October 3, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Fear The Walking Dead”


“Universes” are all the rage among studios and networks these days, thanks to the rise of the Marvel/Disney empire.  DC/Warners is trying to duplicate that success (its movie and TV universes are somewhat confusingly separate, and its main accomplishment so far is all but colonizing the CW network through Greg Berlanti’s quartet of series), Paramount will soon be trying the same with Transformers-related properties, and Universal plans to build one around classic horror movies–sort of a Penny Dreadful universe with $100M+ budgets.  So it’s not a surprise that AMC, owner of one of TV’s most valuable pieces of intellectual property, would try to extend its massive franchise to FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.

One of the things Marvel has done brilliantly, though, is preserve plenty of variation in its universe, so that each installment feels like a chapter rather than a branding exercise:  a Thor movie is different from a Guardiaans of the Galaxy movie, and both are unlike the Jessica Jones TV show.  But Fear the Walking Dead has now had two seasons to prove itself more than a (successful) money grab, and it hasn’t come close to doing so.  Season 2, which concluded tonight, was if anything even more the junior varsity version of the show that gives it most of its title.

The original idea was that Fear would be set apart from Walking Dead by featuring a different group of characters, taking place on the other side of the country on the west coast, and especially by telling a story set at the inception of the zombie epidemic, years earlier than the time of the main series.  But it turned out that just about all the distinctive aspects of that fact were exhausted by the end of Season 1; existence a few months into the zombie apocalypse isn’t all that different from life a few years later.  The first half of Season 2 at least tried to change things up by setting the action at sea, but whether for logistical or storytelling reasons, that didn’t last long, and soon enough our heroes were holed up at a Mexican estate, where zombies were being kept in the basement.

The back half of Season 2 was all too familiar, mostly different from Walking Dead in that there was subtitled Spanish-language dialogue at times.  The cast split in various directions, resulting in several episodes devoted to just one or two characters, who kept finding what seemed to be sanctuaries and which inevitably turned out not to be.  Former high school guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickens), her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and the initially mysterious businessman Strand (Colman Domingo) spent most of their time at a hotel that they cleared of zombies, and which even had running water and electricity.  Madison’s recovering addict son Nick (Frank Dillane) opted for a settlement headed by pharmacist Alejandro (Paul Calderon) whose authority flowed from the–false–belief that he had survived a zombie bite, but which was constantly threatened by drug dealers.

The two-hour season finale (Hour 1 written by Co-Executive Producer Kate Barrow and directed by Stefan Schwartz; Hour 2 written by Executive Producer Dave Erickson and directed by Adam Bernstein) brought both of these stories to a head.  Madison and her group were forced to flee the hotel after her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) arrived just in time to kill with his bare hands not only the two Evil Frat Boys who had murdered his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) but also one of the hotel leaders.  Madison, Travis and Alicia went in search of Nick, but he had convinced Alejandro, dying from a real zombie bite, to tell the settlers to head north just ahead of the drug dealers.  They were nearing what they thought was a refugee camp, but a last-minute twist/cliffhanger had them fired upon by what appeared to be soldiers.

Some of this was moderately gripping–Curtis is a powerful actor, and the lengthy scene at the end of Hour 1 that led to his killing his son’s murderers had real impact–but mostly it felt like The Walking Dead all over again, except with less compelling characters.  The pace was the same, alternating between talky scenes in which tactics and philosophies were debated, and gory action sequences where the characters found themselves backed into tight spaces with people-eaters.  The general thrust of the plotting was the same, too–that hotel and settlement could just have easily have been featured in any given season of the mother series.  Another unfortunate duplication was the way seemingly level-headed characters (especially Chris, in this group of episodes) could do stupid things at any given moment that the writers needed a contrivance.  Despite strong acting by Dickens, Curtis and Debnam-Carey, none of their characters is particularly well developed.  Dillane’s Nick, who mostly sulked through the earlier portions of the series, actually became one of the more vivid figures in the latter half of Season 2.

AMC would like The Walking Dead to be as close as possible to a 52-week-per-year business for obvious reasons, and Fear the Walking Dead keeps the lights on, albeit at a much lower level of ratings success than its parent.  But without Marvel’s ability to make each new part of its universe a building block of its brand, Fear feels like it’s diminishing Walking Dead‘s uniqueness.  Like its walkers, it’s surviving on a diet of the bigger show’s brains, but it’s not getting much nourishment from them.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."