"Sicut Cervus" is the first dud of Fear the Walking Dead's otherwise compelling second season. It doesn't add much to the show's overarching narrative, beyond sowing seeds for future strife.
The episode does present a few promising moments: Daniel gets a handful of thoughtful scenes, and we get to meet Celia Flores, Luis's mother. Aside from that, plus a couple of fun zombie attacks and a heated exchanges, "Sicut Cervus" feels like an unfocused collection of scenes. The only theme that drives the narrative forward is a basic concern with inevitable death.
Strand's reunion with Abigail is easily the highlight of the episode, even if their interpersonal drama is unnecessarily goosed considerably by a silly contrivance: Abigail has been bitten and is now at death's door. Viewers never have to wonder if Abigail will survive, since his fatal wound seeps through a medical bandage in the shape of a perfectly articulated bite mark. The reasons for Abigail's death are unimportant to this particular story arc. What matters is the way Strand's arms find Abigail's torso as he lifts him into bed, and the tenderness in Ruben Blades's voice while he says, "I've got you." Perhaps the camera does most of the heavy lifting during an extreme close-up of Dougray Scott's body as he's being embraced. But there's no faking the emotion in "I've got you." It's a sweet, immediately affecting moment that stands out in an otherwise blah episode.
Speaking of which: Daniel is a bit lost. He is the anchor of "Sicut Cervus," so it makes sense that the episode doesn't really go anywhere of note. Having been disarmed before entering Abigail's Baja compound, Daniel feels a bit exposed. His helplessness is further nettled by Celia, a benevolent host who challenges Daniel to "make peace with your dead." This is the most interesting aspect of the episode's narrative: Celia appears eccentric, but she does not appear to be untrustworthy. She just happens to have gotten by without fighting to protect her New Wave–y notion of honoring and celebrating the dead because they never truly leave us … or something.
Celia's philosophy feels like a subtle rebuke of the fiery sermon delivered at the beginning of the episode. A priest, who is later shown having turned into a zombie, tells his parishioners that God is testing their faith — that they should not feed the walking dead, but rather defeat the doubt in their hearts by surviving. It's a good speech, but it misses the episode's biggest takeaway: We can only survive the dead by living with them, not by trying to deny their co-existence.
Daniel is the perfect foil for this lesson. He's always eager to muscle his way past any problem by stabbing or shooting it in the face. This is why he doesn't want to surrender his gun: He's the type of person who earnestly believes "there is always a need for weapons." Daniel's a very one-note character, and that comes across loud and clear tonight. His past as a torturer makes him an interesting addition to the cast, but he doesn't have much going on beyond his dickishly aggressive attitude. Yes, he cares about his surrogate family, but he's a survivor, and in this show, that means being ruthless to a fault. It's no wonder that the most compelling Daniel-centric scene is the one where he spaces out, then shuts down when Ofelia calls him to dinner. "Tell them I'm tired," he says, after his daughter asks him what she should tell the others. With a few scant words, Celia gets under Daniel's thick skin.
In the meantime: How about the rest of the episode? Chris's actions looked a little less benign after last week's events. He looks positively unwell when he freezes up, then does nothing when Madison is attacked by zombies. Travis doesn't believe Madison when she takes Alicia's side; he insists that Chris has become a danger to the group and must be talked to. This is all well and good, and leads to a fittingly embarrassing fight between Travis and Madison. (He demands that Madison take his side just this once, because solidarity.) But generally speaking, the fight does nothing to move the story forward.
In fact, most of tonight's sub-plots did nothing to move the show forward. Nick's story — in which he eats food, chats up Celia, and suffers from visions after seeing an owl totem that mirrors Luis's owl coin — feels like so much setup for next week's mid-season finale. Even Strand's romance with Abigail feels like marking time after a point, particularly in the ill-advised scene where Strand decides that maybe he and his partner should die together. It's a dead-end solution that only confirms Daniel's revelation: You can't quit the world when your ghosts, loved ones, and grief becomes too much to bear. More important, Strand's romantic gesture feels like a teasing threat intended to add greater weight to an already bathetic plot development. The makers of "Sicut Cervus" have an interesting kernel of an idea, but do nothing of note with it. Here's hoping somebody snaps Daniel out of his funk next week because, boy, there is nothing sadder than a depressed man of action.
- R.I.P. Luis. You were kind of fun, but apparently the body count needed to grow.
- The sermon at the beginning of the episode was quite moving. Was that the intended effect? I'm thinking yes, but I'm not totally sure.
- My cable crapped out five minutes before the episode's end. Don't judge me: AMC didn't give out screeners this week or last week, so I watched the episode as it aired. I'll catch those last five minutes in time for next week, promise.
- Just how much of a threat is Chris? I feel like he's dangerous. It'll be interesting to see if the show tries to redeem him, or if he gets axed.
- Undead altar boys! That was pretty surreal.