Are we watching AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” just because, you know, zombies? It’s certainly not because the initial six-episode season of this “Walking Dead” spinoff was ass-kicking TV.
After a promising start followed by some solid episodes, Sunday night’s finale was a mess of incoherent storytelling — and only a tantalizing reveal at the end helped redeem it.
So here’s a post-mortem (ahem) on “FTWD” and why, despite everything — and there was a lot of everything — we’ll keep watching the damn show.
Many viewers complained about the series’ slow pace, but it was a welcome change from TV’s often frantic charge. There was even an episode, the fourth, in which we didn’t see a single walker — which would be radical on “The Walking Dead.” And the finale did pick up because by now the zombie apocalypse is in full bloom, and we kinda know the characters so we didn’t need as much exposition.
Incorporating shady people who reveal their true — i.e., dark — colors was definitely in keeping with a fictional universe where the living often are worse threats than the undead. Stern barber Daniel (Rubén Blades) turns out to be a ferocious torturer, having learned from the best in Ecuador. Druggie-slash-heartthrob Nick (Frank Dillane, the show’s runaway hottie) behaves exactly as a junkie would: He is a lying, amoral manipulator, down to stealing a sick woman’s morphine. His mom, Madison (Kim Dickens), is just fine with that torture thing as long as it delivers valuable intel.
Another fun thing about watching “FTWD” was seeing walkers who had been freshly turned. In “TWD,” they’ve been zombies for years by then; they are slow, often feeble. In “FTWD,” they are surprisingly fast and are strong enough to push through metal fences and locked doors.
But the finale also laid bare many of the show’s issues, including the fact that it’s hard to care for the characters. After a strong start, Madison’s daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), took a back seat to the dudes and remains a blank. Madison herself is probably the most complex character but is hampered by Dickens’ one-note acting. The father figure, Travis (Cliff Curtis), began calm and decisive, inquisitively looking into what was going on. Then he took an unexplained turn into idiotic “it’s all going to be fine!” appeasement. And finally, he lost his cool last night with an eruption of horrifying brutality. It remains to be seen whether he or Madison is the show’s Rick.
Characters that don’t make sense? Fine, we can deal with that. More alarming was the finale’s often appalling storytelling, as when the four adults leave the two kids in a parking lot while they retrieve family members in the mystery army compound. Or when Cpl. Adams (Shawn Hatosy) shoots Daniel’s daughter, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), for no reason. And why has mystery man Strand (Colman Domingo) latched on to Nick and, by extension, his family? He seems to be a textbook loner.
At least Strand holds the key to the episode’s payoff: Dude’s got a yacht! Our guys are going to be at sea during the epidemic! Or maybe they won’t! But they could!
For that alone, I’ll keep watching.