Fear the Walking Dead: “La Serpiente” (S3, E11 review)

He may be existentially damaged after years of staring into the darkest parts of the human condition but lordy can Daniel shoot a gun (image courtesy AMC / Photo by Richard Foreman Jr)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE BASEST PARTS OF HUMANITY, BOTH COLORECTAL AND OF THE SOUL …

“La Serpiente” was a really shitty episode.

No, I mean, really … shit everywhere as Madison (Kim Dickens), Victor (Colman Domingo) and Qaletaqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes) followed the shhhhh! super-secret squirrel route into the Lola’s kingdom of damned water (again literally; honestly, not being crude just for the sake of it).

Unfortunately for their personal hygiene, sense of self-worth and mounting dry cleaning bills, Victor’s amazingly direct route into Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink Land (if you’re the surrounding people of Tijuana who take a while to figure out “Hey we could take the water they give us by force!”) involved crawling through faecal matter and killing a zombie who was blocking a pipe that when cleared … well, honestly you really don’t want to know.

Suffice to say, it was not pretty; so much so, that when they arrived at DamLand, the wettest land of them all, and didn’t get shot by Daniel  (Rubén Blades), one of the first things pretty much everyone demanded was that they wash.

Just another one of the sacrifices you have to make to stay hydrated in a world where all the water engineers and pipe maintenance folk are more interested in some human sushi that practising their craft.

As it turned out, well initially at first, all they got for all of their jeans-soiling trouble was Lola (Lisandra Tena) aka She Who Shall Not Corrupt Her Soul – for the record Madison respects her stance to stay apocalyptically virginal and not kill anyone; thinks it’s massively shortsighted and going to get her killed but respects it … all together now “Awwww” … see ya Lola – refusing to give them a drop off the much-need H 2 and O.

This was largely because Efraín Morales (Jesse Borego), one of the Lola’s true believers – well mostly; he was all for “release the river! God will get us more water!” – ratted on Daniel shooting at the rioting villagers as the retreat, leaking water tank in tow.

Not exactly a team player now are we Daniel? (His performance appraisal was beginning to look more than a little shabby; no water bonuses for you, angry old man.)

 

Poor zombies – always on the outside looking in (image courtesy AMC / Photo by Richard Foreman Jr)

 

Lola sided with Efraín at first, believing Daniel was about to leave her to run back to The Ranch to see Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) who is alive and well and poisoning people en masse – BIG mistake by Walker was proudly boasting to Daniel that he’d turned his daughter into the killer Dad never wanted her to be; strike one against father-in-law/son-in-law harmony and friction-free apocalyptic festive events – and only decided to give Madison 10,000 gallons a week (ever the cockroach of measurement systems, imperial even survives the end of the world) until the rains come.

Why? Glad you asked!

Because “La Serpiente”of the episode’s title, that would be Victor who never met a situation he couldn’t turn (mostly) to his own advantage, figured out a water for The Ranch to get their water, Daniel to bolster his position and for everyone, bar the water tanker attendants who ended up rather undead and on fire, and perversely wet through at the same time, to get what they want.

Right on cue, as Walker stomped off all upset a little too early that they weren’t getting water, and Madison was a mean lady and he would have to kick off The Ranch and he hated himself etc etc tantrum-tantrum-tantrum, the angry villagers arrived sans pitchforks and torches (honestly does no one respect the classics anymore?) to back up Daniel’s claims that Lola was being was too sweet and naive and that Victor, serpent-brain and all, was a cleverly-manipulative so-and-so.

It was some rather clever politicking and realpolitik strategising that saw two of the wiliest people in the show, Victor and Daniel, achieve a two-birds-one-stone goal while leaving Madison looking as lustrously above the fray as ever.

It was masterful work, and proof once again that Fear the Walking Dead is a great deal more intelligent and nuanced in its storytelling than its rather more blatant parent.

It also nicely examined, once again, how hard it can be to hang onto your humanity when every facet of this hard, cold, cruel and shit-covered (again, literally) new world cried out for parking your humanity, killing as needed and then trying to be warm and cuddly again if you can.

Madison, as much as anyone, appreciates there’s no way to kill and finagle your way to getting what you want and need then shove those necessity is the mother of ruthless invention back in their holes and carry on as if you’re not two steps beyond serial killer status.

Lola, at least, for now, remains largely shielded from that thanks to the willingness of the Victors and Daniels of this world (and Madison who damn well knew what was going on, and find it freaking hilarious thank you very much; later on, not in front of Lola, because no one has timing that bad OK?) to do the dirty work for her and keep her believing she can stay pure as the dam water before her.

 

Why, if only one of the tankers would explode so we could convince Lola she’s being naive and … oh, there it goes! (image courtesy AMC / Photo by Richard Foreman Jr)

 

And so, after a few heart-to-hearts where Daniel said he’s stay with Lola because he knew Ofelia was safe and didn’t have to see her – Lola arranged for him to see her anyway; once again awwwww she’s so dead – Victor and Madison had a lovely moment of friendship where the former demonstrated he does have a beating heart down there somewhere, and Daniel and Victor affirmed they get, I mean really get each other, water flowed back to The Ranch, Walker got picked up on the side of the highway in a smiling Murder She Wrote end of episode kind of way (where was a zombie Jessica Fletcher? Where?!) and everyone, for one more episode at least, lived happily ever after.

The reality, of course, as with any somewhat happy ending in the apocalypse is that the neat tying up of loose ends is not a permanent state of affairs, merely a temporary stay of execution, and trouble awaits pretty much everyone involved.

Lola can only hold off the water-starved hordes for so long without becoming The Damned Queen of the Water, soaked in as much blood as aqua, Madison and Walker, despite the knowing smirks are cruising to a fighting for The Ranch bruising, and Victor’s mind, the “La Serpiente”of the episode is still conniving, plotting and planning and, yes and, heading back to The Ranch where all that Machiavellian self-interest is going to result in the singing of “Kumbayah” around the camp fire with S’mores.

The world has ended, the rule of law and unsullied humanity with it, and no one, no one at all, gets to emerge unscathed, including those, like Lola who would most like to do so.

