This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 2 Episodes 14 & 15
On the whole, FTWD‘s two-part finale is a two-fisted powerhouse, alternating between envelope-pushing violence and heartbreaking drama. Strong performances and inventive gore help make these last two episodes of season two among the best of the entire series. Yes, FTWD struggled a bit to find itself in season one. And yes, this problem continued into season two’s early episodes. But things picked up considerably once the story made landfall.
From there, after the vineyard’s midseason demise, the main cast splintered into three groups (and later a fourth, with Ofelia), presenting viewers with three distinct locales: colony, seaside resort, farmhouse. The attendant storylines were less distinct, though no less compelling, given how much the group’s collective dysfunction has deepened in this terrible new world. Broken down to their simplest descriptions, over the course of two seasons we’ve followed the post-apocalyptic misadventures of an English teacher, a guidance counselor, a junkie, a golden child, a disaffected teen, and a real estate developer. On paper, they don’t sound like much, but as embodied by this cast, FTWD was at its best when backing these normal people into a corner. All of them are suffering in some way, some more than most, and it’s here that we need to talk about Travis.
Poor Travis. Here’s a person who’s struggled mightily to retain some semblance of compassion—even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Trying to save a teenager from himself is a difficult proposition even in the best of times. But here, Travis must reconcile his own pacifist ideals with the cold reality that his son has become an unrepentant killer. It’s difficult to say that this coarsening of his son’s heart is a direct result of the times in which they now live, but it’s easy to imagine that Chris always had a darker side that he all too eagerly embraced once given the chance. That the likes of Brandon and Derek encouraged Chris’ darker impulses only deepened the rift between father and son. This is the stuff of drama, of tragedy—and FTWD makes great use of Travis in these moments by giving us a father who’s grieving his shortcomings as a parent. Never mind Madison’s pep talks; for Travis, his failure at losing Chris is nigh insurmountable. Difficult though this journey may be for Travis, it does deliver us in “Wrath” to a kind of brutality that we’ve never witnessed on this show. Seeing Brandon and Derek is a shock to the system, for us at home and certainly for Travis. But when he realizes they’ve killed his son, this is when something vital inside of Travis snaps.
FTWD borrows a page from Nolan’s Dark Knight interrogation scene as Travis locks himself in a room with Brandon and Derek. But whereas Batman stopped short of breaking his one rule not to take a life, Travis no longer has any such moral compunction. It’s not so much that their fight is extraordinary—it’s the way in which it’s filmed, putting the viewer in Travis’ head as he beats and stomps Brandon and Derek into bloody pulps. As viewers of shows like this, we’ve built up a tolerance to violence and gore, but it’s the character-building that’s led up to this moment that makes Travis’s actions not only shocking, but also so damn heartbreaking. Not only has he lost his son, he’s lost himself in the unstoppable act of righteous vengeance.
As leader, Madison now finds herself in a difficult spot. She was the first to lay down the law for the hotel’s survivors, decreeing that attacking anyone in the group meant instant exile. How could she have known that these very words would come back to haunt her? How could she know that these same words would lead to her and Alicia’s banishment from the resort? It’s a nice twist of fate, especially given how single-minded Madison has been this season about finding Nick. If not for this, she and Alicia would still be within the safety of the hotel’s walls—and Travis might never have seen Brandon and Derek again.
Strand, on the other hand, is less sentimental about Travis. He’s unwilling to sacrifice himself for Travis or anyone else. It’s been a while since we’ve seen this side of Strand, but I actually find him more compelling when dealing in unforgiving absolutes. That he aids in the group’s escape is a nice moment for him. It redeems a man who doesn’t care about the opinions of others. I believe he does it for himself—and maybe for Alicia. I can’t imagine we won’t see him again, though.
As for Nick, he’s had quite a season. From wandering the open road to becoming part of Alejandro’s inner circle, Nick has covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. All of it was believable—from teaching himself conversational Spanish to negotiating with drug cartels. But in these last two episodes, we see a harder side to Nick, a side that would expose Alejandro for the fraud he is. He does this to save the people of the colony, but he also does it so that he and Luciana may yet remain together. It’s selfish of him to do this, but it’s selfless, too. He’s grown to care about these people, even if he doesn’t quite understand them. Why else would he return to the colony, if not to lead the way across the border? That this gesture blows up in his face is one of the episode’s strengths. “North” isn’t just a direction, it’s symbolic of freedom—and that’s all taken away from them at the wrong end of a rifle.
My one true misgiving about these last two episodes (and “Wrath” in particular), is the impersonal way in which Chris was killed off. He may have been a terrible person, but from a dramatic standpoint, his death should have been a bigger moment. Relegating it to a flashback in which he has no dialogue does a grave disservice to a very well-developed character. As presented, Chris’ death felt like more of a means for sending Travis over the edge—and we already saw this happen at the end of season one when he was forced to put a bullet in Liza’s head.
That being said, FTWD really came into its own in this latter half of the season. The show also began to set itself apart from The Walking Dead, which can only benefit both shows in the long run. I for one am eager to find out what happens to the English teacher, the guidance counselor, the junkie, and the golden child in season three.
Some closing thoughts:
Nick pulls off one of the grisliest zombie kills I’ve ever seen on AMC when he jams his thumbs deep into the eye sockets of a freshly turned corpse. The loud squelching, the blood, the graphic violence—it’s definitely FTWD at its most visceral.
Can you imagine how much more tragic the events of “Wrath” might have been had Chris actually not been dead? I actually thought the writers were going to pull a bait and switch like this, and was disappointed when it turned out Chris was indeed dead.
Like Nick, Ofelia is ambushed as she crosses the border. Is this person part of the same group patrolling the border near Tijuana? If so, does this mean that Nick and Ofelia will eventually meet up?
I know it sounds cruel, but I actually admire the fact that Madison and Nick were not reunited in “North”—to do so would have just been too convenient. And so the search for Nick continues…
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