Notes on the Episode: Fear the Walking Dead: Blood in the Streets
The episode opens with Nick fighting against the tide as he swims to shore. The sudden appearance of a helicopter flying overhead causes him to look up and follow its flightpath, which reveals chaos in the water. This shift from small to big, from easily tracked details to pandemonium is a hallmark of the show. It suggests that the viewer needs to be concerned with what is seen as well as what is not seen.
Despite what he sees, Nick swims onward until he reaches the shore, driven by an unknown purpose. The camera pans along the shore, revealing a camp of tattered tents and no signs of life. Nick walks through the camp as the leg of a zombie appears on the screen, the bite mark clearly visible, a “promise” of what is to come.
Nick lures the zombie toward a tent. Nick enters the tent and zips the mesh. It is unclear to the viewer why Nick would take such a risk. When the zombie finally reaches him, he soundlessly puts his hand on the zombie’s face (as it attempts to press its way through the mesh) and stabs the zombie in the head. In the process, the larger picture becomes clear: Nick wants the zombie. As he digs through the zombie’s guts and smears the blood on his face, the viewer realizes his intention: to mask his humanity and walk among the dead, because to wear death is to defy death.
What’s lacking with this opening scene? How horrific is it? In a way, the zombie-blood allows Nick to transform, which gives him agency, a way to survive without fear; however, there is no dread, no sense that Nick will be the next character to die. Nick is too savvy for that, which the viewer learns early on in season one as the drug-addicted Nick finds a way to survive the apocalypse along with the rest of his family.
Season two of Fear the Walking Dead asks its viewers to think about the human condition, how death changes and defines us, but it doesn’t ask us to explore the horror of death, at least not in this episode. Even in a previous episode, which involved children witnessing their mother die and return, there was no sense of dread. The viewer needs to be invested in the fates of the characters and imagine themselves in a similar position in order to feel the impact of the story, a sense of what’s at stake. If Fear the Walking Dead is going to succeed, the show needs more character development and better expendable characters. In other words, the show needs a bigger cast.
The rest of the episode feels predictable. Haven’t we seen the metaphorical lifeboat threatened before on The Walking Dead? It’s a trope now: the arrival of strangers who’ve come to take what the main characters have. The fact that the characters are forced to separate, plan to return to each other, and fight for each other is another cliche. Because the story is relying on genre tropes, it’s predictably undercuts the feeling of dread, because it seems, the unknown has already been explored on it’s parent show. Early in the episode, the viewer learns that what’s at stake for the characters isn’t just survival, it’s civilization, which is the same thing Rick is fighting for on The Walking Dead.
What can Fear the Walking Dead explore that The Walking Dead hasn’t? Would it be so terrible if those left behind decided not to go after Alicia and Travis? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if the group was put into a position where the best choice was not to save them?
Strand’s rescue feels like a quick and easy way to solve his problem and bring him back into the story, because he has a necessary part to play. It doesn’t feel earned. Being stranded on a sinking boat doesn’t reveal anything new about his character or allow him to glimpse the unknown–the greater depths of his own darkness.
True, the show is a family drama seen through the lens of the apocalypse but that’s not compelling. It can’t be, because it’s exploration of the worst parts of our humanity is cliche. For that reason, the show might as well ditch the zombies.
By Erica Spriggs