This week, Fear the Walking Dead just goes ahead and turns right the hell into LOST season two with a Sawyer flashback, a spooky trek from a beach to a secret compound, and a good old-fashioned hoods-over-heads kidnapping at sea. All this and more mystery than you can shake a Mr. Eko Jesus-Stick at happens on…
LOST, Season 2, Episode 4 – “Live Together, Die a Zombie”
Fear the Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 4 – “Blood in the Streets”
The mysterious Jack and his friend (that guy from that boy band, you know, Charlie from Drive Shaft?), along with that pregnant chick Claire, show up on Not-Penny’s boat (AKA the Abigail) to terrorize our castaways for a bit.
While Nick runs an errand for Strand – fetching an old friend and a sweet ride – three Others show up in a zodiac and board the Abigail uninvited (but unchallenged). Because Ofelia and Chris don’t shoot their pirate asses on sight, and because Maddie rushes to the pregnant one’s aid, of course they turn out to be liars, hostage taking ruffians, and generally smart-mouthed hooligans. They end up holding our merry band of Walkies at weapon-point until their mysterious leader Jacob – I mean Conner – arrives. Strand, who gets his very own backstory this week (lousy rich guys, they really do get everything), runs when he realizes that impish prankster Salazar has hidden the ammo to his AK-47 (I’ll be honest, I call all machine guns AK-47’s. I have no idea if there are other types). Once in the water, his raft is shot out from under him, and like Ralph Malph, Rerun from What’s Happening!!, and Alf before him, Strand’s loss of consciousness whisks him away into a ‘This is Your Life’ flashback.
The hostages, meanwhile, do their best to gain the upper hand on their captors. Madison and Alicia work a psychological angle against one Other each, and the boys stall for time, waiting for an opportunity to physically overtake the pirates. Unfortunately such an opportunity never presents itself, and despite their best efforts, Conner still shows up and speeds off with Travis and Alicia, leaving mean old Drive Shaft to dispose of the less popular cast members. Lucky for them, Nick returns from his errand with the motherfuckin’ Cavalry in tow to turn the tables and save what’s left of our spunky yacht crew.
By putting the characters in a relentlessly tense spot and giving us the series’ first real villains, this episode was the best of the show so far. The tension is palpable from start to finish, and each story crackles with its own energy.
Fear, unlike its parent series, actually does remind me of LOST in its more determined blend of standalone stories and mythology, its willingness to present unsettling character studies (like the one about the Doomsday Family), while also offering more compressed action pieces like this one and last week’s Mystery Island plane crash episode, and in its offhanded evocation of a larger story taking place just out of reach of our characters but whose details are forever lingering and interfering with their journey. I like, too, how all of this manages to distinguish FTWD stylistically from its ubiquitous progenitor.
Speaking of the show finding its own identity, “Blood in the Streets'” theme of masks and disguises addresses the question of who each character – as opposed to who they used to be in the real world (before they were sucked right out of the sky by a purple electromagnetic beam) – is now willing to become. Some are finding their way to the necessary depths of toughness it’s going to take for them to keep forging on, while others are struggling to accept their inevitable fate. As we learned recently though from The Walking Dead, everyone – no matter how well-intentioned and pure of heart, mind, and soul, – eventually becomes a killer in this world. One way or another.
The Strand flashback/origin story that ran alongside the main plot was an interesting change of pace. Neither WD series has ever featured such an extensive glimpse at a character pre-apocalypse, so it was an interesting narrative choice even if it did somewhat distract from the tight A story (I thought Nick’s standalone adventure was enough B story to break up the dramatic beats of the happenings onboard the Abigail).
The reveal that Strand’s boat and connections are courtesy of a man he once conned but ultimately became entangled with romantically adds an unexpected dimension to his character. Notwithstanding the social and cultural repercussions of introducing his sexual orientation to the viewing audience (after having established him as a cagey and complex but slippery, sinister son of a bitch nonetheless), as a character beat, it works to both humanize and heighten him. What’s just as interesting is that he’s a con man and a thief (and is looking for the bastard who ruined his daddy’s life and led his daddy to kill Strand’s mom and then himself).
Though this flashback, for my money, didn’t dovetail as easily as it could have, I do appreciate the decision to do something different with his character reveal as well as the use throughout the season of the producers’ daring narrative choices. I hope they get a little LOST in other characters’ pasts at some point as well.
Little ditty ‘bout Jack & Alicia
Alicia, realizing that one of their uninvited boat-guests is that Catfisher Jack with whom she shared her brief long distance relationship as well as all her family’s secrets, takes it on as her responsibility to save the family from the marauders. She uses her connection with Jack to get close to him which will, hopefully, lead to escape for Travis and herself. Her recognition of that option and her willingness to go there in the name of survival, is indicative of her sharing Maddie’s instinct for self and kin preservation. Wait, maybe that’s a Woman Thing.
Nick’s Wild Ride
Nick continues to be my favorite character despite the fact that at least two showers have done nothing to de-grease his terrible, terrible, oh so terrible hair. There’s a funny swagger to Nick as he stumbles through this smoldering world; coming off California ditzy and stoner detached, yet still like the cleverest guy in the compound.
I love that any scene with Nick, until a Walker actually shows up, could either be happening in the zombiepocalypse or in a flashback on some random Saturday night when Nick was a junkie. I’m guessing this wasn’t the first time he washed ashore naked on some seedy beach near a burning hobo camp.
Chris and Ofelia
Chris and Ofelia’s scene together was a nice surprise. Having both lost loved ones and been left harboring ill feelings toward their surviving parent, they have an easy and obvious bond, and their cute, borderline flirtatious (mostly on his wishful part) exchange reminded me, in a way, of Wes Anderson’s sweet-natured Rushmore in its portrait of two people each moving toward their own dark corner of anger and distrust, even as they reach out to one another for pleasant banter and heartfelt connection.
And, like most Wes Anderson movies, their precious moment is interrupted by a millennial pirate attack. Who is Conner and why does he want Travis and Alicia?
Admittedly, new big bad Connor doesn’t make the same kind of first impression as, say, Negan, but we also didn’t have to wait a hundred episodes to see him. What we know about him so far is that he trains his followers to say his name – a lot – and that his managerial style is “delegator”. He also runs a hell of a well-organized seize-and-kidnap operation.
The devotion of Connor’s followers and the ease with which they divide and conquer means it will be a formidable challenge for Maddie and Fam to invade their hideout and rescue their loved ones, but Maddie’s group is becoming a rather formidable threat of their own, at least against the undead. It will be interesting to see how they fare on a real live mission against some real bad guys.
Whether Connor becomes a full-fledged ongoing arch nemesis or ends up a flash in the rogues’ gallery pan remains to be seen. But we can see that, like most villains in the Walking Dead universe, he is ruthless and cruelly wise enough to know that you control who you need and you kill who you don’t, and that doesn’t bode well for our season two cast making it to the finale in happy tact. Going into the season, I wouldn’t have cared much who ended up getting the Lucille end of Connor’s searching bat, but the season has been increasingly engaging in its blend of action and storytelling, and the characters have grown more endearing each episode. Now I have favorites and don’t want to have to worry each week about who the Smoke Monster’s gonna show up and smite next, but goddammit if that fear doesn’t make me love the show even more.