Sunday, April 24, 2016

REVIEW: 'Fear the Walking Dead' - A Supply Run Unsurprisingly Goes Terribly Awry in 'Ouroboros'

AMC's Fear the Walking Dead - Episode 2.03 "Ouroboros"

Madison confronts Strand about his mysterious destination. Nick, Alicia, Chris and Daniel inspect wreckage from a plane crash.

Fear the Walking Dead needs forward momentum right now. It needs to have a destination it is building towards. The escape to sea by the group from Los Angeles has allowed the show to do many different and distinct stylistic things this season. These episodes have paired the beautiful imagery of the sea with the viciousness of this apocalypse. That has been a fresh perspective on this deadly outbreak. And yet, the group has largely been adrift at sea wandering around not sure where to go or what to do. It has been problematic in these opening episodes. Last week, the group returned to land again for a standalone hour interacting with a survivalist family. It didn't fix the momentum problem but it also replaced the wandering with some provocative ideas - even if the execution didn't always work. Additionally, the reveal of Strand's secret plan in Mexico added some nice and compelling mystery and intrigue to the proceedings. It gave urgency to the narrative in a time when it desperately needed it. However, "Ouroboros" wastes all of that creative momentum and delivers an episode that is truly dreadful from start to finish.

The show goes really heavy on its themes and symbolism throughout this episode. It would be easy to crack a joke that the narrative stalls just like the Abigail does for the majority of this hour. Seriously, last week's episode established a time frame for Strand to get to his mysterious destination. And here, the ship just stops and it's not important whatsoever. The show thinks it can continue to just feature Strand being cryptic and mysterious and be done with character development. It's not working and it's really starting to bog down a compelling character. Once again, it's the show introducing some practical concerns to anyone who plans on fleeing to the sea once the zombie apocalypse starts. The engine gets clogged with a ton of infected body parts. It's some truly nasty stuff that Travis has to deal with. But again, the threat from having to go into the water to handle this problem isn't nearly as tense as it should be. It's been established that the water isn't safe at all. It should be dangerous for Travis to go underwater at night. Instead, it's a sequence almost completely void of tension or compelling character stakes.

So, the Abigail is not going anywhere at the moment. That could afford the show the chance to slow things down and just have its character talk with each other in meaningful and inquisitive ways. Instead, the show presents a new opportunity on land for a small group to deal with. It's a story that is so horrendous to watch because it's the three teenagers going off to do stupid things for an hour. It's epically bad. Every stupid decision they could make, they do. And for what? It's the characters doing stupid things in order to create tension and suspense. But it instead plays as idiotic youngsters doing naive things in a changed and violent world. It's a mission with purpose. Alicia notices the wreckage of a plane nearby where a ton of suitcases could provide valuable supplies. It's the show's first real supply run. It's not surprising at all that it doesn't go according to plan. And yet, it fails because of the lack of interesting character dynamics and a failure in understanding why any of these characters do what they do in this situation.

Daniel goes out with the teenagers in order to serve as a parental figure. But the story quickly breaks off to Chris completely disregarding Daniel's rule of staying close for the idiotic reason of just being a teenage rebel right now. It continues the trend of Chris being the absolute worst and most annoying character on the show. And yet, it's suppose to be meaningful that he runs into a survivor of the crash who needs to be put out of his misery. The parallel to what Travis did to Liza last season should be overwhelming throughout this sequence. But it's not at all. That's because it's so hard to care about anything that Chris does. He's a moody teenager and that's it. He kills another human being here and it's essentially meaningless. He stares off into space for a little bit but that's about it. He isn't given the time to process what has happened because more infected need to show up on the beach to raise the stakes for the final act of the story. It's just predictable and formulaic plotting without a real sense of purpose in the character's actions or emotions.

Plus, it's so overbearing to watch the show continue to draw a line between life in the zombie apocalypse to the existence Nick was living as a drug addict. Strand rescued him in the first place because his skills as an addict could come in handy on this mission at sea. But that motivation really hasn't been all that meaningful. It showcases that Nick can become unattached to the world around him. He doesn't need any luxuries in order to survive in this harsh and ever-changing world. And yet, the show is choosing to dramatize that internal conflict by showing Nick coming face-to-face with the dead and then having him actually become it. He stupidly falls down a minor cliff to a trapped infected and has to use his newly discovered knife in order to survive. It shows that he has the strength to survive in this environment. But it also covers him in the blood and guts of the infected - which as everyone knows makes the human undetectable for a little bit. So now, Nick actually gets to pretend he's a part of the dead for a moment. And yet, he follows that up by truly connecting with the living - first by hugging Alicia and then offering a rosary to Ofelia. His character arc is just so weird. So, it keeps any moment from truly landing in a consistent way.

Ultimately though, "Ouroboros" serves as the bridge between the Flight 462 web series and the companion show. This is the hour that reveals who from the doomed flight survived and would live on with the rest of the main characters. But for someone who didn't bother to watch the web series, it's hard to care about anything that this new character, Alex, represents. She is going to be important because Michelle Ang is listed as a series regular in the opening credits. But that's not immediately apparent in this debut episode. She literally brings the danger to the beach for everyone else to deal with. It's important that she's keeping her fellow survivor Jake alive despite his serious injuries. But again, the purpose of it is too opaque to really work. She's just the latest insistance of Strand refusing to allow anyone else aboard the Abigail. That scene where everyone is reunited on the ship is meaningful in that it shows Strand, Madison and Travis all united for once. But it quickly diverges into the group being horrible to this new survivor in a time where humanity is the greatest enemy in the world for survival. Madison and Travis negotiate for giving Alex and Jake some supplies and a tow to the next port. But Strand ruthlessly cuts the line connecting the two ships. It's an action that continues to push Strand into dark and mysterious territory. But it's still an action without purpose in a time where the show needs to find a unique perspective on the state of its world.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ouroboros" was written by Alan Page and directed by Stefan Schwartz.
  • So was anyone on the supply run successful in finding medicine to treat Ofelia's wound? It was such a big deal for Daniel and Nick. But then, it's completely cast aside once the danger shows up. Apparently, it's more important for Ofelia to have a rosary than medicine.
  • Daniel is a very skilled marksman with that gun. And yet, it was weird that he was choosing to stand his ground so far away from where he and the kids were suppose to meet up. It largely served as a warning to the people on the Abigail that something has gone wrong on land.
  • How long have Alex and Jake been at sea? They've been floating in that raft picking off other survivors who threatened their survival. But they still end up back at the crash site of the plane they came from. It's just weird logistics.
  • Everyone is still getting used to how to fight the infected when they threaten their livelihood. But that action sequence on that beach was awkwardly staged. Everyone was in peril until Nick showed up. He was then magically able to carve a pathway immediately to the boat.
  • Even though Nick and Chris have both done mercy killings, it still seems very unlikely that their relationship will mend anytime soon. 
  • Alex tells Jake as they drift behind the Abigail in their raft once more that this is the worst it can get and every day moving forward will be better. But that's just to show the true monstrosity of the later moment of Strand cutting the rope off.
  • These opening episodes of the season really haven't been good showcase hours for Madison or Travis. They haven't really been the active characters of the story. Instead, they largely just stand around and talk about the morals of this new world which causes some tension in their relationship - though not enough to actually care about them as a couple.