Fear The Walking Dead S02E02 “Monster” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC Global
Writer: Brett C Leonard, Kate Barnow (story); Kate Barnow (teleplay)
Director: Adam Davidson
Essential Plot Points:
- We see kids playing on the beach as Walkers emerge from the sea. They stumble up to the unaware kids who turn and… are revealed to be on the other side of a beach-wide fence. NICELY done, show.
- On the boat, Maddy is yelling at Nick for going into the wreck they found last week. Thankfully, Travis reads the yacht/plot log he retrieved and discovers the awful truth: San Diego is gone, burnt by the military.
- They take this news to Strand who adds it to the already bad news about their pursuers. Not only are they gaining but the damage they did can only have been caused by a .50 calibre machine gun. They’re packing military hardware.
- They might BE the military.
- Strand’s plan is to anchor in a cove and use the coast to hide. Travis spots a ranger station on a nearby island and persuades him, albeit reluctantly, to go there instead. On the way in, Maddy spots a light being turned on in a house on the island.
- They dock and Ofelia and Daniel stay with Strand much to his absolute lack of joy. Travis, Maddy and the family go and say hi. Which, this being Travis, involves basically standing outside their house yelling, “We mean you no harm! We’re completely non-threatening!” Bless him.
- A little boy runs out and meets them. He’s Harry Geary who, along with his brother Seth, sister Willa, mom Melissa and dad George, lives at the station. The family greet Team Boat with cautious hospitality, Melissa drilling Maddy on her old job and George cheerfully talking to Travis about his heritage and how much the world has ended.
- The answer is “mostly”. At least half the US is dark and the major cities along the coast have all been burned. They’re on their own.
- Back at the boat, Ofelia and Daniel discuss whether or not to stay. Daniel is weirdly reticent, wanting to be asked first. Ofelia, in shock over recent events, is all in favour of force.
- Back at the house, Nick turns out to be amazingly good with kids. Harry shows him his room and his collection of GI Joes, all of which have red dots on their foreheads. When Nick asks what those are Harry tells him that’s what has to happen when people get sick now. Harry isn’t worried because his dad has “power pills”. Nick? Nick’s pretty worried.
- The next morning Chris joins Seth for “chores”. This involves killing the Walkers that have washed up on the beach. Chris is a natural. Travis, when he sees this, is in mild shock over how quickly Chris has adapted.
- George reassures him and takes him out to mend the other fence. This one separates the station from a nearby resort. George estimates it’s full of a couple of hundred Walkers who haven’t caught their scent. Yet. As they chat, Travis realises George has no plan. He’s just living for the moment.
- Back at the house, Nick breaks in. He finds pills hidden in a globe in George’s office but is distracted by Willa.
- Outside, Maddy and Melissa chat. Maddy gets Melissa to admit she turned the light on deliberately. She knows the Walkers will overrun their defences and desperately wants something else for her kids. She also reveals she suffers from MS, which is why Seth in particular has been so concerned about her. She confirms George has no plan. He just wants to die with family rather than strangers.
- Maddy, of course, immediately steams back to the boat and gets Travis in on Operation Save The Children. Travis agrees to talk to George just before Nick arrives and tells them about the pills. Something has to be done.
- As everyone heads off, Daniel takes the opportunity to search the boat. He finds a concealed locker filled with multiple maps showing multiple destinations and a very military-looking submachine gun…
- On the island, Strand places what seems to be a sat-phone call asking someone to push a rendezvous back. He assures them he’ll be there.
- At the house, Melissa packs Willa and Harry’s bags and gets them ready. George confronts them, realises what’s happening and the confrontation is only diffused when Harry appears and says something is wrong with his sister.
- They rush upstairs and find Willa dead from eating one of the pills. Despite warnings, Melissa cradles her daughter and is killed by her when she reanimates. George tells Travis to get the others clear and waits with his wife to die.
