TV

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 10 - "Do Not Disturb"

M. King Adkins

Chris's bloodlust reaches a crisis point for his father Travis; meanwhile, Alicia and a new ally struggle to reach Madison and Strand.


Fear the Walking Dead

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm
Cast: Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Colman Domingo, Alycia Debnam-Carey
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 10 - "Do Not Disturb"
Network: AMC
Air Date: 2016-09-04
Amazon

As a young man, studying the "great" works of literature, I convinced myself that some writers were simply geniuses, that they operated on some other level the rest of us would never be able to reach, that they were gifted, or inspired by God, or however you want to think about where a facility with language comes from. Perhaps I've become less idealistic as I've grown older, but I think the truth about writing may be somewhat more prosaic that I once believed. All writers have their strengths and their weaknesses, and the ones who succeed are the ones who recognize their talents and minimize their deficits. Stephen King isn't great on high concept, but he's a great imaginer and a great teller of tales. On the other hand, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past has a concept so magnificent it sustains mountains of pure airy description, which is a good thing, since it's very short on plot.

Fear the Walking Dead definitely has some storytelling assets. Caught between two audiences, however, it doesn't seem to know quite what to do with them.

As I've suggested here on several occasions, Fear the Walking Dead offers some fascinating structural moments. For example, this week's episode, "Do Not Disturb", creates interesting parallels between mother and daughter (Madison [Kim Dickens] and Alicia [Alycia Debnam-Carey]) and father and son (Travis [Cliff Curtis] and Chris [Frank Dillane]). Travis and Chris travel the road together, but seem to grow further apart as they go. In many ways, the danger they face serves to fracture their relationship. Madison and Alicia, on the other hand, spend the episode separated by several hotel floors full of walkers, but in their case, danger ends up bringing them closer together.

The other thing that might be said in Fear the Walking Dead’s favor is that it's always thinking. The show asks big existential questions of us: What's the nature of life and death? How should society be organized? What truly drives us as human beings? In this week's episode, we meet Elena Reyes (Karen Bethzabe), a hotel manager who's continued to run her hotel -- after a fashion -- since the crisis began. As we've seen with other characters in The Walking Dead universe (Father Gabriel Stokes [Seth Gilliam], for instance), she's haunted by her past actions. When the father of the bride at a wedding reception turned suddenly, she made the choice to lock most of the guests in the ballroom, sentencing them to death. Her feelings of guilt are exacerbated by the fact that the wedding's survivors blame her for the death of their loved ones. Yet in all likelihood, none of them would have survived if she hadn’t made the choice she did.

Meanwhile, Chris's bloodlust, which has been building since the beginning of the series, reaches a critical moment, and his father is faced with the implications of this bloodlust and how to deal with it. Travis's decision to leave the rest of his family behind after the compound exploded rested on his belief that he could guide his son and somehow protect him from himself. But when they meet up with another group, a group who celebrates Chris’s prowess as a killer, it's clear Chris isn't going to change. Instead his behavior only escalates. By the end of the episode, Travis seems finally to have realized he may not be able to fix his son, but we're left with the question of what a parent should do in such a situation.

Where Fear the Walking Dead stumbles is in simple dialogue; particularly the sort of dialogue necessary to establish characters. Last week, we watched Strand (Colman Domingo) and Madison drink themselves into stupors. The result -- finding themselves surrounded by a horde of walkers -- was reasonably interesting. Their conversation itself, though, went nowhere. This week, the same is true with Chris and Travis. We feel the sense of unease that builds as Travis urges a reluctant Chris to isolate himself in order to protect others. In their back and forth with one another, however, there’s really nothing much of interest: How's your foot? Fine. Want to learn how to drive? Sure. Remember that time we went camping? That was fun. It's as though this father and son don't really know each other at all. Perhaps that's the point, but it doesn't exactly make for riveting television.

In fact, in an episode like "Grotesque", we gained insight into Nick from the lack of dialogue. While some viewers derided the relative lack of action in that episode, there was something poetic in the way Nick struggled against the landscape, finding solace in the walkers and learning to survive. In that poetry was a kind of meaning, whether or not it came across in words.

The trouble is, Fear the Walking Dead has backed itself into a corner to some extent. On the one hand, it has, from the beginning, set itself apart from its sister show by focusing on humans rather than walkers, even if that means playing down the excitement that comes with constant danger. But that's left it struggling to find an audience. There are fans out there for complex television, as the success of Hannibal and Mr. Robot demonstrate. Unfortunately, Fear the Walking Dead's pedigree means it draws most of its viewers from The Walking Dead. For the most part, those viewers have abandoned Fear the Walking Dead because it wants to be thoughtful.

On the other hand, if you decide to minimize action in favor of sustained character development, you'd better make sure you give your characters something interesting to say. Those of us who appreciate the show for what it is won't stick around if dialogue becomes nothing more than a bridge from one action sequence to the next. I'm a fan of The Walking Dead, and I'm a fan of the very different statement Fear the Walking Dead set out to make. Frankly, I'd be happy if the show decided to head in either direction. What troubles me at the moment is that it seems to be caught somewhere in the middle.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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