Water Zombies and Pirates: Fear The Walking Dead, “Monster”

It’s been a week and I’m still pissed off at The Walking Dead. And boy howdy was it a mistake to rewatch the first season finale of Fear The Walking Dead in prep for the season 2 premiere. I went into the FTWD premiere feeling both profoundly annoyed and overdosing on zombies, and by the end of the episode my mood hadn’t improved by much. The new premise—Water zombies! Pirates! San Diego!—has too much of the old premise—Secrets! Boring family melodrama! Everyone being total dumbasses!—dragging it down.

The season 2 premiere starts off not long after the season 1 finale. Los Angeles is burning as the government pummels it with napalm, and the zombie hoards have made their way to the coast. Once the Clarks, Manawas, and Salazars get on board the Abigail, Strand takes them out to sea. So far so good. There’s some tense moments here, what with the encroaching zombies and the darkness consuming everything. And then it all goes to pot until the last few minutes. The whole rest of the episode is Alicia giving some rando dude their coordinates, Chris brooding like there’s an Emmy category for it, Strand shouting about rules and boats, and Daniel fishing. Ofelia wanders around doing nothing at all while Madison and Travis argue about rescuing other survivors.

There really is a good story at the heart of it. One of the things that made TWD so interesting in its early years was watching the family and social dynamics shift in the face of this brave new world. Fear has a fantastic opportunity to explore how we handle the collapse of society and what we do to speed up that process, but none of that ends up on camera. Instead it’s an hour of teenagers making selfish, stupid choices and adults too busy bickering with each other to notice.

What little character development we had in the first season was forgotten by the second. Gone is Daniel’s hard-livin’ junta wit, Maddy’s observance and determination, Strand’s brash sass, Alicia’s boldness, Nick’s street smarts. The only characters who haven’t changed are mousy little Ofelia and über-angsty Chris and that’s only because they were cardboard characters to begin with.

On The Walking Dead, Rick is the center of the show. The main arc revolves around him and all the subplots tie in to him. So far there is no strong center on Fear. Ostensibly Madison and Travis should be the protagonists, but it’s the teenagers who push the plot forward. There’s not enough focus. It feels like a show peopled by cannon fodder and no leaders. Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis are utterly wasted as actors. The writers have no idea how to script for their talents and with nothing substantial to do their airtime is squandered.

FTWDS2E1_3

Sorry, I have to digress for a moment and rant. San Diego? Strand wants to go to San-freaking-Diego? The 8th most populated city in the United States? A city that shares a border with Tijuana, the 5th most populated city in Mexico, the 11th most populated country in the world? Every time I think they can’t get dumber they prove me wrong.

Why does no one ever go to the South Pacific? Hawai’i is a safe and close-ish bet, but there are nearly 30,000 islands in the South Pacific, many of which are inhabitable. You’d have a small human population so it would be relatively easy to kill off the zombies you’ve got while obtaining very few new ones along the way. There’s a stable food and water source, plenty of secure places to live, and given how challenging it would be to get there you wouldn’t have to worry too much about wandering war parties. Get a map and a compass, both of which should be on any ocean-capable boat, and you’re all set.

That being said, there are two interesting aspects to heading to San Diego, plot-wise. Obviously Strand is up to something and whatever it is culminates there. Do I especially care what his plans are? Not really. I’d like to think he’s a prototype Governor, a sinister douchecanoe who plans to take over a naval base and establish his own kingdom in San Diego, but it’s probably something boring like wanting to rescue his girlfriend or kids or other assorted relatives.

The other intriguing aspect is showing more of the end!verse. San Diego should be an even bigger shitshow than Los Angeles so it could be cool seeing an entire city taken over by the military and the border being overrun. Not that the show will have anything to say about the military occupation. FTWD never has anything meaningful to say about anything. At least it’ll be moderately entertaining. Anyway, rant over.

FTWDS2E1_1

Looking back on my review of the second season premiere of The Walking Dead, I lamented that “just like last year we start with something genuinely scary, get saddled with a tedious second act, and wind up with a killer cliffhanger.” Same goes for Fear The Walking Dead, a show that wants to be independent of its parent property but hits the exact same notes on the same grating beat. Did I hate the premiere? Not at all. As an episode, it was almost good and certainly wasn’t bad. It was exciting, tense, and frightening enough to keep the episode rolling.

The problem lies in what it wasn’t: well structured. There is a distressing lack of characterization and strong plotting, neither of which bode well for the show’s future. The script sails past deep social commentary and there’s so little character personality that every action comes off as an obvious plot device rather than an organic choice. Season 2 is demonstrably better than the previous season, but how long that continues remains to be seen. There’s a lot of great potential with the ocean and San Diego, but also plenty of ways the whole thing can implode.

A premiere sets the tone for the rest of the season. It should establish the main arc, a few subplots, and how the characters interact. “Monster” gave us the first two but fell flat on the third. The writers of FTWD and TWD have shown time and time again that they are less interested in the journey than the destination—seriously, we had how many episodes of nothing just to cliffhanger us with Negan’s baseball bat?—so there’s good reason for concern.

Final Thoughts

  • You know what? I wouldn’t take those boat people either. If they’re dumb enough to cram that many people onto that tiny dingy and take it all the way out into the ocean…Christ, it’s like Alexandria all over again.
  • Alicia is this show’s Carl, isn’t she? Like early period TWD Carl, she makes incredibly stupid decisions that threaten all their lives and needs constant supervision.
  • Those corpses are way too fresh to be floating like that. A dead body sinks and doesn’t generally rise until the bacteria release gasses while eating decaying flesh. It usually takes a week or two to rise to the surface again (once those gasses are released back into the air the body will sink again). Not to mention that a floating corpse is almost always face down.
  • On the other hand, I suppose if there are two categories of land zombies—roamers and lurkers—then maybe water zombies have floaters and swimmers?
  • Fun fact: Season 2 Episode 1 of The Walking Dead also featured a main character beating a zombie’s brains in with a rock.
  • Season 2 has 15 episodes, 7 now and the other 8 later in the year. I’ll see ya’ll again for a midpoint check-in after episode 4.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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