- They arrive back at the boat just after Strand who is utterly unthrilled at the thought of a child being aboard. Seth arrives, holding them at gunpoint and refusing to accept his life on the island is over. He takes his brother off the boat as their newly reanimated mother stumbles towards them. Seth tells Harry to wave to the boat and, as he does so, kills their mother. The last thing we see is the two boys, alone on the jetty, with an island full of dead people…
That’s more like it!
After last week’s turgid plod fest of a season opener, “We All Fall Down” is a tense little bottle show that moves the overall plot along, gives everyone some fun stuff to do, sets up arc plots galore and is super grim throughout.
In many ways this plays like Fear The Walking Dead’s take on “The Same Boat” from season six of the main show. Instead of the Clash of the Acting Titans we got there though, here we see two different families taking two very different approaches.
The Gearys have a good house, solid defences, supplies and knowledge. They are going to die in their home. That simple, cold truth and the realisation that they’ve given up is what powers the entire episode. David Warshofsky and Catherine Dent do excellent work as George and Melissa. In many ways they’re a happier family than Travis and Madison’s unruly bunch. The kids are mostly fine and George has if not control of his life then the illusion of control over his death. They’re living their final days, and doing so in the warm and temporary cocoon of being okay with it.
All aside from Melissa. If there’s one thing this show does very well it’s strong women and Melissa and Madison are cut from similar cloth. Melissa’s journey to taking charge is slower and enabled by Madison but it’s no less courageous for that. She wants to save her kids, and in doing so knows she has to let them go. That’s heartbreaking to see and her eventual decision to die with and at the hands of Willa makes perfect sense. It also marks the difference between Melissa, Madison and their families. The Manawas and Clarks want to live. The Gearys want to stop.
That’s why the final image is so haunting. Seth holding his little brother on the dock, their backs to the sea and nothing but their dead mother and an island of Walkers in front of them. There’s courage there certainly but it’s the courage of refusal rather than continuance. Seth, for all his bravado, is a child and wants to stay at home with his brother. And, sooner or later, that’s where they’ll stay forever.
That’s brilliantly dark, chewy territory for the show to be exploring and Leonard and Barnow’s script does a great job. The Gearys are a well-realized, sympathetic family and their interactions throw the show’s leads into sharp relief. Travis’s fundamental good nature is tied to a conservative respect for other people’s business that means he’s perennially cautious and unconfident. By contrast Maddy, a former guidance counsellor we’re reminded this week, is ready to jump into the guts of other people’s problems on a second’s notice. Neither is right, but together they’re right enough. In exploring that this episode does more to explain and work with the show’s untidy central dynamic than any previous one.
The other characters are well served too. Strand in particular gets some wonderfully snippy moments and is clearly part of something much larger than he’s letting on. The fact Daniel has cottoned on to this promises fireworks between the show’s most unusual characters and that’s definitely something to look forward to.
Even better, two out of the three kids get some really good stuff this week. Felicia’s still a character mildly adrift but Nick’s newfound fondness for kids and quiet competency is immense fun. Likewise, Chris pulling himself back together is the first time in ages – possibly ever – that the show’s done anything with him that wasn’t intensely annoying.
Round all this up, and add the ticking clock of whoever is hunting them and you’ve got a massive improvement over basically the entire show to date. Character driven, clever and resonant it’s a great script directed and acted with clear energy and enthusiasm. Much, much of this please.
- That’s an amazing cold open. Much more of that sort of stuff please. Plus, it was nice that the show raised the “why is only this beach fenced?” question and then answered it. Well played.
- The Abigail as a setting is really starting to bed in. There are a bunch of shots here which cleverly set up the boat as a vital and very small refuge for these people.
- Chris! Does! Things! That aren’t annoying!
- There’s a very real possibility that Willa only tries a pill because Nick inadvertently showed her where they are. That’s never going to be addressed, nor does it need to be. However it’s a nicely dark consequence and is a subtle call back to the original show and Carol, Sam and the cookies of death.
