Is ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Finally As Good As ‘The Walking Dead’?

07.10.17 2 weeks ago 9 Comments

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Is Fear the Walking Dead finally as good as The Walking Dead?

Short answer: No. Longer answer: It’s more complicated.

To be sure, the third midseason finale of Fear was fantastic, the successful culmination of season-long storyline that, based on the past two seasons, I legitimately did not think showrunner Dave Erickson could pull off. But he did, confronting challenging political issues and pivoting toward a shocking and just conclusion in a surprisingly organic manner. The racist Jeremiah Otto (Dayton Callie) — who at certain points this season had been treated like a sympathetic character — was exposed for who he really is, and he got his comeuppance.

The anti-hero was revealed to be the big bad, and Nick put a bullet in his head. I cheered out loud.

But let’s back up: The first surprise of the two-hour midseason finale came with the return of Ofelia, who shows up as a server in the diner where Alicia and Jake are negotiating a parley with Qaletqa Walker, who we later find out saved Ofelia’s life (Ofelia and Walker also developed a romantic attraction). In the back half of the midseason finale, we also learn what happened to Ofelia after Otto confronted her with a shotgun in last year’s season finale: He left her to die. Why? Because she’s brown. Simple as that.

Racism has been the subtext to Jeremiah’s character all season long, from his rejection of foreign nationals to his characterization of Native Americans as welfare deadbeats and meth heads. He’s basically the racist Hershel. In the finale, we learn there is much more to it than even that: Jeremiah and the founders of the Broke Jaw Ranch had killed three Native Americans for one reason only: they hated the color of their skin. When Walker’s father confronted the founders about those murders, he was shot in the head, too.

No wonder Walker hates the Ottos.

Writers Jami O’Brien and Mark Richard had a delicate dance to perform here; they had to turn the Clarks on Jeremiah Otto, even though the Clarks had every reason to hate Walker. He had killed their step-father, Travis, and later in this episode, Walker and Ofelia poison the Broke Jaw Militia with anthrax, nearly killing Nick in the process. By the end of the midseason finale, however, Alicia and Nick not only understood Walker’s motivations, but they tacitly agreed with his decisions, their own losses notwithstanding. Alicia and Nick’s position evolves as revelations about Jeremiah are doled out over the course of the finale. Jeremiah stole the Native Americans’ land; he killed their ancestors; and he refused to negotiate with them out of stubborn pride and simple racism. Jeremiah was the root cause of the entire war between the two factions. Alicia and Nick realize they had thrown their lot in with the wrong side.

Madison is a tougher nut to crack here; it was her husband Walker killed, and she is nearly as invested in keeping the Broke Jaw Ranch intact as Otto, although for different reasons. In fact, Madison’s idiotic decision to rescue Alicia from Walker not only endangers the parlay, but provokes further bloodshed. Even after killing Walker’s men, however, Walker came to understand Madison’s mama bear instincts. Somehow, Walker and Madison forged a bond in spite of the battle between them.

Madison negotiates a truce: Bring Walker Jeremiah Otto’s head, and the bloodshed will stop. Madison, however, couldn’t bring herself to kill Jeremiah, as she had her abusive father as a teenager. Failing to convince Jeremiah to end his own life to save his family and his legacy, Madison pulls her gun on Jeremiah, but in a jaw-dropping turn, it’s Nick who pulls out the very gun Jeremiah had given him and shoots Jeremiah squarely between the eyes.

It was a great storyline with several surprising twists and an incredibly satisfying conclusion. It also managed to quell any fears some of us may have had about Fear the Walking Dead abandoning its diverse, multicultural cast (and audience) in favor of the white nationalists, although I suspect many of those who hated the Spanish-language episode a few weeks back were less pleased about the death of Jeremiah. (A poll I saw on Twitter indicated that about 8 percent of the audience still sided with Jeremiah, even after the revelations.)

It’s almost a shame the plotline was wasted on these particular characters, however. If a character like Rick Grimes or Daryl or Carol or Michonne had been involved, the episode would have rivaled the best that The Walking Dead has offered. Unfortunately, even when the storylines come together on Fear the Walking Dead, it remains difficult to invest in the characters. After two and a half seasons, there should be a stronger bond between the audience and the cast, but the show so seldom gives us something with which to empathize. There are no moments of levity; there are no smiles; no moments of hope. Kim Dickens is a great actress, but on Fear, she’s emotionally impenetrable. When characters die there’s barely a moment of grief. The Walking Dead offered those moments, at least in the early seasons. Whatever else one wants to say about the Darabont years, those long, boring walks in the woods at least helped bring the audience closer to the characters.

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