SPOILERS AHEAD … AND AUTHORITARIAN DUPLICITY AND SOME VERY MESSY REBELLION ...
An apocalypse is, by its very nature, a rather destructive and messy affair.
It is after all defined as the destruction of the world on a cataclysmic scale and so, in one sense, you can understand why the Civic Republic, fronted by the mask-wearing, black clad stormtroopers of the CRM, goes to so much trouble to keep everyone in line.
Humans are chaos-inclined at the best of times, and while that kind of free thinking and impulsive action has helped us climb the evolutionary ladder with an alacrity lacking by some of our fellow hominid species we have left along the way, it can also be a considerable liability when the everything has fallen royally apart.
The last thing you need at that point are dissenters running amuck and making a difficult job even harder; even so, one of the things that has always defined us as a species is our endless desire for freedom and self-determination which is something the Civic Republic is resolutely opposed to.
Those two opposing imperatives have always clashed down through history and continue to do so even when the world has ended quite definitively and the dead are roaming the world seeking the living to devour.
The thorny issue at the centre of the first two episodes of The Walking Dead: World Beyond‘s second and final season – it has always been promoted at a limited length series – is whether you can rebuild the world with ruthless ambition if it means denying people their essential humanity?
It’s an important question and one the Civic Republic have answered by going full authoritarian behind-the-scenes, and sometimes in front of it, while presenting a nice clothes and scones for afternoon tea image of the benevolent carers keeping the Homo Sapien species one step away from oblivion.
The trouble is that by going into full dictator mode, the Civic Republic has become almost as great thing to fear as the zombies roaming outside its zealously guarded walls.
And that is a problem, a big problem, when that somewhat understandable approach – yes, humanity is hanging by an extinction-imminent thread and yes, we can’t afford anything to imperil that but … but … BUT … – has such a dark element to it.
Screw the idea of “element” actually; everything the CRM does, under the coldblooded zealotry of Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond) is awash in cruelty, dictatorial barbarism and a singleminded desire to read a supposedly utopian endpoint.
The thing is, no one even knows if the things the Civic Republic are working towards are even achievable.
When Dr. Lyla Belshaw (Natalie Gold) is taking Hope Bennett (Alexa Mansour) on a tour of the Civic Republic research facility, she loftily talks about research they are undertaking which is aiming to (a) find a way to flick a switch in the virus so the dead don’t spring back to “life” and existing zombies all stop their driven need to wander and eat human flesh and (b) humanity is set free from having to worry about the virus at all.
It all sounds so lovely coming from her smiling lips, and while Hope is less than impressed for the most part – honestly does anything impress her? No, not really – she goes along with it, outwardly at least because Lyla is her father Leopold Bennett’s (Joe Holt) colleague and girlfriend (though that’s never admitted to Hope, she works it; she’s nothing if not perceptive) and she has to appear to be onboard with the program.
She is, after all, the one on the inside, who chooses, after Kublek sends her out into a zombie-filled urban centre to survive a night on her own – this is, by the way, after she and her sister Iris (Aliyah Royale) have ventured over 1000 miles through hostile zombie-filled territory, which surely is enough of an eye-opener about what the world is really like; certainly Kublek’s daughter, Jennifer (Annet Mahendru), the CRM mole in Hope and Iris’s party, thinks so – to join the Civic Republic.
She knows things are rotten on the inside, and suspects, like Iris and Felix Carlucci (Nick Tortorella, now sheltering in a community that exists solely with the CRM’s blessing – that a great deal of evil is being done for supposed good.
And yes, once again, you could argue you have to do what you need to keep humanity alive but is it worth sacrificing our soul in the process?
Or, incredibly shockingly, wiping out 100,000 people in Omaha and the adjacent Campus Colony – onetime home to iris, Hope, Felix, Elton (Nicolas Cantu) who is currently M.I.A. and Silas (Hal Cumpston) who finds himself at a CRM culling facility – just because some of them disagreed with your survival methodology.
It’s a huge issue and one deserving of great, nuanced debate, none of which happens in these two episodes which struggle to forge much narrative headway, despite the show’s producers only having 10 finite instalments in the final season to wrap things up.
“Foothold” is markedly better than “Konsekans” but neither of them really excel at tackling the cancer at the heart of the CRM vision or the corrupted ideal that sustains it.
Fair enough in one sense since this is a show about zombies and people and not a French philosophical treatise on the end world; but still, The Walking Dead has always tried to present itself as having a thoughtful soul and when there is so much talk about what the Civic Republic stands for vs. what it actually does, you’d expect a show like World Beyond to spend as least some time grappling with the big issues that dichotomy of intent and deed throw up.
But alas, it doesn’t, and so while there are some zombie-filled moments and some revelatory scenes where we are reminded that Lyla is playacting her love for Leopold and is doing some Mengele-level experiments on people they kill for testing purposes, all of which are dramatically enticing and good to watch, there is a sense of a series that isn’t quite sure where it wants to head and what it wants to do beyond REVENGE.
Yep, the violence-led approach that has laid to waste the heart of the original The Walking Dead and which Fear the Walking Dead has only just dodged is rearing its pointless head again, and while you might hope that World Beyond will be more nuanced in its storytelling approach and question whether the idealistic end justified the genocidal, brutally authoritarian means, it’s looking more and more like it’s going The Walking Dead of big messy revengeful battle with no clear idea of where to head afterwards.
The only trouble there is that by enacting revenge on the CRM, and by extension the Civic Republic, Hope, Iris et al run the risk of being as morally barren as those their oppose, leaving World Beyond in the process as a show that has big dramatic, likely violent scenes but no real answers for what do you after the world ends and how do you avoid becoming the very monsters you are trying to escape becoming?
Coming up in episode 3 “Exit Wounds” …