Sunday, May 22, 2016

REVIEW: 'Fear the Walking Dead' - Nick Makes a Decision Between Celia and His Family in 'Shiva'

AMC's Fear the Walking Dead - Episode 2.07 "Shiva"

Our family faces their greatest test yet. Nick, Travis, Madison and others go to great lengths to keep each other close.

In this half season of Fear the Walking Dead, the show wanted to approach the zombie apocalypse in a different way than it did in its first year and the way its parent show The Walking Dead has for six. These seven episodes have largely been experimental. It's still not abundantly clear if the show has a fresh perspective on the end of the world. But it has been somewhat enjoyable to see the series try to explore different story avenues and belief systems in this harsh and violent new world. Not a whole lot has actually worked. Strand and Nick have had some pretty consistent character arcs but the rest of the ensemble has been a mess. It's all been building to this violent and lethal confrontation at the Abigail compound. Not a whole lot of it actually makes sense and is informed by plot twists instead of earned character moments. So it still doesn't feel like the show has much of a point for existing - which is such a huge problem after producing 13 episodes.

At the end of the first season, the characters were all united together as they faced the uncertain nature of the sea away from the harsh realities of land. These episodes have shown that the water has been just as dangerous. But they were also adrift without a destination to travel towards. The show found purpose when it revealed more about Strand's backstory. It gave the season an urgency and meaning. He was traveling towards Mexico in order to reunite with his lover Thomas Abigail. He needed to make sure that he was okay. The rest of the family aboard the Abigail were along for the journey in the hopes of finding a place where they could continue to live as normally as possibly. Madison and Travis were still holding onto hope that the world has not ended. It has just changed. That doesn't mean they can't continue to be a happy and healthy family. These last few episodes have broken down that image though. It has put some massive divides in the family. They have mostly come out of plot necessity. That happens because Madison and Travis are such bland and boring leads.

The crew landed on the Abigail compound in Mexico last week. It was in that hour when the show got such a unique and meaningful perspective in Celia. She was the mother who raised both Thomas and Luis. And now, both of her sons are dead because of this apocalypse. But she doesn't view the world as the monstrosity everyone else believes. She sees it as a natural evolution of the human condition. It's not the world course correcting itself. To her, it's just the lines becoming increasingly blurred between the living and the dead. Now, the dead walk amongst us like the living. It means that death is no longer a finite end. Loved ones can return. They are changed but that doesn't make them any less loved. It's a compelling and unique view of the world. It's different than anything The Walking Dead has presented about this apocalypse. Celia holding the infected in a cellar has echoes of the Hershel's farm arc in the early days of the parent show. But back then, he held them believing that a cure was imminent. He didn't want to say goodbye to his loved ones. Here, Celia embraces a world where she never has to. Luis has been returned to her and she still loves him even though he is no longer the same human he was before.

And yet, the show is rushing through so much of this arc. It has been confined to the final two episodes of this half season. That's not enough to properly explore the nuances of this situation. The main group is only in this safe haven for two episodes. It's not long until they start to question its safety. And then, they just destroy any chance of being happy here because they can't understand the way that Celia views the world. It has the markings of an interesting storyline. But so much of it doesn't work because the show rushes through it. The creative team was probably worried about fans being bored by it over a long period of time just like they were during the time at Hershel's farm on the parent series. And yet, that arc was aimless without suggesting much purpose. Here, the story is forcing many different changes with a number of characters. They all come to some pretty big moments at the end of this midseason finale. But so many of them don't land especially well because the show didn't take the time to properly explore what this place and Celia actually meant to them. It just ran through an explanation in order to create chaos. But that only works if the characters are interesting - which they simply are not right now.

