It's amazing what a change of scenery can do. Fear the Walking Dead's new season immediately sent its cast off to sea, potentially offering something exciting and new — or at least as fresh as a basic cable TV budget will allow. Last week's episode took us through one family's final days at a wildlife refuge. Now this week's chapter — "Ouroboros" — puts a handful of our survivors onto a beach strewn with airplane-wreckage, where they race against the clock to gather supplies from the scattered luggage before the dead rise. The elusive "essential Fear" episode has yet to arrive. But these last two? They're inching closer.
Hardcore Dead-heads should recognize that crashed jet as Flight 462, previously seen in a series of webisodes (and which AMC also ran during commercial breaks). One of the stars of that mini-show, Michelle Ang, returns as Charlie, a passenger who'd watched her fellow travelers die and is now floating in a dinghy — with one remaining, mortally wounded gentlemen. From the opening minutes, it's clear we're headed toward another confrontation between the stingy Strand and the compassionate Madison, who are bound to disagree over whether they owe Charlie or anyone else any mercy. The difference is that in this episode there's much more going on than just one long, heated argument.
Well, maybe "much" is pushing it. But there are two tense, extended pieces of action, running in parallel. While Madison and Strand stay on the Abigail and debate where they're headed — literally and metaphorically — Travis dives underwater to clean out a water-intake pipe that's clogged with zombie guts. And while he's fighting off floating corpses, Daniel is leading Alicia, Nick, and Chris on an expedition to the nearby beach, which is littered with bodies, plane-fragments, and bags. We are put in Madison's shoes, helplessly watching her lover risk his life in the ocean while her children are stepping carefully around snarling beasties.
At its worst, this episode does what both of the Dead shows do far too often, forcing us to suffer through the stupid, stupid decisions made by the people we're supposed to be cheering. By this point, Nick and Chris have seen too much of the undead to be fumbling around as slowly and incautiously as they do around the airliner pieces. They should be hurriedly pawing through the flight's remains, gathering every bit of clothing, food, and pharmaceuticals they can use. Instead, they meander and dawdle, and get cocky — which results in Chris nearly getting killed inside the plane's cabin, and Nick falling into a pit occupied by a nest of nibbling crabs and one passenger's reanimated upper half.
On the other hand, the image of shellfish crawling all over a wriggly torso is pretty badass. And "Ouroboros" tops it with a shot of walkers moving en masse over a dune, toward our heroes; it's like D-Day in reverse. More than anything, what FTWD has needed this season is a what-comes-next "page-turner" element: a reason to keep watching past the commercial break. And if nothing else, with its multiple arenas of life-threatening danger, this week had that.
As for the series' larger arc, a few potentially major plot-points and key bits of character-development do emerge. On the beach, Chris hones his monster-skewering abilities. Meanwhile, Nick discovers that if he's covered in zombie blood he can shamble among them, unharmed. (If the Dead franchise was a video-game, this would be a skill players would pick up on Level Two.) On the boat, Madison forces Strand to admit that he's taking them all to an associate's place in Baja, California, whether they like it or not. She also thinks that she's reached some kind of rapprochement with their surly captain when she gets him to agree to let Charlie and her dying pal tie their raft to the back of the yacht (at least they can float in their wake, if not officially come aboard). But then, right before the closing credits, Strand grabs a machete and cuts the tether, setting them adrift.
The repercussions for this latest bit of dickishness will have to wait until next week, as our heroes sail on to some new, presumably horrifying port of call. What's encouraging now about Fear the Walking Dead is that it's starting to explore the differences between these characters though what they do, rather than just via their incessant jabbering. Yes, the constantly changing locations are nice. But it's even better that the people passing through them have begun to get their hands bloody.
Previously: In the Weeds