Fear the Walking Dead returned this week with its second-season premiere, “Monster,” and while the setting has changed, the show’s DNA has not. The series’ first-season problems haven’t been fixed, no new characters have been introduced, and setting the episode (and maybe the season) in the water feels like a Hail Mary attempt to distinguish Fear from its parent series, The Walking Dead.
There’s still potential in the series, if only because it exists in the same universe as The Walking Dead, but it needs improvement. Adding more action sequences only gets the series part of the way there. There are, at least, some compelling possibilities.
Here are the questions we have after the season premiere.
1. How much time has passed since the season-one finale?
It’s hard to say exactly how long the time jump was. Long enough for the walkers to amass around Malibu and Strand’s residence and for the entire city to go up in flames, but not long enough that Liza’s corpse has begun to decompose in earnest, and certainly not long enough for Strand and co. to properly prepare for their departure to sea. Also, it’s apparently been long enough that Nick is suddenly completely clean and no longer showing any effects of withdrawal.
2. How long will the survivors stay on water?
The clip that AMC used to tease season two felt like the beginning of the season — before they’d taken to the boat. That scene, which takes place back on the beach, was not actually in the episode, which at least suggests that the survivors will make their way back to land relatively soon. Let’s hope they stay there. During The Talking Dead, showrunner Dave Erickson said this season is about a search for a home after they realize that living on a yacht is untenable. Having a zombie apocalypse show set on a yacht is also untenable for the viewers.
3. Where is the survivor from Flight 462 in the web series?
That character doesn’t actually appear in the season premiere. However, we know who it is. Michelle Ang, who played Charlie in the web series, is listed on IMDb in the third episode of this season. Moreover, viewers who pay close attention to the sneak peak above can catch a quick-and-blurry glimpse of Charlie, confirming that she is the survivor of the web series.
4. Will the characters ever return to Los Angeles?
By the looks of it in the opening sequence, Los Angeles was fairly well leveled by the military bombing, i.e., the completion of Operation Cobalt. However, at the end of season two of Fear the Walking Dead and the last episode of the web series, we see Flight 462 flying over Los Angeles and seemingly headed toward a crash. That would suggest the plane goes down in or near Los Angeles, and if the characters on Strand’s yacht, Abigail, are going to run into Charlie soon, it would seem that they’d do so near Los Angeles, unless they found her and the wreckage of the plane on a nearby island.
So, no, they’re probably not going back to Los Angeles, but they may not travel too far from it. (Season two is being shot in Mexico, however.)
5. What was the song playing on Jack’s radio?
That was David Bowie’s “Five years.” The song, appropriately enough, is about an Earth doomed to destruction in five years’ time. (The song was inspired by a dream in which Bowie’s father told him he’d die in five years).
6. Is “Jack” really Jack?
Is Alicia being catfished by someone who wants to find her so they can take the boat? Of course she is. But I also ask because no new characters are introduced in the episode except for “Jack,” and the only new actor the IMDb lists in this episode is Arturo del Puerto, who appears in the rest of this season, according to IMDb. However, del Puerto plays a character named Carlos.
Jack could be Carlos, but my money is on Jack being played by another new cast member this season, Dougray Scott. Hopefully, he’s the compelling villain that the series so badly needs.
7. What’s the deal with Strand?
He has a boat named Abigail, and we will find out more about who Abigail was in his life later in the season. However, we’re not entirely sure whether he’s a good or a bad guy, if he can be trusted, or if his motivations are evil. What is his agenda and where does he want to go? It’s hard to tell if Strand is Fear’s The Governor or if he is Shane, a character that is further along than everyone else and may die as a result. That would be a shame because Strand is easily the series’ most compelling character, so far.
8. Is Travis the new Carol?
He began as the spineless, trusting husband, but by episode six, he was beating the crap out of Andrew Adams, and by the seventh episode, he’s already ignoring the welfare of others and looking out for his own, e.g., ignoring everyone on the smaller boat in order to protect his family. So, yes: Travis is very much the Carol of Fear the Walking Dead. Let’s just hope he doesn’t suddenly redevelop a fear of killing in season three.
9. Why was the episode called “Monster,” anyway?
According to showrunner Dave Erickson, the title didn’t have anything to do specifically with this episode. “Thematically, it’s speaking to all the arcs of this season. If [the characters] want to survive, they’re going to have to conquer their monsters.”
10. Has season two improved upon the first?
No, not really. The problems with the first season haven’t changed, only the location. Fear the Walking Dead has a whiny teenager problem in Chris; it has a dumb teenager problem in Alicia; the parents are unengaging. Daniel and Ofelia Salazar are barely involved, and seem to exist as future zombie chum. Conflict is created by bad decisions. The writing is poor, the pace is glacial, and there’s no one on the show for whom we can feel empathy. The series has no sense of humor, no sense of irony, no self awareness. It feels like hastily thrown together knock-off of The Walking Dead created to capitalize on the former’s popularity.
It’s not a lost cause, but it needs a quick course correction. It needs a quick turnover of characters; a strong, compelling villain; and it needs a really huge moment to pull us in. It needs a Ned Stark moment. They could kill off the biggest name on the show, Kim Dickens’ Madison, and do so in spectacular fashion. That might get our attention. If not that, then Fear the Walking Dead desperately needs a Sam Jackson in Deep Blue Sea moment to at least make us laugh.
Viewers stuck around for the first season because it was only six episodes. If Fear doesn’t quickly improve in its second, it’s unlikely to maintain its viewership over 15 episodes (especially once Game of Thrones starts in two weeks).