The apocalypse is a nasty piece of work people and Fear the Walking Dead did a masterful job once again of demonstrating just why that’s the case and how only the canny and the clever will ever get ahead (and get a glass of water and clean clothes).

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead … death, guns, zombies and much shooting … in other words pretty much what the apocalyptic doctor ordered and Lola, most certainly, did not …

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Minotaur” / “Diviner” (S3, E9 & E10 review)

It’s shooting time! Oh who are we kidding? It’s ALWAYS shooting time in the zombie apocalypse – right Kim? (image courtesy / photo Richard Foreman Jr)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SOME TECTONIC SHIFTS IN POWER … AND SHOPPING …YES SHOPPING 

From the beginning – both of the show and the apocalypse it so brilliantly documents – Fear the Walking Dead has excelled at exploring what humanity is like under stress.

I mean, extreme, world-ending, civilisation-collapsing, everyone you know and love is gone, zombies are everywhere stress.

Unlike The Walking Dead, which has shown an increasing penchant for violence for the sake of violence, its philosophical soul rung dry, Fear has always kept a canny eye on the fact that while there will inevitably be some violence when the world ends since people aren’t that good at coping with the everything going royally to shit, humanity will also demonstrate an aspiration to be better in some way, regardless of how harrowing the circumstances become.

So it was again in the double-episode opener, “Minotaur” and “Diviner” where the Ranch, newly-devoid of its sole remaining co-founder Jeremiah (Dayton Callie) to “suicide” – *cough!* Nick (Frank Dillane) killed him! *cough!* Shhh don’t tell Troy (Daniel Sharman) – opened its gates to Qaletaqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes) and The Nation who claimed ownership of the land and were determined to have it back one way or another.

Part-idealism, part-hands-forced practicality – more of the latter than the former right Madison (Kim Dickens)? – it was a marriage of convenience with The Nation in dire need of the protection and resources of the Ranch, and Jake (Sam Underwood), the successor fairly certain none of the people under his care wanted to die.

It was that basic and that necessary and so two competing parties, pushed apart from some pretty big, continental-sized grievances, not all of them sourced from the apocalyptic imperative to go all Lord of the Flies and survive, ended up together.

They all lived, as you’d rightly expect, happily ever after.

Hahahahahaha … or not. Very much not.

 

We’re all friends now aren’t we? Aren’t we? Um, OK maybe not so much (image courtesy / photo Richard Foreman Jr)

 

It was not for want of trying to be fair.

While Madison, the power behind the throne, who back-channelled to Taqa like it was a U.N. summit on steroids, much to peacemaker Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey)’s disgust (she stuck firmly to idealism, partly because she believes in it, partly because what choice they have and to support her man, Jake), played a hard-nosed endgame, Jake, and yes even Taqa himself tried to make the uneasy new arrangements work.

No prizes for guessing that it was fraught from the start, but borne of a recognition that both parties really had no choice, they gave it a red-hot, kumbayah go.

Unfortunately in quick order, the sharing of responsibility for weapons devolved to Taqa controlling all the weapons and policing the Ranch which went down a treat with the conspiracy-addled racists, and the scarcity of water, something Jeremiah had kept well hidden, opened up the kind of fissures you’d expect in such a tense situation.

Surprisingly, or not surprisingly if you’ve paying any kind of attention to the nuanced, thoughtful storytelling style of Fear the Walking Dead, violence was the overwhelming choice du jour.

Most people at the Ranch accepted their loss of weaponry and the necessity of water rationing with the only holdout being – go on guess! You’ll never guess! Ha you totally will! – good old Troy who managed to rope an unwilling but easily coerced Nick into staging a massive shootout at Jeremiah’s old ranch house.

With shades of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but WAY more firepower as Taqa’s guys opened fire despite Madison’s entreaties – it’s my son! What about my son? Once again you can understand Alicia’s quiet despair at the way her mother plays favourites – Troy was determined to go out in a blaze of misguided glory.

That he didn’t was testament to some desperate arguing by Nick, and the admission that he’d killed Jeremiah – way to kill the rebel without a cause mood there Nick! – and so Troy lived and was exiled, Nick was sentenced to sit in a metal box in the sun for days and everyone went back to sullenly resenting each other in a grand experiment that was proving all to fallibly human after all.

 

Nothing seals a relationship of convenience that a spot of post-apocalyptic shopping (image courtesy / photo Richard Foreman Jr)

 

While there were diversions to get some water, which mainly served as a way of reuniting Victor (Colman Domingo) with Madison at the most weird-ass apocalyptic shopping centre ever, and a peek at how the new water-sharing regime at the dam under Lola (Lisandre Tena), the kindhearted idealist, and Daniel (Rubén Blades), the shrewd, bloody-handed pragmatist – the yin and yang of the new world order if ever there was one – these were episodes that squarely balanced whether humanity was capable of sitting down with the better angels of its nature when everything was screaming to play down, dirty and downright bloody.

All indications were that it was going to be idealism 0 reality 1 but “Diviner”, which naturally enough, centred on the search for water in forms both natural and thoroughly, industrially-practical, ended up on an amazingly positive note.

A tentative as hell one granted, and honestly who believes it has legs, but for one brief shining moment, guns were downed, violence was forestalled, and everyone chose idealism over violent pragmatism, humanity over sheer brutish survival.

For all of the obsession of dystopian literature and visual storytelling with humanity’s willingness to do whatever it takes to survive, the end of the world would be way more layered than that, at least once the dust settled, with the majority of people, wanting to believe, deeply, to the depths of their soul believe that civilisation wasn’t some blip on humanity’s chart but the default, the natural and preferred way of things.

It may not be, and perhaps we are at heart still animals with enough intelligence to be aware we are our own worst enemy, but Fear the Walking Dead insightfully gave voice to both sides of the equation, told an engaging story, as it has always done, with a deep appreciation for the contrary nature of humanity, and a shrewd understanding that people would meet the end of the world with both guns, knives and violence but also with a burning hope that there was some way back to who we used to be, or at least, to a better version of the future than currently on offer.

