Why do characters on Fear the Walking Dead always talk without saying anything substantial? Last week's episode was a blessing, since it was so light on dialogue. As a mostly self-contained narrative, it got viewers invested in the characters' dilemma rather than their individual beliefs. The same can't be said about "Los Muertos," a well-directed transitional hour that introduces the season's latest themes, but fails to substantiate them in any significant way.
It's all a bit too ho-hum tonight. Nick learns more about the religious commune that he's shacked up with. Strand, Ofelia, and Alicia ransack an abandoned hotel while debating responsibility and optimism. The scenes revolving around Madison's group don't even focus on the challenges that presently face our heroes.
At least Nick's story is directly concerned with characters' coping strategies, specifically the beliefs of religious leader/pharmacist Alejandro and secular group leader Lucia. Nick gravitates towards Lucia since she gives him something to do, but she and Alejandro are of the same mind when it comes to zombies and spirituality: The undead are a holy plague designed to weed out the unworthy, paving the way for the chosen few. Understandably, Nick is troubled by this line of thinking since he just survived a couple of days in the desert without any promise of rescue or shelter.
That said, it's frustrating to watch Nick be reduced to a walking plot device. His only important role in "Los Muertos" seems to be questioning Alejandro and Lucia. This wouldn't be so bad if they didn't respond to his skepticism with impersonal rhetoric. Alejandro talks to Nick like a preacher at the pulpit: "The dead are returning, and when they go, this world will be as new." For context's sake, we see Alejandro addressing a congregation of survivors at episode's end. "We have been chosen," he insists. "We will outlast death."
Alejandro's position looks like a provocative counterpoint based solely on these answers. His worldview doesn't jibe with the reality of the show, a status quo that's periodically reestablished through viscerally shocking scenes of gore and violence. You can't help but wonder what planet Alejandro and Lucia are on when she cuts a zombie's throat, then uses its blood for camouflage. What kind of community makes a periodic human sacrifice while also thinking they're God's chosen people? I get the sense, based on Lucia's veiled reference to a missing loved one, that the episode is purposefully withholding information. But the ideological conflict at the heart of Nick's subplot never takes off without anecdotal evidence (or maybe just a better bedside manner).
The best parts of Nick's story appear when he explores another part of the post-apocalyptic world. I'm thinking specifically of the cartel-protected supermarket where he and Lucia go shopping after they exchange a baggy of Oxycontin for a cartful of supplies. Seeing that cluster of sickly survivors camped out in tents at the end of the aisles paints a vivid picture of what life is like during a zombie crisis. I loved the moment when Nick picks up an inessential item off the shelf, and Lucia scolds him into putting it back. That kind of atmospheric sequence is what I want from Fear the Walking Dead, something that will linger in my mind because it stokes rather than limits my understanding of what life under these conditions might be like.
I wasn't nearly as thrilled by Madison and Alicia's respective stories. Strand even explains why, when he laments that "the past, it'll make you sick." When Madison gets drunk with Strand, she wallows in self-pity. Or at least, that's what we're supposed to think after she mentions her late husband's suicide, only vaguely alluding to his dark personality. Nick is apparently just like his dad, but we don't know how beyond general commentary like, "It's his father's darkness … you leave ’em alone, they head straight towards death." If I were a psychiatrist, my immediate reply would be, "What do you mean by that?" There's nothing psychologically complex about that statement, just a hint of intimacy that substitutes for actual human emotion. Talking about the past sucks in this context because it forces characters to yammer on about what they could be missing, not what they're currently struggling to overcome. Madison's drunken reminiscences are deflections.
Nobody on this show seems capable of talking about their feelings without oversimplifying complex emotions. Alicia and Ofelia's conversation about suicide and faith is a prime example of that characteristic skimpiness. Alicia naively marvels at the thought that someone could choose death after she and Ofelia discover a hanged man (now a zombie) in a hotel room's shower stall. Ofelia suggests that the man might have been "tired of surviving." Alicia's desperate reply makes me wonder if she's all there: "You don't get tired of surviving, you just push on." Seriously, what is this girl thinking? I'm not just asking — I don't know where this character is coming from in this moment, nor why she blurts out such a Pollyanna-ish declaration of optimism. What is she really thinking about, and why did that particular zombie make her think about it? I guess I'll just have to hope and wait for future episodes to provide answers. I didn't even know I had these questions until tonight.
- Anybody else think that guy auto-erotically-asphyxiated himself? Be honest, you thought that too … right?
- Alejandro: "This is a test. The dead are walking towards their final resting place." Man, who buys this stuff? How am I supposed to accept this guy as a source of comfort during a crisis if his words are strident without being recognizably human? I'm not an atheist, but I'm genuinely curious: Did spiritual viewers find Alejandro's spiel compelling?
- Ofelia to Alicia: "My father was always one step behind hope." This is the kind of vague, florid dialogue that makes me wish all episodes of Fear the Walking Dead were as quiet as "Grotesque."
- So wait, the Abigail's just gone? That's it, no más, bye-bye? If so, that's actually kind of shocking — and in a good way!