This review contains spoilers.
The undesirable elements have been taken away from the community. The sick, the mentally ill, the physically addicted… they’ve all been dragged off by the authorities, and it seems as though everyone’s okay with it, except for Ofelia Salazar. She shows up after a brilliant cold opening introducing the smooth and devious Strand (Colman Domingo), throws bottles at the fence and attempts to pick a fight with the soldiers to find out where her mother is. She’s not exactly equipped for this new world, as we’ll find out shortly. She doesn’t know how to get things done in an effective way yet, only able to avoid the same fate as her missing companions thanks to the interference of her military make-out partner Andy (Shawn Hatosy).
Strand, on the other hand, shows immediate survivor skills in the way he breaks Doug down and gets him taken away by the authorities and later in the way he bribes the officer in charge of the security detail to leave Nick behind in the cage with him. Strand, you see, has a plan. Strand is a brilliant reader of people, a natural-born salesman, and he knows just what buttons to push. Cufflinks and a Rolex for the guards, and a stolen key for Nick Clark. Like Daniel Salazar, Strand is a motivator, and unlike Daniel, he doesn’t have to scar his daughter for life mentally, or scar any soldiers for life physically. He’s going to need Nick, the gold standard of junkies, to help him get out before they all find out just what the radio code “cobalt” means.
Fear The Walking Dead gives us a look at life outside the camp today, as we open with first Doug, then Nick, locked in the isolation cages at what looks to be an aircraft hangar or maintenance garage. We also follow Liza around as she gets rudimentary medical training from Dr. Exner, as well as following Travis as he finally gets out beyond the gates to see just how bad things are in the real world in exchange for his continued cooperation. That’s an important skill for this new world; you have to have something to offer, and it has to be what the other person wants. Doug’s got nothing, but his very attractive wife, well… she just might make it out of this okay if she’s willing to trade her dignity for food, at least in Strand’s eyes. Everyone has to give up something in the name of survival.
One of the moves the episode made was to reveal just what kind of things Daniel Salazar did during the civil war in El Salvador. I’m not surprised he was a torturer, and that he’s killed people to obtain information, nor am I terribly surprised that he’s as cold-blooded as you’d expect someone like that to be when push comes to shove. I was more surprised at the damage we were shown to Andy’s arm. You’d expect gore, splatter, the sorts of things you normally see on a show like this. What surprised me was the care that KNB take to show that Daniel isn’t a butcher, he is a surgeon with a straight razor. Very rarely do you get special effects that add insight into characters, and yet here we are, with director Kari Skogland working to expand the Salazar character in very subtle ways that aren’t explicitly spoken in character dialogue.
However, when the character does speak, Ruben Blades makes the most of it, and David Wiener’s dialogue is spot-on for that kind of man, as is Griselda’s deathbed rant. I also really enjoyed Strand’s introduction and multiple monologues. If the show has a villain that isn’t one of the members of the National Guard, it’s shaping up to be Strand, if only because he’s dangerous and willing to use anyone to get what he wants. It’s masterful manipulation without being too overbearing, clever without being so clever as to not be thrown in the pen with the rest of the undesirables.
There’s only one episode left in this short first season of Fear The Walking Dead, but depending on how things shake out with the last episode, there’s going to be plenty to cover when the show resumes for a second season next summer. Sure, they skipped a lot of the good stuff that I wanted to see, but the things that we’ve seen so far have been really intriguing. More importantly, the hook we were promised—watching the world fall apart—looks like it might happen, albeit on a very minor scale. Assuming you can consider a sporting arena full of thousands of zombies a ‘minor scale’.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is firmly on Team Salazar, and would love to see more of Daniel with that razor blade in his hand, slicing flesh and extracting secrets. With Daniel as the muscle, Kim as the steel, Nick as the thief, and Strand as the scumbag leader, this is a formidable zombie-survival squad. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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