“Fear the Walking Dead” finished a first season best characterized as an operation that failed, but the patient still lived. Then again, the project’s success was almost a foregone conclusion assuming that even a decent fraction of the audience watching its sire tuned in, with AMC ordering a second season before this six-episode trial run began. On the plus side, the zombie apocalypse offers plenty of opportunity to shed characters and reboot on the fly. But while there were some solid moments in the finale, overall this arduous slog of a start doesn’t portend smooth sailing ahead.
Granted, for Los Angeles residents, the show did offer an extra kick, and even proved helpfully educational. Who knew there was a shortcut all the way to the beach that works even in case of society-crippling zombie apocalypse?
To be fair, Sunday’s slightly elongated finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) did include a few solid sequences, the best being a tension-filled rescue that took place in a corridor as walkers bore down on two of the characters. That said, the mere term “characters” neatly sums up where this series faltered from the get-go, focusing as it did on an extended family that just never got all that interesting.
The finale, moreover, felt a little too on the nose in advancing the emotional journey of Travis (Cliff Curtis), who, after a number of fits and starts, finally found his eye of the tiger. Of course, that followed several instances designed to demonstrate that with the world falling apart no good deed goes unpunished, and weakness is almost a sure-fire way to get someone close to you killed.
The show did add one intriguing personality in the rich businessman Strand (Colman Domingo), who guided the group on its pilgrimage to the Pacific, with a boat lurking just off the coast. He summed up the mentality that Travis appeared to eventually recognize the wisdom of adopting as he made his escape alongside Nick (Frank Dillane), saying of other detainees, “Helping them could hurt us.”
Yet that Styx-like ending – as in “Come sail away with me” – still didn’t offer much of an incentive to continue with this gang, which gradually grew to include some fine actors burdened with questionable back stories, like Daniel (Ruben Blades), s Salvadoran barber who just happened to be a retired torturer.
During a special installment of “The Talking Dead” that followed the episode, Dave Erickson (who co-created the show with “Dead” patriarch Robert Kirkman) said their goal from the outset was to “look at the apocalypse through the filter of a family drama first.” The problem, though, wasn’t the concept so much as the family itself, from pained mom Madison (Kim Dickens) to junkie son Nick, whose resourcefulness never made him particularly good company; to pouty daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). As an aside, even this short season proved awfully tough on mothers, who experienced a rather frightful mortality rate.
AMC has done a topnotch job marketing the show, including tie-ins like the “I’m tired of these zombies on this plane!” stunt. Ultimately, though, “Fear the Walking Dead” has merely reinforced that the reason people actually care about “The Walking Dead” isn’t because of the dead, but the living. And while the series had its moments along the way, as late as episode six, this felt like a show that it might be possible to like, but that only a mother – living or otherwise – could love.