YO, peeperas y peeperos!
Happy freakin’ Friday and may you Live Long and Prosper. Many of you fan-types totes celebrated/commemorated the 50th anniversary of Star Trek yesterday. If you didn’t, WHY NOT??? And yes, in a future fangirl post, I’ll be talking about Star Trek. But today, mis amigas y amigos, we shall speak of the apocalyptic TV show on AMC, Fear the Walking Dead.
I want to do this because after last Sunday’s episode, “Do Not Disturb,” I feel as if FTWD might be finally – FINALLY – breaking free of the sandbar it’s been moored on for nearly two seasons.
And it’s solely because the character of Alicia Clark has unleashed her inner BAMF (::ahem:: Bad-Ass Mother F*cker) and it is glorious to behold.
I’ll probably get some flak for this, but come ON, people. You know I’m right. For those of us who started watching the show and groaned our way through the first season, yelling at the TV and wondering why the hell these people seemed utterly unable to deal with anything, it feels as if things are starting to break free a bit.
And yeah, I get it. A zombie apocalypse is a giant bucket of suck. Who the hell is ever prepared for an apocalyptic scenario besides that weird dude on the edge of town who stockpiles weapons and food and looks at you funny when you pass him in the store? Yeah, that guy. Has all the “no trespassing” signs up on his razor wire fence and probably some obscure antigovernment bumper stickers all over his tactical vehicles. THAT guy. He’s prepared. You might want to get to know him better…
ANYWAY. Let’s talk FTWD for a minnit.
Oh, and there are SPOILERS, friends. I’ve tried not to reveal BIG stuff, but I do discuss some of the plotlines.
First, some context. For those not in the know, this show is set just BEFORE the infection ravages the land, so everything is “normal” and fine when it opens. If you follow The Walking Dead, you know that it takes place AFTER shit has pretty much already collapsed. FTWD, however, plops you down just before the first infections occur. In TV time, that means we spend, like 4 episodes of it waiting for people to start flipping out. One of the biggest complaints I heard about the first season (and I had it, too) was the glacial pacing. FRUSTRATING as hell.
And none of the characters really grabbed me initially. Those characters consisted of high school guidance counselor Madison Clark, her partner Travis Manawa, who is an English teacher and Madison’s son, Nick, and daughter, Alicia, from her previous marriage. Travis has a son, Chris, with his ex-wife, Elizabeth Ortiz.
At first, this context seemed really promising to me. A blended family dealing with the day-to-day weirdnesses of trying to actually be a family, but there are rifts. One of the most intriguing characters for me initially was older teen Nick, who is a drug addict. His sister, younger teen Alicia, has pretty much lived in his shadow throughout their lives because guess who Madison focused on most? Yep, Nick. Because he was the problem child, always disappearing and ending up in awful places. So Alicia pretty much raised herself, even as she, too, picked up Nick’s pieces. And she’s a piece of work. She’s moody, sullen, and frustrating as f*ck. In other words, she nails the character.
Travis, meanwhile, has his own issues. He doesn’t have the best relationship with his son (who is about the same age as Alicia), though he and his ex-wife try to be cordial. Travis is that guy who tries too hard. He means well, but he’s really freaking annoying with his trying too hard and you just want to shake him and say, “Dude. Stop. Give it up. Move on to the next issue, son. This one can’t be solved.” But he doesn’t. And he’s trying to be a moral compass for Chris who seems to have blown his morality gasket and at some point, Travis, you’re gonna have to make some hard choices.
So there’s your context for the people who will greet the impending apocalypse, which starts as news reports of some kind of weird “flu.” We all know it’s worse than just that, but obviously nobody understands what precisely it is until there’s an incident on a freeway in which a man who has turned into a the living dead starts biting the hell out of emergency workers. People are already starting to panic because incidents like these are cropping up all over the city. Amidst this developing crazy Travis and Chris end up holed up in a shop with some other people who will be with them for a while.
In a nutshell, our bumbling dysfunctional blended family will end up in Mexico, fleeing south from the crazy, and that’s where we are right now, halfway through Season 2.
