As if in direct response to people’s frequent complaints about the show’s “slow burn”  The Walking Dead’s stand-alone prequel show, Fear the Walking Dead, opens its second season with all of Los Angeles on fire.  High school guidance counselor, Madison Clark, and her beau, English teacher Travis Manawa, stand on the beach with Travis’ teen son, Chris, still clutching his dead mom – who was bit, then put down by Travis in the previous finale – as every undead person in a few hundred miles approaches with hungry interest.  There’s some head-smashing via driftwood and rocks, some yelling, and then a lot of running to the safety of the speed/life boat that’s come to collect them and carry them onwards to the Abigail – a massive yacht owned and run by the mysterious Victor Strand.  After one last awesome kill via boat propeller to the face things slow down again…

I’m not complaining, I always liked the slower pace of this show.  It lets you feel the tension in even the most mundane of moments – like a guy coughing in a hospital bed or the blips of a radar – and there’s something great in that.  Just as there’s something great in watching young Chris refuse to leave the side of his mother’s body for the first half of the episode.  You get to see him come to terms with the death in a more natural, in the moment, way.  The stages of grief can be seen as he goes from denial to bargaining and eventually hits anger during her improvised burial at sea when he preemptively tips her body into the water, storms off, and eventually slugs his father during an argument.  (Chris is lucky his dad is Travis, other dad’s would’ve exploded, I’m sure.)  There’s even a glimpse of depression when he jumps off the boat; he says he wanted to go for a swim, I call bullsh*t.

Madison’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Alicia, spends most of her time talking to a man on the boat’s radio.  What at first seems to be just another person reaching out for some kind of connection in the apocalypse soon turns into a man desperate for help as he claims his boat is taking on water.  Trying to figure out where he is Alicia gives away just enough of her own location that this guy can most likely find her if he wishes…and after hearing about the sweet mega-yacht she’s on, I’m sure he wishes.  When she goes to her mom and Travis with the request to pick him up Strand, rightfully, gets pretty ticked off.  Not only are others (for the second time) requesting to take on more passengers, but Alicia’s given away more information about them than she can possibly realize and that’s incredibly dangerous even when there isn’t an apocalypse going on around them.  Strand, rightfully, tells everyone they aren’t going to pick up anyone and that this is his boat and they’d do well to remember that.

Regardless it seems Alicia’s done enough damage that she’s already put them all in danger by the end of the episode.  As Chris goes for his “swim” and Nicolas – Madison’s heroin-addicted eldest – joins in everyone on the boat discovers three very unnerving facts.  First is that, floating or sunk underwater, the undead can and will still totally go after you.  Second is that someone out there in the wide ocean with them is taking out other boats.  Third is that someone is quickly closing in on the Abigail…and it’s not a leap to think that it’s the same someone who’s taking out other ships.  And it’s also no great leap for the audience to presume that those people coming for them, who probably caused the destruction of the boat they found, are the same people Alicia’s been chatting with the whole episode.

Interesting Asides:

These characters are all still coming into focus for the audience and it’s a lot of fun to catch glimpses of who they might truly be and, in turn, how they might fair longterm.  Certain one’s appear more at risk of death than others already: Chris and Alicia, obviously, and Ofelia Salazar, who was already shot in the previous season and now has to be sure to care for her wound lest it get infected.  Others I’m pretty confident will be just fine for a fair amount of time: Daniel Salazar – Ofelia’s father and former torturer in his homeland who seems to understand the true danger people pose during upheaval – Madison Clark, and Victor Strand.  That being said Travis has already proved surprisingly more adept than he first appeared.  Last season he seemed the least ready out of the adults for what was about happen, but has now started to appropriately harden as evidenced in his “no rescue” stance when they come across a raft full of survivors.  One would have expected him to be in favor of saving others and Madison against as she’s always been the tougher one, but there’s a surprising reversal of roles happening.

Madison gave a hint about her past in telling Chris about how she first hit her father when she was thirteen and it didn’t end well.  While the second part is not shocking – I imagine it rarely ends well when a child hits their parent – the whole thing is curious.  Was her father abusive?  Was he a drunk?  Why was she so angry she hit him?  While a good person, Madison consistently gives off a presence of a strong, no-nonsense, woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her and her loved ones safe and there’s little doubt it comes from how she grew up so I’m dying to know more…Hope I get to throughout the upcoming season.

Victor Strand is still the most intriguing character on the show.  He’s not evil, but he’s not exactly a good guy either.  He’s remarkably wealthy, but it’s heavily implied this isn’t a guy who inherited his wealth.  There’s no sense of entitlement or relaxation with him; it’s all wheeling, dealing, and working all the angles all the time.  He’s a survivor through and through without the sympathy (empathy? humanity??) that the rest have as he’s able to bypass rafts full of desperate people without a thought.  More interesting though is what the other characters – such as naturally skeptical Madison and Daniel – noted about him.  Like, despite a nicely fortified home on the sea, he was already packed and ready to go well before the world fell apart.  It begs the question: Why?  And why won’t he sleep and why does he seem to be into talking to himself?  …Okay, the sleep bit I get given every time he turns his back one of his passengers is doing something stupidly dangerous and there’s a fair amount of potential for paranoia on a boat full of virtual strangers, but the talking?  Personally I doubt he’s crazy – or, at least, I doubt he’s psychotic – but he’s an odd duck to be sure.  The question is, is he an odd duck that can save them all or an odd duck they’ll get too uncomfortable having around?