If you have not seen the episode of Fear the Walking Dead on 5/8/16 please come back later, because this post contains spoilers!
This weeks’ episode of Fear the Walking Dead took a few big steps backward in the realm of storytelling. Last week’s episode the Abigail was overrun by pirates. They didn’t have eye patches or hooks for hands, but they did have guns and a pregnant lady for bait. Travis and Alicia were captured and taken to the pirate base. Travis was supposedly chosen because he’s a mechanic. Alicia was chosen because “boy meets girl, bad decisions follow.” Later Luis, fellow henchmen to Strand, made quick work of some of the pirates with a gun while Madison took a moment to impale the dread pirate Reed with a sharp something.
This week we’re on the move and Madison takes control of the Abigail, insisting that they have to rescue Travis and Alicia. Luis reveals that only has money enough for two people to cross the border, which he tells to Strand in Spanish while in the presence of Salazar. Smooth move, Luis. Also, it seems some idiots still care about money in the apocalypse. Maybe, just maybe, only the US was hit with the hordes of zombies? Who knows if we’ll find out before the season ends. Maybe Luis just hasn’t gotten the word yet that no one cares and is focusing on what he knows.
The episode moves along and the goal is met, although not without consequences for next week.
Today I want to talk about Alex (who I previously thought was named Charlie? Actually, getting her name wrong only proves my point in the following discussion.)
Alex shows up at the pirate base. Last we saw her she was floating away on a raft. In the caged of the base is where Travis is being held prisoner, while Alicia is being trained to mark ships for attack by her new BFF. Alex wants to tell Travis the tale of everything that happened to her and the burned boy (who I think is named Jake, maybe I’m wrong there, too,) after Strand cut them lose. First they ran out of water. Then she watched Jake die. Finally, she pushed him into the ocean because there was no way to prevent him from turning. The pirates picked her up and she told them everything she could about the Abigail in search of revenge.
That’s a great story. It has all of the elements of being very emotionally jarring. It’s too bad that no one cares.
Why don’t we care? Well, quite frankly, who is Alex? She was a character on Flight 462, which was “special bonus content” that popped up during commercial breaks of The Walking dead. You could watch them online. Each “episode” was about a minute long. The only people who know Alex and may care at all watched all of these mini-episodes. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see all of them. This is making your audience do homework to care about characters who are otherwise irrelevant.
What if you had to go to the bathroom during the commercials? Maybe you fast forward through commercials, just like most people. What if you didn’t remember or care about Flight 462 and never bothered to watch it on the AMC website or YouTube? This is lazy storytelling, to assume your character knows things that were a “bonus.” It’s like a surprise essay on your final based on your professor’s favorite song that is only listed in the “about me” section of the faculty website.
There are a lot of reasons why Alex and Jake are just two random people. When they were introduced two weeks ago, it was strange enough; floating along in their raft with two other survivors at the top of the show. When we next see Alex she’s on shore being chased by zombies. These disjointed appearances mean nothing to the greater arc of Fear the Walking Dead.
Alex’s speech at the end of her first episode felt ominous, sure. It was a pretty bad day. When she shows up with the pirates it’s surprising, but her encounter with Travis is just weird. We were never given the pieces we need to care about her struggle. Although I think Travis is a weak character, I still care about him far more than I do about her. Once again this is a huge failure in the show vs. tell realm. It would have made more sense for Connor to have captured Travis merely for his boat hijacking skills than it does for him to help Alex in her desire for revenge.
Let’s look at everything we missed in Alex’s journey:
– What happened to get Alex and Jake to shore?
– What happened to the other guys on the raft?
– Why were they being chased by so many walkers?
– After being cut free from the Abigail, they run out of water.
– Jake begins to dye, and Alex is helpless.
– The final struggle to push Jake’s body overboard for her own safety.
– Desperation of being trapped at sea and alone after losing everything, succumbing to the reality that she could easily die of exposure.
– The pirates picking her up and taking her in and then making friends.
– Giving them information about the Abigail.
– Forming a relationship (of any kind) with Connor to convince him that the Abigail crew is bad and to bring Travis to her for revenge. (Plus, she’s trying to earn empathy from a bunch of pirates who randomly murder people for more ships.)
All of this could have been episodes on their own; a subplot, perhaps. The way it has been presented to us, however; is the result of a marketing strategy and forcing these characters to connect with our survivors.
Perhaps Alex is going to become the new villain, with Jack (the pirate teen) as her minion. Surely he’s upset that Alicia chose her family, that she loves, over being a murderous pirate. Considering all we know about Alicia, that makes sense. Even if Alex is the antagonist, we still need to know her and her reasons.
Storytelling is a journey you make with your characters. When you don’t make the journey and are merely told it was made, you do not have the same emotional investment in a character. Let’s compare our introduction to Alex with the greatest antagonist from The Walking Dead show history so far; the Governor.
We didn’t need to see the founding of Woodberry because we arrived there during a different character journey with Michonne and Andrea. Their friendship was very important to the story. Also, finding an eerie safe place in the middle of a nightmare world made a big impact. After that, we spend time with the Governor in his habitat. We see him sit in his creep-show room of zombie heads. We meet his daughter, and his desperation for a cure. We watch him run the zombie fighting ring, an oddly violent addition to what looks like an ideal American town. We watch him rise and fall only to be reborn as Brian, only to fall again.
The reason the Governor as an antagonist was epic was because Michonne didn’t just appear at the prison one day and say “There’s this creep a few miles over doing some bad stuff and Andrea is there in his trap.” It’s because we witness the truth. We believe it, and it’s powerful.
If I were editing Fear the Walking Dead, I would have cut Alex and Flight 462 from the story. At this point, they do not live up to the hopes that were placed on them to “tie things together” and are completely unnecessary to drive the plot.
We don’t need Alex to convince Connor to look for the Abigail. There is already a motivation for that thanks to Alicia talking to Jack on the radio. Even though the Abigail lost them short term, they were still close enough to their base to come in contact with them again. We didn’t need Alex’s desire for revenge on Travis (which seemed completely misplaced, her reasoning should have been all of the crew,) because he proved he’s a mechanic and can start a boat without keys. Sad to say, but their direction with Alex made her useless, and that’s not the fault of the character, but the fault of the writers.
If you have any thoughts to add please feel free to mention them in the comments! Here’s hoping next week we get some answers about Luis and his need for money in the zombie apocalypse.