Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis and written by Ian Goldberg & Andrew Chambliss, AMC's seventh season opener of Fear the Walking Dead "The Beacon" had the audacity of not only blowing to bits our expectations of a season/series opener but also pulled off what may be the best opener of the series' seven-season run. And how were they able to pull it off? First, by going with a less-is-more approach (sorry, but you're waiting until next week before checking in on Lennie James' Morgan, Karen David's Grace, and the others) that allowed them to effectively layout the season's not-so-surprising-big-bad (though maybe there's more than one?). Second, by letting Strand be Strand- which meant letting Colman Domingo be Colman Domingo. And finally, By finding a way to tell a story about three people (though Omid Abtahi's Howard is also on hand) when one of the three never appears for a second on-screen beyond the recap. So with that in mind, we're throwing on the "MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!" sign and throwing down and spoiler image buffer before we do a further deep-dive into the welcome return of Fear the Walking Dead.
Now this is how you start a season! Choosing to focus on Strand and his new world order was an excellent decision by the team, with Domingo chewing up scenes as if he's making up for six seasons' worth of lost time. Do you think this Strand has any regrets about the things he's done? Well, any doubt you had heading into this episode was very quickly put to rest- much as Will (Gus Halper) was at the end of the episode. This Strand sees every decision he's made to be a righteous step in the right direction- and that "right direction" is a new society where "Strand Law" is the only law. Except there's one flaw, one weak point in Strand's perfect personal armor of invincibility- Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). With Alicia, Strand still struggles with his duality. He wants to make her proud while also rubbing it in her face. He loves her, yet loathes how he feels that love makes him weak… from being the real leader he needs to be. It was the vulnerability that gave us hope of Strand having a redemption arc. Then Will showed up, and we learned about his connections to Alicia as the two went searching for her. And it's the moments between Strand and Will that make this work, especially with two actors rolling at the top of their game.
If Will hadn't interacted with Howard at The Tower earlier, you could also make the argument that Strand was essentially having a back-n-forth with that part of his mind that he finds "weak"- the part that still cares for Alicia. In a sense, we're watching a war being waged in real-time and in front of our eyes for what's left of the heart and soul of Victor Strand. It's why Alicia is just as important of a character in this episode as Strand and Will- and it's why we left this episode more nervous about what's to come from Strand. Because the moment he threw Will off the roof and to his death and he explained to Howard what people will have to go through to get to him, it was pretty clear that Strand was casting off the last of his personal bonds. Will it last? Can Strand find the road back? Now, these are the kinds of questions I want to be obsessing over at the end of a season-opener, with "The Beacon" going above and beyond to live up to the pre-season hype.
A couple of quick notes on other things that caught my fancy (not as painful as it sounds). First, I love that Alicia already has this "urban legend" status without actually appearing. I really hope it's something that gets stretched out into a big reveal because that has the makings of being something. Also, I like the way the "stalkers" were slowly rolled into the narrative with just enough creepiness for me to red flag them as something of note without distracting me from the main story. Could they be Alicia's new group? A third party with ties to folks we know? Maybe CRM (though we're doubting it)? Again, a fun cliffhanger for the season. Finally, I think it might be a good idea to keep an eye on Howard. Was it just us, or did Strand seem to be taking a whole lot of credit for the place when Howard had a pretty solid foundation already in place? I'm curious to see if jealousy could be the thing that brings Strand's world crashing down? We'll be tuning into next week's "Six Hours" (where we catch in on Morgan & Grace's less-than-perfect situation) and be back here to let you know what we thought.