*SPOILERS … AND SWIMMING ZOMBIES … AND EEL FOR DINNER AHEAD*
As season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead opens, humanity, and more specifically the polyglot “family” headed by Madison (Kim Clark) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) are still dealing with the immediate after effects of the world going to hell in an undead basket.
All around them, L.A. is burning (jets overhead indicate the military is still vainly trying to bomb the end of the world away) , relatively fresh, strong and fast-moving zombies are coming from everywhere and besieging the beach below the mansion of their self-interested saviour Victor Strand (Colman Dolmingo) and escape, via Strand’s gigantic yacht Abigail, still hangs by a very narrow, fraying thread.
And everyone, most especially Travis’s son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) are grappling with the first “monstrous” though merciful act by anyone in their group – the despatching by her ex-husband of Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who’d been bitten and would’ve turned eventually (something Madison swears she would let happen to anyone she loves).
Yup, this ain’t the L.A. of old anymore, and it’s died, along with most of the population in spectacularly fast and unnerving fashion.
And while the group manage to escape to Abigail just in the nick of time, killing more than a few really determined zombies as they flee, most of their hearts, souls and minds are still back in the burning city behind them, trying to figure out what the flaming f**k just happened.
That’s the backdrop for the slow-burning – pun most definitely intended and unrepentantly served up on a non-ironic platter – first episode of the new series, “Monster”, written by one of the executive producers Dave Erickson, which masterfully grapples with the idea of now the world has ended, now what?
Where does humanity go from here and what will become of it? And can you trust your fellow humans or are they already competing with the undead for Most Improved Apocalyptic Threat?
While Fear the Walking Dead has been criticised in some quarters for being too damn slow, it’s that willingness to let it unfurl as something approaching a realistic pace that makes it so engrossing.
Yes, L.A. and the world at large have fallen at a frighteningly quick pace, the world of nightly commutes, college applications and day jobs collapsing so fast it hardly seems real that it’s all gone, but at the same time, people take a while to catch up, even in the most horrific of situations and Monster did a fine job of giving vent to the more existential outworkings of the suddenly-arrived zombie apocalypse.
People take time to adjust
You don’t suddenly become apocalyptic survivors overnight. Granted countless end-of-the-world movies and TV shows have given the impression that you can be a mild-mannered teacher one day and a gun-wielding, knife-slashing dispatcher of the undead the next.
But the reality is that those kind of transitions take time and they’re filled with agonising moral dilemmas such as the one faced in “Monster” where the Abigail, at Strand’s forcefully-delivered insistence – all three rules of staying onboard the mansion-at-sea are that it is “MY BOAT!” – motors past a heaving, pleading group of survivors stacked atop a sinking ship, rescuing not a one.
Does that make them monsters, as Madison and Alicia clearly think or merely smart survivors as Strand, Daniel and Travis, the One Most Likely to Become a Ricktator at some point, believe? Can you trust other people to be grateful and thankful and do the right thing? Or will they, like the person Alicia befriends on the radio, plead innocence but turn out to be a wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, coming for the Abigail, like they’ve come for the wrecked ship they find floating, crowned by a sea full of swimming, yes swimming, zombies? (OK they’re not so much swimming as grasping and gnashing teeth while afloat but you get the idea.)
In the pleasingly languid first hour of the new season, Fear the Walking Dead took the time to explore to explore these great, fresh dilemmas and to advance the idea that survival trumps mercy, at least at this point and maybe, sadly, forever given humanity’s propensity to look out for number 1 at the drop of a hat.
But self-interest manifests astonishingly quickly
Shock may rule the roost and everyone maybe struggling to make sense of the new world around them – Chris is not handling his mother’s death at all well, spending his time alone in the cabin with her body before her burial at sea – but people, including Alicia’s radio friend, are adapting pretty fast to the nasty, brave new world around them.
Evidence of them comes via a burning, upturned boat, the waters around it full of the floating members of the undead who waster no time trying to chomp down on Chris, who in a fit of petulant grief has dived into the water, and Nick who dived in after him to save him, and ended having a lovely swim thank you.
It makes sense that people would adjust in some fashion at speed since you need food – Daniel and Chris go fishing off the side of the boat, netting eels and fish oh my! – water and the basic necessities but the way in which piracy seems to have taken hold in record time is ample proof that rampant self-interest will trump altruism every time, no matter how much we might like to think humanity would manifest the better angels of its nature in such a time of crisis.
Watching everyone struggle with the need to survive vs. the deep human desire to help others – clearly a drive not possessed by everyone, apocalypse or not – made for slowly-unfolding, thoughtful, riveting drama.
More zombies please
As has been already noted, Fear the Walking Dead has been criticised by some for taking a slow walk in the apocalyptic walk rather than going full Romero on everyone’s arse but its willingness to take its time and let events unfold in something like real time is its chief charm.
It acknowledges that for all the reflex survival moves that come into play, people like Madison, and Travis, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam Carey), Chris, Daniel (Rubén Blades), Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and Strand still have to come to grips with the end of the world.
Coping with something of this magnitude isn’t instant, it’s not consummate nor complete and it’s not going to come naturally. Balancing that of course is that some people, far too many in fact, will take to the new Lost Boys circumstances with worrying alacrity, but many people won’t and Fear the Walking Dead one again underscores that dynamic with the sort of beautifully-slow, intensely-drawn drama that many modern shows eschew in favour of quick, big ratings moments.
No doubt some of those moments lie ahead for the show but in “Monster” , which more than ably sets up the season to come, the pace for now is less “RUN!” than a long, drawn-out “OH SHIIIIIIT” and that is how life, even at the end of the world, would be.
*So what lies ahead in next week’s episode “We All Fall Down”? In this look ahead at season 2, it’s clear that there’ll be as much killing and doing as grappling and thinking …