- SPOILERS, MUCH LIKE ZOMBIES, ABOUND …
Do zombies like to meditate?
Likely not, what with all that constant rambling and shambling and stumbling aimlessly going on; but Fear the Walking Dead? Oh, it likes it a great deal.
After a worrying first episode, where the main cast of Fear were mostly absent as the show devoted an entire episode to introducing Morgan (Lennie James) aka a cynical attempt to get rusted-on The Walking Dead fans to sample the slow-paced, more-reflective spinoff, we were back with Madison (Kim Dickens), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane) & Luciana (Danay Garcia) and, rather surprisingly, traitorous Victor (Colman Domingo) in their new idyllically bucolic home in a baseball stadium (hence the title).
Given the rampant violence and The Walking Dead-ness of the introductory episode, you could have been forgiven for thinking that new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who also wrote “Another Day in the Diamond”, had tried some weird Frankenstein-ish experiment to mash together the thoughtful humanity of Fear with the blood-and-guts violence of Walking.
That may still come to pass, of course, since the Steven Moffatt of The Walking Dead universe, and yes I mostly mean that in a pejorative sense, Scott M. Gimple, is an executive producer of Fear, with a very real chance of influencing its DNA with his bloodily unthinking, clumsily-written approach to things.
Episode 2 though looked blessedly free of some narrative botches, with the episode introducing us to the peaceful community, Madison has constructed, replete with running water electricity, cows, sheep and chickens, crops and even showers and eggs for breakfast.
So pretty much everything Rick and the gang never quite managed to pull off.
Madison being Madison has taken in all the strays that crossed her path, going out on trips to save Viv’s (Rhonda Griffis) husband from the apocalyptic wilds, and giving sanctuary to orphan girl Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) who is understandably too traumatised to give much away about her past.
What happened to her? What happened to camp of people and is there anyone left to save that matters to her?
No one is sure, not even “big brother” who’s taken a protective role with Charlie, but nonetheless, Madison, Luciana, Alicia and Victor – Nick is showing a marked, and worrying, reluctance to leave the safety of the stadium – head out to find Charlie’s folks, if they are to be found, find supplies (maybe) and an extra book for the youngest member of the group.
They don’t find a happily ever after ending, of course, but they do find lots of zombie deliberately herded into above-ground oil tanks, and a frightened survivor and nurse, Naomi (Jenna Elfman, looking none too Dharma-ish) who holds a gun up to Madison before ending up back at the stadium too.
The refreshing thing about all this togetherness and forgiveness and willingness to give others a chance – I mean would you have taken season 3 Victor back into the group, or given Naomi a chance after she tried to kill you? – is that Madison is the quintessential opposite of Rick’s kill-or-be-killed.
While Rick and his gang seems perpetually destined, thanks to some apocalyptic curse of the gods, to wander the earth killing, maiming and “defending” themselves (the trouble they find is largely brought about by their own hands), Madison is actually building something, making a community, one where people are given the benefit of the doubt, a second chance.
It may seem woefully cutesy and far too idealistic, but it fits with a recent and prevailing trend in apocalyptic literature to go beyond the initial collapse of everything and show humanity actually getting their collective shit together again.
We do it all the time after natural disasters and war so why not after, or more accurately, during, a zombie apocalypse.
It makes sense that a tenaciously survivable species like our own would reach that point and while The Walking Dead seems reluctant to fully commit to that yet, Madison has gone all in and the result, weevils in the turnips aside, are encouraging.
Hell, this might just work, for the characters and the show, which has shown a repeated willingness to eschew wanton violence for actually examining the human condition under stress and deprivation, but also under the thin veil of hope and the chance for renewal.
Whether this will be sustained is another matter entirely with the arrival of Mel (Kevin Zegers) and his troop who play loud music, talk ominously about Madison and her community being tested, and who, it turns out, planted Charlie in the midst of the people they’re about to plunder as a trojan horse to gather intel.
Yep, Charlie is a spy, with Mel rather theatrically calling her out of the stadium and into one of his well-lit buses where her promised reward of new records awaits.
He’s like Negan-lite, a brash but somehow simultaneously smooth talker who predicts doom and gloom for Madison and the stadium-ites, whether by direct attack or attrition, waiting for them to starve as their crops fail and their resources dwindle.
One interesting observation he does make is charting the rise and fall of communities like Madison’s from hopeful up-and-’em-ness to perilous loss and decline, and while Madison rejects his sobering predictions out of hand, you can’t help wondering if there’s something to it even with humanity’s ability to rise from the ashes.
Of course, it suits Mel’s threatening narrative to say all this, but it turns out that the scene at the end of episode 1 where Alicia, Luciana, and Victor (who may have a suitor in the form of Cole, played by Sebastian Sozzi) taken Morgan, and likeable newcomers John (Garret Dillahunt) and Althea (Maggie Grace) prisoner after some roadside charades, takes place well after the events of Mel, Charlie and the really loud boombox (don’t worry – he’s herded the zombies into a truck, the better to play his music; he’s like a Pied Piper of the undead).
So does the stadium fall? IS it OK but ailing, hence the banditry to survive? Hard to say, and it seems like more answers await in episode three, but suffice to say that Fear the Walking Dead, which looked like it had sold its soul to the vacuously-violent devil with which The Walking Dead and Scott M. Gimple have long had a deleterious accommodation just one short episode ago, may have kept its slow, meditative spirit intact, giving us some hope that humanity may just make it back from apocalyptic ruin and thrive again.
But not before some more endangering shit goes down, naturally …
- Coming up on Fear the Walking Dead in next episode”Good Out Here” …