Be warned: this review contains major spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead throughout.
Ahoy! Fear The Walking Dead’s second season set sail in earnest last week. The season premiere may have had a somewhat muted response, but it teased enough possibility and promise – not to mention healthy viewing figures – that AMC have now renewed the spin-off for a third season.
When we last left our group of survivors, they had escaped the smouldering ruins of Los Angeles for the supposed safety of the ocean; aboard the luxury yacht Abigail was the mysterious captain Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), plus some disappointingly-less-mysterious passengers, charting unknown waters.
I’m On A Boat
After a nicely tense pre-credits sequence, which sees an idyllic family beach scene threatened by ocean zombies (side note: great to have that pleasingly jarring theme music return), we deal with the aftermath of last week’s events. The logbook from the upturned ship, retrieved by Nick (Frank Dillane) during his brief sojourn into zombie-infested waters, suggests that San Diego is on fire. Strand, keen to dock at the city they call ‘A Whale’s Vagina’, is more skeptical.
Without much certainty of what to do next – and with an apparently enemy ship still on their trail – the group decide to hide out on a nearby island, hoping to use the resources of a ranger station to get some sense of where the hell they're going. (You could unkindly observe a parallel between the characters’ lack of direction and the showrunners themselves, but we wouldn’t dream of it.)
Mighty George-ing Power Ranger
After a tentative meet-and-greet, we’re introduced to the Greary family, living on an isolated ranger station island off the Californian coast. The Grearys feel a bit Survivor Of The Week, but they lead to some nice interactions – chief among them, the conversations between Travis (Cliff Curtis) and the ranger, George Geary (David Warshofsky). George is an interesting one: part saw-it-all-coming survivalist, part mother-earth-will-provide hippie.
But he also offers glimpses into the state of the union. His shortwave radio confirms the logbook’s assertion that San Diego is now a smouldering ruin. We also get some tantalising insights on the rest of the country: most of the major cities on the West Coast have been napalmed by the military, in an attempt to stop the infection (they’re yet to figure out that it’s not an infection). Much of the country further inland has been destroyed too. “A good goddamn half the country,” as George puts it.
It’s in this area that Fear has the opportunity to distinguish itself from its bigger brother. We’ve seen the city of Atlanta being bombed in the main Walking Dead show, but we don’t really hear much about the world beyond Georgia. Anything which expands this universe’s mythology is enough to keep our interests heightened.
The audacity of mope
Travis’ son, Chris (Lorenzo Henrie), remains at Kevin & Perry levels of petulance, moping and sulking his way around the island. Still reeling, presumably, from the death of his mother, he devotes most of his adolescent energy into rolling his eyes at his father, but at least finds something useful to do by pickaxing zombies on the beach with George’s eldest, Seth.
Meanwhile, Alicia (Alycia Debnam Carey) attempts to rival her half-brother in the moping stakes. An entire scene is devoted to her strolling around the island mournfully, listening to Every Kiss Is a Goodbye on her iPod, and drawing a heart symbol on a noticeboard in tribute to her fallen boyfriend, who died back in Season 1, Episode 2. It’s hard to muster up the sorrow we’re supposed to feel for a character who enjoyed maybe 10 minutes of screentime; on occasions such as these, the show feels like a music video for a bland emo singer-songwriter.
Children in need
Elsewhere this episode, we don’t see much from Strand, Ofelia, or Daniel. Strand’s mysterious past continues to intrigue: he promises to persons unknown (on a mobile phone – he’s apparently still getting signal in a post-apocalypse) that he’ll be somewhere at sundown; while Daniel finds a secret compartment with a machine gun. The Strand Identity is a subplot we’re content to see slowly bubbling away in the background, before things inevitably boil over.
The focus this week is on the island. Madison (Kim Dickens) does some bonding with Melissa (Catherine Dent), who eventually admits to have turned on the light that attracted the boat in the first place. It turns out she has multiple sclerosis – ultimately closer to being the walking dead than most – and she wants Madison and Travis to hastily adopt her young children.
Putting aside the fact that a well-defended island with food, crops, shelter and power seems infinitely safer than a boat, Madison agrees to the adoption, emboldened after Nick’s discovery that George is planning on “Jonestowning his whole family” – i.e., drinking the deadly Kool-Aid.
But it’s all for nought when it appears that George’s youngest daughter, Willa, has Jonestowned herself, giving the episode a much-needed jolt with a shock death, before quickly reanimating in time to rip her mother’s face off. At barely six years old, Willa is among one of the youngest zombies to appear in either Walking Dead show, and though they’ve had to carefully edit around the death – presumably to protect the young actress from too much gore – it’s still an effective bolt-from-the-blue. And so ends another patchy but intermittently compelling episode; aside from Strand's strands, and the tidbits about the wider world, it didn't exactly add much to the longer storyline. But there's just enough to keep us watching.
Highlight: The toddler zombie. Nothing like the death of a child to perk things up.
Lowlight: Alicia’s stroll of sadness slowed things to a miserable standstill.
Kill of the week: Seth Geary’s first beach kill. A clean pickaxe to the face. Brutal efficiency.
Zombie of the week: The pre-titles zombie on the beach, emerging from the sea like an undead Ursula Andress.
Quote of the week: “You hover over me like the spectre of death, Daniel.” Strand has a penchant for the poetic.
MVP: Nick is the only member of the Clark family offering a bit of spark at the moment. He observes the positives of the apocalypse (no more light pollution!); acts as a fun bigger brother to the kids; and almost saves the day. His emergence beyond drug addict cliché is very welcome.
Fear the Walking Dead airs in the UK onMondays at 9pm on AMC, exclusive to BT TV.