Leading into this second half of "Fear the Walking Dead," the teasers made it look like this epic Midwest storm was going to be a dominant factor in these episodes, and then the midseason premiere made it look both exciting and promising.
Then we got this second episode of the new block and realized it was all a lie, a fakeout to try and lure us in when the storm was essentially going to be a non-factor, except as a plot device to force Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) to spend the entire episode together.
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Not only was it a bottle episode, taking place entirely in and around an abandoned house as the storm raged outside, but the two ladies were the only cast-members to appear. Teasers for next week make it look like Lennie James might be the sole "FTWD" focus for that installment.
This is a common staple of shows like parent series "The Walking Dead" who have massive sprawling casts, but there are eight people on "Fear." Do they really need to cut the budget that much with such a small cast that they can't all appear in every episode to save a few bucks here and there. How bad were these ratings?
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Ugh, These Two?
On top of that, we didn't even get to weather the storm with two of the more interesting members of the cast. Alicia may have been the strongest character of the original "Fear," but she was absolutely decimated as a rich character in this new iteration. When we first met her, she had turned into a cartoon villain, alongside Luciana (Danay Garcia) and Strand (Colman Domingo).
Then, after the tumultuous midseason finale seemed to show the three the error of her ways, she retreated into a new darkness revealed in last week's episode. This week was about forcing her to turn the corner back into that young woman with leadership potential who was a chip off of her mother's block, with an extra dose of compassion thrown in there. Madison was always a little too selfish (on behalf of her family) to truly lead effectively.
And so, we spent the hour watching Alicia clear a fireplace flue, board up windows and doors and threaten to shoot a little girl in the face. Debnam-Carey was one of the strongest actors from the original cast, but I wasn't buying her tough-guy persona here. And the turnaround after the girls nearly drowned in the basement felt a little forced and unearned.
Suddenly, because Charlie wants to die and fears becoming a walker, Alicia is ready to let go of the past that has been haunting her for months and months? Yes, we've seen moments of internal conflict as she tried to stay on the path of dark and emo, but suddenly she's helping Charlie remember her parents on a fantasy trip to the beach? Come on!
At least we know dark Alicia is still in there. After the storm subsided -- yes, it's over already and we couldn't be more disappointed -- and the ladies returned to the bus John (Garret Dillahunt) and June (Jenna Elfman) were living in, only to find it overturned, Alicia told Charlie that they were probably dead, oh well, "Let's go."
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Storm of the Cen-- Never Mind
That was about the most disappointing storm in television history. For a moment, we tried to hold out hope that each of the next few episodes would show how the cast survived the night, but that doesn't look to be the case. Even though they set the storm up beautifully in last week's midseason premiere by separating the cast into new groupings to face the coming onslaught, apparently this week was it.
There is still hope for flashbacks exploring how the storm impacted the others, but a much more exciting narrative would have been to have three our four sequences occurring simultaneously, so we can see how the storm impacted what everyone was up to at the close of last week's episode.
Instead, we got Alicia and Charlie bottled up in a house, weathering the storm and one another with relative ease. They hated one another, Alicia got Charlie to talk, they bonded, Charlie tried to kill herself, they connected over the awful things they'd done and by the end they were best pals, hitting the road together.
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Lead, Don't Follow
One of things that is special about "Fear" is that it has consistently maintained a smaller cast than what has happened on "The Walking Dead." It makes the danger feel more real, and it allows for deeper dives into the psyches and personal struggles of those characters.
"TWD" fakes it by splitting up the cast and giving us episodes spotlighting just a few of them, but that leaves characters going weeks without an appearance, and slows character growth to a crawl. With only eight people in the cast, there is no reason "FTWD" needs to start following the same formula.
If this was a one-off focus, we can forgive it, but it looks like we've got another next week. If they go full "TWD," we'll get spotlight episodes for the rest of the season, with the full cast only reuniting for the season finale. But if they do that, "Fear" could find itself in trouble with the viewers.
We get that "TWD" still gets stronger ratings than "Fear," but those are on the decline. Something about what they're doing over there isn't working as well as it used to, and the formulaic structure of each season may well be a part of that. "Fear" should be forging its own path, letting its characters breathe, but keeping the momentum moving forward.
There is no reason to have only one or two cast-members in each episode on "Fear." This is an ensemble show about this disparate group of survivors coming together. In fact, they only just came together in the midseason finale, so splitting them up immediately and then separating them by episode, destroys the group dynamic that got our attention.
We've already seen them fractured and fighting one another. We're ready to see them come together and face whatever new threat is looming as a single -- if not necessarily cohesive yet -- unit. We were also hoping it would be this storm, but that turned into a huge letdown. Next up, regular human adversaries. Here's hoping there's something unique or interesting about them. And that our gang comes together to deal with them.
"Fear the Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.