“I want to be where the dead aren’t monsters.”
Now that the Olympics in Rio are over, as the hottest summer on record nears its end, and while we await the new fall TV season, along with who’s on the receiving end of Negan’s barb-wire bat, Fear the Walking Dead is back for the second half of its second season. After an explosive mid-season finale that saw the group break apart and disperse into different directions, Fear returned with one of its best episodes yet, featuring perhaps its most interesting character. “Grotesque” was all about Nick, leaving the other characters’ fates for future episodes, and actor Frank Dillane turned in an Emmy-worthy performance that will be difficult for voters to ignore (though they’ll probably find a way – see No Respect for the Dead…). It’s not easy to carry an entire hour long episode on your bloody back, but Dillane does just that and more. His Nick goes through the ringer and he’s able to display a full range of emotions, oftentimes with very little dialogue. It truly is an impressive and riveting performance.
When we last saw Nick, after the compound in Mexico saw a fiery end, he had decided to leave his mom and the rest of his family behind, and go off on his own. It seemed Nick was at the point where he felt more at home amongst the dead than he did with the living. At the beginning of “Grotesque,” we see that Nick has found Sofia, a woman who had survived the inferno, and a young boy who she hopes to reunite with his father. As those two head off in one direction, Nick, equipped with a backpack of supplies and a jug of water, is headed on a treacherous journey over 100 kilometers away to Tijuana. Sofia leaves Nick with a warning about La Mañas – “they are the worst of men and this is the lawless world they’ve been waiting for.”
It doesn’t take long for Nick to run into trouble. First, he encounters an angry mother with a baseball bat, where he loses his supplies. Next, those bad men he was warned about find Nick to be more challenging target practice than the usual walkers they go after. Then, as if humans and former humans didn’t pose enough dangers, Nick is attacked by a pair of vicious dogs who manage to injure his leg, before finding a walker herd more irresistible. Alas, the walkers prove too formidable a prey and they overpower the dogs, leaving Nick with a smile on his face and a meal only slightly more palatable than the cactus he had thrown up earlier. Yes, it’s a dog-eat-zombie world, and vice versa. Nick then returns to what has worked for him before, bloodying up and continuing on his trek amongst the horde of walkers. This time, he fits in better than ever, with his leg wound giving him a pronounced limp.
“Death is not to be feared, but it shouldn’t be pursued – there’s a difference.”
Nick has believed for awhile now that he is invincible, even so much as telling his mother he cant die. Certainly he has escaped death numerous times, from his days, or rather, years, as a junkie, to his post-apocalyptic brushes with the undead. As he shuffles along the road with the walkers, the bad dudes once again show up and start shooting. As walkers in front of and alongside Nick are dropped, it’s difficult to surmise if Nick truly thinks he is invulnerable or if he has a death wish. When a doctor/pharmacist later tells Nick he could’ve died in the wilderness, Nick replies, “I wouldn’t mind that.” But Nick once again manages to survive when one of the gunmen is ripped apart by the walker herd while reloading, along with another, while the third drives away. Despite his lucky escape, Nick is hurt, dehydrated and utterly zapped of any strength and ultimately collapses alone on the road. Seemingly having used up the last of his nine lives, rain begins to fall upon him, giving him renewed life. Witnessing all of this are two men and their apparent leader, a kick-ass woman named Luciana (played by Danay Garcia, previously seen on Prison Break).
After convincing Luciana and her men that his bite was from a dog and that he’s not infected by the walkers, they bring Nick to a camp called Colonia. Here, Nick is tended to by that pharmacist, Alejandro (Paul Calderon), who tells him he should be dead after such a long, exhausting walk, to which Nick responds, “coulda, shoulda, woulda, story of my life.” Alejandro seems to be a wise man, and he offers Nick plenty of advice, along with hope for a better world as he reveals a bustling, thriving community with a marketplace and kids playing. As Nick kicks back a stray soccer ball, he has been given a new lease on life, at least for now.
It’s a pretty ballsy move for Fear to return from break with an episode entirely centered on a single character. But as previously stated, Nick is probably the most compelling one on the show. His time spent on the streets, scoring drugs and learning how to be resourceful to survive, has enabled Nick to use those same skills to adapt to this new world, which he seems to have done better than anyone else. Nick also possesses a child-like naivety and openness which helps him retain his humanity despite all he’s been through, before and during the apocalypse. Once again, we see how well Nick relates to, and gets along with, children, from the opening scenes with the young boy to the closing moments kicking a ball around. Nick still retains his sense of wonder and joy amidst all the carnage and death, and it’s these traits which may ultimately either ensure his survival, or spell his doom. It’s the same dilemma faced on The Walking Dead – does retaining your humanity make you vulnerable and more prone to death, or is it what allows you to push forward and survive because it gives you a reason to carry on?
“Fathers are supposed to show sons how to be a man in the world, but I guess the world is too much…”
Interspersed throughout the episode are flashbacks to when Nick was in rehab. We see his fellow rehabber, Gloria (Lexi Johnson), who we had last seen as the very first one to turn in the pilot episode. Here, they offer support for one another, something Nick will especially need when he hears from his mother, Madison, that his father had died in a head-on collision. We learn that Nick’s dad wasn’t always there for him, entreating into a world of books, and perhaps suffering from bouts of depression. This lack of fatherly guidance is probably what sent Nick into his downward spiral with drugs, which we see he and Gloria have resumed once out of rehab. Such lack of direction may also be what led Nick to so readily accept Cecilia’s philosophy of life, and death, back at the Mexican compound. Now, with this backstory, Nick’s behavior seems a bit more understandable.
Though at times it seems as though he is more comfortable living with the dead, maybe even longing to actually be one of their kind, Nick has shown he still has an incredible will to live, and has the knowledge and fortitude to do so, though he may have a guardian angel or two helping him along the way as well. Now that Nick has found, for the near future at least, a respite from the hell on earth that exists all around them, will this sanctuary provide what he’s been searching for? What about his family – will he, or does he even want to, see them again? And what about the others – will Travis be able to get through to his son, and how will the others move on having lost those closest to them? Similarly to when The Walking Dead split its band apart after the destruction of the prison, Fear the Walking Dead looks to follow its characters in disparate groups for awhile. This should enable us to learn more of their backstories, along with giving us some new characters too. Danay Garcia and Paul Calderon look to be great new additions to the cast (though we’d also like to maybe one day see Michelle Ang’s Alex again, as well as hope that Ruben Blades’ Daniel has somehow survived). We must once again applaud Fear for showcasing one of the most diverse casts on television, and one that is much more reflective of America. As one ridiculous Presidential candidate disparages an entire country and its people, Fear is currently taking place entirely in that country, and depicting its citizens as strong-willed and caring people, with some bad eggs just like everywhere else in the world. It’s not known how long Fear will take place in Mexico, but for now, it sets the show apart from anything else on American television, including its forefather, The Walking Dead.
— by Brian de Castro