Most of this unfortunately falls down on Nick. He's the only one who understands Celia's view of the world. The rest of the group see the infected as monsters who threaten their desire to survive. But Nick has become unsettled by all of the death that defines this world. Celia speaks to him with answers about this existence. That's more than anyone in his family can do. They all struggle to connect with him. That was happening long before the apocalypse started. He's more than capable of handling life on his own. And yet, his family still worry about him. They can't begin to understand his actions. He views himself as invincible now. He has discovered a way to walk amongst the dead without them trying to hurt him. That has led to him making countless and potentially dangerous missions outside in the world. It's amusing to see him covered in walker guts frequently considering that trick is scarcely used on the original series. He does it as a way to connect with the world. He feels more comfortable walking amongst the dead than the living. But that doesn't make his final decision to abandon his family altogether after they destroy the compound any easier to understand. He doesn't know what has happened. He just decides to view them as the real monsters of this world. He doesn't stick around for answers. He doesn't want them. But it's such a rushed and unearned moment that happens solely to divide the family going into the hiatus.

Family units breaking down has been a rich theme of this season. The apocalypse has forced these people to decide just how big and important their families should be. Madison and Travis have noble goals to blend their families together. But at the end of the day, she will always protect Nick and Alicia first and he'll do the same for Chris. That's difficult to enjoy however because Chris has become such a monster over the past few episodes. Seriously, he has become a full-on sociopath. It's not appealing in the slightest. It's understandable that he would have a harsh reaction to his mother dying. And yet, the show hasn't earned this twist of him wanting to kill the other members of his family. Nor has it earned him holding a child hostage to keep his father from finding him. It's such an awful story that seems to have no purpose whatsoever. Again, it happens solely for the family to be separated from one another heading into the next batch of episodes. Strand, Madison, Alicia and Ofelia are fleeing the compound by truck while Travis, Chris and Nick are all in the countryside trying to rediscover themselves. But that divide just isn't a story point filled with urgency or meaning because of the lack of any genuine character development.

And finally, Daniel's big story forces this divide to occur. He was one of the more interesting and intriguing characters last season. That continued this season even though he largely existed to fulfill plot points. And yet, his character arc has been defined over the last couple of weeks with him seemingly going crazy a little bit. It's something that has been very minor. He hears voices and is haunted by the memories of his past. But that has been important for a few seconds in two or three episodes and that's it. But here, he goes into a full-on manic and crazed state. He gets confined by Celia for hurting her people. It's there where he sees the ghost of his wife telling him he needs to confess and accept his sins of the past. It's honestly not that great of a sequence. It's only purpose is building to the moment where he lights the cellar on fire which forces the whole compound to explode. It has no rationalization whatsoever. He doesn't do it to spite Celia and destroy this wicked community she has built for herself. No, he's doing it solely to be reunited with his wife. It makes no sense at all considering how much value he placed on family earlier in the season. He has no idea where Ofelia is when he lights that match. Nor if Madison or Strand would care for her in his absence. The show just kills him off because it feels the need to have a death in the finale. But it picks a character who was actually interesting. His death is completely contrived and will severely hinder any legacy he may have had. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Shiva" was written by David Wiener and directed by Andrew Bernstein.
  • Nick's final choice is even more confusing because of how willing he is to fight for his family earlier in the episode. He convinces Celia to let them stay in the compound because he returns Luis to her. And then, he just decides to label them as monsters for something they had no part in? That's a weak rationalization.
  • It's meaningful that Madison is willing to kill in order to protect her family. She locks Celia into the cellar for the infected to feast on her. That's a dark moment that doesn't play as well because of the blandness at the center of Madison's character arc.
  • Chris holds a child at gunpoint. And yet, the show still thinks he is redeemable? This arc should only be building to his brutal death. But that doesn't seem like it will happen because of how much significance he allegedly has for Travis.
  • Ofelia is such a non-existent character. She really hasn't done anything this season - or the entire series for a matter of fact. Her mother's death really didn't affect her at all. Will her father's mean anything?
  • It will be exciting to have the group back on the boat for the next few episodes. But they aren't going to travel very far considering Travis, Chris and Nick have been left behind.
  • Celia saw who Daniel was in the depths of his soul right away. And yet, he still refused to confess to her because she's just as much a monster as he is. His escape from his confines was a little too laughable though.
  • Well, that's it for the show until August where it will run for another 8 episodes. The characters will be scattered for the first time in the series. That has frequently produced interesting, character-based episodes on the parent show. Hopefully, it will mean something for this show as well.