Sunday, October 2, 2016

REVIEW: 'Fear the Walking Dead' - Implosions at the Hotel and La Colonia Lead Everyone to the Border in 'Wrath' & 'North'

AMC's Fear the Walking Dead - Episode 2.14 "Wrath" and 2.15 "North"

Madison struggles with Travis' return. Travis' actions cause turmoil at the Rosarito Beach Hotel.

The second season of Fear the Walking Dead opened with the characters from Los Angeles needing to flea to Mexico in order to find sanctuary. It was either that or death via military bombing. Things weren't any safer for the group in Mexico. It was a move that proved wonderful for the show's look and style. It had a personality this season that was distinct and important to the overall narrative. But there's been a familiarity to the plotting of the season as well. No place the main characters end up is safe for very long. Their sheer presence is enough to bring chaos to these environments. It works for dramatic storytelling. But it has gotten just way too repetitive without focusing on multi-dimensional characters. The season ends with everyone once again running to the border in the hopes of finding new refuge. It's the story of a gringo leading the Mexican people to a better world in America. It's a white savior complex that the show really doesn't understand or know what to do with. But it's also formulaic when the story of the finale once again becomes Madison's need to find her son.

This half season of the show has seen the characters disperse throughout Mexico. It allowed the show to do that terrific episode focusing entirely on Nick's walkabout. But it was also clear that the show was trying to juggle way too much plot. Things never really slowed down enough to add any new dimensions to the characters. It was an arc that largely worked for Nick and Alicia but not anyone else. This is a show of hit or miss plot details - with the majority landing in the miss category. It's great that this finale was two hours because the show had a lot of plot it wanted to get to. But heading into this finale, it was unclear what this season was actually building towards. It was clear that the show had no interest in dropping any singular story or character. Ofelia's journey to America and Chris' decision to leave with his bros are important parts of this finale. They tease a future of dark character twists and a potential for everyone to be reunited in America.

Perhaps the most significant thing that happens in the first hour of the finale is that Chris is killed off. He has always been a frustrating character. He was the most annoying of the teenage characters. That was a quality that never went away. This season struggled with his mood swings. He basically turned into a sociopath who saw this world as an opportunity to do absolutely anything. There were no longer any lines that divided between the good and the bad. That was a mindset that pushed him away from Travis. He is racked with guilt over not protecting his son. Madison tries to justify that action by saying Chris is with the right people right now. Of course, that's not true at all. The audience has seen just how lethal the bros are over any kind of injury. Any mistake can happen that would lead to a bullet in the brain. It was a life Chris was knowingly signing up for when he left Travis behind. It's just surprising to him that it happens much sooner than he anticipated. It's a death that largely happens through Brandon and Derek telling Travis what happened. It's dramatized for the audience based on the story they are telling. They seem genuine. Chris really could have dead. But it's a recounting of something in the past. It's an unreliable narrative trick that could easily be undone if the show wants to. It shouldn't but the door still remains open.

Plus, it appears the season has essentially been building to the same kind of moment with Travis as it did in Season 1. Last season, Travis was reluctant to kill and embrace this new world. He wanted to hold onto hope. He was forced into shooting at the dead in order to survive. And now, he kills in order to avenge his son's death. It's a brutal sequence at the end of "Wrath." It shows that he has changed because of this world. He has now crossed over that line. He has killed humans. They showed no remorse over what they did to Chris. He crashed the truck and was the only one seriously injured. There was nothing he could say that would keep them from killing him. That's a similar headspace Travis is in right now. There's nothing Brandon or Derek could say that would quiet his anger. It's startling that he kills the guys. Madison has to stand behind a door watching. She's pleading with Travis not to cross this line. But now, it's perfectly clear that this family unit is broken. They are the root cause of so many problems wherever they end up.

Part of this finale feels like the show imploding its safe havens for the sole sake of imploding. Travis killing Brandon and Derek - and inadvertently killing someone else from the hotel who just had the keys - violates the rules of the hotel. The rules that Madison established in order to keep the place safe. It sets up a debate over whether Travis should stay or go. If he goes, does he go alone? Or will the rest of the family go with him? It's not surprising that Madison and Alicia stand by him. They even cross the line of killing with him. It's Alicia's idea to run away in exile with Travis. She's the one who stabs the doctor when it's clear the hotel crew don't want the family to leave. Strand helps in their departure as well. But his motivation is so clearly muddled. At one time, he was the most interesting character on the show. And now, he has done nothing for essentially half a season. He got shot and that was about it. He helps Travis, Madison and Alicia leave but he ultimately decides to stay. That could signal that the hotel will continue to be important in the third season. It would need to be if Strand should ever reunite with the rest of the characters. Or this could simply be his end because the audience doesn't know how the hotel crew will react to him helping the family escape.