What I want to talk about here is the evolution of Alicia Clark, the moody, marginalized teen in Season 1 and the first half of Season 2 who had some glimmers of badassery in the first season but she was always overshadowed by Nick pulling either bad or good shit; you never could tell what his decisions would lead to. Props, by the way, to actor Frank Dillane, who plays Nick, who is actually one of my fave characters in this motley bunch. And then when Chris starts acting out, well, Alicia gets lost in the shuffle.
Which was ultra-frustrating for this fangirl, because straight up, the only reason I decided to continue watching FTWD after Season 1 was because of the actress who portrays Alicia. That would be Alycia Debnam-Carey (ADC), the mastermind behind the charismatic and iconic Commander Lexa from the post-apocalyptic show The 100.
I figured ADC had some decent acting chops, to bring Lexa to life the way she did, so surely with the material at FTWD something awesome would happen. But alas, an actress and her character are only allowed to function within the material they’re given, and I slogged through the first half of season 2 watching carefully for ADC to bust loose, to defy the writers and just open a can of Lexa.
But no. Though she did do some walker bustin’ with a baseball bat, but her demeanor was more AHHH HELP ME OMG than “I’m gonna bust this dude’s head open and get on out of here.”
I finally gave up on the last couple of episodes of the first half of Season 2, disappointed because the writers have a GEM in ADC. A freaking GEM. And it didn’t feel to me that they were using her skills effectively. I decided to write FTWD off and drown my sorrows in re-watching The 100.
And then I heard a rumor, because this is what fangirls do. They hang out on social media where other fangirls gather and they hear things. ADC made a comment somewhere that got picked up on the Twitterz about what was in store for her character in the second half of FTWD and the comment had to do with how ADC was practicing her knife skills (for the love of all that is holy, click that link and watch ADC show you some of those skillz!) and had adopted a balisong (butterfly knife) for her character. Which, incidentally, she stole off “Jack,” a character from the first half of Season 2 who totally catfished her.
You’ll notice the blade is nestled essentially between two handles that swivel, which means you can do some serious badass tricks twirling this thing around your hands. That’s also why there’s an entire industry of practice butterfly knives for you to get the hang of that. Because obviously, bad idea to try it with an actual blade right out of the gate.
At any rate, my little heart went pitter-patter. Was ADC tapping into the spirit of Lexa? Was she finally going to be allowed to open a can of destructo on the dead?
INQUIRING MINDS, people. I watch this stuff so you don’t have to. And I decided, okay, I’ll give this another shot.
The first episode of the second half of Season 2 of FTWD, “Grotesque,” was basically Nick pulling a Nick — that is, going off on a walkabout through Mexico by himself to deal with his issues following the crazy that befell them all in the first half of the season. He ends up with yet another group of cultish survivors (I’ll let you watch the series for yourselves) and then the second episode, “Los Muertos,” was Madison and Alicia along with two people they picked up roughly halfway through Season 1, Ofelia and Strand.
Strand is a renaissance man of problem-solving and apocalyptic preparation. Super badass, but just this side of sociopathic. Actually, he’s probably just the right guy to have with you when the dead walk the earth. Except for this episode. More on that in a minute. Meanwhile, Travis and Chris are off trying to solve their dad issues. (my opinion? Chris is a lost cause, Travis. Move along.) In the apocalypse? Who has time for that? But I digress.
Key, here, is the fact that Nick did bail and he’s out doing Nick things, leaving Alicia to deal with Madison, who is also flipping out because her partner, Travis, is gone. He’s trying to get his son Chris to stop being douchebro of the apocalypse. Why is this key to Alicia’s character? Because for the first time, there’s no Nick. There’s no possibility of finding him and bringing him home like they used to do. When he’d go off on his binges and fail at rehab, Madison always found him or he ended up coming home.
This time, it’s different, and Alicia realizes it immediately and she basically keeps laying that out for Madison. “He’s gone, Mom.” She’s trying to force Madison to acknowledge that Alicia is still present, and that she needs her to one, not flip out and two, be a damn mom. We also really begin to see that Alicia, unlike the others, compartmentalizes. That may serve her well or it may not. We shall see.
These changes in the family dynamics have thus helped create the circumstances for Alicia’s inner BAMF. It’s a perfect storm of soon-to-be BAMF-ness.
