NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” are present in this review
The first season of spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead definitely felt like a rough draft in many respects. While the idea of a slow burn-style family drama set amidst the initial collapse of society in AMC’s The Walking Dead universe was sound, the series was routinely dragged down by idiotic story turns, a surprisingly poor sense of time and pacing, and an alternate group of survivors that are just nowhere near as appealing as those in the main series. After six episodes of this newer series trying to gain a foothold last year, an extended Season Two has now begun in 2016, after the conclusion of Season Six of The Walking Dead in this timeslot last week, and that leaves those who have stuck by this alternate show to see if Fear the Walking Dead has improved since it started airing in 2015.
It hasn’t. Unfortunately, this second season premiere for Fear the Walking Dead continues to display the same problems that this spin-off show has been suffering from since day one. It’s still got a bizarre sense of time, it’s still got too many forced, stupid story turns, and it’s still got a new band of survivors that just aren’t as appealing as those on the main series. There are at least inklings of better storylines teased for later, namely an inspired new setting to kick off the season with, one that would never be possible on the main series, but Fear the Walking Dead unfortunately still isn’t doing enough to justify its existence.
The premiere episode for Season Two, “Monster”, at least kicks off on a pretty cool note, as we see the Clark, Manawa and Salazar families (minus Griselda and plus Liza’s corpse, after they both perished during Season One) rushing as fast as they can to make multiple trips on a scout craft to Strand’s yacht, Abigail. As they flee the coast, a rush of carpet bombing flames goes up behind them, cementing that the home they knew is gone forever. It makes for a cool visual, though it’s a bit odd that Los Angeles is already being bombed to hell in just a couple of days after the events of Season One. Really? They gave up on the city that quickly?
Regardless, as Strand takes everyone into open waters, we have the episode, and the foreseeable future of the season, unfold on the open ocean. This is a neat idea that helps to separate Fear the Walking Dead from the main series, and it does lend itself to some fairly interesting story developments, since Strand’s group aren’t the only ones who had the bright idea of fleeing the apocalypse by hitting the Pacific Ocean. It’s too bad that these ideas are so far being dragged down by the fact that these survivors are green as grass. Even beyond that, they’re downright moronic at times, and I’ll get to that issue in a bit.
So, with no clear destination in mind, what do we have to found the season premiere of Fear the Walking Dead with? More family drama. If you were already sick of the inane bickering between these personalities in Season One, sadly, they are doing more inane bickering with the start of Season Two. There’s things set up for later in the season, such as a potential romance between Nick and Ofelia, and a gradually straining relationship between Madison and Travis, along with Chris bonding with Daniel after feeling anger towards Travis for having to put down Liza in the Season One finale, but most of it is buried under a whole lot of filler. Many of the episode’s scenes involve either everyone wondering what their next move is, or Strand asserting that the yacht is his, and he’s in charge. We’re not one episode into the second season of Fear the Walking Dead, and this already feels like a filler episode. That’s not good.
Fortunately, there are a handful of good scenes that elevate the episode above being easily forgettable, such as Madison having to come to terms with abandoning a big boat full of survivors, after Strand refuses to take on any more people, for example. If you were annoyed at Travis being a wuss throughout Season One, he’s at least toughened up a bit here, since he sides with Strand, and asserts to Madison that they need to look out for their own families, and not worry about anyone else. It’s a bit of an abrupt character turn, but considering Travis’ highly annoying personality in Season One, it’s still easy to consider this an improvement.
There’s even a pretty good idea for Alicia in this episode, as she feels lonely, having lost her boyfriend, and starts playing with the radio to listen to other survivors dying, and the Coast Guard ultimately saying that they can’t help anyone. Eventually, she comes across the voice of what sounds like an attractive young man, and starts talking to him. This is a great idea, especially when it’s easy to speculate that Alicia could be inadvertently inviting danger to the yacht’s doorstep, which the show implies before long. Somewhat ruining this great idea however is the fact that Alicia blabs her location on a whim when she thinks that the guy is ‘in trouble’, and starts giving personal details that she should be smart enough not to do, even without the nagging issue of the end of the world. Yet again, Fear the Walking Dead is pushing a storyline not from a natural development, but from a character doing something stupid and illogical, when they’re supposed to be intelligent.
The scene of giving Liza a burial at sea is pretty good itself, though it ends up unfurling into two very forced scenes with Chris. First, Chris angrily dumps his mother’s corpse in the ocean, then goes as far as to actively hit his father for shooting her, which might have been a decent moment of drama, had it not been clearly established already that there is no saving a bitten person. Sure, Chris is a teenager, and he’s inevitably grieving, but I’m not sure what else he would have his father do in this situation, and that makes him come off as a spoiled brat. This also leads into a very odd scene of Chris diving into the water suddenly, as if he’s going to kill himself, then having Nick dive after him, then they decide that they’re fine, then they run into Walkers, then they see an overturned boat surrounded by Walkers, then they swim into it anyway, then they don’t find anybody, even though Strand didn’t want anybody else, and… Huh? What’s even going on here?! This was just a bizarre, inexplicable sequence of events that didn’t need to be there, and were clearly only put there because the writers seemed to run out of ideas for this episode, even if it did provide a decent excuse for some waterborne Walkers to show up.
“Monster” is watchable, and it’s got a decent share of appealing moments, especially with Daniel and Strand still being the two characters talking sense, and acting sensibly on a consistent basis, but Fear the Walking Dead is still just not good enough to measure up to the pedigree of the main series. Perhaps the show will start measuring up later in the season, since the setting and some of the teased ideas are at least good, but for now, it sadly doesn’t feel like this spin-off has gained any momentum between its first and second seasons. It’s still slow, melodramatic and mostly uninteresting in contrast to the main series, and while the idea of putting these alternate survivors on a yacht is creative, the yacht setting by itself isn’t enough to carry a worthwhile season kick-off, if the story ideas can’t keep pace. So far, they’re not doing a great job.