The first, short season of AMC’s zombie spinoff ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ didn’t exactly knock my socks off, but the show got somewhat better over the course of its six episodes. For its second season, the series leaves Los Angeles and heads out for a semester at sea. Will the change of setting be enough to keep viewers interested?
Perhaps an even better question is whether that controversial cliffhanger on the flagship ‘Walking Dead’ will sour the audience for both shows against the entire franchise?
The season premiere opens shortly after where the prior finale left off, and the situation in Los Angeles has escalated significantly. It’s nighttime, and fires are raging throughout the city. The surviving characters from last season gather on the beach in front of Victor Strand’s house to evacuate to the yacht he revealed in the last episode. To get them there, junkie Nick has to ferry them in small groups on a motorized raft. While he’s bringing one batch over, zombies (they’re called “Infected” on this show) swarm down onto the beach. Travis (Cliff Curtis) struggles with one and I swear it looks like he gets bit, but nothing ever comes of that later in the episode so I guess he didn’t. (As I recall, a similar thing happened in the first season, which is annoying.)
When Nick comes back with the raft, Travis’ dumbass son Chris refuses to leave his mother’s body behind. Eventually, they all get on the raft (corpse included), and Nick has to repel a zombie by chopping its face up with the engine’s propeller. Ick! As soon as they all get to the yacht (which is named “Abigail”), Strand announces that “uninvited guests” have seen the boat and are making their way towards it. He’s not waiting around for them.
In a moderately impressive CGI effects shot, the characters look back at the burning city and witness it rocked by explosions as fighter jets fire-bomb the area. As we know from the original ‘Walking Dead’, a similar thing happened to Atlanta, and it wasn’t terribly effective at stopping the zombie plague.
Out at sea, Strand explains that the yacht has a 3,000 mile range, which could get them as far as El Salvador. His immediate plan is to head toward San Diego, which he believes may still be clear. En route, they pass a small boat filled with refugees yelling for help. Strand refuses to stop for them, which makes Maddie (Kim Dickens) and some of the others upset, but Travis agrees with the decision. They don’t know who those people are, whether any of them are infected, or what their intentions may be. Their disagreement over this issue drives a wedge between Travis and Maddie.
To give her something to do, Travis hands Maddie’s daughter Alicia a CB radio and asks her to scan for radio chatter to find out how bad the situation is in other cities and whether any safe zones have been established. The news she hears is all bad. One despondent message from the Coast Guard announces that, “There is no rescue by sea, air or land. There is nothing. Forgive us.” Well, that’s depressing.
Alicia eventually comes across a channel with a lone, friendly voice just trying to reach out and make a connection with someone. She hesitates and debates whether it’s really a good idea to respond, but because she’s a teenage girl, she of course can’t resist getting into a long conversation with the boy. His name is Jack, and he sounds awfully dreamy. He tells her about his small family and coaxes her to reveal details about herself and the boat she’s on. This is not wise. Not wise at all.
After a while, Chris finally stops crying over his mother’s corpse and joins Salazar (Rubén Blades) fishing off the side of the boat. Salazar catches an eel. Yum.
When they’re far enough away from land, Strand stops the boat so they can have a funeral at sea for Chris’ mother Eliza. Chris turns super petulant again and chucks her body off the side of the boat, then storms away. Ugh, teenagers…
Alicia’s new friend Jack radios to tell her that his family’s boat is taking on water and they need rescue. Alicia tells Travis, hoping they can help him. Strand overhears the conversation and is having none of it. He lays down the law with his Three Rules for life aboard the boat, all of which are: “It is MY boat.” They’re not going to help anyone.
As the group sit down for a scrumptious eel dinner, Chris jumps off the back of the boat into the water. Assuming that he’s trying to commit suicide, Nick dives in after him.
Alicia radios Jack to tell him the bad news that they won’t be able to help. Jack doesn’t seem too bothered by this. He responds ominously, “I’ll see you soon.” Uh oh.
Nick catches up to Chris, who insists that he was just going for a swim. Fully clothed? Yeah, that’s plausible…
Nick buys the story. Before heading back to the boat, he takes a moment to swim around on his own, and comes face-to-face with… a zombie in the water! Floating nearby is a capsized boat, its hull riddled with bullet holes. It wasn’t visible previously because a fog bank rolled in. A bunch more bodies are floating in the water. Travis hops in the raft and motors out to grab Chris and Nick, but Nick hears what he thinks is a survivor on the boat and swims over to investigate. What a dipshit.
Nick picks up Chris. I’m not really clear on some of the details of the scene, but I think he also picks up another survivor? Maybe? The whole thing is shrouded in fog and moves quickly, so I’m not entirely sure what happens.
Nick doesn’t find any survivors on the boat, but does manage to grab the Yacht Log, which he thinks is really important for some reason. He’s attacked by a zombie but gets away and returns to the Abigail safely.
The episode ends with Strand announcing that another boat – a fast one – is heading their way. He assumes it must be the people who shot up the capsized vessel, and we in the audience assume that it’s probably that Jack fella.
At least so far, it looks like this new season of the show will essentially be a cross between the early seasons of the original ‘Walking Dead’ with TNT’s ‘The Last Ship’. I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea. The characters will need to make landfall an awful lot or else there will be little excuse for them to run into zombies. (How many capsized boats can they encounter before that gets really old? I’d say this one is the limit.) The zombies they do run into in this premiere are pretty ineffectual. Zombies can float, but they can’t swim.
I assume that the beach attack at the beginning of the episode was intended to be an “epic” action-packed way to start the premiere, but it mostly falls flat. Beyond that, the episode is all a lot of people talking. Which is fine, I suppose. The drama parts of the episode are decent enough (probably better than much of the first season), and I can forgive some of the idiotic decisions that Alicia, Chris and Nick make, because those characters are either dumb teenagers or (in Nick’s case) a brain-addled junkie. I’ve seen worse on shows where the characters were supposed to be smarter.
That said, the premiere still has one fundamental problem that Season 1 was never able to overcome: The characters just aren’t very interesting, which makes it difficult for viewers to feel invested in their fates. ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ has no equivalent to a Rick, a Daryl, a Maggie, a Glenn, or a Carol. Theoretically, Maddie is supposed to be the most sympathetic lead, but she’s given nothing to do and has minimal screen time in the premiere. The only truly compelling character here is Strand, so I hope the writers expand his role this season.
I’m still on board with the show for the time being, but I completed zoned out during the ‘Talking Dead’ episode afterward and will probably drop that until the real ‘Walking Dead’ comes back.