By Matt Berry
Boys on the Radio
When we last left our dysfunctional family of phase one apocalypse survivors, they were fleeing the remnants of a burning, collapsing Los Angeles for the promise of the high seas. Fear the Walking Dead’s intense Season 2 premiere proves that promise erroneous. The open water is free of neither bark nor bite, and the season wastes no time pitting our heroes against foes both dead and alive as they attempt to cross an ocean of monsters, malevolence, and sullen teenage angst.
The overarching theme of both WD series is the characters’ struggle to hold onto their humanity in an increasingly inhumane world, and FTWD traffics specifically in the effect that has on the family unit. Monster explores those familial dynamics in various interactions among our small, encapsulated crew as they flee the mainland to the strains of some smooth-as-shit Yacht Rock.
In addition to revisiting the quietly supportive bond that still holds sturdily between Maddie and Travis and the nearly sit-com-ian bickering that banters back and forth between Maddie and her kids (the increasingly greasy Nick and the determinedly depressed Alicia), we also see some intriguing relationships developing: between “you’re not my real dad!” Nick and morally ambiguous weirdo Victor Strand; Nick and wounded bird Ofelia (flirting in the zombiepocalypse apparently involves a lot of winky nurse advisory); Alicia and the mysterious “Jack” on the radio (like cockroaches, morning DJs, alas, will also survive all holocausts); helicopter dad Travis and newly motherless son Chris (who engage in the fastest and most fruitless slap fight since the Carl/Ron throwdown in last season’s Walking Dead); Chris and his dead mom (Liza doing a top notch Norman Bates’ Mom impression); and corpse-dumping backstroke enthusiast Chris and the super-cynical Daniel Salazar.
The episode’s discourse on moral choices focuses on Travis and his continued journey towards acceptance of the world as it now sits. When an infected Liza asked Maddie to kill her at the end of Season One, she lamented that if Travis were called upon to take her life, the experience would break him. To the contrary, though, the task, which he did end up taking on as his own, appears to have made him stronger, more vigilant, and more determined to protect his family (especially his biological son, Chris) from the mad crumble that chases them over those choppy waters. It’s an encouraging surprise that Travis is the loudest voice clamoring to leave a sinking ship’s castaways to fend for themselves in favor of protecting his own little boating Brady Bunch.
The heart of the episode, however, is the burgeoning phone-mance between Alicia and a disembodied voice which may or may not be one of the Tail Section Survivors of Oceanic 815 (or, possibly, one of those mercenary dicks from Not Penny’s Boat). Alicia, in trying to preserve the notions of kindness and connection, may, by episode’s end, have doomed her family to being torn apart.
This Week’s Best Bits
Learning to fight
In a stellar cold open, we get to see Maddie and Travis go all Cape Fear on a roaming horde of walkers, and it’s fun to see them feeling and fumbling their way to the right combat in this most unique of wars. While its sister series follows a band of folks who, even at the beginning of the end of the world, were a formidable fighting unit, FTWD focuses its attention on a band of John and Jane Q. Citizens who (for the most part) have no background in law enforcement, the military, or surviving life as a sibling of Merle Dixon. Maddie, Travis, and the gang are mostly just Reg Folk, and seeing their growth as lean, mean, zombie-stopping machines will hopefully continue to be a fun element of the show.
Also, Nick totally juiced a walker’s face with a speed boat motor. That can’t be ignored.
Best. Funeral. Ever.
Starting with Travis’ awful, so, so truly awful and awkward eulogy (only George Costanza’s wedding reception Curse Toast rivals Travis’ eulogy as the most socially inept and bafflingly shitty speech ever at a semi-public event) and ending with a good old fashioned New Jersey table-flip (if that happened to be an autopsy table), Liza’s funeral is delightfully disastrous and the most entertainingly bad sendoff since those guys knocked Gage out of his casket in Pet Sematary.
Kids and their social media
Having all the conveniences and conventions of the modern world suddenly torn away from you (also, your boyfriend died and turned into a zombie), is harder on no one than your average teen, so it’s no surprise that Alicia takes to carrying around the largest smart device, like, ever while she is confined to the SS Abigail and ends up, on said device, as girls often do, talking to some ridiculously charming boy. And this charming boy knows enough to give himself a tragic backstory (a dead girlfriend no less), to name himself after the romantic lead in Titanic (he is on a doomed vessel it seems), and to serenade a girl with Stardust-era Bowie. This guy, like most online, long distance Romeos, is probably not just too good to be true, but, likely, deadly dangerous. (I call dibs, by the way, on adapting this subplot into a Lifetime Channel Movie called Mother, May I Yacht with Strangers.)
A man called Salazar
Colman Domingo’s performance as the enigmatic Victor Strand is a kitschy, kicky treat (love his “First Rule of Yacht Club” speech), and I’m anxious to see how his character (and the performance) evolve, but I’m more enamored at the moment of Ruben Blades’ Eastwoodian Zenny badass Daniel Salazar. He says little but means much and keeps a keen, watchful eye over the group. Of all the survivors so far on this incarnation of the WD universe, Salazar is the one I’d most want on my side.
The swimming dead
The episode’s final sequence is one of the series best so far. A little afternoon dip becomes an encounter with a floater and what appears to be an attacked boat, its hull blown to flaming bits and its lifeboat, ironically, riddled with bullets. Clearly not the work of NRA card-carrying roamers. More evidence for Maddie’s group that man is actually the most dangerous zombie of all (or something like that.)
The scene where Nick ducks under the overturned dingy and retrieves a cache of ship’s logs? Naval manuals? Tom Clancy novels? I don’t know what’s in that bag, but I do know it was a nicely creepy moment, perfectly photographed for spooky, claustrophobic effect, and that the bag’s contents will definitely be revisited.
The scene also puts focus on the recurring idea that Nick may be adapting faster to this harsh new reality and that, free of his heroin addiction, he may be prone to honest-to-god heroics. Nick theorized in Season One that he was going to do all right in this whole end-of-days thing because he’d lived his whole life as if the world would fall apart at any moment. He may very well be proven right. The boy who once pulled his family apart may end up being the man who holds this new one together.
(Also truly remarkable is how well Nick’s styled bedhead survives underwater!)