Fear the Walking Dead: Grotesque
During Fear the Walking Dead‘s first season, I frequently requested for Nick to be killed off as soon as possible. The show spent a lot of time developing the idea that a drug addict like Nick was uniquely suited to life in a zombie apocalypse. I’m still not buying into that thesis, but I’m not asking to have Nick meet his demise either. Although Nick himself seems like he would be perfectly okay with being one of the walkers. The midseason premiere of Fear the Walking Dead was devoted to Nick’s solo journey and to my surprise, I was digging it.
The first season of the Walking Dead spin-off show was a disaster. Early episodes of the second season in which the characters were stranded on a boat with nothing to do but philosophize weren’t any better. But once the show hit dry land, the pace picked up and I’ll be damned if the show didn’t get watchable. It was still nonsensical, but at least it was entertaining. The midseason finale ended with the group going their separate ways. Nick, having drunk Celia’s pro-walker Kool Aid, was last seen mingling with the dead.
As this episode begins, Nick has thrown in with one of Celia’s maids. She has taken in a young boy who she hopes to reunite with his father. Odds are, the boy is an orphan but we’ll probably never know one way or another. As the episode progresses, Nick will be dealing with some daddy issues of his own. Nick’s father died before the apocalypse. We learn in flashbacks that he seemed to have given up on life before it finally ended in a car accident leaving Nick to wrestle with unresolved issues.
Sofia the maid gives Nick supplies for his journey. He doesn’t seem to need much, but any living breathing human will need water to cross a desert. It doesn’t take long for Nick to lose his supplies when he is perceived as a threat by a mother with a baseball bat. Nick tries to reason with her and get his bag, but after taking a few lumps he leaves without it.
From there, Nick does what he has to in order to survive. He drinks water from a cactus then drinks his own urine. Eventually, he grabs a few leftovers when a zombie herd chows on a dog. The dog had previously bitten Nick’s leg which resulted in him stumbling around like the zombies he has been spending time with. His brain fried by the heat, Nick imagines the undead welcoming him into their ranks.
Most of the episode is light on dialogue which is always a good thing. The Walking Dead writers struggle with dialogue on both shows. In Grotesque, most of the chit chat takes place in flashbacks to Nick’s first stint in rehab. There, he meets and bonds with Gloria, the girl who OD’d in the show’s pilot episode. This is also where we learn about Nick’s strained relationship with his well-meaning but increasingly distant father.
Generally speaking, flashbacks to before the apocalypse don’t seem like they would be very effective. Most of the problems the characters were dealing with in their pre-zombie lives are rendered moot in the new status quo. But here, the flashback gives the audience a glimpse into Nick’s state of mind. The implication is that having an absentee father may have paved the way for Nick to get into drugs in the first place. There’s also a suggestion that maybe Nick’s dad withdrew from life due to depression which Nick might be self-medicating with narcotics and now the adrenaline rush of walking with zombies.
There is some potentially neat stuff in there. Typically, the writers would feel the need to beat the audience over the head with whatever point they were trying to make about drug users or those struggling with depression being zombie-like. But since they show us rather than tell us, it’s much more effective (if not any more subtle) here. These kinds of analogies work better when you let the audience draw the comparisons themselves.
On the whole, I thought this was a really solid stand-alone episode and I wouldn’t mind seeing more like it.