- “Looks like it’ll be safer.”
“How do you know?” Okay, he’s still a little whiny but the kid does have a point.
- ‘Take it – nobody’s writing any new ones for a while.” Warshofsky’s George Geary is almost cheerfully fatalistic and the episode echoes with moments like this. The world is over. The characters aren’t. The spectre of “What now?” hangs over them all.
- “We’re the weeds mother nature’s pulling.” Of course, because we know this is a virus, we know George may not be right here. “Wildfire” certainly implied, heavily, that the virus was manufactured. Not that it matters now, but it’s nice to see someone drawing the wrong conclusions from the right data. It makes the world feel all the more real.
- “You hang over me like the spectre of Death, Daniel.” Please let us have an entire episode of Strand and Daniel locked in a room together. That would be EPIC.
- “I know my pharmaceuticals.” Nick, unexpected hero of the series continues! He really is very useful, even though, as seems likely, he was actively trying to score when he found the pills.
- “You can’t save her!”
“I’M NOT GOING TO!” Everything you need to know about George in four words. That’s brilliant writing.
- “MADISON! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE THIS TIME?!” Two episodes into the season, less than three days on the boat and Strand is all out of patience for Maddy and her amazing intervention powers.
- There’s a sense that Strand’s boat is basically the Next Generation era Enterprise. The plots of the episodes so far this season are: arrive, meet new people, discover their problems and leave. The major difference is where the Enterprise helped out, so far the Strand Patrol have a habit of making things worse. There’s less beige carpeting, though, so that’s a plus.
- Joking aside this is a solid drama framework but it’s also not a sustainable one. The show’s going to need to shake things up and do so in the next few weeks. Weirdly, The Last Ship did a very good job of that with a similar premise and format so it’ll be interesting how many beats they have in common. And there’s always that pursuing boat with the military grade ordnance…
- The editing when Willa killing her mother is very coy. Annoyingly so.
- To the best of our knowledge, Melissa, George’s wife, is named in passing, once, on screen and is never formally introduced. In the same week as “Spacetime’” an otherwise fantastic Agents of SHIELD episode that didn’t bother directly naming a female supporting character, that’s not super great.
- That’s actually it. SERIOUSLY. This was a really, really good episode.
- The brief, horrific possibility that George might be coming along for the ride is one of the biggest scares the show has pulled off to date.
- A cynical thought occurred to us this week. Given the series is set in the days after the Wildfire outbreak that means the more impressively sticky, and presumably more expensive-to-create, Walkers won’t be showing up for a season or three.
- There’s been some criticism of how Strand could possibly have cell service, especially as he’s using what seems to be a pretty clunky old phone. That’s understandable but we’re 90% certain that’s not a clunker. That’s a sat-phone, and that, coupled with the multiple evacuation points and military issue mp5 submachine gun suggests Mr Strand is part of something much bigger…
- Catherine Dent, who does great work here as Melissa, is a genre stalwart. She’s appeared in The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, was a major part of the Spielberg TV show Taken and Agent Greta Simpson on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. She’s best known for her powerhouse turn as Sergeant Danni Sofer in brilliant, and incredibly dark, cop show The Shield. She can next be as Janet Anderson in Outcast, the upcoming TV adaptation of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman exorcism comic series.
- David Warshofsky, whose intense turn as George here is crucial to making the episode work, is also a prolific genre actor. He’s appeared in Taken 3, Now You See Me, Captain Philips, There Will Be Blood and other major movies. His TV work includes a memorable turn as Donny Colpeper on The Mentalist and memorable appearances on Generation Kill, Law & Order: SVU and CSI: Miami. He can next be seen in Now You See Me 2. Which, while we’re super excited about, we’re still disappointed isn’t called Now You Don’t.
- Shot of the week is the Walkers emerging from the ocean. So creepy. No wonder it got used in the trailers.
Review by Alasdair Stuart