  • And so to the next episode, which comes with the evocative title “La Serpiente” and this kickass promo which presages that there may be a little tilting to the violent side  of things …

 

 

All the undead: #SDCC2017 trailers for The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead

(image via IMP Awards (c) AMC)

 

After a very rocky season 7 in which I (a) seriously questioned my sanity and tolerance for torture-porn violence (damn near negligible) and (b) wondered if The Walking Dead had surrendered what was left of its once-philosophical soul to empty, ever-more murderous narratives, season 8’s trailer arrives with an emphasis on war, war, war.

Now as movies like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan have shown in all their exemplary glory, it is possible to tell compelling stories of war that move you profoundly as long as there is some kind of beautifully-expressed moral underpinning that makes it more than just a gorefest.

After season 7’s unevenness I am not completely convinced The Walking Dead can do this, saddled as it is too by characters like Rick (Andrew Lincoln) that are so morally-compromised and relativistic that you wonder if there is any difference at all between them and big baddies like Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

That’s a problem since we like our good guys, hate our bad guys and therein likes the sort of drama that draws you back, again and again.

Still this Comic-Con 2017 trailer is pretty damn atmospheric and gripping in its own way, switching between meditative and then all-out rock-soundtrack action, and finishing with a very interesting flash-forward.

So yeah I may watch it and see … fingers crossed this is a war with a reason for being and one that Rick, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Hilltop, effectively led by Paul Rovia aka “Jesus”, actually deserve to win.

The Walking Dead season 8 explodes onto our screens 22 October.

 

 

It wasn’t just The Walking Dead that got all the Comic-Con loving. Fear the Walking Dead, which I now regard as the better of the two shows when it comes to nuanced, clever storytelling and interesting characters, got its own #SDCC2017 trailer and, as expected, it’s an exciting piece of undead television in the offing.

 

Death Knows No Borders: Fear the Walking Dead returns 22 August (promo + poster)

(image via EW (c) AMC)
(image via EW (c) AMC)

 

So the zombie apocalypse huh?

It starts off with everyone all united, working together to get out of the damned death-filled hellhole that L.A. has become, and everything’s fine – well as fine as the end of the world can be which let’s be honest is really not fine at all – and then bit by bit, death by death, everyone fractures and diverges and any semblance of unity is lost.

That’s the grim reality facing the survivors in Fear the Walking Dead who ended the first half of season 2 separated and in some cases dead or alone.

Hardly a united front now is it?

Nick (Frank Dillane) is off wandering the highways of Mexico, covered in zombie guts and more than a little pissed off with humanity as a whole and his family in particular … Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) are off for some rather unorthodox father/son bonding … Daniel (Rubén Blades) is possibly but not definitely lost in the fire consuming the compound they had been sheltering in, with only the ghost of his dead wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) for company … while Strand (Colman Domingo) has spirited off Madison (Kim Dickens), daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Ofelia in search of the Abigail which is hopefully moored offshore in one unlooted piece …

It’s entirely possible everyone will end up back together again much as Rick’s group has done on several occasions on The Walking Dead but Fear the Walking Dead is a different beast in many ways and there’s no guarantee there will be any kind of reunion; and even if there is that it will a happy or productive one.

Life is grim, DAMN GRIM, in the zombie apocalypse and there’s no escaping that unpalatable reality anymore (if you ever could) as the promo at Spoiler TV demonstrates all too vividly if briefly.

Fear the Walking Dead returns 22 August with the second half of season 2.

 

Nick just needed a walk to clear his head ... so off he went across ALL of Mexico (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)
Nick just needed a walk to clear his head … so off he went across ALL of Mexico (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

"Hey hey it's The Zombies!" never really took as the apocalyptic successor to The Monkees TV show ... for one thing their choreography was awful (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)
“Hey hey it’s The Zombies!” never really took as the apocalyptic successor to The Monkees TV show … for one thing their choreography was awful (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “The Good Man” (S1, E6 review)

Madison and Travis's idea to recreate the iconic kissing on the beach scene from the film From Here to Eternity sounded great in theory but no much in practice, what with death and zombies a real libido killer (image via Tom and Lorenzo (c) AMC)
Madison and Travis’s idea to recreate the iconic kissing on the beach scene from the film From Here to Eternity sounded great in theory but no much in practice, what with death and zombies a real libido killer (image via Tom and Lorenzo (c) AMC)

 

*SPOILERS … AND ZOMBIES … AND DEATH ALL AROUND AHEAD*

One of the most searing lesson from the near universally-well realised first season of Fear the Walking Dead aka When the World Went to Undead Sh*t has been how tenuous civilisation and all the ethics and conventions of upstanding, moral behaviour we take for granted, really are.

They may look permanent and near-unassailable but as Travis (Curtis Curtis) and Madison (Kim Dickens) discovered to their horror, it doesn’t take much to send them crashing down to earth until all that’s left of the rule of law, and humanity’s more altruistic impulses is a bloodied knife, swarms of undead who care not for social niceties, and a beaten-to-pulp face.

(The recipient in this instance being one Cpl Andrew Adams, played by Shawn Hatosy who found out the hard way that you don’t shoot Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) in the arm – he was aiming for the chest but thankfully missed – in front of Travis Manawa and live to tell about it; especially after he rather nicely let Adams go rather than kill him like Daniel (Rubén Blades) wanted.)

The speed at which the institutions we all depend on broke down was represented in all its frightening intensity, with the military instituting an evacuation order to Edwards Air Force base that left Travis and Madison’s extended, unofficial new family and all the inhabitants of the secret hospital hanging rather precariously in the wind.

This is where Fear the Walking Dead has excelled from the start, willingly forgoing any sense that humanity will hold the moral high ground during a civilisation-obliterating apocalypse, as well as acknowledging that with people dying and rising at autonomic undead left and right that keeping the electricity on, power running and traffic signals working is well nigh impossible.

