Fear The Walking Dead S02E08 “Grotesque” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC Global, Mondays
Writer: Kate Barnow
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Essential Plot Points:
- Previously on Fear The Increasingly Terrible Life Choices Of The Walking Dead!
- Oh all sorts of stuff… awful stuff. Strand’s boyfriend was introduced just in time to kill him; Chris reached Peak Awful; Travis reached Peak Idiot; and Nick was so disgusted with his family that he bogged off to walk amongst the Dead.
- Now! We continue!
- The episode opens with Nick waking up next to two dead bodies. Actual dead not “hrrrnnnghh… stumble” dead. He’s with a pair of survivors from the Mansion catastrophe who are heading South. Nick isn’t up for it and so opts to walk the North road towards Tijuana where it’s rumoured other pro-Walker people live.
- Nick walks the land and finally gets to a highway filled with abandoned cars. He heads past one with bullet holes in the windscreen and…
- Flashback to rehab. There he’s coached by Gloria (remember her?!) in how to communicate with his family. He’s reluctant, especially given how sweet his dad is but as she pushes him he becomes suddenly, savagely honest. He lambasts his “father” for not being there for him and breaks down, crying.
- Back in the just-about post apocalypse, Nick gets to a small town. He finds and enters a house that’s still in good condition. Nick beds down for the night, carefully managing his water and food rations and drifts off.
- He’s woken by a terrified mom defending her daughter who beats the hell out of him with a baseball bat and drives Nick out into the night. Now with no supplies he continues his walk. He scavenges water from a car with a belted in place Walker inside. He steals her radio and watches three armed men roll up and proceed to scavenge the convoy. They find someone alive and kill him, leading Nic to hide. The radio goes off and they see him. Nick escapes them but is now in the middle of nowhere, lost, with no supplies.
- Increasingly frightened, Nick breaks a cactus apart to try and get water from it to no effect. He beats the thing to a pulp and sucks the sour tasting but watery insides and then… pukes them back up.
- This is not going well.
- Drinking his own pee goes a little better though so there’s… y’know… that.
- That night, freezing, he gets some sleep and flashes back to rehab. His mom arrives and breaks the news that his father was killed in a car accident.
- And then he wakes up to a pair of dogs about to kill him. Nick uses a stone to beat the animal off him and drags himself onto a car roof.
- The good news is the dogs run off. The bad news is they do so to attack the big crowd of Walkers heading towards him. Who then eat the dogs.
- Dogs being eaten to death is a win for Nick today.
- Until the Walkers spot him.
- Car horns and gunshots nearby distract them and Nick drags himself over to the dog corpse and eats some of it.
- Then, spotting a single Walker still intent on Nickicide, he steals its belt, uses it to short his leg up and covers himself in gore.
- Which by this stage is not that much effort to be honest with you.
- He walks with The Herd, partially conscious and hallucinating, including the girl he was with in rehab. She promises to take him home and an increasingly feverish Nick just keeps walking. He runs into the three scavengers from earlier who stop and take potshots at the Herd. There are too many of them though and they’re overrun with only the single one smart enough to stay in their vehicle escaping.
- Nick finally collapses near a scout crew led by Luciana who, interestingly, are looking for someone walking with the Herd but not him. She’s all for leaving him but her friends talk her round.
- Nick passes out and flashes back to the squat he was in at the start of the season. He talks about the book he’s reading and how it was one his dad loved, but that reminded him of his fundamental inability to act. He’s woken up by the rain and laugh/sobs as he drinks at last.
- Later that day, Nick limps into the outskirts of Tijuana. Looking – pretty reasonably given how badly he’s been hurt – for drugs, he lucks out. However, Mark Watney’s friend is very much on hand and he’s gaffer taping his wound when Luciana shows up. He persuades her and her friends he’s not been infected and they give him water and take him to someone who can help him.
In an actual clinic! Score!
- The Doctor, Alejandro, is a good-natured chap who treats Nick and makes it pretty clear he sympathises with the Dead. He shows Nick out into the camp they’re in. It’s big, vibrant and full of life. A football is kicked to him and Nick smiles, genuinely happy. It’s not home but it’s a good start.
