For better or worse (and it may be a bit of both), I suspect that this week’s episode of ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ may set the course for how the rest of the season will go. The episode itself is pretty decent, but I’m wary of a formula setting in.
We start with a very creepy scene of two children playing on the beach when a zombie washes up on shore and heads in their direction. Then another zombie follows after that one. This immediately causes a viewer to wonder what the hell these kids are doing playing on the beach during the zombie apocalypse. As it turns out, the beach is set up with a chain link fence to block zombies from getting in. We’ll learn more about the children later.
First, on board the Abigail, Maddie yells at her son Nick for being an idiot. Specifically, she’s upset that he needlessly put himself in danger when he swam to the capsized boat in the last episode. While she’s certainly not wrong about that, the yacht log book he found proves valuable after all. Travis reads in the notes that their current intended destination of San Diego has burned to the ground. Strand is skeptical of this information and wants to press forward anyway.
According to the ship’s radar, the Abigail is being followed by a faster boat, presumably the people who shot up the capsized yacht. It will catch up eventually. Strand thinks he can lose the pursuing vessel by hiding along the coastline, where radar is useless. He picks a location that he thinks will make a good place to weigh anchor for the night, but Travis looks at some maps and suggests that they head for a wildlife refuge on Catrina Island that houses a ranger station. Even if the station is abandoned, they’ll hopefully be able to find some supplies there. Strand agrees.
As their boat approaches the ranger station in the middle of the night, a light in the attached house flicks on twice, indicating that someone must be alive inside. The boat docks and most of the group debark. Strand stays at the helm of the Abigail in case they need to make a quick getaway. Salazar insists that he and his daughter Ofelia will stay behind as well.
Everyone else approaches the house cautiously, thinking it might be a trap. Travis, however, doesn’t believe that sneaking up on the inhabitants is the best course of action. Instead, he loudly calls out, asking for help and promising that his group is no threat. A little boy (the same one from the beginning of the episode) runs out of the house, followed by his father. The man warily introduces himself and shakes Travis’ hand.
The man is named George and he’s the park ranger – or used to be, when that was relevant. Ever since the zombie apocalypse, he has hunkered down in the house with his wife Melissa (Catherine Dent from ‘The Shield’) and their three kids – the young boy and girl plus a broody teenager named Seth. George informs Travis that every major city along the coast (including San Diego) was napalmed by the military in a futile effort to stop the zombie outbreak. Additionally, he’s had some radio contact with fellow park rangers across the country and they’ve all reported a similar breakdown of civilization at least as far inland as Colorado. As if that weren’t all bad enough news, Travis has some concerns about George himself when the man espouses a nutty theory about how the apocalypse is a “course correction” for an overpopulated planet. Frankly, George is kind of creepy.
After some conversations with Melissa, Maddie suspects that the woman turned on the light to signal their boat intentionally. She believes that Melissa wants to leave the island, but her husband is determined to stay and wait out the End of Times there.
Travis’ sulky dipshit son Chris bonds with George’s son Seth, who brings him along during his morning “chores,” which involve using a pick-axe to kill zombies who wash up on shore and collect at the fence. Chris gives the axe a try and quite enjoys murdering zombies. This makes Travis upset and uncomfortable.
Travis offers to help George repair a damaged piece of fence, and learns that the property is not very far from a tourist town with a marina. George says that there’s a couple hundred zombies there, but they haven’t found their way his direction yet. Travis worries that the ranger station will inevitably get overrun.
While everyone else is busy, Nick scours through George’s house looking for drugs or anything that will help him get high. He finds a hidden bag of pills that he believes are poison. Later, he tells Travis and Maddie that he thinks George plans to “Jonestown” his family if things get too bad.
Maddie talks to Melissa again. Melissa confesses that she’s sick (not zombie plague sick, but terminal all the same), and that she did turn on the lights intentionally to get the boat’s attention. She says that George is too stubborn to leave, but that they’re just biding their time waiting for the end. She begs Maddie to take her kids away on the boat and keep them safe. Travis isn’t sure how he feels about this.
Salazar, who has made no bones about the fact that he doesn’t trust Strand, searches the boat while Strand is busy and finds a hidden assault rifle along with some paperwork, including maps of Mexico. He thinks that Strand has a hidden agenda, which is then confirmed to viewers when we see Strand talking on what I assume is a satellite phone (I can’t imagine Verizon gets cell service during the apocalypse) to a mysterious contact that he makes plans to meet at sundown.
George catches Melissa talking to Maddie and Travis about taking the kids, and is naturally upset. Before they can get into it too much, their young son Harry runs into the room begging for help. He says his sister Willa is sick. Everyone runs to another room to find the girl dead on the floor. She discovered the poison pills and took one. Despite Travis’ warnings, Melissa picks up her daughter’s body to cradle her. Just then, the girl reanimates as a zombie and takes a big chomp out of her mommy’s neck. Maddie scoops up Harry and everyone except George runs for the boat. Despondent that his world is collapsing, George tells them to take the boy but stays behind.
When they get to the boat, Strand is adamant that he’s not taking on any new passengers, especially not a kid (which he bluntly calls “dead weight”). Not to worry, broody Seth comes on board with a rifle and demands his brother back. He has bought into all of his father’s bullshit about standing their ground, and won’t listen when Maddie and Travis try to explain that George changed his mind. Ultimately, they let him take the boy.
As soon as they step off the boat, cold-hearted Strand revs up the engines and pulls away from shore. On the dock, a zombified Melissa lurches towards her sons. Seth tells Harry to keep his eyes on the boat and wave goodbye. Maddie waves back, holding the child’s attention while Seth raises his rifle and shoots his own mother.
This episode is pretty low-key and has only minimal zombie action, but I actually enjoyed the drama and felt that the ending was pretty powerful. However, when the credits came up I realized that this entire storyline didn’t really accomplish anything. Our heroes met some new characters and made friends for a day, but eventually left them all (however many are still alive, anyway) behind. They’re in the same position at the end that they would have been had they followed Strand’s original plan and stopped somewhere else.
In fact, since it was Nick who uncovered the stash of poison pills and didn’t hide them particularly well, he’s responsible for the little girl dying and killing her mother. The family at the ranger station would have been much better off had the boat never stopped. Perhaps that’s meant to be a deliberate irony for our characters to learn a lesson from, but if so, an extra line or two of dialogue would have been useful to hammer the point home.
Also, what I fear about ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ is that this season will mainly consist of more episodes in which the boat crew encounters a new group of people, events fall to shit, and they leave. Then repeat the formula in the next episode. I really hope I’m wrong about that, because that will get old quickly.