And with the cessation of all the warm-and-cosy embrace of civilisation, comes the kind of brutality and hard decisions that people like Madison and Travis, who is forced to kill his ex-wife Elizabeth (Elizabeth Rodriguez) when she becomes infected – she assents to this with a knowing resignation, knowing all too well after her stint in the hospital, what lies ahead for her – never thought they’d have to make.

And it’s as traumatic and heartbreaking as you might expect.

 

Travis and Liza share the most touching of goodbyes as both realise that the coming course of action is the only one open to them in this brave, new, nasty world (image (c) AMC)
Travis and Liza share the most touching of goodbyes as both realise that the coming course of action is the only one open to them in this brave, new, nasty world (image (c) AMC)

 

The scene where Madison, and then Travis, who have followed Liza down to the beach below their temporary beachhouse hideaway – courtesy of Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) who even has a bigass yacht moored offshore, the better to escape the undead with – have to say goodbye to Liza is infinitely sad.

Not just because of a death that cannot be avoided, and the grief that will follow, but because it represents an all too personal deathknell of everything they’ve been trying to hold on to up to that point.

While they were fenced in by the military they could pretend that everything was going to be OK, that civilisation would stand and the certainties of their life would prevail.

But any idea that this was even an option, and deep down they all knew it wasn’t but like all of us, clung to hope while it was still there in some form, vanished in the instant Travis mercy-killed Liza.

It was Nick (Frank Dillane) who rightly observed that the world, swaggering along with the confidence of people who know where they’re going and why, has caught up to him, all of whom no lost in a world with no clear markers, no sure steps forward and no roadmap that can be followed.

Everyone, and everything is lost and divining what to do in the face of this kind of uncertainty is deeply, soul-scarring unsettling; well to everyone but ex-heroin addict Nick who’s spent a lifetime in a cloud of random steps forward.

What was interesting about “The Good Man” was that it brilliantly balanced big action scenes – a stadium full of zombies swarming onto a military base anyone? Hell of an overkill diversion Daniel! – with some deeply affecting, big “P” philosophy questions about what is right and wrong in this darker age, and who is good and bad.

It harks back to the ongoing theme of the show’s parent series The Walking Dead, which through various characters such as Hershel and Dale has asked repeatedly whether humanity is innately good, of whether the better angels of our nature are civilised affectations best left to kinder, gentler non-apocalyptic times.

They’re questions with no easy answers, but Fear the Walking Dead was able to ask them in the context of big immersive action set pieces without skipping a beat, symbolic of the show’s wider ambition to investigate what happens to humanity (and it’s impressive execution) when the rug is pulled from under them, and all that’s left is who they are, and not what they own, or what they do.

It bodes for season 2 which will be able to open up this line of action-augmented questioning on a wider geographic (thanks to Victor’s yacht Abigail) and time scale (we’re right at the beginning of the descent into zombie hell) than even The Walking Dead has been able to attempt.

 

Goodbye civilsation! Nice knowing ya! (Image via 411mania (c) AMC)
Goodbye civilsation! Nice knowing ya! (Image via 411mania (c) AMC)

Fear the Walking Dead: “Cobalt” (S1, E5 review)

Not everyone loses their soul as the zombie apocalypse hits its undead lope: Travis finds himself to end someone's life even when that life has already ended by other viral means (image via Undeadwalking (c) AMC)
Not everyone loses their soul as the zombie apocalypse hits its undead lope: Travis finds himself to end someone’s life even when that life has already ended by other viral means (image via Undeadwalking (c) AMC)

 

* SPOILERS … AND AN ARENA OF ANXIOUS-TO-GET-OUT WALKERS AWAIT *

 

Ah humanity, when the chips are down, you either cover yourself in glory, self-sacrificially stepping forward to make lives better for others in times horrifically extraordinary, or you look out for number 1, making sure you’re OK and leaving everyone else to handle things the best way they can.

No prizes for guessing what route the majority of the characters, major and minor took in the penultimate first season episode of Fear the Walking Dead.

Safe to say, as things took a decided turn for the worse – yes, surprisingly it is possible for things to deteriorate further in a world where the apocalypse has arrived, all undead and ready to rip civilisation to blood-soaked shreds – “Cobalt” was not exactly humanity’s finest hour.

“Every man, woman and child for themselves!” was effectively the new motto and even the military, swaggering their way, on the whole, into this brave new world, one not even Aldous Huxley likely contemplated, took it to heart, abandoning their role as dictatorial Florence Nightingales, in favour of getting the hell out of Dodge.

And in the process, leaving everyone else to cope as best they could.

Assuming they were allowed to stay alive and breathing anyway, what with the military being more than a little fond of a combination Scorched Earth/Blitzkrieg/lock the alive up with the dead policy.

Showrunner Dave Erickson and his team powerfully brought to the fore humanity’s propensity to unleash its less than stellar angels when their very survival is threatened.

Granted not everyone caved into based instincts but enough did that the walking dead were not the only people to be feared as the temporary sanctuary of the wire fenced-compound begin to fall before the relentless onslaught of the unstoppable apocalypse, rampant self-interest and ghosts from the past rearing their ugly, tortured heads.

 

The ghosts of the past meet the darkness of the present and no one emerges with their humanity fully intact (image (c) AMC via AMC)
The ghosts of the past meet the darkness of the present and no one emerges with their humanity fully intact (image (c) AMC via AMC)

 

The man with the most ghosts peering coldly and passionlessly over his shoulder was Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) who it turned out was not the victim of the story back in old El Salvador but among the ranks of the oppressors, the man responsible for torturing and disappearing all those people he once talked about as if he was among their number.

While his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) was party to his whatever-it-takes-to-survive ethos, daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) was not, only discovering her father’s true identity as a cold-blooded torturer when he convinced her to lure one of the few good soldiers guarding (and soon not to be) them, Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy) to what will likely be his undead doom.

Before he is despatched to the land of the undead, however, the young, well-intentioned who has at all turns been distinctly uncomfortable with the cavalier “I’m a military god” attitude of the commanding officer, Moyers (Jamie McShane) is treated to some drip feed torture at the hands of Daniel who seems intent on playing the role of dungeon executioner, even as Adams offers up all the information he can bring to mind.

