Fear the Walking Dead returns with the Season 2 premiere “Monster.” The series started with a blended family dealing with their own challenges, then quickly grew into a group of survivors banded together through luck and circumstance. This family has had better luck that most, after being helped by a man who has already experienced the worst of humanity and another who seems to have planned for the end of the world. After the government collapse, it starts to become clear that people can be just as dangerous as the dead.
Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), along with their children Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and Chris Manawa (Lorenzo James Henrie), have found themselves aligned with Salvadoran Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) and his daughter Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason). Though they have lost Chris’s mother Liza and Daniel’s wife Griselda, they have found themselves a momentary reprieve with the help of the mysterious Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) and his luxury yacht Abigail.
The End of Civilization
Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead begins with the end, the end of civilization. As young Tobias wisely said in Season 1, “When civilization ends, it ends fast.” Los Angeles is burning as the military bombs the city. For those who have escaped the zombie hordes and are still holding out hope that help will arrive, the US Coast Guard sends out a clear message: “We have no assistance to provide. I repeat. There is no rescue by sea, land, or by air. There is nothing. Forgive us.” This is some great writing, and it hits hard to hear the protectors of the sea and shore send out a message of such despair.
As the city burns, they evacuate, taking a dinghy out to Strand’s yacht. They manage to leave the shore just in time as walkers begin to attack Travis, Madison, and Chris while they wait on the beach for the dinghy to return. It’s not clear why the walkers would make the trip past the compound’s walls, down the cliff, and towards the darkened water when the city burns brightly behind them. Travis and Madison are forced to fight off the dead until Nick returns with the dinghy and it’s deadly boat propeller.
The scene of Los Angeles burning was visually stunning and emotionally moving. We won’t lie, we got choked up, and we’ve only been to LA, like, once. Actually, it was the characters standing aboard their enormous lifeboat that made the scene so dramatic, as they mourned a city, everyone they’d ever known, and life as they knew it.
Teen Troubles Don’t End with the Apocalypse
Chris is mourning more than Los Angeles, because he’s just lost his mother. To us she died like six months ago, but for Chris it’s been closer to six hours. We’ve lost the emotional connection to Liza because it feels so very long ago that she asked Madison to shoot her, but it sets up Chris’s continuing conflict with his father. Prior to the apocalypse Chris was angry at his dad for turning to his new family, but now he’s upset that his father ended up killing his infected mother, even if it was at her request. If he couldn’t get over Travis divorcing his mom, it’s not clear how he’ll get over his dad killing her.
After sitting with his dead mother, Chris comes out to join Daniel. Chris tells Daniel that he’s sorry about Griselda, and Daniel shares his condolences as well. Chris tells Daniel, “Neither of us got to say goodbye.” Daniel tells the boy, “It would not have made a difference.”
Travis is unable to comfort his angry son, so comes to Daniel to find out what they talked about. A lot of tension remains between Daniel and Travis, who have butted heads since Travis first knocked on the gate of Daniel’s barber shop during a riot and asked for help. Daniel tells Travis, “One day Chris will understand. What you did for his mother was an act of mercy. What I would give to trade my failure for your mercy”
With no cell phone, Alicia finds an outlet of sorts through the boat radio. She listens to all the emergency messages people are sending out. Everywhere there is panic. Boats are being boarded, some are sinking, people are starving, and many are dying.
Alicia finally responds to the cajoling of what sounds like a friendly young man, Jack, who she begins to connect with. There is death and despair all around, but that doesn’t stop a teen finding someone to share her fears along with some moments of laughter and, dare we say it, flirting. Later, it becomes clear that Jack may not be the friend she’d hoped for when he tells her, “It’s okay, Alicia. I got you. I’ll see you soon.” It’s not clear if Jack and his crew are responsible for destroying the boat they come across, but Strand isn’t waiting around to find out.
Sure, we’ve watched The Walking Dead for many years and know giving Jack information about their location is a bad idea, but Alicia has been comparatively sheltered since the outbreak started. We know she should be wary, but there’s no reason that she would know. The part about Alicia responding to hip dude calling out on the radio seems fairly believable. Sure her boyfriend recently died, but she just wants someone to talk to. And as we’ve already seen, though she’s a high achiever, she’s not above breaking a few rules.
