By Nicole Prieto | The Duquesne Duke
Arriving on the heels of its sister series’ finale, “Fear the Walking Dead” keeps the zombie hype-train going as its principal characters seek refuge at sea from an overrun Los Angeles.
At the end of last season, Travis Manawa, his blended family — Maddy, Chris, Alicia and Nick — and the Salazars allied with the mysterious Mr. Strand, finding a temporary safe haven in Strand’s luxurious home by the sea. Now, the families prepare to venture into the unknown on Strand’s yacht as they leave the world burning behind them.
Here is a spoiler-heavy rundown of the good, the OK and the ugly of episode 1, “Monster.”
The writing takes a notch up from the rinse-and-repeat survival stories that “The Walking Dead” faithful are nauseatingly familiar with. Though it lacked the gusto to pull it off last season — perhaps a symptom of needing to introduce a new cast while abbreviating Zombie 101 rules — FTWD’s sophomore opener grounds the audience in the uncertainty and chaos of the apocalypse’s earliest stages.
FTWD thankfully lacks TWD’s over-the-top love of guts and gore. Its most egregious scene in the episode is when Nick makes use of a boat motor to cut into the head of a walker trying to hitch a ride. Maddy reacts appropriately, trying to keep from retching at the sight.
The foreshadowing is also a highlight. About halfway through the episode, Maddy lets Strand know of her suspicion that someone is playing music over the water. This scene parallels the moment when her daughter, Alicia, stumbles across a dissonant love song playing on Strand’s emergency radio; Alicia is captivated by the man disc jockeying, who introduces himself to her as “Jack.”
Alycia Debnam-Carey, well-known for her character’s controversial death in The CW’s “The 100,” takes the limelight once again as Alicia, a teenager who found herself in the middle of the end before she knew it arrived. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with Debnam-Carey’s acting — or the acting of anyone on screen so far, for that matter.
Alicia’s facial expressions and nervous pacing after listening to a litany of depressing radio reports bring home the gravity of their situation. They are not the hardened survivors of TWD, who seem impervious against insurmountable odds. They are normal people confronted with the realistic threats of pirates, lack of food and an unknown, (un)dead body count at sea. Alicia’s voice wavers from suspicious to hopeful, making viewers wish Jack was not the disarming threat he unsurprisingly turns out to be.
FTWD has capable talent. The show just needs to make sure the writing can keep up. In this respect, it is toeing the line. Doom seems to beset the group’s yacht because Alicia reveals too much information about them to Jack. This is a fairly so-so plot point — that of course it would be the teenage girl’s fault that everyone’s lives are now at risk.
Still, at least letting your guard down to a kind stranger on the airwaves is not too circumstantially unrealistic. There can only be so many ways to keep boredom at bay when the world is ending, right?
Conversely, among the characters, maybe the oddest standout is Chris, an angry teenager in mourning over his mother, who Travis mercifully shot in the season 1 finale after she was bit. In the opening, Chris’ stubbornness in not leaving her body behind nearly gets him, Travis and Maddy swarmed by walkers. While on the yacht, he again refuses to leave her side until he unceremoniously shoves it off the edge of the vessel during the funeral they hold for her.
For some reason, Chris later jumps into the water, apparently because he “wanted to swim.” Chris’ bizarre stunt results in the unwanted attention of some waterlogged walkers. Given the circumstances, Chris’ characterization and anger are justified, but it is hard to keep pace with the logic of his decision-making here. It appears that the only reason he did this was to let the episode segue into revealing a recently gunned down boat. FTWD will have to take care in avoiding bizarre shortcuts just for the sake of moving the story along.
Faced with an imminent threat by the end of the episode, the group is left to scramble its scarce resources together and hope it can outpace the people who now have Strand’s yacht in their sights. With a lack of hammed writing and a promising cast at its disposal, FTWD continues its compelling takes on the modern world coming to a violent end.