It’s deeply calculating, unutterably, chillingly dark and something that people like Madison (Kim Dickens), anxious to get junkie son Nick (Frank Dillane) back from the “hospital” aka waiting room for the extermination camp, where he’s saved from an uncertain fate by new swaggeringly confident friend Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), while there’s still time.

Only Travis (Cliff Curtis) holds intense reservations about this whatever-it-takes approach, refusing to shoot a walker waitress in a cafe when invited to do so by Moyers, who treats shooting the undead he’s an aristocrat on a country estate wantonly shooting pheasants as he pleases, and after making it back home when the military patrol he’s on goes completely to pot, blanching when he sees what Daniel, and by tacit refusal to object, Madison is up to.

Still, even noble Travis, man of the people, and likely conscience of humanity going forward – is that really wise Travis? Those people always die – doesn’t stand in the way of Daniel’s barbaric techniques, which has elicited the news that the military is preparing to fly the coop and save themselves, screw the rest of humanity.

Yep, everyone is abandoning the sinking ship S. S. Humanity and it’s readily becoming apparent that any semblance of what passed for civility, morals or ethics is flying out the window faster than a walker’s hastily chopped-off body part.

It’s not looking pretty and Fear the Walking Dead does an exemplary of capturing this decline, this rapid, messy decline in all its putrid glory.

 

Alicia and Chris devide that the best way to handle the apocalypse is to play dress ups in a rich person's abandoned home, drink champagne and pretend like the world is theirs to picnic in (image via Dread Central (c) AMC)
Alicia and Chris devide that the best way to handle the apocalypse is to play dress ups in a rich person’s abandoned home, drink champagne and pretend like the world is theirs to picnic in (image via Dread Central (c) AMC)

 

And that where Fear the Walking Dead excels.

It’s unafraid to admit that much as we’d like to think people will nobly step up in humanity’s darkest hour Hollywodd hero-like, and it’s true some will, the reality is more than not that fear and self interest will win out over altruism and self-sacrifice.

It may seem indulgently pessimistic to some but the reality is civilisation hangs by a gossamer thread of collective goodwill, and as Fear the Walking Dead starkly portrays, once that’s gone, and it won’t take long alas, then it really is every person for themselves.

“Cobalt” vividly brought to life, or undeath, your call, what the end of the illusion of civilisation is like, when the last tattered vestiges fall away and we see each other as we really are.

Not pretty is it?

  • And it’s likely to look even less pretty by the time next week’s episode “The Good Man” wraps up the first season of the show …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Not Fade Away” (S1, E4 review)

Madison realises with horror that the windows in her prison ... er, house are dirty (image via TV.com (c) AMC)
Madison realises with horror that the windows in her prison … er, house are dirty (image via TV.com (c) AMC)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM (FUN HUH?)*
Early on in “Not Fade Away”, and perched on top of the roof his dad’s girlfriend’s house watching the undead world go by while he films it, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) ironically notes that their new military protectors are calling them “the lucky ones.”

Quite how lucky they are, however, is another matter entirely.

With the zombie apocalypse supposedly stopped in its tracks, so says the swaggering and none too E.Q.-inclined commanding officer in charge of their particular “safe zone”, one of 12 stretched across the southern side of L.A., the residents of the Manawa’s neighbourhood are “enjoying” life returning to normal.

But trapped behind metres-high barricades of prickly wire fence, and with no sign of phone reception, or regular water and electricity supplies returning, and precious few freedoms, any normality is a rubbery concept, and open for debate.

Or not, as the case may be.

Because what Moyers (Jamie McShane), the golf-loving military commander in question, says goes without question, and even Travis (Cliff Curtis), the so-called “mayor” of their enclave of survivability is becoming dubious about the merits of this experiment in keeping the wolves of the apocalypse at bay.

The truth is, all signs and rhetoric to the contrary, that society is breaking down, and breaking down fast.

Outside the “safe zones” there’s no sign of life or undeath; just silent empty streets full of corpses, putrefying flesh and blatant signs that the military, in a hammer squashing a then-gnat effort to stop the zombie plague in its steps, has indiscriminately killed anyone, infected or not.

We know this, not because Moyers or any of his men are admitting to this grim reality; rather, because Madison (Kim Dickens), who looks to be the conscience of the survivors as well one seriously pissed-off mother of a refusing-to-kick-the-habit son (Nick played by Frank Dillane, who develops a cosy morphine habit thank you) goes for an authorised walk outside the fence, and Sees Things.

Unsettling, democracy is dead and buried along with much of the human race, Things.

None of which bode well for the soul of the human race.

 

Ofelia Salazar tries a little "wartime" romance, the better to help her mother get some much-needed meds with (image via YouTube (c) AMC)
Ofelia Salazar tries a little “wartime” romance, the better to help her mother get some much-needed meds with (image via YouTube (c) AMC)

 

It’s a theme that Fear the Walking Dead‘s parent show, The Walking Dead (the fear is implied, thank you), has long explored, so it makes sense it pops up here, even 9 days into their internment, and supposed salvation.

The idea that you must destroy the village in order to save it is a naturally controversial one, made all the more so by the fact that simply getting rid of people you can’t be bothered dealing with in order to save those you can reeks of some sort of abhorrently Third Reich-esque program of unnatural selection.

In this case, it appears only the good, healthy people of Manawaville, as no one but me is calling it, are going to be spared; everyone else, the healthy survivors out in the dead zones – proof that not everyone is dead is evinced by some Morse Code conversations that Chris, dad Travis and Madison have with someone in a far off building – and anyone inside the zone who may be mentally-troubled, terminally-ill, sick (Ofelia’s mum, Griselda played by Patricia Reyes Spíndola), or drug-affected (hello Nick who is inadvertently ratted out by Elizabeth, Travis’s ex, played by Elizabeth Ortiz) is grist for the the hardline mill.

It appears that less than 2 weeks after the world went to hell in an undead handbasket that any semblance of civilisation as people once knew it is gone, all protestations to the contrary.

