If HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries didn’t already put a mortal terror of nuclear radiation contamination into you, Fear the Walking Dead ups the ante by adding zombies to a reactor meltdown scenario.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Walking Dead writers did quite as much research into how radiation actually works.
The Hot Zone
John, Alicia, and Morgan return to the site of the plane crash to search for the missing Althea. Not only is she nowhere to be found, it’s evident that someone rooted through the wreckage and stole all the weapons from the plane.
John splits off from the other two and briefly returns to the truck stop. Alicia and Morgan hit another roadblock. In the woods nearby, they find some birds locked in a cage hanging from a tree, pooping onto a pair of zombies below. It appears to be a trap to lure the zombies there. John moves in to kill them and slips on a tarp spread across the ground. Although he kills the zombies, a woman in a hazmat suit runs in carrying a gun. She says that she doesn’t want to kill him, but her actions seem threatening. Alicia jumps her from behind and gets the gun.
The woman says her name is Grace (Karen David from Once Upon a Time). She claims that a nearby nuclear power plant has melted down and these zombies were contaminated with radiation. Because one of them touched Morgan, he needs to be decontaminated immediately. Fortunately, her truck has a portable shower he can use. Morgan and Alicia aren’t sure whether to trust her, but go along with her instructions for now. Morgan strips down and takes the shower. Grace gives him some new clothes to wear. Unfortunately, she says that his staff is contaminated and will need to be destroyed. This is a big loss for Morgan.
Grace says that she isn’t responsible for any of the roadblocks and doesn’t know what happened to Althea. She explains that the contaminated zombies were workers at the power plant. They can be identified by the radiation dosimeter gauges they wear around their necks. She’s been trying to round them up and contain them so that they don’t spread the radiation any further.
After John picks up June at the truck stop, they try to meet up with Alicia and Morgan again, but their truck breaks down on the way. Spotting a sign for Camp Cackleberry, which they remember as the name on the van that the kids last week drove, they make a detour there. Sadly, instead of finding the children, they come upon a cabin filled with zombies. Nearby is a pile of charred corpses, many of them wearing dosimeters. They get on the walkie-talkie and tell Alicia about the scene. Grace warns them not to touch anything.
Soon enough, Grace, Alicia, and Morgan arrive at the camp. Grace says that burning the zombie bodies would not destroy the radiation. The people at the camp thought they were protecting themselves, but got contaminated when they made contact with the zombies. Now they’re all dead too.
Morgan asks Grace to join their group, but she’s on a personal mission to stop the contamination. There’d be no point in her leaving, anyway. She was already contaminated at the plant. She’s going to die and would just be a danger to them.
Following the instructions Althea left behind, Strand makes his way to El Paso and finds a fortified compound occupied by Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), who is less than thrilled to see him. Upon talking Salazar down from immediately killing him, Strand learns that “Skidmark” (which was the label on Althea’s tape) is the name of his cat.
Salazar lives in a warehouse filled with all sort of stuff, including food and supplies and vehicles. When Strand explains that he’s come to borrow an airplane so he can rescue his friends, Salazar distrusts him and assumes that he really just wants the plane for himself. The Strand he knows would never do anything selflessly.
Strand insists that he’s a changed man and asks to use Salazar’s radio to reach his friends. Eventually, he makes contact with Luciana, who backs up his story. Although Salazar is convinced, he still doesn’t trust Strand. He refuses to give him the plane and kicks him out, saying that his friends are better off fending for themselves.
Luciana is recovering from her shoulder injury. In typical TV fashion, it looks like she’ll just have a tiny scar as evidence that a metal rod pierced all the way through her body. She still needs some rest and is a little woozy from the pain meds, though. John leaves one of his pistols with her while he and June head back out to help search for Althea.
While in the middle of a radio conversation with Strand, Luciana hears a noise outside. Lacking any decent sense in her head (whether due to the meds or not), she walks out into the night and discovers that the wind has blown down the radio antenna. A herd of zombies approaches. She fires off a couple of shots in their general direction, missing them entirely, and stumbles back inside the building, where she passes out.
By the time Luciana wakes up, June and the gang have returned. It’s daylight, and they show her that someone has left a whole bunch of chattering zombie heads hanging from a billboard at the truck stop to scare them off. Whatever new villain may have done this has not yet been identified.
I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure that radiation from a nuclear power plant meltdown would not behave like a viral outbreak, only spreading by direct physical contact with the infected. It also wouldn’t stop at fences just because some warning signs were posted there. All of the science in this episode seems like nonsense to me, which makes it difficult for me to care about any of it.
The Salazar storyline also amounts to nothing, and is clearly just an excuse to bring Rubén Blades back for an episode, during which he only had to interact with a single member of the cast. At the end of it, Strand is right back where he started, as if he never saw Salazar at all.
This isn’t a terrible episode, but its general pointlessness does not bode well for a season that only just started.
Joshua P. Christie
Writing deficits aside, one thing Fear has done substantially better than The Walking Dead last season and the early part of this one is showcasing stronger cinematography and use of location that really exposes how dark and claustrophobic the parent show is by comparison.