Thursday, October 13, 2016

TV Review - Fear The Walking Dead Season 2

   WARNING : FEAR THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 2 SPOILERS BELOW!!!

Season 2 of 'Fear The Walking Dead' saw our band of zombie apocalypse survivors sailing to Mexico!

  While TNT’s ‘The Last Ship’ was finishing it’s 12 week run this summer I was posed a Sunday night viewing dilemma – whether to watch the end of ‘The Last Ship’ or switch my Sunday night post-apocalyptic viewing to the second half of season 2 of AMC’s ‘Fear the Walking Dead’. FWTD is the ‘West Coast’ version of the AMC’s hit “The Walking Dead’ Combined the two series now provide over half a year of Sunday night zombie apocalypse viewing. The series originally promised to show the beginnings of the zombie apocalypse which amounted to a few episodes of street riots and a failed attempt at martial law as the authorities tried to contain the zombie outbreak and by the end of the six episode first season society had broken down into a free for all.

  The main characters of FWTD is the power couple Travis Manawa and Madison Clark who form a modern family with Clark’s children Nick and Alicia along with Travis’s son Chris (all from previous marraiges). The group is joined by con man Victor Strand and Central American militia man Reuben Salazar and his daughter Ophelia. Season two starts with our group of survivors fleeing Los Angeles on Strand’s yacht name The Abigail minutes before the military bomb California in hopes of containing the outbreak.

  The first five episodes of season two take place with our group aboard the Abigail. This was a refreshing change as the original series has never been set on the water. The main antagonists are a group of pirates that were alerted to the Abigail when the lonely Alicia gives away their location in her talks with a ‘friend’ she meets on the ship’s radio. Along the way the group encounters a family living in a secluded inlet. While snooping around the family’s home Nick finds a batch of suicide pills. He puts the pills away but the youngest of the family sees the snooping and eats a pill thinking it is candy. Naturally she dies, turned into a zombie and eats more family members while our group escapes to sea. The Abigail is then boarded by the pirate ship but is rescued by a group of men who work for Thomas Abigail, the owner of the ship and Strand’s lover.

There were a few land excursions and unexpected stops along the way...

  After being rescued, our group heads to Abigail’s estate in Mexico which is run by Cecilia, the former housekeeper. The compound is well run with a working farm and plenty to eat. But instead of being happy to have somewhere save to live, our group attempts to impose their morality on the compound in typical ‘Ugly American’ fashion. The main point of contention is Cecilia’s refusal to kill the zombies, believing they still contain the souls of the living and that their zombie state is just a passing from the current life to the next one. The zombies are kept in the compound cellar, are fed the occasional meal of stray dog, and receive visits from their non-zombie relatives.

  The tension is exacerbated when Chris leaves the compound after what seems to be a failed attempt to kill Madison and Alicia and is followed by Travis. Everything comes to a head when Thomas Abigail receives a zombie bite and is dying. At first Stand decides to kill himself so he can be with his lover in the zombie cellar but at the moment of truth decides to live and shoots Abigail in the head. When Cecelia convinces Nick that the zombies still are vessels of the living, Madison goes off the deep end and kills Cecilia by locking her in the cellar to be eaten by zombies. Then Daniel Salazar gives the zombies a gasoline bath and sets them on fire which destroys the compound, splitting up the group for the second half of the season as Travis is AWOL with Chris and Nick leaves the group with disgust after losing the compound home after only two episodes.

  I found the first half of FTWD’s second season very entertaining. The tension of the chase at sea mixed with excursions on land gave each episode an appealing sense of danger. The compound episodes looked promising with the take of zombiehood as passing from one state of living to another in an ongoing spiritual journey. But then the wheels spun off as many of our main characters became unglued and went way out of character. Chris starts the season upset at Travis’s mercy killing of his infected mother but almost instantaneously becomes a psychopath standing over sleeping Alicia and Madison brandishing a knife before running away. Madison needs a place for her family to stay and has one in the compound until she locks the major domo in the cellar to be eaten. Did she really think that she would be allowed to stay after murdering the matriarch? We never find out because Daniel goes from being the hard-edged realist of the group to a raving lunatic that starts seeing visions of his dead wife and slashing the compound residents before setting fire to the entire compound. It was a disappointing end to a promising start to the half season.

Having found a safe haven our cast of survivors can't help but meddle!