Not only are all these “disappearances” of the sick and injured and unwell to a mysterious “hospital” 50 minutes away a sign that humanity has lost its soul at lightning-fast speed, but a worrying trend, notes a man who fled a ruthlessly oppressive regime in El Salvador and knows of which he speaks, Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), that far worse is to come, all in the name of keeping order.

But whose order exactly and for what purpose?

Oh, it’s all dressed up as saving the world rah-rah-rah, start the ticker-tape parade stuff, but the truth is, and everyone knows it – though as in keeping with humanity’s predilection for delusion since the cave when they are threatened by forces beyond all comprehension, no one is admitting it – but civilisation is doomed and these “safe zones” are simply a pit stop, a well-run, freedom-less pitstop, on the road to the apocalypse.

It’s just that no one bar a few can bring themselves to admit that yet.

 

"Look! Look! We're saving you! Yes saving you! Isn't it fun?" (image via AMC (c) AMC)
“Look! Look! We’re saving you! Yes saving you! Isn’t it fun?” (image via AMC (c) AMC)

 

“Not Fade Away” in a brilliantly-piece of political theatre.

It doesn’t flinch from alleging that with their backs against the wall, humanity is capable of great and noble things – witness Travis helping the Salazars escape the hell of downtown L.A.  for instance – but also great barbary and deceit, all in the name of survival.

It sagely notes too though that with all the usual trappings of civilisation slipping quickly through its fingers, that any semblance of what passes for ethics, morality, a conscience or a soul is quickly cast aside in favour of simply getting through the crisis.

But then what?

The underlying idea is that this crisis is going to go away, and even if it does by some miracle – we, of course, all know, it won’t, what happens to society then? Does it magically bounce back to what it once was?

The fact is it doesn’t, and it won’t and by episode’s end, as the strong hand of the military spirits off Nick and Griselda, with Elizabeth in full fake nurse mode along for the ride, to places unknown, Travis and Madison fighting, and Alicia (Alycia Debnam Carey) appearing to self harm to cope with the stress of it all, everyone knows it.

They just can’t bring themselves to utter the words just yet.

*What horrors await the Manawa-Clarks, and the Salazars and indeed, all of humanity? We find out in next week’s “Cobalt” …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “The Dog” (S1, E3 review)

"Hey Susan, just thought I'd come over and see how you are, and ... oh, you're dead? Um. well, never mind ..." (image courtesy AMC)
“Hey Susan, just thought I’d come over and see how you are, and … oh, you’re dead? Um. well, never mind …” (image courtesy AMC)

 

*SPOILERS … AND DOG TARTAR ON THE MENU*

I have long held to the idea, rather romantically I must admit, that being a dog in a movie or TV show is a pretty sweet deal.

In pretty much every case I can think of, while humanity goes to the dogs – surely a good thing; unless you’re a cat lover of course – the dogs themselves sail through relatively unscathed, ready to face another post-apocalyptic day.

But not in Fear the Walking Dead, where this week’s episode, appropriately entitled “The Dog”, made it patently clear that even man’s best friend doesn’t stand a chance against a newly-turned flesh-hungry neighbour called Steve.

Yes good old Steve, the man glimpsed an episode or so back standing on his driveway coughing in that portentous “uh-oh Zombie Patient Zero” kind of way was dining out on the town, eating dogs, and when he got too close, trying to chomp on Travis (Cliff Curtis), who despite seeing a member of the undead do their rising from the dead thing, still thought Steve might be OK.

You know, OK and just a little, you know, dead.

You can’t blame the guy I suppose.

After all, even though he and girlfriend Madison (Kim Dickens), and her son Nick (Frank Dillane), who’s got a nice Oxycontin habit going thank you very much, to stay somewhat lucid for the zombie apocalypse, had witnessed Nick’s drug dealer do a twisted Jesus resurrection thing, they were still coping with the idea that something like a zombi could exist, though that’s not what they’re calling them, of course.

It’s one thing to see something, quite another to bring it fully and completely into your frame of reference, make it an inalienable part of your worldview, and Fear the Walking Dead, which is nicely capturing humanity’s ability to deny the bleeding obvious when it scares the hell out of them – as the end of the world should do; you aren’t fully alive if that doesn’t scare the hell out of you – brought that beautifully to life (or death) in this week’s episode.

 

 

The show appreciates that we all want to believe that things can get better, that even the most dire circumstances will improve, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that things are going to hell in a handbasket made of the slavering undead.

And its those kinds of insightful observations that are marking this show as one to watch, a finely-nuanced look at the way humans process great trauma, and how even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that we will believe a situation or a person can be salvageable.

Take Madison dealing with the zombiefication of her neighbour and good friend Susan Tran (Cici Lau).

She can see her onetime babysitter is not who she once was – it’s well nigh impossible to miss all that aimless shuffling and raspy gurgling, try though she might – but it takes quite some time to accept that Susan along with life as they know it, is gone, undead baby gone.

And that’s exactly how any of us would likely react to the same situation.

If you put aside for a moment that we have seen this all on The Walking Dead and countless other zombie movies, the reality is that a plague of this kind, the dead getting up and mindlessly walking around, is so far out of the scope of human experience that coming to grips with it would be a slow and frightening thing.

And that we’d do our best to block it out.

Madison and the kids play Monopoly, and tried to act like its just another family board game night until the apocalypse will not be denied, and they’re forced to get a gun (from Susan and her husband Patrick, played by Jim Lau, who has the mother of all business trip homecomings), kill Steve, pack their belongings up and flee to the desert.

Oh and cope with the US military storming into Susan’s backyard while they all stand watching, and kill all the zombies in sight and order them to stay put in the house.

 

 

Yup, the one they were just fleeing.

You could tell Travis, who manage to shepherd his ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), as well the family who gave them shelter, the Salazars, out of a warzone-resembling inner city LA – and Madison were torn when the cavalry came into town.

They wanted to believe this marked the beginning of the end of the end of the world but deep down they knew it was just a faint echo of hope springing eternal.

