Previously on Fear The Walking Dead: our merry band of seaborne survivors made their had finally made it to land, docking in Baja, Mexico for sea, sand, sunbathing, and zombie salvation. Will the midseason finale bring paradise or ruination? (Hint: it's not paradise.)
Be warned: this review contains major spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead throughout.
The book of Daniel
The episode opens strong (as many episodes of this show have tended to do, without always maintaining that early promise), on two dreamlike sequences involving Daniel, both offering effective dollops of horror. The first, a more straightforward flashback from the time Daniel was a child soldier in El Salvador, adds a bit of a shape to his enigmatic history; the second, showing his daughter’s skin falling off her face, is among the more chilling moments from the show so far..
Daniel’s descent into madness is at least less irritating than his fellow descenders (see below) – there seems to be legitimate reasons for a sort of PTSD-induced mental unhinging. But it’s a shame to see one of the show’s more absorbing characters being roundly chucked on the bonfire – literally, as it turns out – while other thinly-sketched characters get to live another day. So long Daniel – hope you’re still hairdressing in heaven.
Nick off the old block
Nick is another character who appears to be losing some sort of plot. And it all seems a bit rushed. Having cleaned up his act during last season when the fall of Western society got in the way of a heroin addiction, Nick’s head finally seemed screwed on.
Now, with his favourite Colonel-Kurtz-meets-Carrie blood splatter get-up a seemingly permanent fixture, he’s lost his way again, clumsily explained away with references to his drug-addled past. Nick is vulnerable, sure, but he’s not been presented as all that impressionable or stupid; in this season he actually came across as pretty smart. It just doesn’t seem plausible that he’d suddenly decide to blindly follow Celia’s fanatical nonsense.
Chris of death
Descent of madness number 3: Chris. Remember Chris? The character that ended last week’s episode with an explosive near-murderous finale? Fear’s most interesting story thread in ages? The focus is suddenly abandoned this time around; Chris goes missing while most of the episode’s screentime is devoted to far less absorbing subplots.
Frankly, it’s baffling. Chris’ arc, from floppy-haired puberty-ridden mope to violent self-serving sociopath, offers huge potential. Why not explore that more? As with so much in the show, we rarely feel like we get under the skin of these characters. Our perspective mainly comes through Travis, who offers up dull, meaningless, emotive platitudes like “he needs his father” and “I should have helped him”, once again pointlessly blaming himself for things he hasn’t done, and once again making terrible, futile decisions. Why would you abandon your wife to look after his psycho son? Are the two mutually exclusive?
Celia, you’re breaking my heart
And so we come to descent of madness, number 4: Celia, whose descent is already substantially completed by the time we first met her. Essentially Hershel-From-Season-2-Of-The-Walking-Dead-Lite, her religion-inflected belief that the zombies are not dead is eye-rollingly bloody-minded, and for longtime viewers of the main Walking Dead show, a misplaced ideology we’ve encountered before. It’s fair to say nobody will be lighting a candle for Celia’s demise, even if we might have enjoyed the brutal coldness in which Maddie finishes her off.
So then, it’s bye-bye Baja. We leave the compound almost as quickly as we arrive, and it’s all a bit unsatisfying. A big fire offers the illusion of dramatic impact, but it’s hard to care about a location we only stumbled upon last week; the gang are fractured with decisions that make no sense, for their character or logically; and goodness me, if everything doesn’t all feel a bit flat. Fear The Walking Dead has always struggled to make a case for its own existence. This midseason finale, as disappointingly lifeless as the zombies in Celia's dungeon, doesn’t exactly tempt us back for more.
Highlight: The pre-titles moment of body shock horror when Ofelia’s face begins to peel away. More of this, please.
Lowlight: Celia’s tedious speech-making. Nick suddenly joining the Church Of Celia. Travis reaching Chris-levels of mopery. Daniel biting the dust before his time. Take your pick.
Kill of the week: Maddie, quietly closing the door on Celia, was a savage move.
Quote of the week: “Don’t worry about me. I’ll hail a cab.” Oh Strand, you wit!
Fear The Walking Dead airs on AMC in the US and AMC UK on BT TV in the UK. It will return in August.