  Things picked up in the second half of the season after a two month break as we are introduced to four separate bands of survivors. Nick ends up in the Colonia, a small neighborhood in Tijuana that barricades themselves with a walker-moat and is led by Alejandro the pharmacist who leads the group in a spiritual fervor, having seemingly survived a zombie bite. Madison, Stand, Alicia, and Ophelia find a resort hotel with two factions of survivors and somehow Madison leads them to work together and clear the hotel of zombies by luring them into the waters of the Pacific off a long pier. Travis and Chris are on their own when the encounter a band of young American men who are trying to scavenge their way back to America but will kill anyone who gets in their way including members of the band who get sick (so they won’t turn into zombies). The fourth group is well armed community that runs the local supermarket, trading guns, drugs, food, water, and medical supplies as necessary.

  Each group had its own storyline as they try to survive. Nick becomes a leader of the Colonia and manages to trade drugs for water at the supermarket. The hotel features a stunning flashback of a wedding with the father of the bride dying of a heart attack and eating the face off the bride as she attempts mouth to mouth resuscitation. One of young Americans gets shot in the leg when the group is stealing a farmer’s chickens. Travis tries to nurse him back to health and protects him from the rest of the group that wants to kill him before he dies and turns. The only problem is that Chris betrays Travis but wrestling him to the ground so his new friends can kill their injured comrade. Then Chris drives off with his friends leaving Travis behind.

  Except for the pieces at the hotel of the wedding and leading the zombies off the pier the second half of the season was pretty lackluster with minimal action, zombie or otherwise. With only three episodes left in the season I felt this show was not going to keep my attention but then the action picked up as the groups converged. Travis made his way to the hotel and was joined by the young Americans who admitted to killing Chris after a car accident. This made Travis lose his mind and he killed his son’s murderers with his bare hands but in the process also cause a serious injury to hotel mainstay Oscar. Travis was going to be banished from the hotel until Oscar dies at which point Madison, Travis, and Alicia have to fight their way out of the hotel. Madison had been to the supermarket where she heard about someone matching Nick’s description so they headed back to the supermarket to get more clues.

  There were very few clues at the supermarket because it had been abandoned with the armed gang heading to the Colonia to take it by force. Nick knew about the plan and evacuated the town leaving a dying Alejandro (who was bitten by a zombie and proved to have no immunity) to let a horde of zombies rush in behind the gang after they entered the deserted Colonia. Madison’s group arrives at the Colonia after the gang has been torn apart by the zombies and are well armed as they head to the border where they believe Nick has headed. Nick has indeed led the Colonia to the border where they are ambushed by an unknown armed group setting the stage for next year’s third season. Lost in the confusion are Stand who stayed behind at the hotel, Ophelia who made it to the border but has been captured by an unknown gunman, and Daniel who was last seen at the burning compound.

Travis has a slow burn but a high temperature!

  I like the premise of ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ and find the writing is top notch with very few of the 'plot device' coincidences that permeate the parent 'Walking Dead' show. One glaring device was in the season finale when Madison finds out the location of the Colonia from the driver's license of the (now dead) man at the supermarket who she heard mentioning Nick on her last visit. There were no maps at the supermarket, there was no evidence that the man lived in the Colonia before the zombie apocalypse or received his license after it, and the man and his family had been tortured for the location by the supermarket gang! Yet Madison and co. end up in the Colonia before the next commercial break!!

  Nevertheless I do find the show well acted, well written, and well made. Then why am I so lukewarm towards it? I think the show is focusing on the wrong characters. Madison becomes the main focus whenever she is involved in a plotline and has the annoying habit of imposing her morality on whatever group of survivors she encounters with the excuse of reuniting and protecting her family as justification. She locks the matriarch of the compound in the cellar to be eaten by zombies which leads to the destruction of the community. She lights the hotel sign at night in the hopes of giving her family a location to come to, not only wasting precious electricity but also giving away her location to every survivor and armed gang in the vicinity. She is relentlessly annoying. The character I like best is Travis who barely has a role in the show except to erupt in rage or plunge into despair. Travis has great survival instincts. He has fixed boats and cars, acted as a medic, and even wanted to eat the eggs and not the chickens on the farm. He would be the natural leader of the group but the show-runners barely give him any screen time. Another great character is Strand, the real estate con man who is used to living by his wits. He also barely had a role in season 2 and may be gone from the cast for good. I like how the show explored the idea of the zombies treated as wayward souls but the show is too disjointed for me to be fully engaged in these characters. When faced with the choice of which post-apocalyptic show to watch on Sunday nights I picked ‘The Last Ship’ and caught FTWD on the AMC web site later in the week. The show never gave me any reason to regret my decision although the slight uptick in action has given me reason to tune in once again next year.