While everyone is still hyped from the Season 6 cliffhanger on the real Walking Dead show, Fear seems to have been all but forgotten. With such an underwhelming first season, I had to repeatedly remind myself that this show was coming back for a second. It didn’t help that I could barely remember any of the characters, reducing my interest in a return viewing. However, since so many great shows turn out to have such lacklustre beginnings, I decided to give Fear the Walking Dead another chance to win me over.
The gang from Season 1 manages to escape the L.A. carnage and flee into international waters on a rich man’s yacht. The zombie outbreak is running (or walking?) rampant, and those who escaped are now in full-on survival mode. Armed with the logic that water must be safer than land, the characters nevertheless face danger wherever they turn. They eventually find themselves in Mexico, which seems to be no less dangerous than back home, so they must fight through the dead and find fortified shelter while they still can.
Having forgotten what many of the forgettable characters were like, and without a recap to help me out (thanks, PVR), it was even more difficult to care for these bland figures than it was during Season 1. Travis (Cliff Curtis) was the only character I liked in the first season, but here I found him whiny and annoying as he repeatedly tries to straighten out his even more whiny and annoying son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), who seems determined to become a bad guy by any means necessary. Nick (Frank Dillane), the junkie, is mostly on his own this time, but other than learning a bit of Spanish, he doesn’t really amount to anything here. Strand (Colman Domingo) turning out to be gay was a nice touch, at least in the first half of the season, because in the second half he becomes less than useless. Madison (Kim Dickens); I get it: she’s the strong female, but they make the mistake of portraying her like more of an archetype than an actual character, with her personality shifting on a nearly episodic or even scene-to-scene basis because the writers don’t actually know what kind of person they want her to be. All that and a relatively slow pace, watching these people make dramatic choices is significantly less impactful than it ought to be. But even worse is when they make questionable moral decisions, which often leaves them feeling more like villains than traumatized heroes, and after which they spend far too much time moping about what horrible people they are, especially when they meet new people who are moping about what horrible people they are, as if it’s some kind of competition. The characters on the other Walking Dead show only did horrible things when it was for the greater good, or when their enemies were so well-armed and numerous that they couldn’t risk taking any chances. The characters on Fear take the same kinds of lethal precautions, but against significantly weaker threats. It’s like they’re trying to match the gritty intensity of the other show and they’re willing to sacrifice credibility and likability in order to do it.
Because this show is still chronologically behind the other Walking Dead, we often see the characters learning many of the same tricks the characters on the other show learned several years ago, which doesn’t help it create its own identity because it’s constantly living in the shadow of its counterpart. And it really, really doesn’t help that a major subplot of Season 2 completely rips off a subplot from Season 2 of The Walking Dead. It’s as if the writers had no plan from the get-go and now they’re trying to justify their wages by providing something that at least resembles what they were paid to do. And while being on water instead of land may seem like a nice change of pace at first, especially when compared with the perpetual woodsiness of the other show, it’s criminally under-utilized and our “heroes” soon find themselves wandering country roads littered with abandoned vehicles, raiding convenience stores that may or may not have one or two zombies hiding in them, and facing off against rival factions that have more bullets than brains. They travel from one location, i.e. one subplot, to the next, with nothing tying the whole season together in any meaningful way. First they’re on the open seas facing off against California pirates, then they’re in a Mexican villa led by a crazy woman with a fondness for zombies, then they’re in a slum led by a religious leader and liar who thinks faith can solve anything, then they’re in a five-star hotel with a disgruntled former employee and the former guests that want her dead, and then they head back to the U.S.: i.e., the place they lost loved ones trying escape from in the first place. Really?
Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not an improvement over the uninspiring Season 1. If anything, it’s exactly the same, only longer, which makes it kind of worse. At least some characters died (no spoilers), so there are even less people to care about when this show comes back for Season 3. The reason The Walking Dead has endured the way it has is because its characters are well-written, well-acted, and the intense stories that go with them (drawn mostly from the comics, I’ll admit) tell a compelling narrative that you can’t wait to see the next chapter of. But Fear is just trying to mimic all that without being inventive or even coherent. I’ve said before that Fear feels like fan-fiction to me and that’s even more true now than it was when I first said it. There’s spin-off, and there’s rip-off, and that is something to Fear.
2 out of 5