So Madison and company end up at this Mexican highrise hotel on a beach, which appears relatively clear of zombies. (BUT IS IT? Watch it and see.) They’re in the bar and Alicia and Ofelia decide to go look for supplies in the rooms. Madison is freaking out about Alicia doing stuff on her own and Strand is all, “she’s fine, she can take care of herself” and Alicia looks at Madison and says, “Yeah. I’ve been doing it half my life.” OH, snap. She called her mom out for all the BS she put up with while Nick was running around being an addict. I love how Alicia is recognizing the parts of the old life that continue to hamstring her mom even now. The difference is, she’s less willing to put up with it.
Hmm, I thought. THIS is interesting. Alicia is showing a little spark…
And then Madison and Strand proceed to drown their sorrows in the readily available alcohol, which seemed consistent for where their characters were emotionally, and demonstrated how completely dysfunctional these people are. Especially when Strand gets hammered and starts pounding on the piano. OMG. Are you kidding me? Why not just paint targets on your back and run around on a firing range? But again, I digress.
The most interesting thing about this episode to me was that Alicia took charge. She stepped up. She had been through some serious crap and ADC plays her with a quiet, subtle nuance that I at first had missed because I wrongly kept expecting Lexa, since that was the character I most associated this actress with. I expected bold, badass, bring-the-hammer-down Lexa. Yeah, I know. That’s just dumb, to do that. I get it now. Different character, different show.
So let’s go see what ADC unleashes as Alicia Clark.
What we’re getting from ADC’s performance here is a carefully layered development of a young woman from sullen, moody teen dealing with the ways her brother’s addiction shaped the family dynamic into a BAMF who realizes that there is nobody who will help them in these circumstances and if they want to survive, they’d better freaking do it on their own. So she does. And when “Los Muertos” ends, all hell is breaking loose in the hotel, as Ofelia has disappeared and Alicia is left to her own devices in the hotel where the dead have been relatively quiet in the rooms they’ve been trapped in (that’s a whole OTHER story) until Strand taps his inner musician. The piano draws the dead out. Literally.
New walker trick, everybody — they basically fling themselves over the balcony railings of the hotel, fall to the ground below, get up (they’re dead, after all), and head on over to the bar. It was eerie, watching and hearing that. Anyway, at the bar, shit gets real, and fast.
So this is the sitch when episode 2 ends. Bad bar party downstairs, Alicia trapped on some floor high above, trying to figure out how to get down to the bar and save her mom. Not just go be with her, but to SAVE her. That’s the sense you get from Alicia’s myriad expressions as she watches the walkers (they call them “infected” in FTWD) fling themselves off the balconies. Alicia’s inner badass is blossoming, and the gears are turning. It’s almost magical, watching her assess this situation.
So Episode 3, “Do Not Disturb,” is basically Alicia’s inner BAMF debut.
SPOILERS! STOP NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT THEM!
And it is a sight to behold.
No, it’s not the I OWN THE DAMN SCREEN Lexa. It is, rather, an almost silent intensity of screen-owning that ADC infuses Alicia with, and you can almost see her sloughing off the teen and donning the armor of a woman on a mission.
The episode opens with a flashback to how the hotel went walker. Basically, there was a wedding party and the father of the bride seems to have had a heart attack, died, turned, and started chomping on others. Hotel staff locked them in. Anyway, the next scenes prove my point about Alicia.
First we have to deal with Chris and Travis and Chris pulling some stupid crap (I won’t even go into it because we are all about Alicia right now).
THEN scene change and we’re back at the hotel. We hear this “snick snick click click” sound of metal, and we see Alicia standing in a darkened room, staring at a peephole in the door. She’s twirling a butterfly knife in her right hand (hence the snick snick click click sounds and lord have mercy, but that caused several of us to go even gayer than we already are – a veritable tidal wave of gay flooded the interwebz with that) and then she checks the peephole and for every walker that shambles by, she carves a line in the door. She’s keeping tabs, assessing her odds.
She makes her decision and heads down the hall, but uh-oh, walkers at either end. So she pries the elevator doors open and jumps onto the cables. Let me say that again. SHE PRIES THE DOORS OPEN AND JUMPS ONTO THE CABLES. Can I get a GO, GIRL! She then starts pulling herself up the cables to the next floor, where a survivor she doesn’t know is shouting at her to climb and helps her out.