- The camera pulls back to reveal a sprawling neighbourhood, fortified and secure.
- Let’s face it, that won’t last long.
Fear The Walking Dead at this point has nothing to fear but tedium. The shattering of the main cast at the end of the last half season may have led to some deeply stupid moments (SHOES! TRAVIS! THEY’RE CALLED SHOES!) but it at least means no Chris this week and a chance for a welcome change in perspective.
And welcome it most certainly is. Where Frank Dillane’s twitchy, bitchy Nick was one of the least interesting parts of early episodes this season he’s absolutely blossomed. Nick’s calmness and adaptability put him in a different league to his perma-terrified family some time ago and breaking him off on his own is inspired. It’s also gutsy this early in the life of a show but it pays off.
Frank Dillane is on screen basically constantly and is great throughout. There are really two journeys here: Nick’s trek to Tijuana to find more people sympathetic to the Dead and Nick’s emotional journey through what’s happened to him and out the other side. It’s the second where Dillane excels and we see a lot of Nick’s darkest sides here: the nasty little smile as the dogs who attacked him are killed; the feral way he mirrors the crawling Walker’s movements. The fact that when the guys in the jeep return, just for a second, you think he’s going to feed on them too.
And the interesting fact that while you don’t see him feed, you don’t see him NOT feed either…
That sort of laser focus and ambiguity is the sort of thing the show’s tried for with the Chris plot and so far missed by a mile. Here it works brilliantly because we also see just how wrong Nick is about everything. The Zen fatalist calm he starts with is soon replaced by a badly injured, increasingly desperate young man hallucinating the dead as he stumbles towards something that he was never sure was even there. He gets very, very lucky and oddly that luck is the one part of the episode that fails. Nick should by all weights and measures be dead. Instead he’s picked up by a new group of people with complex reasons, resources of their own and a desire to help. It’s a great shot in the arm for the show but it still feels a little forced. Plus, unless there’s a lot of, “Oh you’re in Tijuana too?!” then we’re getting this plot in way smaller doses from here on out.
Regardless this is a strong opener and a welcome spotlight for the most improved character on the show. Hopefully everyone else is similarly better when we run back into them.
- First off, this episode is weird and complicated and won’t be to everyone’s tastes. GOOD. More of this sort of experimentation please.
- The twist on Nick’s biological dad was very nicely handled. You assume it’s Travis, especially when Nick is speaking fondly of him then BOOM.
- Also brilliant direction from Sackheim for the most part, especially on Nick alone in the wilderness. There’s a real sense of scale the show hasn’t had for a while there.
- The dogs that are used in the canine attack on the dead is a clever piece of production. They’re fairly clearly trained attack dogs because they go hell for leather for two of the Walkers and are very definitely attacking them. It looks great, and frightening and because of the Walker’s costumes the pads to protect the actors can be hidden. Nice work, FTWD effects crew.
- Nick’s relaxed attitude to the dead is rapidly becoming one of the show’s more interesting elements. His nonchalance on the Highway of Death is really interesting and manages to show his arrogance a well as his fatalism. It also constantly places the show in danger of massively cheapening the threat but we’re not there yet.
- Nick collapsing in front of Luciana’s scout party is super convenient, isn’t it?
- The baseball bat is so clearly a Negan riff it’s not even funny
- Were those family members he was hallucinating as Walkers? It was almost impossible to tell.
And The Random:
- Nice to see Lexi Johnson again. Since we last saw her she’s briefly been in The Nice Guys, the best movie no one saw this year. Check it out when it hits DVD and On Demand services.
- Luciana is played by Danai Garcia. She’s been on CSI Miami, CSI New York, Prison Break and Supernatural prior to this.
- Paul Calderon who plays Alejandro is one of the character actor pillars of modern American cinema. As well as appearances recently on Blindspot, Elementary and an extended run on Boardwalk Empire he’s was in Michael Jackson’s video for “Bad”. He also has memorable turns in Bad Lieutenant, Pulp Fiction and King of New York.
- The episode is bookended by some pretty great music. “How Low” by Jose Gonzalez opens Nick’s journey and “Hard As Nails” by Peter Wolf Crier plays as the episode ends.
Review by Alasdair Stuart