Fear The Walking Dead S02E03 “Ourobouros” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC Global, Mondays 9pm
Writer: Alan Page
Director: Stefan Schwartz
Essential Plot Points:
- Lovely tranquil waters aaaaaand… dead people! We see a group of survivors frantically swimming to a life raft where others are already waiting. One, Alex, is desperately trying to protect a horribly injured boy named Jake. The other two are convinced he’s dying and want to throw him over board. Alex stops one of them killing Jake with a spot of pre-emptive murder and we leave the survivors adrift in a spreading field of recently crashed plane debris…
- Travis and Maddy wake up and don’t instantly argue. They are, in fact, about to have sex when the engines stop, which is pretty on the nose as a metaphor goes but we’ll run with it.
- It turns out the filtration system, that uses sea water to cool the engines, is blocked. Someone has to go unblock it. Maddy argues that they wait till morning. Strand argues that he’d like to not be murdered by pirates. Travis suits up, goes under the boat to clear it and finds a Walker trapped by the arm in the intake. Suddenly the Walker attacks him and…!
- …We cut back to the boat where Travis is totally fine. He helpfully explains to the audience, and Strand, that the entire filtration system is backed up and he’ll need a day to fix it. They don’t have a day and Strand gets in Travis’s face before leaving him to it.
- Nearby, Ofelia’s wound is infected and they have no antibiotics. Daniel argues against her going to Maddy for help, insisting that they keep it in the family.
- On deck, Felicia spots suitcases scattered over the coast. She argues that they need supplies and all three kids volunteer to go ashore. Their parents reluctantly agree and Daniel goes with them to supervise. As he does, he hints to Maddy that he knows something. She takes him to one side and he tells her about Mexico. He also asks her to approach Strand and be “diplomatic”. Maddy agrees but has doubts about the diplomacy.
- The Away Team go ashore and Travis suits up to kill the Walker. Maddy follows his bubbles along the edge of the boat before seeing a spume of blood and the Walker float to the surface.
- On shore, Grandpa Torture and his Kid Sidekicks find useful clothes and material. Chris, remembering he’s Chris, wanders off. He finds a section of fuselage, picks up a weapon and goes inside. He finds three Walkers. One is apparently dead, one is strapped in and the third has an oxygen mask on. Chris taunts it before killing it. Then the man next to it WAKES UP AND IS VERY MUCH NOT DEAD.
- Brilliantly, back on the Abigail, Maddy walks straight up to Strand and basically starts shouting at him. What follows is the two cagiest characters on the show violently agreeing with one another. Strand admits there’s a fortified house in Rosarito just outside Baja he’s making for. He doesn’t NOT invite Maddy and the families but that’s about as far as he commits. He also doesn’t mention whoever he’s been talking to. Nonetheless they agree to work on trusting each other.
- Onshore, Daniel retrieves a rosary and finds some meds. Nick, Super Addict, explains they aren’t helpful for Ofelia and gives Daniel some tips on what to look for.
- Back at the wreck, Chris successfully frees the badly injured survivor. The man’s spine is visible through his back and he’s paralysed. He begs for death and Chris, clearly horrified, crushes his skull.
- Nearby, Daniel figures out Chris is missing and he, Nick and Felicia go looking.
- Back on the love boat, Travis is still trying to get the engines to take it, Cap’n. Maddy comes clean about where they’re going and she and Travis argue about whether or not they should trust Strand. Again they basically violently agree with one another but it’s not as fun this time.
- On shore, Alex does her best Indiana Jones impression sprinting down a dune away from a lot of Walkers. Daniel draws his weapon and starts firing. Nearby, Nick finds the actual drugs Daniel was looking for and hears a Walker. It’s buried up to its chest in the sand and being eaten by crabs.
- Nick patiently waits at the very edge of the edge of the gulley for it to inevitably give way. It does. He fights and kills the Walker just in time for another to land on top of him.
- Nearby Felicia finds Chris and realises he’s been attacked. He reassures her and they hear Daniel’s gunshot. On the Abigail, Maddy sees Daniel and Alex run for it and the others converge on them. She yells for Strand.
- Travis fixes the hyperdrive… sorry, filtration system in a manner so convenient that somewhere Montgomery Scott is beaming with pride.
- On shore things are BAD. There’s no sign of Nick, the Walkers keep coming, Daniel is out of bullets and they’ve got nowhere to go. At the last second, a blood-soaked Nick appears, saves Felicia and leads them to the boat. In doing so he realises that the Walkers can’t sense him…
- They make their escape, with Alex getting them to tow the raft, now just containing Jake. They arrive at the Abigail and Strand is beyond not okay with any of this. Felicia argues Strand and her mother down and they agree to tow the raft with Jake and Alex aboard it.
- It is notable that we do not seem to see Nick hand over the drugs he found.
- Felicia is disgusted by how they’re treating Alex and Jake. On the raft, Alex comforts her friend, claiming it will never be worse than this.
- Then Strand cuts them loose.
While not as good as last week’s bottle (well, island) episode there’s some really fun stuff again this week. There’s also some very, very stupid things unfortunately.
But the good news first. The kids, who were consistently one of the weakest parts of the often very weak first season, are really picking up. And yes we include Chris as well. There’s a bunch of smart moments with all three of them this episode including Felicia stepping up to the plate as a decision maker, Nick continuing to be very useful indeed and Chris’ season in Hell taking a turn for the worse.