Turns out this woman is one of the hotel managers who locked the wedding party in. Since then, she and her nephew, Hector, have been luring walkers into hotel rooms and locking them in. So Alicia says they should clear the floor that way and get down to the bar. Elena, the hotel manager, has clearly started losing it and wavers. So Alicia steps up again, and makes the plan.
Alicia lures a bunch of walkers into a hotel room, stabs one in the head (BAMF ALERT!), goes out on the balcony, and Elena tosses her a sheet for her to get over to the next room’s balcony just as the walkers break through the balcony doors. CLIFFHANGER. Then Alicia gets Elena to take her down to the ground floor, where the bar is, and which is very obviously completely overrun with the dead. Elena starts consoling Alicia, who fiercely says, “My mom is not dead.”
And just then, Hector shows up, being held prisoner by some survivors of the wedding party. They want the keys to the rooms in exchange for Hector. Alicia tells Elena to do it, and we already hear the authority in her voice. She’s already told Elena that she’s not going to let anything happen to her, and she automatically makes the decisions. This is a woman coming into her power, a woman who has a mission and by god(dess), she’s going to see it through.
So the exchange is made and Alicia grabs Elena and Hector and opens the door to the bar. (that’s the link where you can see the scene)
The three of them use the door as a shield as the walkers lurch toward the other survivors (MOAR BAMF!). Once traffic clears out, Alicia goes into the bar and there’s a walker in there who looks a lot like Madison and Alicia is horrified but when the walker turns and looks at her, it’s not Madison and Alicia takes her knife and puts that walker down (ULTIMATE BAMF), buries her knife to the hilt in that walker’s skull and it’s almost like she’s pissed about all the bullshit that she’s been dealing with and she takes it out on that walker. After that, Elena leads her and Hector into the hotel’s basement to escape walker central, and it turns out Madison and Strand have barricaded themselves in a room down there.
The scene of this reunion really demonstrates the logical arc of Alicia’s emergence as a badass and I LOVE ME A BADASS WOMAN in an apocalyptic show (Fury Road, anyone?) There’s hugging, but the power in this scene is obviously with Alicia. Madison and Strand are wrung out, Elena and Hector are freaking out, and Alicia is the one who has held it together and is still holding it together.
It was beautiful, friends. I can’t tell you what a game-changer this episode was for me as a viewer, but also for Alicia’s character. ComicBook reviewed the episode, and had this to say, about the scene where she released the walkers: “This scene was yet another step on Alicia’s journey toward becoming the most ruthless characters on the show.”
I disagree. It’s not about “ruthless.” It’s about making decisions on the fly, weighing your odds, and figuring out the best course of action to save your mom. The only way to do that in these circumstances was to let those walkers out and get into the bar. That’s not ruthless. That’s pragmatic. This is the apocalypse. There are different rules in play, and you have to bend them in order to keep yourself and those you care about alive. “Ruthless” is what Chris did in this episode, but I’ll leave that for you to see for yourselves. And later, perhaps we’ll deconstruct why the term “ruthless” is applied to women claiming their power but not men. BUT I DIGRESS.
Basically, I could not take my eyes off Alicia Clark in this episode. Okay, so some of it was because of the tsunami of gay that roared across the fangirl universe when we realized she was butterfly knifing, but as I watched, it was because ADC did it AGAIN. She’s been slowly creating this BAMF character RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES this whole time. She’s teased us with little bits of it throughout, led us on now and again, and then emerged from her chrysalis almost a fully formed walker slayer and mission accomplisher. It was like Athena sprang from the head of Lexa in that hotel, but Alicia’s BAMF essence is all her own, created through her own experiences thus far in this fucked-up world, which included pre-apocalypse dysfunction.
This is the perfect primal stew for Alicia Clark, BAMF of the apocalypse. All of the crap she’s already dealt with quietly created the strands of power that she tapped when it needed major tappage, when it needed to display. Trapped in a highrise hotel, your mom surrounded by walkers — you can give up or bring it and Alicia’s choice was so much of the latter. The question now remains, will she keep her moral compass? She exhibited signs of it with Elena, which gives me hope that she will. But this is, after all, the apocalypse.
But for right now, I am fully celebrating the debut of this goddess of the apocalypse, Alicia Clark.
Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.