Be warned: this review contains major spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead throughout.
When we last left The Walking Dead’s ocean-based sister show, they had, for some reason, left a well-defended, well-stocked island paradise for the apparent safety of a boat in the middle of the ocean. Much was left unsaid. Much sighing was had. Much patience was worn. What will become of the survivors next, and crucially, do we particularly care?
The pre-titles sequence introduces a gaggle of new faces, adrift at sea. Of course, for dedicated Fear fans, many of these aren’t new characters at all: they made their debut on the web series Flight 462, which premiered online at the end of last year.
There are 16 episodes of around a minute each, available to watch on AMC’s website, but in a nutshell, Flight 462 told the story of a commercial airliner flying to Phoenix just as the apocalypse is cresting. With a zombie aboard, and total power failures on the ground, the plane eventually crash lands, and this episode opens on the remaining survivors – including Alex (Michelle Ang), who we can expect to see a lot more of this season.
It’s an eventful couple of minutes: Jake (Brendan Meyer), badly burned but alive, is pulled into a liferaft. Another passenger makes it out of the water, but is promptly chucked back in when a zombie bite is spotted. Later, a different passenger earns a knife in the chest when attempting to dispatch Jake. All this happens very rapidly, almost too rapidly to comprehend, and those unfamiliar with the webisodes might be slightly perturbed at the newbies. Still, it’s an eye-catching start.
Hashtag no filter
Post-titles, Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Maddie (Kim Dickens) find their lovemaking interrupted, as lovemaking inevitably tends to be during the apocalypse, when Abigail’s engines overheat and fail. Travis – who, let’s not forget, is an English teacher – appears to be intimately acquainted with both boat filtration systems and complex scuba diving equipment. (This is California, after all – perhaps boating and scuba diving is taught in Golden State schools as part of the curriculum, between surfing class and hacky sack 101.)
The surprising resourcefulness of Travis is not met with much gratitude from Strand (Colman Domingo), still making mysterious phone calls to an unknown other person (could it be the yet-to-be-introduced character played by Dougray Scott?), still delivering dialogue in a comically suave manner, still being generally a bit tetchy. After bickering, Strand reluctantly assures Travis that he is a valued member of the team, before imploring: "pretty please, fix the goddamned boat”, in a rather loud echo of Harvey Keitel’s famous line from Pulp Fiction.
Havin’ it fuselage
The wreckage of the aforementioned plane has washed up on a nearby beach, and it’s caught the attention of the survivors on the boat. “It’s a yard sale,” as Nick (Frank Dillane) puts it. They have their eye on the supplies from the wreckage – clothes, blankets, medicine, liquids under 100ml, presumably – and decide to take a speedboat to shore while Travis fixes the filter. Maddie frets about it, but Daniel (Rubén Blades), a cross between Nicky Clarke and Che Guevera, offers to supervise.
On the beach, Nick and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) lark about with some old uniforms, and briefly remind us what smiling looks like, in a show that seems determined to forget. Fortunately, Daniel puts a stop to all this jollity by informing Nick that “you should not be joking about this”, and returns the series to its signature humourlessness.
Teenage misery guts Chris (who has taken to wearing his hair in a little ponytail – all he needs now is an Ed Vardy t-shirt to reach pinnacle douchebaggery) decides to go for wander by himself, because what’s the worst that could happen? Exploring the fuselage of a crashed plane like the first guy to die in a horror movie, Chris’s early bravado at dispatching a couple of zombies quickly dissipates when he realises one survivor is still alive, begging him to be put out of his misery. He does so, but it’s a viciously dark mercy killing. That blinking look of still-feeling pain, after two blows to the head, is an overwhelmingly disturbing image. That’ll be sure to cheer up ol’ ray-of-sunshine Chris!
The gang’s beach holiday inevitably proves short lived as when we see Alex running from a good-old fashioned zombie horde. By gar, it's been a while. Daniel appears to have briefly forgotten his Salvadoran commando past, with the gang backed into a seemingly impossible corner. Really, though, it’s an excuse for Nick to have an unexpectedly badass moment. Looking like Mia Farrow in Carrie, his sudden transformation into blood-soaked warrior is a glorious pre-commercial-break moment. Starved of much gore or action, this is the sort of surprise bolt we pine for.
Strand leaves them stranded
Daniel’s earlier digging reveals Strand’s intentions: he’s headed south of the border, to a fortified home in Baha, Mexico. Apparently there's food, power and water there (rather a lot like that island from last week, wouldn’t you say?). Strand, after initially compromising to let Alex and Jake tow behind in their lifeboat, ends the episode with a (potentially literal) killer blow, by cutting their tow line, and instantly alienating himself from his merry band of survivors.
So, Strand makes the jump from International Man Of Mystery to Really Not Very Nice Man At All, Actually, and Fear The Walking Dead makes the jump from Fine, I Suppose to Generally Quite Watchable. This was certainly the strongest episode of the season so far. Concerns persist that the show has yet to make a convincing case for its own existence, but it at least seems to be going somewhere now. (Namely, Mexico.)
Highlight: Strand cutting Alex’s towline was a genuine “Oof! Blimey!” way to finish the episode.
Lowlight: Travis and Maddie squabbling pointlessly (“I want to know you’re on my side...”). Their occasionally passive-aggressive subplot plays out like the dullest soap opera ever conceived.
Kill of the week: Chris mercy-killing the plane passenger is an immensely powerful – and painfully savage – moment of gore.
Zombie of the week: The crab-infested beach zombie that Nick encounters. Crab people!
Quote of the week: “This is the worst it’s gonna be.” Oh, Alex. If only you knew.
MVP: Nick. Bloody Nick.
Random thought: We have somehow only just realised that the outstanding stab of electronic horror that makes the show’s theme music was composed by Atticus Ross – he of Social Network and Gone Girl fame.
Fear the Walking Dead airs in the UK on Mondays at 9pm on AMC, exclusive to BT TV.