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Sweatpants & TV | Fear The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 8: Grotesque

By Matt Berry

Fear & Loathing in Tijuana

In this week’s mid-season return, Nick stars in the weirdest episode of Girls you’ve ever seen as he sets off on an emotionally charged existential journey across the Mexican wilderness to the strains of Indie Folk-Rock. It’s all the Millennial angst and urine guzzling you can handle in…

The Wanderer

Fear the Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 8: Grotesque

The first thing you’ll probably want to know about old Nick Clark is how his crumby mom let him down by dragging him through this whole zombiepocalypse thing with her asshole boyfriend in tow; how his lousy dead dad abandoned him by, like, dying and all, how his goddamn surrogate stepdad ran the hell off with Nick’s surrogate psycho little brother, and all that other typical David Copperfield crap. The only thing you really need to know, though, if you’re the type who just has to have a back story, is that the former junkie (apparently driven to drugs by a father who preferred watching TV to hearing Nick whine about his undefined life) has found more comfort walking among the dead than running from them. He has, though, found that while spending time amongst humanity leaves you a spiritually drained husk of restless discontent, hanging out with Mexican Road Zombies can leave you a dog-gnarled, bullet-riddled mess with a severe identity crisis.

Nick Walker

After having split from his family in the mid-season finale (disagreeing with their view of the world and of Nick’s role in it), Nick finds himself roaming deserts and jungles, enjoying the freedom of his newfound man-alone status but soon discovering that life on your own at the end of the world is not the romantic endeavor it may have seemed at the time you told your mom to go to hell and struck out on your own. He’s basically an eight-year-old who ran away from home in a huff, then realized a half-hour later he left all the ingredients for a PB&J back at the house. Only in Nick’s case, there’s no house to go back to.

His long day’s journey into missing his mommy included wandering aimlessly while really needing some water, losing his backpack when he’s baseball batted out of the house he was squatting in while desperately needing some water, and drinking a little bit of water before encountering a gang of zombie hunting jerks in a jeep who, while not doing anything more larcenous than shooting walkers for sport, still seem like they’d be some measure of awful bastards if you took any time to get to know them. Also he gets attacked by a particularly bitey dog, drinks some of his own urine, and throws up some cactus. Basically, your average weekend hanging out with Jim Morrison.

El Diablo

We also get glimpses this episode into Nick’s pre-dystopia life (a’ la more Lost-like whooshy flashbacks) where we learn hilarious Nick-centric factoids (Nick-toids, if you will) like Nick is such a chick magnet that even in the throes of Heroin withdrawal, he’s making moves and scoring a girlfriend. None of these scenes are particularly enlightening or add a great deal of development to the lad’s character, but they add dialogue to the episode, which some viewers are fond of.

Back in the present, where a bitten and broken Nick is running out of life force and walking with the walkers (in a scene that nicely parallels Miccone’s similarly suicidal stroll in WD season five), he encounters the same corpse-hunting yahoos and, instead of running from the horde they happen to be shooting into, he does some serious Gus Fring walking into the bullets Terminator shit. When this move fails to put him out of his misery in a blaze of Bon Jovian glory, he gives up in the most profound way he can: he simply lies down in the road to die or be killed. After a well-timed rain awakens him from total surrender, he limps his way into an abandoned (house? Church? Barber shop? I forget) where he is confronted by another group, led by a mysteriously intense woman, who take him back to their (compound? Village? Whoville? I couldn’t tell) where he is seen by a doctor and given free reign to explore the premises. Not a lot about this episode gives us too much inkling as to where the rest of the season is going, but two things are certain: a Walking Dead main character just arrived in a zombie-proof community, which means that community is now irrevocably doomed…and if and when Maddie shows up, Nick’s new mother figure / spiritual guru is toast.

Why Don't We Do It in the Road

The Best Bits…

Lady Madonna

The show’s producers are making the most of their south-of-the-border locale not only by incorporating the wealth of scenic backdrops the country has to offer (more on that in a moment), but also by playing very effectively on various Latin American cultures’ traditions of Madonna fetishizing, going heavy on the Catholic iconography, and ceremonial Day of the Dead-isms. What this all amounts to is that Nick, looking for a new religion and a new mother figure, definitely came to the right place.

Nick's Tribe

This, too, is one of the ways in which the Fear producers have been successful in distinguishing their series from their progenitor. Where the parent show dwells in a believably woodsy South / East Coast populated with deep fried charmers and dirt covered scumbags, Fear’s revolving cast of humble desert dwellers, prowling banditos, and zombie sympathizer religious fanatics has given it a flave all its own and is certainly more responsible for defining the show than its still-mostly-bland stable of main characters.

And speaking of Mexico…

The Sights & the Sounds

The Scenery

This episode was the best-produced installment to date. Even though other episodes have featured greater set pieces and more impressive action sequences, “Grotesque” was beautifully photographed and choreographed. The music choices were the perfect score to Nick’s savage yet strangely hopeful coming-of-age wander, and the cinematography made the most impressive use yet of the show’s Baja filming locations. The quasi-mystical landscape that surrounds and envelops Nick as he makes his way through this weary world is so perfectly captured by Fear’s technical crew that it  blankets the episode in a nicely hazy hallucination.

Frankie Says Relax

It takes a lot to pull off one of these single character, first person psychodramas, and Frank Dillane does not disappoint. I have always been engaged by his portrayal of Nick (his oddly funny stumble through the world, his “no big whoop” attitude towards the apocalypse, his casual, off-handed crisis management), but in Grotesque he had the opportunity to show a deeper reservoir of character and did an admirable job of holding the show’s center for the entire hour. And with barely a word of dialogue to speak!

For an actor who typically finds himself playing the calm center of countless raging storms, Dillane’s bookend emoting of the joys of freedom and the quiet crumble of surrender and despair were truly palpable and remarkably different from the emotions he is typically asked to play.

My Name is Paul & This is between Y’all

Paul Calderon as Alejandro - Fear The Walking Dead _ Season 2, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Richard Foreman Jr/AMC

Paul Calderon as Alejandro – Fear The Walking Dead – Season 2, Episode 8 – Photo Credit: Richard Foreman Jr/AMC

I’m excited for the addition of character actor Paul Caldéron to the cast (as the doctor who treats Nick toward the episode’s end). He’s one of those “that guy” actors who’s been bringing a cool, steely presence to parts both big and small since the 80’s but is probably best known for his less remarkable but still cool as hell role as bartender English Bob in Pulp Fiction (he was QT’s second choice to play Jules, but c’mon). I’m interested to see if his appearance evolves into a bigger character and am intrigued by what he may do with more screen time.

The Grossness, the Grossness!

It’s funny how quickly you get used to blood, guts, and the general gore of the worlds of the Walking Dead, so it’s some feat when a scene actually manages to squick you out. Enter Nick drinking his own piss. And dog death by zombies. And Nick eating what’s left of said dog. Yeah.

One more week till more Ofelia

Okay, so the whole Nick-centric thing was entertaining, well-done, and just the classiest and all, but next week will include at least one scene with Ofelia…right, producers? …Right?

One More Week

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