Fear the Walking Dead
Remember Jack? You know, the disembodied voice that Alicia was chatting up in the season premiere? Well, he finally catches up with Alicia and her fellow shipmates in this episode. He’s an obvious loose end, which the show’s writers had to tie up in light of all those references to a mysterious ship chasing after the Abigail. No time like the present, I suppose.
Series writer Kate Erickson handles the Jack problem in an admirably curt fashion in “Blood on the Streets,” an episode that juxtaposes his group of business-minded pirates with Victor Strand and his mysterious patron, Thomas Abigail. Both Jack’s boss and Thomas Abigail are obsessed with the bottom line, and consequently treat every human interaction like a series of checks and balances. In other words, they are calculating men who talk like David Mamet characters, and are just as hungry and abstractly defined as Mamet’s charismatic con men. Later in the episode, Connor, the mysterious leader of Jack’s group, tells Travis that he’ll take him and Alicia because he can be “of use.” Alicia even appeals to that idea when she offers, “Back at your base, I’ll contribute.”
Still, the biggest difference between Connor and Thomas is that the former does not necessarily come from wealth. Much like Thomas, Connor is represented by Vita and Reed, two people who talk a big game, but ultimately aren’t as quick on the trigger as they’d like to be. This is especially ironic since Reed mocks Chris for hesitating before the group boards the Abigail.
In the middle of a zombie apocalypse, you have to be like Luis Flores, Thomas’s second-in-command. Luis does not hesitate before he takes out Vita and Reed — he simply asks Nick if Vita and Reed are with them, takes aim, and shoots when Nick says, “No.” These characters live in a cutthroat world. To survive, everyone must form and protect their alliances without hesitation. Connor’s people know that, but they aren’t completely comfortable acting on impulse.
Which isn’t to say that these guys are softies. Reed’s the kind of guy who threatens people by saying, “Prove your worth” after Travis offers to jump-start the Abigail. And Vita, a very pregnant young woman, is calculating enough to manipulate people’s emotions with her baby bump. But Luis shows both of them up. His relative knack for heartlessness isn’t just something you can chalk up to experience. It’s a fundamental sign of a difference in character. And in this case, class determines character.
Think about it: Luis has it made. He wants for nothing so long as he’s hitched up with rich and powerful Thomas. It doesn’t matter how Thomas made his money before the zombie crisis. All that matters is how Thomas has grown to expect the comforts of a rich lifestyle. This point is underscored in the scene where Victor Strand tells Thomas that he resents his wealth. He doesn’t like living hand-to-mouth as a con artist while he knows what Thomas’s privilege can buy.
Luis is almost as powerful as Thomas, though only because of their association. That will probably become a sticking point later in the season. (Prediction: Thomas will have to choose between Victor and Luis, and he’ll choose Victor.) For now, we know they were raised together because Luis’s mother worked as a maid for Thomas’s family. Luis thinks he’s got a silver spoon in his mouth, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll hold on to it for much longer, given Fear the Walking Dead’s half-cynical, half-pragmatic attitude towards class warfare.
I mean, can you imagine a guy like Luis talking to anybody the way Thomas does? Nobody but a man who takes his wealth for granted — as Thomas tells Victor that he does — would address a prospective business partner/love interest by saying, “I didn’t pardon you, I obligated you.” You need deep pockets to talk like that. Contrast that with the way that Connor and his group are constantly debating use value. To keep their edge, these pirates have to be ruthless.
Still, Connor’s gang doesn’t exhibit the same kind of ruthlessness as Thomas and Luis. They’re different kinds of cold-blooded, but that doesn’t mean that they’re equally cruel. Luis is bound to win a fight that pits him against Reed. Sure, he’s mocked in the scene where he fusses over his car’s leather interior — but Luis is not to be trifled with, as is evident from his experience with firearms. You could argue that one of the show’s weaknesses is that most characters, regardless of their background or age, seem to be capable with a gun, knife, or makeshift weapon. In this case, however, Luis’s knack for weapons reveals his character. He’s used to killing, which means he’s used to getting what he wants.
In a way, it’s good that we meet Thomas and Jack in the same episode. The former inevitably had to dispatch the latter, since both men threaten the safety of Travis’s group. (Again: I predict that Thomas won’t be happy to discover that he’s, ahem, obligated to give shelter to many extra people.) Thomas is an alpha predator; Connor, Jack, Vita, and Reed just imagine themselves at the top of their food chain. Victor’s brutal decision to dispatch Alex has to come from somewhere. Now we know that his decision-making process aligns him with Thomas, since coolly axing dead weight is exactly the sort of thing Luis would do.
Still, the fact that Victor is ultimately saved by Madison is telling. If their situations were reversed, would he have done the same for her? (I tend to think he would, but he would definitely hesitate.) After all, what does Victor have to offer Travis’s group now that they’ve already made contact with Thomas through Luis? Victor might as well have died of hypothermia after Reed shot at him. But Madison rescues him, and that selfless act feels like a major symbolic victory in light of everything else that happens in “Blood in the Streets.” Saving a dying companion may not be too heroic, but it looks like a Herculean feat in this dim light.
- It’s probably a good thing that Madison saves Strand, given how cartoonishly cutthroat she is while egging Vita on. She can be nice, too!
- When Thomas says, “You don’t have to care for that which you’re obligated,” I instantly imagined those same lines as read by Joe Mantegna.
- Alicia to Madison, regarding the Jack situation: “I started this. I can make it better. I trust him.” Oh, come on! Alicia is now threatening Chris’s status as Most Annoying Supporting Character.
- Anybody else scream, “Just kiss already!” when Thomas and Victor held hands twice before finally locking lips? This show, you guys!