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FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, or as I like to call it, “the little spin-off that could,” came way out of left-field for many people. It’s already quite difficult to make a zombie story unique nowadays, so a spin-off of the cultural phenomenon THE WALKING DEAD set in the exact same universe seemed like a dicey undertaking. Despite a terrible series title, the first six-episode season demonstrated that the show actually had legs. The different location (L.A) and time period (beginning of the zombie outbreak) were an exciting spin on the main series. However, this recent second season showed audiences that the show is much more than offspring of THE WALKING DEAD. It’s got some ways to go, but it has the potential to completely become its own entity. While FEAR still lives in the shadow of the main series, it’s getting further from it every day.

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Seen here

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Season two starts with a bang, literally. We see L.A engulfed in flames from military bombing attempts to control the outbreak, as our main squad escapes onto Victor Strand’s yacht. The idea of surviving the apocalypse on the water was the main excitement factor for the second season of FEAR, so I commend the writers for putting the characters on the boat immediately instead of tediously building up to it. And when we get on the boat, we stay there for the next five episodes. While one would think that the storyline on Strand’s yacht would get boring quickly, the show does an excellent job of keeping it compelling, continually contributing plot elements towards the characters and story at large. We get the discovery of plane crash survivors, invaders taking over the boat, and a stressful prisoner exchange. The show throws in various nautical obstacles and intelligently moves on from the boat by episode five.

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I would’ve been much more afraid of the boat invaders if their leader wasn’t played by Jesse McCartney

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After we’re done with the boat, the last two episodes of the season’s first half go slightly downhill. We end up in Baja, Mexico, in a safe-house occupied by Strand’s boyfriend Thomas and his family. I liked the idea of exploring how the apocalypse is affecting another country, but the story they tell is not interesting or original. We learn that Celia, Thomas’s mother, is keeping zombies in the compound’s cellar because she believes they’re alive. Remind you of anyone? Maybe Hershel from THE WALKING DEAD, who keeps zombies in his barn because he believes they’re alive? I don’t know what the hell was going on in the writers’ room, but this came across as a total rehashing of a plotline from the main show and took me out of it completely.

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Free trip to Mexico on a yacht? The apocalypse ain’t half bad

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The midseason finale of FEAR was a highly anticipated episode, but was unfortunately rather disappointing. While lots of crazy shit went down, much of it came out of nowhere and blindsided me. The main show often suffers from having setup but not enough payoff; FEAR does the opposite here. The big events, like Salazar seeing ghosts and killing himself, or Madison locking Celia in the zombie cellar, weren’t set up or foreshadowed properly, so they seemed slightly out of character. The largest example is how they handled Chris. Sure, I get that he’s disturbed. Any kid who loses their mother and lives among the undead would be. But his character immediately jumps from slightly troubled to trying to fatally stab his stepmother and stepsister before running away.

For the most part, the first half of season two was fairly strong, but it didn’t quite stick the landing in the end.

The season’s second half completely switches gears, as our characters are separated after the events in Baja. Thus, we get parallel storylines, a method used frequently in THE WALKING DEAD. I believe FEAR actually handles parallel storylines better than the main series, as it uses more engaging ways to weave the narratives together, such as flashbacks and non-chronological storytelling.

One of the main three storylines is that of fan-favorite Nick, who joins a community led by a sketchy pharmacist. This is my least favorite of the plotlines this half-season, not because it was necessarily bad, but because it was simply less interesting than the other ones. Most of it was about selling drugs to gang members, which seemed pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things. Nick does find a love interest in this community, Luciana, which I didn’t mind. They had more chemistry than couples in most recent shows, certainly more than Rick and Michonne in THE WALKING DEAD. The biggest issue with this storyline is that the show puts too much faith in Nick to carry it. He is a great character (he might even be my favorite character), but he just hasn’t been developed enough to lead an entire story arc by himself.

