In “We All Fall Down” Fear the Walking Dead continues to explore the theme of family within the context of the zombie apocalypse. It delves into issues of home, sustainability, and sacrifice. Each family must find their own way to survive, and, as we’ve seen throughout the first season, being a family doesn’t mean that everyone agrees. The Manawa-Clark clan has certainly had its challenges, but suicide-murder has yet to be put on the table. As Leo Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in their own way.” Fear the Walking Dead finds interesting ways to explore how the stress of the infection impacts families and individuals.
Those aboard the Abigail still hope to find safe harbor. The ship log of the Leigh Ann, retrieved by Nick (Frank Dillane) in “Monster”, indicates that San Diego has been destroyed by the military. During a visit to the ranger station in this episode, they learn that the west coast has been bombed with napalm, and everything west of the Rocky Mountains has been overwhelmed by the virus. They actually know far more about the extent of the infection than the characters in The Walking Dead did at this point in the series. It’s becoming increasingly clear that finding a place of safety won’t be easy.
Meet the Gearys
The boat arrives at the ranger station on Catrina Island, and they notice when one of the house lights turns on for a moment.The family living at the ranger station are the Gearys. Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) manages to disarm the Gearys with his open and honest approach of asking for help. After admitting that everyone is scared, Travis tells them, “You have nothing to fear from us.” Of course, he never mentions the dangerous vessel chasing them around the ocean. But it turns out that the killer boat isn’t the problem, it’s the side-effect of Nick’s drug investigation.
The Gearys open their home to Manawa-Clark family, and the youngest children, Harry (Jerimiah/Maverick Clayton) and Willa (Aria Lyric Leabu), are especially welcoming to the strangers. When they first arrive at the wildlife station it seems like a safe place. It’s relatively isolated, still has power, has a garden and supplies, and there’s a fence to keep out the infected.
Travis and the Geary patriarch George (David Warshofsky) are both thinking about how they can protect their families, but in different ways. Travis wants to find a safe place for the family to go to, while George believes in a sacred connection to their family home on the island and wants to stay there until the end. When Travis seems dismayed to see his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) killing one of the dead, George tells him, “This is how we manage now, as long as we can. That’s how it is.”
On the surface it appears that the Gearys have a strong sense of harmony, but Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) is well-versed in the signs of family dysfunction, even when it’s hidden from public view. Madison’s intuition kicks in after Melissa Geary (Catherine Dent) spends the evening questioning her about being a school counselor and having to take care of other people’s kids.
As they prepare to leave, Madison asks Melissa if she intentionally signaled them by turning on the light. Melissa finally admits that she wants Madison to take Harry and Willa. She tells Madison that they’re just biding their time on the island until it’s over. While George believes that “it’s better to die with family than to die with strangers,” Melissa wants her children to have a chance to survive.
Melissa is willing to make a huge sacrifice to try to protect her two young children, and as a mother herself, Madison wants to help. Travis is not so sure. He recognizes that George just wants to keep his family safe, just as he’s trying to do himself.
Madison: “They’re just biding time until it all goes bad.”
Travis: “Who’s to say we’re not biding time out there?”
Madison: “Where we land next could be safer. What we find could save us, all of us. We don’t know.”
Travis: “Well, I can’t take the man’s kids just ’cause she says so.”
Madison: “Then don’t do it because she says so. Do it because I’m asking you to. You’re not taking them, Travis. You’re saving them. We can’t keep leaving people behind.”
The Kids are Not Alright
Nick and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) hang out with the Geary children. Alicia is a bit of a downer, telling Willa about the Bubonic Plague as she explains the meaning of the children’s song “Ring Around the Rosies” but Nick is a big hit with the kids. As he heads up with Harry to see his room, Nick tries to get Chris to come along, but he refuses. Nick, who has experienced his own parental loss, tells Chris, “Hey you don’t have to talk or anything, but it is better to be with people.” Nick is a regular mensch in this episode.
Upstairs, little Harry shows Nick his toys, which represent his departed neighbors and island campers. There’s one with a bullet hole drawn on his forehead, that Harry says is his Uncle Kyle. Harry knows that’s what happens when people get sick, but he’s got “power pills” to keep him safe. Harry tells Nick, “It’s like a vitamin. If I take it, my family stays together.”
Daniel (Rubén Blades) insists that he and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) stay back on the yacht while the others go to the ranger station. There’s still a lot of tension between Ofelia and her father since she learned that he tortured and killed people in the Salvadoran Civil War. Ofelia Salazar is starting to understand this world better. Daniel tells his daughter that he and Griselda had hoped to protect her from such a dangerous life. Ofelia tells her father, “Understanding this world, it helps me understand you. It’s cruel.” Despite coming off as mean-spirited, Ofelia may be starting to realize that in an environment filled with threats, survival doesn’t entail making easy moral choices.
Alicia, on the other hand, still seems naïve about the dangers of this world. She wanders around the wildlife refuge with her headphones on. On a bird watching sign-up sheet Alicia draws the symbol that her boyfriend had drawn on her arm. Is this just to remind us of Alicia’s loss or do the show writers realize that otherwise Alicia has little to do in these first couple episodes of Season 2? Maybe she’ll continue to tag her landfalls and they’ll eventually become breadcrumbs for her radio friend, and potential killer, Jack.