The Salazars – father Daniel (Rubén Blades), Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) and daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) – know all too well that all the hope in the world cannot make up for a nightmarish reality.

Nor alter its trajectory.

Having escaped El Salvador for a much safer life in the US, they now face a repeat nightmare on a far greater, and far more terrifying scale, and are determined to deal with it on their terms.

Daniel refuses Ofelia’s pleas that they head to the desert with the Manawa/Clark blended family, believing he has the life skills to deal with the situation at hand.

And while he likely has significantly more experience with life going right royally, and grievously, to shit than Travis or Madison, or any of the others, the truth is that the zombie apocalypse is unlike anything anyone has ever faced before.

Only no one, even those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, wants to fully admit that.

Just yet anyway.

And that is the continuing brilliance of Fear the Walking Dead, which is continuing to perfectly capture that moment when hope dies and unpalatable reality kicks its nasty way in, and we all have to find a way to deal with it, like it or not.

* Coming up next week … “Not Fade Away”, in which you very much suspect humanity is about to do just that …

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “So Close, Yet So Far” (S1, E2 review)

Travis frantically tracks down his ex-wife and son, wanting to get them out of harm's way before everything goes completely to hell, and finds that the end of the world is catching up to them sooner than they thought (image (c) AMC via official Fear the Walking Dead site)
Travis frantically tracks down his ex-wife and son, wanting to get them out of harm’s way before everything goes completely to hell, and finds that the end of the world is catching up to them sooner than they thought (image (c) AMC via official Fear the Walking Dead site)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SCHOOL LOOKING JUST THE WAY YOU FANTASISED IT MIGHT … THE WORLD THOUGH? NOT SO MUCH.*

 

If ever an episode title aptly captured the storyline within, it’s this one.

No matter how hard Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Madison (Kim Dickens) tried to bring their still disparate family groups under one fast-moving umbrella and get them out of harm’s way far, far out into the desert, events kept conspiring to not only keep them apart but nowhere near their nirvana of imagined safety.

And yet agonisingly, and frustratingly, close to each other in the same destined for the civilised guillotine city.

In that respect, this episode, which picked up the pace from last week’s deliciously languid slide-into-the-abyss slowburner but only just, perfectly captured what it must be like to be caught in a situation where things are going from bad to worse but there’s no way for you to influence the events in any meaningful way, or let’s face it, at all, or to effect the escape you know is absolutely necessary if you’re going to survive.

Complicating things mightily was Nick’s (Frank Dillane who continues to impress in every scene) withdrawal from drug use, brought about in large part by the death and almost instant zombification of his drug dealer Calvin (Keith Powers) and the fact that, you know, getting anything, let alone drugs, is becoming exponentially more difficult by the hour.

While it did delay the blended family’s escape from LA, a whole other kind of movie than the one Hollywood made, it did mean that sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) was forced to stay by her brother’s side to tend for him instead of rushing back to boyfriend Matt, who is very sick and not that far from being a member of the undead himself.

At which point, he would not embrace Alicia in gratitude for her dedicated nursing skills, so much as, well,  eat her.

Nick knew it, Madison knew it and so they conspired to keep Alicia from going all Florence Nightingale for her soon to be member of the apocalyptic problem, not the solution, boyfriend.

It might seem odd at first glance that Nick didn’t tell Alicia straight out why rushing to Matt’s side would be an enormously bad idea, or that Travis neglected to tell his ex Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and son Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie) but all three of the in-the-dark characters were of the same don’t-want-to-hear-it mindset so telling them outright wouldn’t have served any real purpose.

Best to save them first and explain things later, no matter how bizarre it all appeared, and how many barbers shops you have to hide in to escape the looting, burning, soon-to-be undead shambling masses mob out on the streets.

Again, the writers nailed the dynamics of human behaviour perfectly; we might suspect something’s wrong, we might even witness it firsthand but our capacity for self-delusion, even in the face of the blooming obvious,  and the need to protect ourselves, can be powerful, and anyone brandishing the truth, in this case Travis or Nick, would likely simply be laughed, or more likely, yelled off.

So best to simply keep mum, get the ones you love safe and sound, and worry about long, winding expositional passages later on … and so they did.

 

Madison comes to realise how ahead of the curve Tobias is, and though they're separated in the episode, I have no doubt we'll be seeing the eminently capable young man again soon (image via Rickey.org (c) AMC)
Madison comes to realise how ahead of the curve Tobias is, and though they’re separated in the episode, I have no doubt we’ll be seeing the eminently capable young man again soon (image via Rickey.org (c) AMC)

 

Another major win for the writers was the way they captured that eerie sense that all of have had after a traumatic event in our lives when our world has changed irrevocably but everyone else is carrying on as normal.

We saw it again and again in the episode but most acutely when Madison and Travis’s neighbours were holding a birthday party for their 9 year old as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

And in their small part of the world, that was exactly the case.

Nick though, haunted by his experiences in the drug addicts’ flophouse and his recent execution-by-great-big-truck of his drug dealer “friend” Calvin, was incredulous that his world could be so utterly changed and different and yet the world of his neighbours was going along much as usual.

The same dynamic afflicted Madison and Travis who glanced around their once cosy neighbourhood with the scared eyes of people who no longer warmth, safety and neighbourliness but threats in every untoward moment and sound.

Their neighbour packing his car? Nothing weird there until he coughed. Uh-oh.

Twilight falling over their street much as it has always has, only to have its serenity broken by the once-coughing, now undead neighbour attaching the birthday girl’s family across the road.

Everything the same as always … until it spectacularly wasn’t.

By the end of the day, any sense that this crisis would end, that it could be muddled through until the end was in sight was dead in the water, as dead as Madison’s boss Artie (Scott Lawrence) who attacked Madison and Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) as they collectively tried to get supplies – Madison, the confiscated drugs from her office to help Nick ride out his withdrawal, and Tobias, his trusty knife – and get the hell out of the eerily deserted school.

And by day’s end, Madison would be stopping Alicia going to the aid of their zombie chomped neighbours, the first no doubt of many me-first, moral compromises to come.

Everything so normal, and yet so manifestly not; so close and yet so far.

