Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead! Proceed with caution, survivors. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched the midseason premiere, “Grotesque”, we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
Aaannd we’re back… After a midseason break, Fear the Walking Dead returns for seven more installments of its sophomore season, starting with “Grotesque”–the title of which has a bit more meaning than perhaps its writers intended.
In the wake of “Shiva’s” fire and the group suddenly separating, the show’s protagonists look like they’re splintered for much of this season’s back end. Yes, in much the same way that The Walking Dead‘s heroes were split up for half a season following the destruction of their prison home in that show’s fourth year. As was the case with The Walking Dead, it also appears we’ll be spending entire episodes with different survivors, while the show spends some time developing its characters.
There’s no question that most of these folks could use a little more depth, and that we could use more reasons to care about them. It’s only their second season, but I’m hard-pressed to think of many characters on this show who, as they’ve been presented thus far, I can relate to or identify with enough to want to spend a full hour alone with. The one major exception is Strand. Until now, he’s been Fear the Walking Dead‘s wild card. He’s the group’s Shane, or Daryl if he were less housebroken and had a larger vocabulary. If there’s one character strong enough to carry a solo tale with which to welcome us back to this season (especially after a less than satisfying midseason finale), it’s the former captain of the Abigail. Instead, alas, we get Frank Dillane’s Nick.
I suspect that most fans’ appreciation for this week’s episode will be directly proportional to their affinity for Madison’s son. I’ve found the former heroin-abusing, emo lad tolerable enough in small quantities, and when pitted against members of his family. But on his own? Well, I guess I should be thankful that “Grotesque” doesn’t have Nick talk all that much.
Instead, it follows his journey in the days that follow “Shiva”, trekking south through the Mexican desert to Tijuana while hunted by bandits and rabid dogs. The monotony is broken by what is quite possibly the most repulsive thing we’ve seen any character do in The Walking Dead universe (and that’s saying something): when Nick drinks his own urine.
The pace is also helped by several flashbacks to the days Nick spent in rehab, in which he learned of his father’s death from his distraught mother. The scene in which Nick talks to his junkie girlfriend about his emotionally absent dad is supposed to make him a bit more sympathetic, more relatable. And it works to a certain extent. But so many of us who’ve had less than ideal relationships with our parents aren’t habitual users that the character’s vulnerability is just a tad less universal than the show’s writers seem to think it is.
In any case, after almost dying of exhaustion, dehydration, and sunstroke, Nick is picked up by a gang of survivors who’ve carved out a small life for themselves in a shanty town high in the desert hills. (In actuality, near Baja, where the show is produced.) There Nick appears pleased to find a community to which he can belong and contribute (as well as a fetching leader in Luciana). But, as is always the case with Walking Dead, I wonder how long this sanctuary can stand before its walls are brought down by the infected.
— There are a couple of annoyingly obvious little story problems with “Grotesque.” Like, why Nick doesn’t get sick on the tainted dog meat that the undead had feasted on? And why doesn’t he fall down and play dead the moment those bandits start firing on the zombie horde he’s walking with?
— Nick’s hallucinations while walking with the undead are reminiscent of Michonne’s in The Walking Dead‘s fourth season, when she too was covered in zombie guts and making her way alone through the wilderness. But at that point we’d already been completely won over by the sword-slinging samurai. Nick hasn’t exactly earned the same level of goodwill.
— I had flashbacks to Into the Wild when Nick vomited up that cactus. And, for a moment, I almost wished he suffered the same fate as that book/film’s hero.
— “Feeling shit and not saying anything” would make a pretty good title for this episode.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).