Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Fear the Walking Dead Midseason Finale:
Don't Fear the Pozole

by Anthony Servante

Still here. Then read on.

In Season One of Fear the Walking Dead, we witnessed the zombie apocalypse expedited with relative ease. A protest against police brutality erupts into a zombie feast, and we can't tell the difference between the brain-eaters and the unruly mob. Immediately the National Guard takes over the East Los Angeles area (played with great aplomb by City Terrace right next door to Cal State University Los Angeles) where the outbreak has been contained by the guardsmen who are themselves breaking ranks and splintering as the zombie masses begin to outgrow the armed soldiers. We also witness the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rushing to find a cure to stop the outbreak. But there is no hope, as any zombie apocalypse fan knows all too well, for those "characters" caught in the middle of it all. The first season ends with the survivors boarding a yacht and heading for safe harbor--destination unknown. 

But here is a good spot to meet our cast. The Clark family includes matriarch Madison, her live-in mate, Travis, and the angst-ridden Alicia and her brother, struggling junkie Nick (the best thing about the show); then there's the Salazar family: father Daniel (Ruben Blades, overqualified for this supporting role), mother Griselda, daughter Ofelia, Travis's ex Lisa and son Chris. Victor Strand owns the yacht and invites the surviving members of the families to join him on his journey. 

In Season Two, we continue to see how quickly the world has turned savage, and I'm not talking zombies here; I'm talking the humans. If we consider for a moment that society is breaking down, one usually waits a modicum amount of time for the authority and infrastructure to right itself up from its fallen position. We wait for the cops to tell us what to do; we wait for the politicians to tell us where to go for help. Even when the cops and politicians disappear, we still wait for them by listening to the radio, watching the TV, or searching the internet. And when those modes of communication fail us, we then seek leaders among our community, with people we know and trust. The Pastor, the retired firefighter, the Marine who served three tours of duty. Someone we "believe" we can count on to know how to handle this very scary situation. Even the nerdy kid who knows all about zombies from reading so many books and watching so many movies becomes a source of information to garner comfort about facing the predicament of staying alive. But in season two, we jumped from outbreak to acceptance without a bump in the road or a road map to show us what direction to go to survive the apocalypse. We're on a yacht and we're in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. So what's for dinner?

In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes awoke from the hospital right in the middle of the apocalypse. We learned about the outbreak (past tense) as he learned about it from other survivors. In FTWD, we were supposed to see it unfold more slowly, but that wasn't the case. At least Rick's story began In Media Res; the Clarks and Salazars were there at the beginning, skipped the middle, and entered "Mad Max" turf without having to witness the devolution of society into anarchy. Has anyone written a zombie book where society doesn't fall apart because of a zombie outbreak? That would be an original story. So, anyway, FTWD speeds right into anarchy on the ocean, fighting pirates, making rash decisions about what to do with castaways rafting in the middle of the sea, and fending off zombies who cannot drown and pose the same threat at sea as on land. But let's get to the crux of the story by jumping ahead.

Our passengers on the yacht discover they are heading for Mexico, to a ranch that is a safe haven from the walking dead (we've heard that one before, right?). After a few more bumps in the road, we finally reach the ranch. A flashback shows us that Strand is Gay and his lover Thomas own the ranch. Now the Mexican myths and culture can direct the story from this point on. 

Number one, Mexicans believe that the Dead are as much alive as the living. We even celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Day) to remind us that our loved ones passed on are still with us. We even serve a plate for them at the dinner table on this day. The line between life and death is blurred and Nick who covers himself in the blood of the dead so he can walk among the zombies as if he were one of them seems to represent a life-in-death persona just as the zombies represent the death-alive personas. Thomas's mother Celia sees the zombies as biblical, real because they are "alive", not animated, but living people, loved ones, family and friends. She even keeps them locked in a room and feeds them various farm animals. Note also that Celia has no qualms about turning the living into zombies; she's doing them a favor by murdering them, for they are closer to God in their new incarnation of death. 

Number two, the family lines become blurred as well. When life is holy, the giver of life is holy; when death is holy as well, so, too, is the giver of death holy. The mother figure is both giver and taker of life, for life and death are now as one. Celia kills you to make you part of the family, to care for you, to worship you as a part of God's plan. Celia and Madison have opposing views on this "voodoo" belief as Daniel calls it. Madison believes that keeping you family alive is keeping them from death, not vice versa. Travis and his son Chris must face similar dilemmas when Chris cannot discern living from dead; the young man has a talent for killing zombies, but he is confused that by killing the living, they live again as zombies. He can take life from the dead and give life to the living by killing them. Needless to say, he poses a danger to his family and friends and exiles himself to work out this confusion on his own, but his father chooses to be with his son to help to guide him on this spiritual conundrum. 

Number three, Celia likes to poison her victims to help them reach that godly state of the undead. As a mother and cook, her food represents life sustenance and death. Pozole, a stew made up of vegetables and chucks of pork, is a comfort food among many Mexicans, Central and South Americans. Everyone loves Pozole. Chris eats the pozole without any fear of it being poisoned. However, the others, especially Daniel, refuse to eat it, knowing Celia's pennant for serving deadly treats (just ask the local church goers and the priest--oh, wait, you can't; they've all become zombies). Everyone staying on at the ranch trust in Celia's judgment and would eat the pozole no matter what; however, for the visitors who arrived with Strand, the pozole may or may not be their last meal. Chris, because he has that affinity with the dead, has no problem eating the stew. As far as he's concerned, the worst that could happen is that he'd be walking with the dead. Hell, he already does that. 

We break at the midseason of FTWD with the incarcerated dead being released, the Clark and Salazar families broken up as the survivors flee back to the yacht, and the ranch in flames. Whether Daniel and Celia are still alive is up to the writers during the break. The trip to Mexico was interesting, but contrived. The "voodoo" was stretched a bit too thin, but I enjoyed the whole conceit of the family as mimetic of Life with a capital L. Whenever family was involved, death was always at hand (note that Chris threatened to kill the son of the man who pretended not to speak English--unless he led Travis away from his hiding place). Fathers and sons, mothers and sons and daughters are always at risk in season two. But it's that bowl of pozole that will stay with me. It's tradition in my household to have pozole every Sunday after church; it's also a tradition for a woman seeking a husband to seduce a man with a good bowl of pozole. There's a saying in Spanish: The first step to the grave is the walk down the marriage aisle. How appropriate, then, that we end season two's midseason break by tossing aside that bowl of pozole and setting the zombies free. Can't wait for FTWD's return in August 2016.