[This is a review of the Fear the Walking Dead season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead has come full circle, moving the cast of characters across an admittedly impressive distance and splitting the season into two distinct story lines. The first half of the season saw the show's core survivors take to the high seas in what could have been a series-defining story that was squandered as Fear seemingly rejected the novelty of a zombie adventure series in favor of adopting the repetitive search-for-sanctuary model of its older sibling. But without a comic book series to create its road map and a pace that can be described as prohibitively slow, the series seems to still be in search of its defining characteristic.
As the second season gears up for its two-hour finale, there are a number of disparate story threads Fear will have an opportunity to tie up and hopefully develop in an effort to build anticipation for the already-ordered third season. The halfway point of season 2 made the interesting choice of splitting up the group into three distinct factions: Travis had wandered off into the wilderness to find answers to Chris' increasingly hostile behavior, while Madison, Strand, and Alicia endeavored to find (what else?) sanctuary. But the most compelling offering made by the early part of the season's second half came from Nick, who (thanks in large part to Frank Dillane's performance) continues to be the most interesting character on the show. As is unsurprisingly the case, however, the needs of the split narratives and the limitations of the series have pushed Nick's narrative into a supposed safe haven threatened by its seemingly complicated inner workings.
While the antepenultimate episode 'Date of Death' managed to get Travis and Madison back together, while also explaining how it came to be that he and Chris had parted ways, it didn't necessarily give any sort of indication as to what the major conflict would be leading up to the finale. The arrival of Chris's new friends (i.e., the savages he feels more comfortable with than his own father) at the seaside resort slowly being turned into a refugee camp hints at some violence on the horizon, but at what cost? It seemed clear that the series wanted to pit father against son and to force the sort of kill-or-be-killed choice both series find endlessly fascinating. The only question was: would it?
As it turned out, the two-part finale didn't quite go that far, but it also didn't have to. Chris never made it to the resort with his new friends because he fell asleep at the wheel, wrecked their truck, and was summarily shot in the head for having a broken leg. It is another example of the show's survival-of-the-fittest ethos in that life is now worthless to most people – especially morally bankrupt individuals like the two Chris had aligned himself with against his father's wishes. But this sort of storytelling is as meaningless on both Walking Dead shows. The well is dry but both series keep trying to leave with some water.
Chris's death is an especially egregious case because, as a major character, one who's been around from the very beginning, it is treated more like a footnote than anything else. Some of that is a product of what the episode demanded. With Travis and his son so far apart, the secondhand nature of the story is given an excuse, but not necessarily a reason. It doesn't matter that Chris wasn't a particularly good character, or that audiences perhaps didn't like him, or that Lorenzo James Henrie was never given an opportunity to do more than play a sullen, angry teenager. The moment of Chris's death should have delivered more impact than it did. It is another example of how problematic it is to have a series that treats death like a game. If no life matters, then it certainly won't when a major character loses his.
What's surprising, then, isn't the response Travis has to learning of his son's death, or that the show would spend so much time depicting a brutal fight that gets the reunited survivors kicked out of yet another safe haven. What is surprising is the way in which the series doubles down on the miserable morality and repetitive nature of its storytelling. Madison has a long discussion with Travis about the two men he just killed, telling him that she's killed too, in order to protect Nick. The conversation then veers into yet another discussion of the world they live in now and how they will have to kill again to protect themselves and the people they love. The problems with this are myriad, but mostly it's just depressing that this is approximately the ten thousandth time someone on either series has discussed the nature of the world and why killing is necessary. It's almost as though the show has written an advertisement for itself in the dialogue.
The meta-dialogue continues as Nick tries to convince Luciana it's time to leave their safe haven. Again, Fear the Walking Dead goes the route of having one character explain the premise of the series to another because they have absolutely nothing else to talk about. And again, the interplay sounds more like a justification for the series' storytelling choices than anything else. In his last-ditch effort to get Luciana to leave, Nick actually says, "This is how it is. Okay? You find somewhere safe and when it's compromised, you move on." That is the same idea this series and The Walking Dead have had from the very beginning. And while there's always a new door being opened up that might temporarily infuse the show with something of interest – like Dayton Callie chasing down Ofelia – at this point you have to wonder: Will this show ever go anywhere it hasn't been before?
Fear the Walking Dead started off with some promising ideas that never quite turned into a new way of thinking for a spinoff show about a zombie apocalypse desperately in need of a new way of thinking. Instead, the series continues to lean on tired plot developments and dialogue that's more for the audience's benefit than the characters or the scene. The series has some time before season 3 hits, so let's hope with that premiere comes a new way of looking at an increasingly tired and dismal situation.
Fear the Walking Dead returns with season 3 in 2017 on AMC.
Photos: Peter Lovino/AMC