Reviews

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 11 - "Pablo and Jessica"

M. King Adkins

Madison and Alicia hatch a plan to clear the hotel of walkers, and impress their rival faction at the same time; meanwhile, Nick and Luciana draw closer.


Fear the Walking Dead

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm
Cast: Kim Dickins, Frank Dillane, Colman Domingo
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 11 - "Pablo and Jessica"
Network: AMC
Air Date: 2016-09-11
Amazon

Watching Fear the Walking Dead on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 offered a unique opportunity to reflect on the many ways in which that event changed things in America. Obviously, so many social and political aspects of our country are so radically different than they were before that day: I like to tell my students sometimes that if someone had suggested when I was a kid that we should all walk through machines at the airport that allowed some random stranger to see us naked before we could board a plane, there would've been riots in the streets.

Perhaps it isn’t appropriate, on such an anniversary, to think in pop culture terms. Maybe it cheapens the horror, the reality, of what occurred. Here I might make some complex arguments about Baudrillard and the postmodern notion that popular culture is the only reality we have, but I'll take a simpler approach. If we truly believe in pop culture's importance, as I think those of us who write and read about it do, then we believe that it's a fundamental reflection of who we are as human beings, no less so than a play by Shakespeare, or a novel by Dickens, or a poem by Robert Frost. On that basis alone, I'd argue it's not merely appropriate to talk about the relationship between 9/11 and popular culture, but necessary.

The Walking Dead franchise could never have developed in a pre-9/11 world. Yes, there were zombie movies, and post-apocalyptic movies back then, but they explored very different questions. A reflection more of the Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation that came with it, the zombie threat was purely existential in these films. The central conflict -- can the human race survive? -- might call into question humans' obsession with science, their penchant to perpetually make war, or even their neglect of the environment, but the criticism was never much more complex. For the most part, for instance, no one ever stopped to consider the survivors' underlying motives, their personal angst, or how their rotten childhoods might have shaped their responses to the zombie's attack.

The Cold War, like the two world wars before it, seemed at least to offer clear distinctions between good and bad, right and wrong. No one needed to question the good guys' motives, and the bad guys’ motives were easy: evil. The post-9/11 world, however, is also a post-waterboarding world, a world in which the lines between good and bad are far less distinct, if they exist at all. The zombies of The Walking Dead are frightening, without question, but so too are many of the humans, including the show's "heroes".

If distinctions between right and wrong are muddied in a show like this one, individual motives are brought into far sharper relief. Each character in The Walking Dead must deal with the crisis in his or her own specific way, a reminder not only that there are no clear good guys and bad guys, but that every "guy" offers his own unique psyche, faces down her demons -- literal and otherwise -- in her own particular way.

Fear the Walking Dead has almost dispensed with the walkers altogether, choosing to place the emphasis squarely on the personalities of the survivors. In any single episode, including the most recent, "Pablo and Jessica", we’re reminded just how different all of those personalities are. Now firmly entrenched at the hotel, Madison (Kim Dickens), Victor (Colman Domingo), and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Clark) are determined to clear the area of walkers, and there's some anxiety that comes with their plans to herd the zombies all into the sea.

The more important plotline, however, involves not zombie but human conflict; specifically, another faction of survivors who also inhabit the hotel. This problem, though, is complicated by this second faction's anger at Elena (Karen Bethzabe), who they can't seem to forgive for what happened to their loved ones. Did Elena do what was necessary, or did she condemn the others to death? That question, and the various responses of the different characters to it, is overshadowed by Elena's own feelings of guilt over the situation. Meanwhile, Victor's reaction to all that has happened is to flee. He assures Madison and Alicia he'll help them clear the building, but that then he needs to be alone. Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), who’s still missing, seemed to suggest in her last appearance that life in a world of walkers isn’t really worth living.

That's only the individual reactions to the situations happening in one location. At the same time, Luciana (Danay Garcia), driven by her desire to find her lost family, and Nick (Frank Dillane), driven by his need to be separate and distinct from his family, find themselves drawn to one another. Given last week's episode, "Do Not Disturb", we must assume that somewhere out on the desert plains Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) continue to struggle over the one's unwillingness to adapt to violence and the other's eagerness to embrace it.

I’ve talked about the way Fear the Walking Dead changes the title of this series, separates it out as having its own issues. In particular, it seems to place the emphasis more on how the fear we feels threatens our survival far more than the walkers themselves. Walkers, in fact, don't seem all that dangerous. In this particular episode, we flash back on how Victor and Madison escape from being surrounded at the bar, but this escape doesn't involve much in the way of violence or even ingenuity. (In fact, Fear the Walking Dead has left a kind of logical hole for its sister series by demonstrating that the easiest way to deal with zombies is simply to become one. We’ve seen this several times with Nick, but Madison and Victor seem to have few qualms about smearing walker blood on and making their escape. Which makes one wonder why this strategy hasn't been used more frequently by Rick [Andrew Lincoln], Daryl [Norman Reedus] and the rest of the crew).

Later in the episode, Madison points out that it's "the next group that finds this place" they should fear, not walkers (a recognition it took Rick quite a bit longer to make).

But then that's an important perspective on 9/11, on terrorism in general. As the word implies, terrorism isn't about the amount of actual damage inflicted on the enemy. It's about the threat of damage and the random nature of the act, such that we must remain ever-vigilant, ever "fear"-ful. In that sense, Fear the Walking Dead may actually be the more insightful of the two shows, whether or not its ratings reflect that insight.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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