Fear The Walking Dead: 2.01 Monster
When Fear The Walking Dead dropped its first series in the middle of its parent series fifth season, viewers were confused. What was the series supposed to be? A companion piece to The Walking Dead? Well actually, it's a different beast completely. It's not The Walking Dead; this is a series that is based on humans interacting in a world gone mad. A world full of zombies that brings the worst out of humanity. It's not a television series that has a focus on zombies, at least not yet, more on what happens to humanity when a major disaster happens and how people choose to survive, act and interact. It's very character focused and is better for it. If I wanted more The Walking Dead, I would watch The Walking Dead, if I want something slightly more character based, then this is the series to focus on.
So onto the series premiere episode of Fear The Walking Dead, entitled Monster, directed by Adam Davidson and written by Dave Erikson. When we last saw our characters back in season one, we were left with Strand advising Nick that he had a yacht off the coast called the Abigail, which he is looking to escape to, to get away from the ensuing destruction. Monster opens up with the characters trying to survive amid a war zone of fire amid explosions at night. It's an effective opening, not as effective as say ,Saving Private Ryan, but it's influenced by it with vomit inducing camera movement, putting the viewer right into the action, lost, dazed and confused with what we are seeing on the screen.
It's an excellent reintroduction of the characters; we get to see people who were shrinking violets last season, namely the father Travis, played by Cliff Curtis, using rocks to smash faces of oncoming zombies. Towards the end of the scene, there is a fantastic zombie all soaking wet chasing after the small boat the characters are using, into the sea. Fantastic makeup and fantastic kill. After the scene had finished I was wishing that we had seen how the story got from the discussion with Nick and Strand about the boat to this mayhem, how did the coast get set on fire? How did it go from relative calm to mayhem, hopefully we get a flashback later in the series showing how this came about.
As the episode progresses we start spending time with the characters in small groups. Alicia gets her hands on a boat radio and starts to have a conversation over the radio with a person called Jack. The conversation is placed throughout the episode, a teenager looking to help, almost gaining a crush on the voice on the end of the speaker, an ominous "I will see you soon" concludes the conversation. Chris has an altercation with his father, Travis, about the death of his mother. The fight's conclusion, which we don't really see on screen, ends well with Travis coming off with a cut lip, thinking that was all it was, but later we see Chris with a black eye. Did Travis really hit his own son? It's an interesting development.
One of the main questions that we see especially in The Walking Dead and now in Fear The Walking Dead, are the moral questions that characters have to ask of themselves. If you were in a situation where you could save other humans but possibly put yourself in the way of danger, would you do it? The group are faced with this question and watching it, you are constantly questioning what you would do in this situation. Being the leader and owner of the boat, Strand makes the final decision, Rick like, and moves on from the situation. The rest of the family, quietly discuss amongst themselves, not liking the answer but somewhat relieved that a decision has been made.
The boat setting is a fantastic setting that at this early stage seems to work. It's not a huge boat so I'm not sure how long the characters can co-habit the same space. It feels like the boat is bigger than it is and the camera uses the space well, but I can see the walls closing in for the characters as the series progresses. The use of the boat as metaphor also works well, characters adrift at sea, lost and not knowing what to do next or where to go (although they think San Diego is a good bet). They even use the setting to set a scene for a burial at sea, it's quite a poignant moment and ends with a flurry of violence, anger and ultimately, frustration.
Any good film and nowadays, in its golden age, television, has a good dinner table scene and Monster has one of those. The group having a meal, a last supper?, with no dialogue, only a driving score. It really ramps up the claustrophobia and tension within the group, we as a viewer, know this can't last forever.
To summarise the episode, it's a good season premiere and the new set up works. We haven't seen this setting within Fear The Walking Dead or The Walking Dead. The ominous fog rolling in towards the end of the episode, shrouding the vessel in fog, akin to a creeping dread working its way over the group. The judicial use of zombies within the episode, working unseen 'versions' of zombies into the story is a good addition. Certain episodes of season one didn't make me want to see what happens next; Monster certainly does.