[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF “FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.”] “Fear the Walking Dead” has done something interesting. It’s taken two truly reprehensible characters, and made them the most attractive among an ensemble of protagonists in a survival-horror story.
I’m talking about Victor Strand and the young, troubled, drug-addicted Nick, who I’ve been reluctantly but undeniably rooting for since the closing episodes of last season. They’re both expertly played, by Colman Domingo and Frank Dillane, respectively. Colman is actually amazing: his deep voice and perfect line delivery should make him a leading man here or elsewhere, either as a hero or a villain. In just a couple of episodes, he’s easily become one of the best things about the show.
But these aren’t “good guys.” Or, at least I don’t think they are. Are they? Strand is openly a sociopath, and doesn’t even bother to hide it. He appears to act nobly in rescuing the group. But as Ruben Blades’ character, Salazar, shrewdly observes, he is almost certainly acting somehow according to his own self-interests. (And Salazar has been right about these kinds of things so far.)
As for Nick? No, I am definitely not judging the character about his addiction to illegal drugs. That would make him a flawed protagonist, not a bad guy. I’m talking about his demonstrated willingness in Season 1 to victimize the helpless in order to feed that addiction — he does nothing less than kill a sick, elderly man in order to get his “fix.” (I did understand that scene, didn’t I?)
And what about Salazar himself? He is easily the third most interesting character to me, and he’s perfectly portrayed by Blades. I want him to survive this show’s zombie apocalypse, simply because I enjoy watching him so much. He’s a former torturer for the El Salvadoran junta. That’s … that’s pretty much as bad as you can get, isn’t it? And this isn’t a character aspect that the viewer can easily put aside, as audiences did with the character of Sayid on “Lost.” (He was a past torturer with Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.) Salazar’s deplorable skills are front and center at the end of the show’s first season, driving the plot.)
There’s nothing pathological about my attraction to these characters. (And I’m sure it’s shared by other viewers.) It’s just that these are creatively conceived characters on a show that seems to bungle its efforts to create anything resembling or interesting likable good guys. The remaining protagonists of “Fear the Walking Dead” are written to be utterly bland, even when they are very well portrayed by their actors. Travis (Cliff Curtis) is a one-note altruist. Madison (Kim Dickens) shows promise, but isn’t yet that interesting to watch. Alycia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a boring nice-girl. Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) is so forgettable that I can’t really remember how to describe her as I write this.
The worst offender, by far, though, is the character of Chris. I can’t imagine how dreadful a job it must be for actor Lorenzo James Henrie to play him. He’s an utterly punchable brat — an entitled, immature, self-absorbed teenager that makes you root for any zombies that pursuing him. I can’t imagine the show’s writers created him to be sympathetic … surely they must be setting him up as zombie fodder.
All told, though, the Season 2 opener last Sunday was good stuff. I’d rate it an 8 out of 10. Fans who were frustrated with Season 1’s slow pace (I wasn’t) will be pleased to discover that the show opens with an action sequence and a pretty skilled depiction of the destruction of Los Angeles. No, the show doesn’t have the same special effects budget as a major feature film. But this was still impressive — we get to see some of the destruction and mayhem that’s only been alluded to or briefly, limitedly portrayed via flashback throughout six years of “The Walking Dead.” (Remember the faraway shots of the bombing of Atlanta?)
The suspense is also quite good. I can’t really say much more for fear of spoilers. But I thought it was well written and intelligent, and I think it will please even seasoned fans of the zombie horror sub-genre.
This was pretty decent stuff. I think Season 2 should be a fun ride.