Fear The Walking Dead: storytelling, moral relavivity, and the millennial voice

I’m going to try something a little different today. This isn’t a review in the strictest sense but rather a collection of thoughts and impressions I’ve had while watching the second season of Fear the Walking Dead.

First off, the second season is off to a strong start. The move to a boat gives the show a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse that it desperately needed, and a whole new set of conditions and rules for both the characters and the audience to learn. Fear has finally found that spacial and tonal shift to set it apart from its sister show – a struggle that unfortunately bogged the first season down. That, and underwater zombies are a whole new brand of terrifying. Kudos, as always, to the special effects department. The dialog has been subdued but the acting excellent, with special mention going to Alycia Debnam Carey and Lorenzo James Henrie. It’s been interesting to watch the characters coming into their own as the apocalypse rages on, and here we come to my observations.

While I’m disappointed that some of my earlier focal points have fallen by the wayside – Fear is no longer interested in exploring the importance of digital record keeping and interpretation (remember the cell phone scene in the pilot?) – the show has picked up on a few themes that ought to be watched. First, the importance of memory and record keeping hasn’t been banished entirely – there’s an entire subplot about whether or not a voice over the radio is telling the truth, and whether or not a salvaged logbook can be trusted – but has shifted to the non-digital. Disappointing to me, but worth paying attention to. Especially since in both of these cases, it’s been the teenagers of the group who have insisted upon seeking out and interpreting the narratives – both the logbook and the voice on the other end of the radio. At the moment, my two favorite characters are step-siblings Alicia and Chris, since both of them seem to understand – at least in a vague sense – the importance of narrative memory. In the first season, both of them were very interested in recording what was happening to them – Alicia with her home-applied tattoo and Chris with his video camera. For a short time he even kept a video diary, though Fear has apparently decided this plot line has been sufficiently resolved.

Another character I’m interested in is Elizabeth Rodriguez‘s Liza. She too has been very concerned with the power of narrative – the shattering of the story she told herself about her parents, and in particular her father, is central to her character development – and I’m very interested to see where Fear intends to take her story. That being said, her character has been out of focus in the past few episodes and hasn’t been given much to do. I’m hoping this will change as the episode progresses and we will be able to see how Liza goes about reforming her narratives about the changing world. We’ve already seen that the stories Liza tells herself – whether true or not – have been essential in forming her worldview. So how will she move forward now that the world – and perhaps more importantly, her perceptions of her only surviving family – have changed so drastically.

And thus we come to my second focus point: generational views of morality. With very little exception, it has been the younger people of the group – Alicia, Chris, Liza, and Nick – who have advocated helping others instead of looking out solely for their own interests. It was Chris who jumped into burning water to try and rescue survivors from a shipwreck and who later tried to comfort a dying man on the beach, it was Liza who needed so desperately to hear another voice on the other end of the radio, Nick who played with the children of a troubled survivor, and the whole group of them that advocated taking on the passengers of a sinking boat. All of them, to a fault, have attempted to demonstrate compassion and kindness to complete strangers – attempts that their parents ultimately discourage and dismiss. And all of them are millennials.

I think this is important, especially concerning the current discourse in the media. If you believe the stereotypes, millennials are lazy and entitled, caring only for themselves and living almost completely internally – glued to their phones and unconcerned with the increasingly fraught going-ons of the outside world. Certainly there’s a great deal that can be said about this, but I’ll keep it simple here. For this post, it’s important only that the stereotypes of self-absorbed millennials exist and are widely accepted, and that the teenagers of Fear are so determined to bulldoze through those stereotypes. Even more, these teenagers also embody other characteristics that are generally coded as “selfish” – the drug addict, the teenage girl, the frustrated step-son. But in Fear, it’s these teenagers who are kind – who look out for strangers instead of just themselves, even when it could potentially hurt them. These are the characters who attempt to save strangers, even at risk to their own lives. And here it’s the teenagers – the millennials – who are concerned with the importance of narrative and storytelling. And I think the two are connected.

See, our ideas about morality are intrinsically connected to how we construct our narratives of memory and self. Human beings use stories to figure out what we believe is right and wrong, and how we work through the tricky things caught in the middle. And stories are how we ultimately make sense of our memories – which then is cataloged and sorted according to our own internal moral compass.

In Fear, it’s the teenagers – the millennials – who are constructing these stories. Who are attempting to be kind instead of just survive. It’s these characters who are the voice of moral reason on the show. And in a society that seems keen to distrust the voices of this generation, I think that matters. Fear has stumbled in places and is still in the process of finding its footing, but I think this show has something. I’ll be tuned in. I suggest you do the same.

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