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Believe it or not, this is the cleanest Nick has been all season

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Madison, her daughter Alicia, and Victor Strand carry another plotline, involving them finding and holding up in a resort hotel. This story has a bunch of great moments in it, but doesn’t get off to a very captivating start, as the first episode is composed of Madison and Strand having a drunken conversation at the hotel bar. These scenes covered lots of important information (revelations about Madison’s ex-husband, for example) but I wish they had taken this pit stop a couple episodes later and began their new adventure with a more exciting episode. The hotel wedding subplot was the most impactful part of this storyline. The flashback scene in episode 10 showing the beautiful wedding descending into bloody chaos was powerful and heartwrenching, despite our unfamiliarity with the characters.

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“Save the alcohol!”

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The best part of this half of the season was the story of Travis and his son Chris, which is strange, because it was a major low point in the first half. It’s almost as if they got an entirely new writing team, because FEAR handles Chris’s darkness infinitely better. Instead of just making him commit murderous acts out of the blue, it takes time to illuminate what’s going on in his head. The most impactful moment of the season is when Chris abandons his father and goes on the road with the savage brothers. Hearing Travis yell “God damn you Chris” at the son he loves more than the world made my heart stop. Well done, FEAR.

Though I had a feeling Chris wouldn’t make it through this season, I still don’t know how to react to the way his “death” was handled. Having the savage brothers simply tell Travis that he’s dead is kind of a snub for such an emerging character. I am about 99% sure that he’ll still be breathing in Season Three, but if I’m wrong then I am going to be pretty pissed. The character of Chris has almost limitless potential. He could become the next Governor or Negan in the far future, letting us see the full process of how a villain is created. Hell, he could even show up in the main series somehow, because it’s all in the same universe. It will be a downright shame if he’s really a goner, because he’s got so much story left to tell.

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In both FEAR and the main show, the length of your beard is correlated with your inner darkness.

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The most frustrating aspect of this season is something that might seem minor, but is truly a gigantic issue. THE WALKING DEAD is known for usage of the “stench coat” (characters covering themselves in zombie guts to mask their smell and blend in with other zombies). The main series used it in their second episode, and have only used it a couple times since. FEAR absolutely abuses the stench coat. Nick discovers it near the season’s start, and its usage escalates rapidly. Virtually every episode in the second half of the season has a character doing it, and it works perfectly every time. And it’s not like they’re drenching themselves in zombie entrails like in the main series; it’s gotten to a point where they dab a smidge of blood on their foreheads and are completely invisible to zombies. The show has written itself into a hole with this, as there’s no reason for the characters not to use the stench coat anymore. It seems like the writers just can’t think of new ways for their characters to escape danger, so they use the stench coat as an easy out.

espite many flaws, FEAR does a lot of things right this season. As an avid fan of the main series, this scares me a bit, because this show could surpass it in the future. The thing about FEAR is that it’s consistently decent. There are normally no exceptionally weak episodes of the series. On the other hand, THE WALKING DEAD is quite inconsistent. We get incredibly amazing episodes and then objectively poor ones. While FEAR is yet to have an episode as powerful as Episode 609 of THE WALKING DEAD (“No Way Out”), it is successful at always providing a solid hour of television.

What FEAR needs to do is gain back the distinctive edge that it promised when the series began. We were promised a show that demonstrates what happens in the beginning stages of the zombie epidemic, which is what we initially got, but is now quickly slipping away. The show is almost too similar to its predecessor, presenting a world that seems pretty accustomed to the apocalypse after a mere few weeks have gone by. If the show can start to get back to its original fresh outlook, I have a good feeling about where it’s going.

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD has proven itself as a terrific extension of this universe we all love so much. It isn’t the main series, but perhaps that is a good thing.

Verdict: Recommend

Jordan is a student at Chapman University from Vancouver, Canada, and a Crossfader guest contributor. When he's not watching THE WALKING DEAD, you can probably find him…watching every other show.

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