When season two began, I suggested that Fear the Walking Dead is a domestic drama that happens to take place during the zombie apocalypse. In this episode, the show becomes a post-family drama set during a zombie crisis. "Shiva" is a collection of interesting ideas in need of better execution, but its central conceit is strong: How does a family unit survive such a profound, life-threatening crisis?
It doesn't. Chris asks Travis why he won't let him go, while Celia asks Nick why he doesn't just ditch his family and stay with her in Baja. There's an immediate, easy answer to both questions: Because family ties are stronger than temporary allegiances. But "Shiva" suggests that answer isn't really true. In a crisis, groups break apart.
Look at the way Madison responds to Nick later in the episode, when she finds out that he didn't bring Travis back with her. She doesn't waste a second thought on his absence, not when she has to pack her family into a car and get them away from Celia's devastated compound. This is a dramatic omission; throughout the episode, she's been insisting that Travis will return. The concept of family togetherness just doesn't cut it in a world where individual experiences vary so much that people feel like they're living in their own pocket universes.
Nick is a prime example of this splintering. His history as a drug user is, as Strand suggests, a major reason why he buys into Celia's spiritual spiel about the dead never leaving us. But everything we've seen in season two indicates that Nick's personal experiences have turned him into someone who simply cannot take orders from authority figures like Madison anymore. Madison has, with the exception of her frankly unbelievable hostage-situation rescue, supervised more than she's gotten her hands dirty.
The same cannot be said of Nick, who reveals that he's been rather cavalier about slathering himself in zombie blood and going off on his own because he feels invincible. "Nothing can touch me," he insists. There is, in other words, more than one reason why Nick finds himself at odds with Madison in "Shiva." Their confrontation has been brewing for the past couple of episodes. So when Madison finally takes a stand "for my family" and hurts Celia, it's shocking for more than one reason. Her sneak attack is not a betrayal of Celia and Nick's trust. Madison rejects the comfort and kindness that Nick made Celia extend to his family. She indirectly forces his hand, pressuring him to make a decision. Unfortunately for Madison, Nick chooses a different path, and wanders away from the group.
Chris basically does the same thing, but in a more pouty way. He runs away and tries to avoid detection, then winds up getting tracked by Travis. This is the most dissatisfying subplot in tonight's episode — but not because of Chris. I tend to gang up on the kid because he's very emo, rash, and one-note. But Travis's decision to follow, indulging his prodigal son's flight of emotionally disturbed fancy, is flat-out ridiculous.
To be fair: Travis's departure from Madison is actively hinted at earlier in the episode, when Alicia asks what will happen if he doesn't come back. But his decision to stay with his son is preposterous. I don't care how much of a beta male this guy is: If your parenting instincts don't kick in when your kid starts acting up like Chris has throughout this season, and you don't drag him back to keep an eye on him? You're doing it wrong. Of course, I say this as a 20-something bachelor. I have no experience raising children, but even I know that Travis is messing this up. His decision to wander off from his family does develop an interesting theme: In a crisis, individual desires will always supersede utilitarian needs. But come on, what kind of person would act like Travis does here?
Daniel has to make a similarly impossible decision, but he does it in a way that makes sense for the character. He has to either accept Celia, or cling tighter to his past and accept that he's just not the live-and-let-live type. He inevitably chooses the latter option because, well, that's the type of person Fear the Walking Dead has painted him to be. Yes, it's a major misstep to use Daniel's dead wife, Griselda, as a literal representation of his baggage. But watching Daniel reject Celia while staying true to his nature by setting the ghost of his wife — and a bunch of zombies — on fire? Pretty satisfying. Granted, that confrontation set up a bit poorly. But it feels satisfying since Daniel's actions are sensible. He does what many flawed characters would do in a situation where they are confronted, and forced to confront their past: burn it all down.
Which brings us back to Madison, a character whose refusal to trust Celia almost makes her a villain in "Shiva." She's not a black-hat-wearing baddy, but Madison is defined in this episode by her antagonistic relationship with Celia. Madison even tricks Celia into believing that she wants to see the world through her eyes, and therefore understand why she and Nick have such a close bond. This display of emotion is soon proven to be a trick, as we learn in a scene with more emotional heft than almost everything seen in the show's first season. It's a shocking moment because it suggests that Madison's need to protect her family is borderline sociopathic. She has one goal, and that goal is to keep her group together. The rest of the episode questions whether her blind ambition is actually worthwhile, making "Shiva" a lumpy but ultimately satisfying mid-season finale. The series cannot resume fast enough.
- Travis about Chris: "He needs his father." Come on, dude! He needs his father to act like his father! Talk some sense into this kid!
- Griselda to Daniel: "No, my love. The first victim was you." My nomination for Clunkiest Line of the Episode.
- Is Daniel crazy now? He seems to be, what with his hallucinations. Griselda's reappearance isn't just poetic license; he tries to drag Ofelia out to the gate to see her. So is this the character's new status quo?
- Enough with the pozole! I'm sure it's delicious, but give it a rest already!
- Poor Strand. He doesn't have many lines in this episode and therefore doesn't get to grieve in any significant way. What a bummer.