Let’s start with the world’s least successful YouTuber. His euthanising of a critically injured Flight 462 passenger is one of the episode’s smarter moments but what makes it work is his reaction when Felicia finds him. Chris is… okay with murder. He’s horrified when he’s doing it but he seems pretty at peace once he’s done. That’s a major, quiet turn for him and one we hope to see more of. He’s not Negan yet, not by a long way. But Chris is rapidly becoming the family member most comfortable with violence and that’s certainly a road Negan knows well.
Where Chris is learning how to survive, Felicia’s learning how little choice she has. Her objection to the way they treat Alex, and her bullish insistence on going ashore, is a nice contrast to the Pirate Boyfriend moment a couple of episodes ago. She’s still not being given a tremendous amount to do, and neither is Ofelia, but both of them get good moments this episode. Ofelia’s gentle humour is a welcome character beat and Felicia’s resolute morality is a logical way for her character to go well.
But it’s Nick who’s emerging as the breakout star of the show. He’s clever and principled and increasingly surviving on his own terms. The most interesting moment this episode sees him advise Daniel on the right drugs for Ofelia, find them and… keep them. Whether he hands them over in a later episode we can’t say. We can say that Nick is very at home in this newly ruthless world and now, he may be off the wagon too.
That’s all fun and there’s some welcome progression for Strand and Maddy too. But that’s pretty much where the good news stops.
The much-vaunted arrival of the Flight 462 characters is essentially a group cameo. Alex is fun, smart, switched-on and – the last time we see her – almost certainly dead. After the huge deal made of them coming aboard it’s short-changing of the worst sort if this is the last we see of them. The moment falls utterly flat too, and continues this season’s worrying reliance on choppy edits that don’t give scenes time to breathe.
Worse still, this episode has a couple of moments of open conflict between the show’s concept and the needs of weekly TV drama. This is rapidly becoming the same kind of mildly decompressed small-scale survival drama that the first half of season six of The Walking Dead was and that’s great. It actually works even better here, with a small fractious group trapped on a boat and under every kind of pressure.
But the slow burn accretion storytelling that model requires doesn’t have much room for jump scares and this episode has several. The reveal of the Walker trapped under the boat is ghost-train-level clunky and the instant cut away from it is unforgivably blunt. Likewise Nick’s arrival on the beach at the end drops the ball badly on the group’s first major piece of post-apocalyptic knowledge.
That conflict is going to be very difficult for the show to resolve but it needs to do so and soon. Otherwise the story and the demands of the format are going to shake this fragile group apart way faster than new arrivals, mysterious pirates or lack of supplies ever could. Here’s hoping the Abigail, and the show, stay on course.
- “I’ve upset you. Forgive me if I neglect certain niceties in light of our current predicament. You are a skilled technician and a viable member of this team now, pretty please, FIX THE GODDAMN BOAT.” Victor Strand, motivational speaker.
- “I know you’re not running on my deck.”
“JESUS, Seriously?” Victor Strand, childcare expert.
- “This is my family.”
“Exactly. Your Family.” Victor Strand, people person.
- Daniel playing every side at once is really smart. He’s simultaneously open to working with Maddy and keeping distant from her. He’s clearly open to working with Strand but the two men are very similar and there’s a shared, recognised antagonism as a result. It’s a gutsy play for both the character and the writers and it shows just how far ahead Daniel’s thinking. Maddy wants to survive, Strand wants to get to the fortified house but so far only Daniel really wants to survive in the long term.
- There are some lovely world-building moments here. Felicia stepping up is a nice callback to her understandable screw-up with the radio. Nick and Chris setting up fishing rods in the background is another. Likewise the “geriatric chic” gag is a welcome tension breaker.
- Booooo to the crap cheap scare with Travis and the Walker trapped in the vent! BOOOOO!
- Slightly less booo to the “Maddy watches Travis’s bubbles and briefly worries he’s dead” sequence!
- How the hell does Strand – a man so prepared he built the Most Prepared Human trophy he’s won every year he’s been alive – not know how his own boat’s filtration system works? It’s obviously an exposition dump for the audience but it feels clumsy.
- Travis gets that filtration fixed at the single most dramatically opportune moment we’ve ever seen. Seriously, it couldn’t have been more convenient if they were being chased by Star Destroyers through an asteroid belt.
- Nick walking to the edge of the gully which then collapses is the only thing clunkier than the Travis/vent/Walker jump scare. Yes he’s a kid and an adrenalin junkie but when you can call a plot beat a good ten seconds before it hits? That’s not good.
- Nick, Blood-Soaked Avenger is a great idea that’s absolutely flubbed. Where the hell does he come from? At first we thought he was in the Walker herd fighting his way forwards but no, he scrambles up a steep incline in an instant, rushes behind the Walker about to kill Felicia and takes it out.
- Worse still, why the hell is he walking with the herd before he figures out they can’t sense him? It’s nice to see this piece of lore locked into place early but like we say, the delivery is badly fumbled.
- The ending just falls flat. Is it a cliffhanger? Maybe have someone show some emotion. Is it not? Then the entire episode is basically a waste of time.
- Alex, Jake, Tom and Michael are all from the Fear The Walking Dead webisode series Flight 462. The timing on this is… odd. The final episode of the web series was set simultaneously to the final couple of episodes of season one. In fact, Nick sees Flight 462 start to go down. And yet, days (at least), later it looks like the plane has only just crashed. Last minute heroic piloting? Stretchy time? Who knows.
- Shot of the week is this wonderful framing of Daniela and the first of many, MANY Walkers.
Review by Alasdair Stuart