All of this is slightly interesting because it's the family bonding over their shared experiences. This family unit has been broken for a long time - even before the apocalypse started. Alicia and Madison have gotten closer during their stay at the hotel. But all it takes is the glimmer of hope of finding Nick for Madison to toss all of that aside. And that's clear once again here when after leaving the hotel, all she cares about is finding Nick. She's once again reaching for clues based on details that could mean anything. Of course, she's right because the show needs to start connecting everything together again. It's just silly that the strings are being pulled and trying to force a reconciliation amongst the characters. It's clear everything is building to a big reunion in America. But it's almost laughable when Madison, Travis and Alicia show up at La Colonia after everyone has left and the dead have killed the intruders. They are the ones who kill Alejandro after he points them in the direction of the border to find Nick. It's all just a little too silly. It basically reduces everything down to the search for Nick all over again. That's a story that has been told many times on the show already. Every time Madison shows a hint of growth, it's all quickly undone by this compulsive need to find Nick. She prioritizes him over everyone else which is starting to become really frustrating.

Of course, this was a big season of growth for Nick. La Colonia was his home. Of course, that never made a whole lot of sense given La Colonia's views towards the dead never really connected with the views Nick had. It was simply the place he ended up and decided to stick around because he couldn't be wandering the countryside in every episode. He found love with Luciana. And yet, he was the only one who wanted to take the threat of destruction seriously. It was never clear why the group from the store wanted to invade La Colonia. It was just important that it was happening. Faith was only going to lead this community to its death. Alejandro isn't special like he claims. He's been bitten for real now and is dying. He's not immune like he claimed. It was just a story to give people hope. Luciana believed and is willing to keep up the lie to protect the community. Not a whole lot of this actually makes a whole lot of sense. It's just important that Nick decides not to run away by himself. He initially does that. Luciana won't go with him. So, he leaves out of self-preservation. But once he sees a helicopter across the border, it's a new sign of hope. One that he is hoping can lead to salvation for the entire community. They all get out before the invaders come. Alejandro is able to take them down simply by moving the bus once they are inside La Colonia. But the border isn't any safer for the community. They are attacked by a mysterious new group. So just as Madison has been given renewed hope about Nick, it may all be for naught. It's a circular pattern for the show. One that it may never quite pull out of.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Wrath" was written by Kate Barnow and directed by Stefan Schwartz.
  • "North" was written by Dave Erickson and directed by Andrew Bernstein.
  • Ofelia is on her own walkabout of sorts as well. It's not as captivating as Nick's simply because she's important for two scenes and that's it. You can tell the show isn't heavily invested in her. And yet, she too finds trouble after crossing the border in the form of a mysterious man shooting at her.
  • That was a pretty cool looking car crash sequence. And yet, how is it that Chris has a life-threatening injury while Brandon and Derek - who were sleeping in the bed of the truck - survive with nothing more than a dislocated shoulder?
  • Madison confesses to killing Celia at the Abigail compound as a way to comfort Travis after killing Brandon and Derek. It's a way to show that these two are still capable of working as a couple even though they have changed so much because of the apocalypse.
  • The invaders of La Colonia deserve to die after they collectively decide to shoot their weapons in the air after learning Nick got everyone to leave. How stupid are they? They know that they would have to go through the dead again in order to leave, right? It just shows how they were helpless once the dead invaded.
  • If the folks at the hotel are going to remain important next season, it will more than likely be because they want revenge for the death of two of their people because of Travis and Alicia. It would certainly be understandable for them to feel that way.
  • Which was the more brutal image: Nick killing a walker through the eyes or that impromptu brain surgery?
  • That's it for this season. Overall, it was an improvement on Season 1. But the show still suffers a whole lot due to a lack of character development. It's still so hard to care about a number of things that happen. I guess it's a good thing that everyone will reunite at the border next year. But that's hardly a great tease for what's to come.