Whether we like to admit it or not, the fun of any zombie story is rooted in death; the presence of it, the idea of it, and the fact that anyone, at any time, can shuffle off this mortal coil (and then come back to eat faces). I mean, essentially, the zombie story at its bare minimum is a story of the world itself dying. And we love it! We eat that up! The Walking Dead deprived us for, like, seven months of a barbed-wire baseball bat smashing into someone’s skull and that pissed us off. We’re sick, man. A bunch of animals. But that’s why these stories should be so fun.
But that danger, that presence of death, means nothing to a story if you chop the legs out from under it immediately, which is exactly what Fear the Walking Dead did last night in “Pablo & Jessica” before the opening credits even rolled. Last week, Madison and Strand popped up at the conclusion of “Do Not Disturb”, seemingly unharmed after being trapped by both walkers and whiskey in the hotel bar. Here, we learned how they managed to escape such a seemingly impossible scenario: Madison stabbed a walker, rubbed the blood on their faces, and they…walked out the door.
Let me be clear; the “wearing walker blood makes the walkers ignore you” idea is RUINING this show, and by extension making everyone on The Walking Dead look stupid. The first time we saw it, in The Walking Dead‘s “Guts” from season one, it was a cool, zombie trope-upending little idea that also served as a nifty metaphor–you must become a monster to survive the monsters, etc etc. But now it’s just a shortcut, an easy way out of pretty much any situation this show’s writers can cook up that at the same time makes the unthinking flesh-eating MONSTERS look incredibly un-scary. Why do our characters desperately search for shelter and hide behind man-made walls when Nick and Luciana are just slathering on some walker-blood and walking around casual as can be in “Los Muertos.” For the audience to worry about a plan going wrong, you have to show it, you know, going wrong from time to time. Otherwise, tell me why these characters aren’t collecting infected blood in Windex bottles and spraying it on like perfume. Boom, solved the zombie apocalypse. We can all come out of our cannibal train cars now.
“Because that’s potentially dangerous!” You may have just yelled at your screen, waking your numerous cats. Which is fair, but allow me to list some other potentially dangerous ideas:
Ripping off the season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead Using yourself as human bait to draw out every walker in the hotel, leading a death-parade of infected on to and off of your typical California pier. Granted, this sequence managed to be both tensely claustrophobic and technically gorgeous thanks to director Uta Briesewitz, who alternated between close-ups on Madison’s face and sweeping shots of the entire pier for context. Plus, there’s just something cathartic about this massively dangerous plan ending with zombies literally walking off a pier into the ocean’s riptide because they don’t know any better.
But hey, add a little bottle of infected blood and this whole plans gets a whole let less dangerous, right? That’s what we’ve been shown, at least.
2) Cheating a notorious gang of drug dealers–who we already know chop off limbs over stolen Ding Dongs–out of an already-established deal by cutting Oxycontin with powdered milk on the off-chance they “won’t care.” That is Nick’s plan, by the way, a plan that Alejandro buys into because Alejandro accepts “trust me, I’m a junkie” as sound logic.
It’s funny that Alejandro describes the bite that allegedly did not turn him as a “leap of faith,” because leaps of faith are happening all over the Colonia. Or maybe “leaps of logic” is more appropriate, as character motivations and relationships change seemingly with the wind (illustrated here as “———>“)
Nick comes to the Colonia as a useless, angry pre-teen in a early-20-somethings body ———> Nick is useful now because of his knowledge of basement made narcotics.
Luciana thinks Nick is a liability, an opinion Nick almost instantly validates by stealing snacks from actual murderers ———> Nick and Luciana kiss, because Nick played soccer with some kids and is trying relatively hard to learn Spanish. It was all a test, after all.
There is certainly the possibility for some subtle storytelling here; Luciana just lost a brother, the titular Pablo, and in her mourning is just reaching out for the type of human contact that won’t turn her into an undead cannibal-monster. But we don’t get that. We don’t feel it, because Fear the Walking Dead is plagued with instances of a plot point being true just because a character says it is.
The meditations on love and life during the apocalypse are no less subtle over at the hotel, but they at least hit a fine chord. Oscar has been keeping the titualar Jessica–who we saw get turned on their wedding night in last week’s stellar cold open–inside the hotel’s Honeymoon Suite, unable to separate his blushing bride from the monster she’s become. Strand, always the realist, intervenes. “Let me save…Jessica,” Strand tells Pablo, and the slight pause from Colman Domingo only affirms Strand’s point; that the thing inside the Honeymoon Suite, the thing that Strand is about to kill, is not Jessica. Not anymore.
- The musical montage of Nick preparing the Oxycontin was passable, but Breaking Bad this show is not.
- I do have to admit when I’m wrong: The cheapness of last week’s zombie-with-Madison’s-hair fakeout was somewhat justified this week, if only because of Alycia Debnam-Carey’s emotional performance when recounting it to Madison.
- Although I’m still suspicious that Ofelia actually just took the truck and dipped, I’m equally nervous that it’s a sign this show thinks Ofelia is emotionally deep enough to carry her own episode, à la Nick and “Grotesque.”
- The Stilted Dialogue Award this week goes to Madison, who doesn’t realize the fundamental issue with “making” someone become “self-reliant.”