Breaking up is hard to do, especially during the apocalypse.
“Captive,” the fifth episode of Fear the Walking Dead’s (thus far) excellent second season, is a breezy diversion from the journey to Baja… until it ends in a gnarly prisoner exchange between the Abigail and Connor’s (Mark Kelly) pirate party. Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) ends her “romance” (or rather, her manipulation) of Jack (Daniel Zovatto) while Travis (Cliff Curtis) is kept below deck, left to answer to a hostile Alex (Michelle Ang) whom the Abigail left behind in “Ouroboros”. Predictable but engaging, “Captive” is a convenient end to most of the narrative threads as the Abigail resets course to Mexico.
Prisoner exchanges happen in a million spy thrillers, and even a few occur in the primary Walking Dead series. But Fear uses the familiar structure to advance character traits for some of its key players: the resourcefulness of Alicia, the resiliency and humanity in Travis, and the downright super-villain ingenuity of Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), who is quickly becoming a round-bellied blend of Walking Dead’s Herschel and fan-favorite Carol.
While those three endeavors to curry favor from viewers, Chris (Lorenzo Hernie) is becoming a liability and the character who fans will likely hate the most. While plotting the prisoner exchange, the temperamental son of Travis offs Connor’s brother, Reed (ex-pop star Jesse McCartney in a fun, unexpected performance). But before they lose their bargaining chip completely, Reed turns into a walker, and the gears in Daniel’s head starts turning.
Though it is asking viewers to suspend some hefty disbelief to believe a mere potato sack can disguise a walker — especially one that is violently turning his head and loudly growling — Fear asks viewers to accept the familiar structure of a prisoner exchange in order to serve up a satisfying zombie bite. It works, for the most part. And besides, it’s Jesse McCartney as a zombie. “I don’t want another pretty face” and “I want you and your beautiful soul” take on a whole new meaning.
Meanwhile, the apocalypse continues to change people, and unsurprisingly, it’s often for the worse. Alex could have been an ally and asset to the Abigail, but Strand’s restrictive foreign policies — anyone not on the boat — turned her into an enemy, almost leading to everyone’s demise. In an expository reveal to Travis, Connor picked up Alex who led them straight to the Abigail. It’s a little unnecessary since Alicia was also responsible, but why not one more just to tighten these loose threads.
More than finishing up all those teasers that aired during The Walking Dead this past season, Alex ends up a tool for Travis to further his character: He’s the humane one. Unlike Rick, Travis is an empathetic magnet for the show’s moral compass. Where Rick has compromised and adapted, Travis has planted himself like a tree and refuses to move in the face of the apocalypse. It could kill him, but if Travis were to change his values even now, he’s as good as dead already.