The second episode of Fear the Walking Dead captures all this brilliantly, once again distilling how utterly normal and yet so not the end of the world might be.

  • The next episode of Fear the Walking Dead, which stands resolutely separate and different in so many admirable ways from its narrative mothership The Walking Dead, is “The Dog”, which airs just under 2 weeks from now …

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Pilot” (S1, E1 review)

"So that's a zombie then? Can't say I much care for them really" thought everyone ... at once ... before they (hopefully) ran (image via All Geek To Me (c) AMC)
“So that’s a zombie then? Can’t say I much care for them really” thought everyone … at once … before they (hopefully) ran (image via All Geek To Me (c) AMC)

 

We are not a patient people any more.

Too many words on the page? Not gonna read that. Song goes over three minutes. Off goes the radio. TV program doesn’t have three deaths, an epidemic, alien and zombies by the gigazillion in the first two minutes … well “Hello!” one of the other 400 and something scripted dramas on TV that do offer that.

And yet in an age where attention spans have shrunk down to near infinitesimal size, one new TV show has dared to go against the tide and take things nice and slowly.

Yep, nice and slowly. Who saw that coming?

Fear the Walking Dead, whose executive producers include Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, and fellow TWD alum Gale Ann Hurd and Greg Nicotero, has always been intended as a show about family first, zombies, oops, I mean “The Infected” second.

And so it was.

Instead of the full-blown, near-ubiqiuitous threat of death by the undead in the show’s parent – Fear the Walking Dead, naturally enough, is on AMC as well, for a first season of 6 episodes and 15 in the second – what we got was the threat of something brewing.

Something ill-defined, out there, and yet to be realised in anything like its final form.

For most of the characters, reports of people rising from the dead and “acting violently” to others was the stuff of urban legend, the ravings of ‘net-obsessed conspiracy theorists; in fact at one point, high school guidance counsellor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), one half of the couple whose family anchors the show, sagely, and as it later turns out wrongly, tells knife-carrying, highly worried (and we all know he should be) A-grade student Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) that it’s all make-believe and hearsay.

Ah, wouldn’t that be nice if the zombie apocalypse was whole lot of nasty daydreams and nothing more?

 

"None of us zombies, I mean "Infected" lurking here in this peaceful, non-eventful landscape, nosirree Bob, move on, that's it, move ... until we're good and ready to eat you." (image via TWD Enthusiasts (c) AMC)
“None of us zombies, I mean “Infected” lurking here in this peaceful, non-eventful landscape, nosirree Bob, move on, that’s it, move … until we’re good and ready to eat you.” (image via TWD Enthusiasts (c) AMC)

 

Alas for people like Madison, and new live-in boyfriend, fellow teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who are doing their best to blend their two mutually antagonistic families together – Madison’s son and daughter, drug addict Nick and golden child with a chip on her shoulder Alicia (Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam-Carey respectively) and Travis’s son, resentful of the divorce Christ (Lorenzo James Henrie) – it’s all too real.

But to the credit of Fear the Walking Dead‘s producers, this great and gathering storm of living death, airily dismissed by the media eager to move onto the next Kardashian clip as “the flu”, is left to slowly burn somewhere out in the ether while the new thrown-together family is left to deal with their newly-complicated ordinary everyday life.

We all know “The Infected” are coming, that the end is night and civilisation is toast, but they don’t, and it’s impressive how Kirkman et al. are happy to let it all slowly unfold, devoting much of the movie-length premiere to getting to know the people with whom we are no doubt going to be spending an inordinate amount of time.

And it’s a smart move.

Not only is a lurking sense of dread established – for Nick it’s rather more than that thanks to a frightening opening scene in an addict flophouse; events he puts down, initially at least, to the aftereffects of a heroin high – but we are given the chance to really get to know Madison and Travis, Chris and Alicia, delve deeply into their world, and understand why losing all this, even the bad stuff like the arguments and sniping, is going to be a Very Big Deal.

No, there aren’t a lot of zombies – there’s that word again! – but when they are used, it’s carefully, and with great impact, especially at the end when Travis, Madison and Nick collectively realise that something utterly, unnervingly catastrophic is in the offing.

While they’re not entirely sure what it is, even after witnessing one of “The Infected” go full flesh crazy, they know it isn’t good, and it’s going to be the ruin of everything.

And that, in a master stroke of “Leave ’em wanting more” storytelling is where Fear the Walking Dead, teetering metaphorically on the edge of the end of the world as they know it, with the audience hanging on their every shocking realisation.

 

Well hello first member of LA's new community of The Infected, let's just leave you to your, um, meal and run like CRAAAZZZY! (image via Comicbook (c) AMC)
Well hello possible inaugural member of LA’s new community of The Infected, let’s just leave you to your, um, meal … yup keep chewing off that dude’s face while we, um, you know, GO (image via Comicbook (c) AMC)

 

The drip feed of unusual out of the ordinary events is what really make this slow burn strategy work.

A news report of a possibly drug-crazed man going all cannibal on paramedics and the police near a major freeway who is killed by a bullet to the brain, which naturally goes viral in no time flat – no pun intended; actually it totally was – is sandwiched inbetween events on an average school day.

Nick’s nightmarish experiences in the drug slum, which he increasingly realise actually happens, particularly after Travis and Madison go there and find everything just as Nick described, and a man dying near him who presumably goes zombie not too long after, fall in the middle of routine hospital rounds and parent visits.

Harbingers of the coming apocalypse are everywhere if you know to look for them but that’s the scary thing – no one but people like Tobias, dismissed as overly paranoid Cassandras, know that’s what they are.

For everyone else, including the blended family at the heart of this undead tale, it’s all very weird and strange and nothing more.

Until it’s too late, and then unless you’re quick on your feet, you’re zombie chow.

Fear the Walking Dead has struck a brilliant balance between what is coming and what is now, drawing us effectively to the edge of the apocalyptic abyss into which everyone is about to tumble whether they know it or not.

  • Behold the promo for the next episode “So Close, and Yet So Far” …

 

 

And a sneak peek …