband and father, he chooses to only try and be a father to his actual son, and disregards his wife and adoptive family. If so, this means Travis has absolutely no love for Madison, Nick, and Alicia. After all, if he truly loves Madison and her children, and is making this sacrifice to salvage the family unit, he would have been torn and emotional instead of stiff and stoic. However, if Travis and Madison reunite in the second half of “Fear the Walking Dead,” we should see Madison unleash an unexpected kind of fury that might leave Travis with a bullet in his brain.
The most surprising change has been Madison. She began the series strong and seemingly ahead of the curve with what was transpiring around her and her family, but now she’s become a silly smother instead of maintaining perspective. The whole family needs to step up and get into survival mode, or all is lost in this brave new world. Although she did one great act to protect her family in the mid-season finale, essentially trying to dispose of her alpha-female rival, Celia, who clearly out-alphaed her in leaps and bounds, Madison has become an almost whiny mom – even after confronting people at gunpoint to get her daughter back. However, after this latest episode, she should suck it up and transform into that alpha-female role with abandon. She could easily be a strong female character, yet maintain vulnerability as a person, and also remain feminine in the process. All one has to do is see the strengths of Nikki Alonso’s character Tank in Crawl or Die, Sigourney Weaver as Lieutenant Ripley in Alien, and even Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia in Star Wars, to grasp that we can have strong, vibrant female characters who do not become masculine. One other item is that when Nick tells Madison that he couldn’t locate Travis and Chris, she’s as stoic as Travis and only wants her son Nick to get into the damn truck. She definitely did not appear to try and hold it together because her husband was gone so she could focus on winning back Nick. Then again, as the truck slowly drives by an angry and broody Nick, Madison simply looks at him. She’s concerned to a degree, maybe because she’s a mother and feels she should be, but there are no tears, no grand emotions. Madison may not want to admit it, but she hasn’t loved her drug addict son in a long damn time. If he’s gone for good now, this will only clarify that’s been dead to her for many years.
The best aspects of the “Fear the Walking Dead” is the fact that we are in a diverse world. Travis and his son are American Samoan, we have Latinos and Latinas, and we have a black gay character in Victor who is a million miles removed from gay and even black stereotypes. Granted, we know that Victor can con and commit minor crimes, but those days are long over, and he is quite the alpha gay character, long needed in the horror genre. All too often, the gay character in horror is a feminized and sarcastic male, and the old sad joke of a single black character not lasting long in a horror film is pathetic. Let’s hope the show continues bringing in a different array of characters far removed from stock and cliche.
“Fear the Walking Dead” has a three-fold problem, however, which is a major lack of suspense, conflict among the characters has been too refined and reserved, and other than Victor and Nick, there is a lack of appropriate emotional responses from characters. Too many existing characters have yet to be defined with individual goals. No, we do not need extreme personas, but the lack of emotion and drawn out stakes only lead to a lack of a reflective emotional response from the audience. In “The Walking Dead” we are subject to never knowing who or how someone is going to perish – and that could happen at any moment for a multitude of reasons. But with “Fear”, this hasn’t really occurred. Even when the Abigail had been boarded and everyone held captive, it was hard to imagine anything bad happening to any of the characters – and if something had taken place, it most likely would not have affected us as much on an emotional level. This is because the conflict between characters has mostly been marginal or manageable. It’s not that we need a major villain among the survivors, but we definitely need a stronger sense of conviction in contrasting belief systems. Yes, Nick may have been swayed by Celia and has walked off with the dead for now, but if he stayed with the family, the conflict between mother and son would have kept the show popping. Now, we have a small group with Victor and Madison who are seemingly on the same page when it comes to survival, as Nick wanders in a little hissy fit, and Travis hangs with his son, though Travis most likely has no clue how to handle Chris, and definitely needs Madison’s insight.
There was hope that the group would have come together in great ways during the attack outside the church, but the characters seemed to go through the motions. This only led to the scene becoming something that simply happened instead of an emotional game changer for the group as a whole. Yes, Chris paused to watch Madison nearly get killed, and Nick came up with some misgivings once he had to take out a zombie child, but it mostly seemed like a matter of course though it certainly shouldn’t have been for a group that had not been tested like that on such a grand scale. They negotiated, bought time, and tried to play mind games when they were captive on the yacht, and they had to fight for it a bit when high-tailing it out of suburbia, but it was destroy or be killed with walkers surrounding them enlarge, and with everyone together fighting in one spot, there should have been more of an emotional response once they achieved victory.
In addition, “Fear the Walking Dead” must avoid the tropes of the original series. For instance, when the yacht was boarded, we have seen situations like this arise too many times on “The Walking Dead.” We need new scenarios beyond the characters being captured by a new group of bad people every other episode. The philosophy of “Fear” is worthwhile to an extent, the notion that the undead are just different and shouldn’t be condemned, but that can only go so far. Instead of working on some sort of “let’s live alongside our zombie brothers and sisters in peace,” let’s see the great depths of each character and see how they each pursue their own paths and stories as they grow and change in a new, unsettling dystopia. After all, even the serene Celia who loved her undead ones fed them human beings, and she had to get them from somewhere other than the corner grocer. And Madison, Victor and company must do the right thing according to their mindsets, even when it leads to conflict, pain, death, guilt, remorse, and hatred. After all, that’s being human, and “Fear the Walking Dead” needs those elements to keep audiences engaged.
In addition, we may see both Madison and Victor share leadership roles. As with “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead” is not simply about stepping up and surviving, but forming a new family dynamic. Family is not simply a blood connection, but can be defined in any way we need it to be. Both shows have taught us that family is what we make it, and this is a poignant take on society in general, wherever one resides around the big blue marble. Simply put, find those who love, respect, appreciate, and believe in you, as you do them – and stick with them. That’s family. Not blood. Not some appeal to tradition. This means that loners, introverts, and those on the fringe can find others, connect, and move forward because they are accepted and respected, and this mutual gift could undoubtedly lead to personal improvement. For instance, Dr. Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) is a part of Alexandria, but does his best, regardless of his idiosyncrasies, to step up his game for his newer more expanded family that has seen combat in “The Walking Dead.” Once Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) gives him the nod that he’s “in” through a rite of passage Eugene has thrust upon himself, Eugene has earned his place in a new family dynamic. In addition, fan favorite, Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), the once bigoted tough guy, has become the family oriented tough guy who remains complex because as distant as he sometimes seems towards others, he cares about everyone in his group and he’ll protect them anyway he can.
In the United States, there is no nationwide rite of passage. We have no real way to prove that we have become men or women through some traditional act. For many, transitioning from child to adult is a mystery. Do we become adults after consuming our first beer, or earning a driver’s license, or getting a student loan and falling into horrific debt like everyone else? Yet, in our heart of hearts, we don’t really know. This is why some join the military, or get married, or have a baby. But for us horror fans, many hope that if a zombie apocalypse were to happen that we’d step up and do the right thing for our family, however we define that term. Let’s hope the characters on “Fear the Walking Dead” do the same thing so we can enjoy a virtual rite of passage through their actions.
(Inquisitr Photo: Victor and Nick enjoying the good life before setting sail into the unknown.)