Here's what I respect most about Fear the Walking Dead: its willingness to keep the show's focus sharply on the central Clark/Manawa family, often at the expense of action set pieces; and its related willingness to keep zombies off screen. Granted, these are the exact reasons sister show The Walking Dead is the cultural powerhouse it is, and the most frequent source of attack for Fear. But to my mind, those are the strengths of the show, and, happily, how it decided to finish off the season with the double episode finale, "Wrath" and "North."
Spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead past this point.
Though each episode is distinct, the show has been following two storylines through the half-season, and both (technically) get concluded here, over the course of two hours. In the first, Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) have been reunited at the safe haven of the Rosarita Beach Hotel. Travis is broken after leaving his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) with two bros, who coincidentally showed up at the gates of the RBH last episode.
Turns out, Chris was killed by the bros after he crashed their car (RIP Chris, you will not be missed). So Travis smashes their heads in, and accidentally kills one of the other residents of the RBH in the process. Travis and Madison escape with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and head to find Madison's son (and Alicia's brother) Nick (Frank Dillane).
Curtis' performance here is heartbreaking. I know the Emmys will never give a show like Fear a second glance, but seeing how much Travis has been broken down over the past two seasons -- and this half season in particular -- has ripped my heart out on a weekly basis. Travis was hope. He represented it in every line of dialogue, every action. His belief that the zombie apocalypse was going to reverse itself, and that everything that was happening was happening for a reason, is the definition of tragedy. Granted, he couldn't know; but we know, because this is a prequel to Walking Dead ... things don't get better.
To see Travis realize that there is no hope as he pictures what the bros did to his son (they're liars, so we can only assume what we're seeing is correct, since it's through Travis' imagination), it's stunning. Curtis' face crumples; he loses it. Madison shouts and tries to stop him, but he throws one bro through a glass door, and curb-stomps the other. Contrast that with the man who crumpled at the end of Season 1 when Madison had to put down a friend. That wasn't even him, and he was devastated; now, he's made peace with the idea that he can kill two men (three, really) without a second thought. He's come so far, and fallen even farther. Who knows what, and who he'll be in Season 3?
Meanwhile, Nick is trying to clear out the hilltop community of Colonia before the El Pelicano Boyz attack from their supermarket of death. But before he can, a rando Infected bites three people, including Alejandro (Paul Calderon). Turns out, much to the shock and surprise of everyone in the audience, Alejandro is not actually immune to zombie bites; he was just previously bitten by a druggie who wasn't dead, but just liked to bite people.
Sadly, Alejandro didn't gain the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a drug user; but he did get a good story courtesy of Luciana (Danay Garcia), which he used to galvanize the community. Nick goes a little back and forth (literally) on helping them out, but ultimately takes the residents of Colonia to safety while Alejandro traps the El Pelicano Boyz in Colonia with hundreds of Infected.
And the two threads almost connect. Madison & Co. get to Colonia just in time to meet Alejandro and watch him die; and meanwhile, Nick & Co. get held down by gunfire at the border and taken captive. Also, Ofelia (Mercedes Masohn) meets a dude with a gun, in case you were wondering what was going on with Ofelia.
What's most fascinating about both of these plots is the steadfast rejection of the Epic Finale. In both cases, our main characters leave the place where the major set pieces are/should be happening, before they happen. Madison doesn't end up confronting the RBH residents. We get no resolution to what will happen to the refugees in the parking garage. And Strand (Colman Domingo) is just left there.
In the Colonia plotline, we do get to see the El Pelicano Boyz invade, and find out they've been zombified later. But there's no huge final battle. The RBH crew and the Colonia crew never cross paths. They don't team up at the last second to take down the threat of El Pelicano. The closest we get to some sort of action resolution is Travis tossing the bros around like they were sacks of very, very breakable feathers.
That's because the show doesn't care that much about the action side of things; it's more concerned with the emotional journey of the characters. And more power to it because of that. I'd rather, at this point, find out how Travis, Madison and Alicia will reunite. I want to see Nick step up and start to care about something, to feel again after the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. I definitely want to find out more about Strand, and see him eventually reignite his remarkable friendship with Madison. Also Ofelia can be there if she wants, I guess.
If I want to see someone blow up zombies, or get bashed with a wire-wrapped baseball bat, there's already a show for that. Fear -- other than the sub-par first half of Season 2 -- has been a drama first, and a zombie show second. It uses the idea of apocalypse, and how it could change even the best of us into something new far more effectively and willingly than the actual undead. They don't have any motivations, other than to eat things. They're not nearly as interesting as the actual people who are still alive.
Fear the Walking Dead knows that, and when it's hitting that idea -- as it does in this two-part finale -- it's a special, thoughtful show that explores human nature alongside the best that TV has to offer. Just keep them off boats in Season 3, and we're golden.