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 tonight’s midseason finale, “Shiva”, we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
Rarely have I so wanted a character in the Walking Dead universe to die as much as I have Celia. When the character was introduced in last week’s “Sicut Cervus,” there was at least some ambiguity about her, and we weren’t completely sure of her agenda in keeping the “infected” locked in the cellar of the Abigail estate. Was she crazy? Was she a religious zealot? Or were her actions borne out of some sinister bid for power over her dying employer’s home? Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for the answer. Celia truly believed the dead weren’t really dead, that they were entering a new phase in life, and that they should be preserved and cared for as children. And since Strand had shot her “son” in the head, she believed he denied Thomas a chance for some kind of redemption. Yes, Celia was the worst kind of ignorant: the kind that thinks it knows better.
All of which puts her in direct opposition to Daniel Salazar, who does not suffer fools gladly. Unfortunately, Salazar undergoes a poorly scripted breakdown in “Shiva,” one so abrupt I can’t help but wonder if actor Ruben Blades was begging the producers to kill off his character. Haunted by visions of his late wife, Daniel gives Celia the excuse she needs, or at least thinks she needs, to lock him away, branding him a danger to his daughter and their friends. Had Daniel’s hallucinations, his regret over his wife’s death, and his guilt over not making sure she had turned been doled out in increments throughout the first half of this season, then his suicide here would have been much more in character. As it stands, however, it (and the ensuing estate-leveling fire) just looks like a convenient means of splitting up the group by destroying the safe haven they’ve found in Mexico.
Of course the Abigail estate was never that safe. Like the haunted hotel in The Shining, it got its claws into Chris, who has his own little trip to loco land in “Shiva.” After hovering over Madison and Alicia’s bed with a knife last week, he runs off, kidnaps a local child, and prompts Travis to abandon Madison for his son, who he believes is in desperate need of some quality time with dad. It too feels like an obvious excuse for the writers to split the group and open up more storytelling possibilities in the second half of the season.
Not that I don’t appreciate the effort. Fear the Walking Dead‘s storyline has moved with a steady momentum throughout most of its sophomore season, even when it didn’t make much sense, and taking the Empire Strikes Back route is a surefire way of avoiding the kind of cliches that pop up in family drama regardless of genre. I just wish the show could have found a more elegant means of getting its characters here.
Nick, for example, who’s also been going stir crazy at Casa de Abigail, sets off on his own this week, insisting to Madison that Celia “was right about us, we destroy everything.” He also tells his mother that “nothing can touch me.” I suppose it’s all meant to be part of the series’ ongoing attempts to use this world as a metaphor for adolescence and post-adolescence, for growing up, for leaving home, and for feeling invulnerable upon doing so. But Nick mostly just sounds like a nut for not rationally informing his mom that covering oneself with zombie guts prompts the undead to leave you the hell alone.
I’m genuinely curious to see where things go in the second half of this season. Will the multiple narratives help the writers tell a more fluid story? Will they allow for increased character development, as was the case when The Walking Dead splintered Rick’s group after their prison home was destroyed? We’ve reason to be hopeful. Strand, easily the show’s best character, is partnered once more with Madison. They make a great team, as they both observe in this episode. (The “student of the fine” is at his most vulnerable when he asks her to accompany him after Celia casts him out.) Maybe Travis and Chris can similarly help each other grow, since they can no longer look elsewhere for support. And maybe Fear the Walking Dead can finally figure out what to do with Ofelia now that she’ll finally have to talk to someone other than her dad and Nick. Or maybe I’m just as deluded as Celia.
— One of the subtle ways in which Fear the Walking Dead distinguishes itself from The Walking Dead is in its use of silence. Even more than its parent show, it realizes that what characters leave unsaid is often just as important as what they say. It also gives the protagonists some commonality with the infected. Never is this more noticeable than in the eerie stillness of the Abigail estate at night.
— Man, Nick sure likes covering himself in zombie guts, doesn’t he? I guess everybody’s got their thing.
— “This is our beginning. The end of death itself.” Yeah, Celia really needed to die.
— The biggest disappointment in “Shiva” is that we don’t get to see Celia’s son Luis bite her head off. First rule of zombie offspring, going all the way back to Night of the Living Dead: they always eat their parents!
— “Don’t worry about me. I’ll hail a cab.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).
Featured Image: AMC