TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead Episodes 5-7 (USA, 2016)

After a strong fourth episode, “Blood in the Streets”, Fear the Walking Dead made the smart move of getting us off the open water in order to make a big push for season 2, bringing us to Strand’s promised compound in Mexico to deal with the intricacies of death and, surprisingly, split the group into three with a “big”, inexplicable death to top it all off.

However, the show could never quite meet the excitement it danced with for a second there, dealing with the immediate threat of the “other” boat people much too quickly, bringing nothing away but a stronger resolve to get onto land – there certainly weren’t any lessons in team work taken away from the group, even if it seemed like the most antagonistic adult survivors (Daniel and Strand) were somewhat warming up to the rest.

Once at the Mexican compound, a lush mansion run by a woman named Celia, who is the mother of dead-too-soon Louis, became the setting for inner-bickering and distrust, you know, the usual. Here is where we finally catch up in real with Strand’s lover Thomas Abigail, but instead of capitalising on building up the character in flashbacks, we just meet him while he is sick and dying just so Strand can put him out of his misery with a bullet to the head. Just when it seems Fear the Walking Dead is going somewhere, they take a right turn back towards the middle of the road.

Frustrating characters that don’t know how to communicate with each other is FTWD’s major issue at most times, but it seems the writers see this as a strength. For example, instead of the profoundly annoying Christopher bringing his mind state closer to one that is fit for this changed world, he turns his petulant rage towards Madison, who told Travis that it was his son who wasted their only bargaining chip in a trade-off with the ill-fated boat villains. Christopher doesn’t even care what Travis thinks, but he is angry at Madison nonetheless and is clearly willing to let her die along with Alicia, whom he has up until this point been friendly with. It’s this kind of inconsistent characterisation that fails to maintain any interest in these characters, instead sketching all over the shop.

What’s more is that Christopher’s tantrum only got worse, placing him in the position to actually consider murdering Madison and Alicia in their sleep which he may have done if the noise from Strand shooting Thomas didn’t wake Alicia up. Now with his intentions exposed, Christopher darts off and threatens a random kid with a gun before trying to actually knife his own father. Of course, Travis chooses to stay with Christopher and leave the group. It’s all very messy here, and I’m not sure if I have the patience to watch even a few sequences with just Travis and Christopher on their own, bickering.

Christopher is a complex character as the result of his mother’s dead and feeling like the outsider in a blended family, so many of these decisions can be understandable at times. It was a dark move having him go to the full extreme and attempting to murder Madison and Alicia, but this was much too quick of a departure from his previous characterisation to stick, instead maybe indicating that the team behind FTWD are trying drastically to change too much to soon, because of how mixed the reception has been to this show.

What makes matters worse is you have a very talented actor like Rubén Blades falling to the “well it’s the mid-season finale and we have to kill someone off” obligation of network television shows that have to compete for attention. This resulted in an even more bizarre turn than Christopher’s tantrum, sending Daniel into an inexplicable bout of delusion with a mix of his wife’s death and his childhood lazily flashing in and out to try and explain this development away. The change was rushed; it would have been okay if Daniel had shown more signs of this outburst leading up to the mid-season finale, but again, it seemed the crew just changed things for the sake of changing them, having him burn down the compound from the cellar up. Part of the reason for this is that Celia kept the infected alive, in a way that was much too similar to Hershel in The Walking Dead’s second season to be interesting.

The only part that did work in this whole Celia arc was having Madison coldly lock her in with her own rescued infected in order to protect Nick, who was strangely siding with Celia’s philosophy about the dead. Madison has been more headstrong these past couple of episodes and is a better character for it, actually stepping up to protect her family, even if that means having to make some brutal decisions about strangers.

Still, nothing was enough to pick up the slack that quickly dragged Fear the Walking Dead back down after “Blood in the Streets”. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this group is now split up so that there more individual growth (and locations) – hell, it worked for The Walking Dead in their acclaimed second-half of Season 4.

Nick stays in Mexico, Travis heads off with a damaged Christopher, and the rest head off to Strand’s yacht. This could go either way but things aren’t looking to good for the quality of Fear the Walking Dead. I’m not sure where it is going to go from here when the tail-end of this season picks up in August, but as long as this was a symbolic burning of their past mistakes, then we may be in for some good television. Maybe.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Fear the Walking Dead Season 2 returns in August 2016.

Image Source: AMC