Can Fear the Walking Dead Find Its Rhythm?
Fear the Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 9 - "Los Muertos"
Kim Dickens, Frank Dillane, Coleman Domingo
Regular airtime: Sundays, 8pm
US: 28 Aug 2016
There’s a problem with Fear the Walking Dead and, despite much of what I read in fan forums, it has nothing to do with a lack of action. In fact, this week’s episode “Los Meurtos”, the ninth episode of the second season, offered more action than usual for the series, and set up the likelihood things will get especially dicey this coming week. Those who look for quick-thinking escapes from seemingly inescapable situations: rejoice!
Unfortunately, action didn’t prevent “Los Meurtos” from being weak, and that’s where the problem lies: last week, I gave Fear the Walking Dead credit where credit is due, for a strong contemplative episode expanding how we think about The Walking Dead universe. Rather than build on that success, however, Fear the Walking Dead followed a good episode with one that was contemplative in all the wrong ways, throwing action at us apparently in hopes we’d overlook its failings.
“Los Muertos” showed early promise. I wrote last week that I expected this half-season to give us a series of episodes devoted to different survivors, now that the group has split into pieces. In fact, Fear the Walking Dead offered something even more structurally interesting: “Los Muertos” began where it left off last week, focused on Nick (Frank Dillane), but added the story of Madison (Kim Dickens) and Strand (Colman Domingo) to the mix. The approach borrows from musical composition: we begin with a single, simple motif, then suddenly a new layer appears, smoothly integrated into the first; when we first turn to Madison and Strand, they’re searching for Nick, offering a smooth connection from one plot line to the other. Again, structurally speaking, this is a fascinating approach to television storytelling and one I can’t remember seeing before.
Further, as I also wrote last week, Nick’s character could radically change the way we think about The Walking Dead universe. His embrace of the walkers suggests new perspectives on both the dead and the living. Or so it seemed last week as he wandered through the desert, a post-apocalyptic prophet, a savior purified in the crucible of isolation and desperation, reborn on the road in a baptism of rain.
Instead, the show backed away from this characterization this week, treating Nick more generally as a kind of troubled clown with a heart of gold, a screw-up who somehow manages to get things right anyway. He follows new character Luiciana (Danay Garcia) to a gang-run grocery, where his petty theft seems to put both of them in danger. Ultimately, however, his bold move turns out to benefit his new friends, and, we discover that his theft had altruistic motives. All of this fits nicely into the clown archetype, but it doesn’t offer the kind of insight that seemed to be developing in “Grotesque”.
Worse, by episode’s end, Nick has fallen under the sway of another fantatic, a doctor who offers the same kind of bastardized Catholicism we’ve already seen from Celia Flores (Marlene Forte). Celia’s character (and Strand’s before her) played a useful role: Nick needed a mentor, someone to validate his unique perspective on the walkers. I suspect Alejandro (Paul Calderon) is meant to serve the same purpose, and he does take the intensity of that role up a notch. The problem is, I’m just not sure we need another mentor figure. Why not simply let Nick come into his own, especially after last week’s episode, which brought him to the cusp of a powerful new identity?
Meanwhile, Madison, Strand, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) take refuge in an abandoned hotel. Again, there’s promise to this plotline. In particular, we’re told where Madison is from, which holds out the tantalizing prospect of a connection between Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead. Other than that little nugget of information, however, this plotline veers from tired to unintentionally comical. Alicia and Ofelia search the rooms upstairs and debate whether or not life is worth living in this new reality. That’s a fair enough conversation given the circumstances, but it’s also one we’ve seen played out more than once in The Walking Dead. Rick and Laurie did it first, and they did it best. Move on to other questions.
Downstairs, Strand and Madison get wasted on tequila at what remains of the hotel bar. It’s a chance for us to see the two of them bond, but mostly they seem to bond over the fact that they’re pretty boring people. Then Strand goes and, in his drunken stupor, winds up calling all the walkers in the building down on their heads, almost literally. I think the sight of zombies dropping from seven story balconies only to get up and head towards the lobby is meant to be unsettling, and perhaps in the end when Madison and Strand are surrounded by them that’s the effect, but it really just reads as unfortunate slapstick.
So here’s what we get ultimately: some really fascinating, though isolated, bits of information, such as where Maggie’s from, or the possibility that walker bites might not always be fatal. No matter how fascinating those tidbits might be, they’re floating in a pretty uninteresting vat of storyline. Will they lead somewhere? I suspect they will. Is it worth the trouble of wading through dialogue that goes nowhere to get to them? I’m less sure of that. As I said in the beginning, perhaps the defining characteristic of Fear the Walking Dead is its unevenness. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if next week’s episode is stellar. But how long can a series go on when you only want to watch every other week?