Chris is still struggling with his mother’s death. Travis continues to fail at connecting with his son. Chris finds an outlet for his frustration when Seth Geary (Jake Austin Walker) shows him how to kill the undead that wander up on the beach. Seth’s father has taught him how to survive, while Chris’s father is still trying to protect him the reality of this world. Despite his father’s misgivings, dealing with the dead is a handy skill for Chris to have.
Nick checks the Geary’s house for pills in what initially looks like a search for some good narcotics, but ends up being an investigation. Nick (Frank Dillane) finds a stash of poison pills hidden in a globe. Willa interrupts Nick, asking him to color with her, and he stashes them back where he found them. The drugs, along with young Harry’s comment about pills that will keep the family together, convinces Nick that George is planning on “Jonestowning his whole family.” Nicks shares his theory with Madison and Travis, telling them, “I know my pharmaceuticals. And I know pillheads. Those people are not that. And those pills are not recreational.”
Strand versus Daniel
Back on the yacht, Daniel is keeping an eye on Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). He’s not subtle about it either. Strand tells him, “You hover over me like the specter of death, Daniel.” When Strand leaves the bridge, Daniel breaks into Strand’s private chest and finds a gun, maps, and other information. Meanwhile, Strand is talking to someone on the phone, saying that he will meet them at sundown. He looks at a picture while he talks. Guess it’s still early enough in the catastrophe that the satellites are still working. Strand remains a fascinating mystery, and is never boring when he’s on screen.
Take My Kids, Please
Travis changes his tune about taking the children with them after hearing about the poison pills. Melissa packs the two kids up and tells them they’re going on a boat trip. In a moving scene, Melissa tries to convey some of the small details that only a mother knows about her children as she plans to say goodbye to them forever. Before they can leave, however, George arrives.
The tense moment between George and Melissa is interrupted by Harry, who tells them something is wrong with his sister. Willa has gotten into the globe that Nick found earlier and has taken her “power pill.” Melissa finds Willa dead, and picks up her daughter to hold her. Little Willa reanimates and bites her mother. After seeing his daughter die, George tells Travis and Madison to get Harry out of there. They tell George he should come with them, that he can’t save his infected family, but George has no intention of leaving his island home.
They bring Harry to the boat. Strand is not interested in adding more to their crew, especially children, who he describes as “the very definition of deadweight.” Madison and Strand argue, and it appears that Madison might get her way, but then Seth appears and demands Harry back. Seth has been indoctrinated into his father’s worldview and has no intention of leaving the island. Before he leaves with Harry, Seth tells them, “You caused this.” It certainly seems that way.
As their dead mother approaches on the dock, Seth tells Harry to wave goodbye to the boat as he turns to shoot his mother. On the boat Alicia tells Chris not to watch, but he does anyhow. Nick also stares at the scene. Does he feel responsible? We are starting to think that Nick may actually be the specter of death, not Daniel. Death certainly seems to follow that boy, but in the apocalypse the Grim Reaper is pretty much everywhere.
We All Fall Down
“We All Fall Down” was directed by Adam Davidson, who also directed last week’s season premiere “Monster.” It was written by Carla Ching and Kate Erickson. Fear the Walking Dead feels like a family drama set within an apocalyptic world, which provides some good story possibilities and potential for interesting character development. It gives the series its own approach and allows for family baggage to come into play.
The family drama aspect can enhance the tension in an engaging way, though sulking teens can also become tiresome pretty quickly. The conflict between Chris and Travis makes sense within the framework of the narrative, but in terms of drama it will become tedious if it continues in this same way much longer.
Madison’s idea to take the Geary children to sea seemed a bad one, whether or not George had an end game in mind with the poison pills. George having a backup plan in case they’re eventually overrun by zombies doesn’t seem like the worst idea. Better to die peacefully with your family than to have your living flesh torn apart. Travis can relate, having had to kill Liza before she turned. Though Travis is becoming more realistic about the dangers they face and the lack of safety in this new world, Madison seems overly optimistic that there is someone or someplace that will save them. Madison is also trying to compensate for the guilt she feels about not helping more people. She’s still a school counselor at heart.
Nick remains the anti-hero of the story. It appears the Clark siblings have switched roles as Alicia has become the family screw-up, while Nick has turned into a golden boy. Nick is loved by the Geary children, gives stepbro Chris good advice, offers to help stepdad Travis while making jokes at his own expense, and figures out the Jonestown angle. He’s so charming we can almost forget that he inadvertently showed Willa where the poison pills were hidden.
Fear the Walking Dead gives us a good standalone episode in “We All Fall Down.” The cold open with Harry and Willa on the beach was a great hook, and it ended with an emotional punch. As the boat pulls away, it becomes evident that this visit with “new friends” ultimately destroyed the Geary family. Like the main characters in Z Nation, perhaps they need to focus on their own mission rather than causing havoc through failed attempts to help others. The Geary’s destruction may have been ignited by this visit, but the seeds of discord already existed within the family. The events of “We All Fall Down” show us that the survivors on the Abigail will need to find some unity within their group if they want to survive.