Though some will find the storylines involving alienated teens tiresome, it does ground the series in reality, at least TV teen reality. These aren’t comic characters, but multi-dimensional figures who had complicated lives and relationships well before the world as they knew it ended. Fear the Walking Dead does well at tying in the everyday challenges faced by families into the apocalyptic world. Kids get mad at their parents. Couples don’t support each other. Children, even adult children, have a limited understanding of the person their parent really is. Fear the Walking Dead is sort of The Walking Dead meets The Fosters. And we love both those shows.
People are the Real Danger Now
“Monster” was written by showrunner Dave Erickson and directed by Adam Davidson, who previously directed three of the six Season 1 Fear the Walking Dead episodes. Fear the Walking Dead has had to find a way to satisfy viewers who are highly aware of the dangers of the zombie apocalypse, with a narrative focusing on protagonists who are just coming to terms with the outbreak. As Alicia tells her new friend Jack on the radio, “It was over before I knew it began.”
To the viewer coming from six seasons of The Walking Dead, the characters on Fear the Walking Dead may seem naïve, foolish, or just plain dumb. Yet, they don’t have the experience of the viewer and still have to find their way in this new world. How long does it take before some people become monsters? Do societal ethics and morality decay over days, weeks, months, or years? “Monster,” indicates that when desperate times occur, some people begin to lose their humanity in a matter of weeks.
Despite pressure from the audience for the characters to wise-up, it feels too fast. Are we supposed to think it’s a cultural trait that Georgians help each other for years into the apocalypse, while Angelenos start killing each other within weeks? Being urban dwellers ourselves, this kind of freaks us out. Sure, we don’t actually know our neighbors, but we’d like to think we wouldn’t start killing them after a couple of days.
We continue to love Strand. He’s funny, practical, and wise. We can’t wait to find out more about him. We agree with Daniel’s assessment: “Maybe he has motives he’s not sharing with us.” Strand’s decision to leave the boat survivors is portrayed as practical rather than cruel, which fits more into the Season 5 worldview of TWD than it does here. Yet, Travis’s agreement with Strand, helps make Strand appear less amoral. Just don’t forget rule number one: It’s Strand’s boat.
Strand has a fascinating relationship with Nick. Whereas others see Nick’s experience as a negative, Strand understands it can be an asset. After Alicia exposes the boat by talking to Jack on the radio, Strand tells Nick, “Everyone here needs to contribute, or the very least not compromise.” Nick wonders how he contributes. Strand tells Nick that his addiction gave him a fearlessness that has value in this world. Nick was sort of an all-around hero in “Monster.” Maybe he’s the Daryl Dixon of Fear the Walking Dead and he was made for this world.
It’s interesting to see what characters align with each other. Madison seems to be connecting with both Daniel and Strand, while Travis is managing to alienate everyone despite being more philosophically aligned with the two men. Travis seems like he’s toughened up since Season 1. The loss of Liza has hardened him and he wants to protect his son first and foremost.
Madison’s character seems to be a bit all over the place morally, and she’s not very likable. When they don’t stop to help a boat of survivors, Madison is upset. Travis tells her:
“So, what if those people were sick? What if they were infected? We don’t know. And we’re no good to anyone if we can’t take care of our own family. That’s who we have to hold on to, Maddy. You, Alicia, Nick, Chris. I have to protect my son. That’s what it has to be. I need you with me.”
She tells Travis she’s with him, but says it as she storms out and slams the door. If that’s Madison’s solidarity, we’d hate to see her opposition. In Season 1 Madison was the one who was ready and willing to let Daniel torture a soldier to find out where Nick was being held, and that was when she didn’t even know for sure he was in danger. Her getting upset they didn’t pick up a boat of more than 20 people seems inconsistent with her character. Though we can see the development that led to Travis’s change in outlook, Madison’s moral perspective remains erratic.
Fear the Walking Dead gives us something new by taking to the sea. Amazingly, we even get an aquatic walker attack despite being so far from land. Though it feels like they’ve put forward the idea of other people being the real danger a little early, perhaps humans are the only viable threat if they’re going to spend so much time at sea. We’re looking forward to learning more about these characters as Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead continues. “Monster” gave us a good taste of what to expect, and we think we’re going to like it, and not just because there’ll be pirates. Arghhhhh!