“Fear the Walking Dead” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “Do Not Disturb”

The worst part, by far, is Elena, the mad fascist…hotel manager. Yes, this winner of a character willingly sentenced an entire wedding party to death when one of their number turned zombie. Why? “I had the hotel to think about. We were at capacity.” Oh, well, alright then! “I contained the situation,” Elena explains. You know who else “contained the situation,” Fear the Walking Dead? You might say that Elena found the final solution to the guest question in her hotel.

It’s not inconceivable that Elena might react to a sudden zombie outbreak in her hotel’s ballroom by locking everyone at the party in with the dead. Had she been shown to be panicked, preoccupied, or even just a little nervous about reports of “the sickness,” that kind of snap decision would make sense. On the contrary, she blows off the mother and father of the bride’s concerns about the dawning apocalypse mere seconds before the dad drops dead. (A tidy bit of plot-hammering right there!) In that light, her reaction to the infection of a paying customer, and his sudden decision to chew the face off his child in the middle of their father-daughter dance, looks either insanely sociopathic or insanely poorly written. But hey, this is Fear the Walking Dead — why choose?

I reviewed this week’s Fear the Walking Dead for Decider. This show is fascist, right down to the philosophical incoherence.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “The Good, The Bad, and The Dead”

SPOILER ALERT

It’s long been my contention that the single greatest act of cinematic revenge belongs to Robert De Niro’s bank-robber character in Michael Mann’s crime epic Heat. (Spoilers ahead, though really this is just a signal that you should go watch Heat immediately.) Discovering the location of an associate who betrayed him, he risks everything to infiltrate the hotel where the man is being kept under guard, distract his protective detail, break into his hotel room, and kill him. But does he just shoot him in the back of the head, like so many mobsters from The Godfather to GoodFellas have been content to do? Hell no. “Look at me,” he demands, then shoots the guy in the gut, then in the head. If the point were simply to kill him, none of this would be necessary. But the point is to make sure he knows he’s about to be killed — knows he’s in the process of dying, in fact — and knows why. Otherwise, what’s the point?

This is a lesson Pablo Escobar has clearly internalized. In “The Good, The Bad, and The Dead,” the cornily titled fourth episode of Narcos’ second season, Pablo quite shockingly gets the drop on Colonel Horacio Carrillo, the ruthless Colombian police officer who’s been his nemesis from the jump. Though he and his men are peppered with bullets, Pablo insists on delivering the killing blow himself. “Look at me,” he says. “Look at me,” he says again, repeating himself just as De Niro’s character did. He then fires the bullet Carrillo sent to him as a warning into the man’s leg before finally delivering the coup de grace to his head. Pablo understands that there’s no point in simply defeating your enemy. He has to know he’s being defeated, he has to know he has no hope of not being defeated, and he has to know who has defeated him. Death isn’t enough. Agony is paramount.

I reviewed the fourth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx”

there’s more to television than plot, or plot twists; there’s more to character than dialogue; there’s more to acting than line readings; there’s more to narrative fiction than figuring out what comes next. A sequence like the one that juxtaposed Dom’s confrontation with her suspects and their assassins with Elliot and Angela’s kiss shows how sight and sound, score and cinematography, body language and silence can produce an emotional effect far beyond the sum of its parts, and irreducible to sound bytes about “How ‘Mr. Robot’ Season 2 Lost Its Way.” On a show this good, getting lost — alone in the dark, the roar of the approaching monsters growing louder by the second — is the way.

I reviewed tonight’s magnificent Mr. Robot for the New York Times, with a focus on the gorgeously constructed final sequence.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Rules of Honorable Play”

And when people go under, they sink like stones. Brought to an everybody-who’s-anybody party for Silicon Valley movers and shakers by Diane, Boz appears to be in his element — cracking jokes, telling tales, and generally cranking up the Texas charm. Indeed, from calling an audible during the Swapmeet buyout and driving down its price by a small fortune to bantering with Donna and the boys in the office, it’s this ability to command a room that attracted Diane to him in the first place. But in an ugly exchange that perfectly reproduces the brittle civility of enemies pretending to make nice, Joe MacMillan takes Boz’s number, calling his affable-backslapper routine a “performance.” Just last week Joe referred to himself as the product he’s concerned with selling; apparently he recognizes some of this in the old Dallas salesman, too.

By the time Boz makes his way back to Diane, Joe’s words have clearly dug in deep, reinforcing doubts he’d already had about his role at Mutiny and his place in their world at large. Unfortunately for Diane, she unwittingly echoes Joe’s veiled insults in a failed attempt to praise her date. She compliments him for the way he naturally steals the show at the party, but what he hears is further evidence that he’s some kind of dancing monkey, trotted out there for everyone’s amusement. As Diane flirts, it at first seems like Boz is oblivious, but before long it’s clear he knows exactly what she’s up to and is simply rejecting it. “Somewhere along the line I lost my taste for tobacco,” he says when she offers him a smoke, then adds “And champagne. Parties.” His tone grows more pointed with every word, his bonhomie curdles visibly on his face, and the overall effect is like biting on tinfoil. Thus a potential romance storyline that seemed like such a delightful sure thing when it was first hinted at just last week is swept off the board, because, well, that’s how things happen sometimes. Cold as this is, there’s still something warm about watching the baffling rhythms of legit emotional reality play out on a TV show.

I reviewed tonight’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer. The command this show and these actors have over human behavior is gobsmacking at times.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “Our Man in Madrid”

I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence that “Our Man in Madrid,” the third episode of Narcos’ second season, has this running theme of ersatz arts criticism, though there’s no reason to believe it’s anything more than a fun visual leitmotif to return to throughout the hour. However, there’s a deeper resonance to this device than what’s visible at first glance. As I’ve been saying throughout these reviews, the beauty of Narcos is that it doesn’t try to have a Moral Of The Story. How can it? What is the story, after all, but “A crook made billions of dollars and went berserk, so a pair of governments went even more berserk until they finally murdered him”? This is not True Detective Season One–style paean to the bad men who “keep the other bad men from the door,” either. Escobar and his associates are loathsome. The Cali cartel members who play both sides are loathsome. The various military, law-enforcement, and intelligence agencies involved in the hunt for Pablo are loathsome, though at least at times guys like Murphy and Peña are capable of recognizing their own loathsomeness and not bothering justifying it. In a world like this, the self-glorifying self-portraits or image-burnishing fine art you attempt to immortalize yourself with is a bad joke. You’re spiritually pissing on it even when you’re not literally pissing on it.

I reviewed the third episode of Narcos’ increasingly ruthless second season for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “Cambalache”

It’s one of the most famous sequences in cinema history, and probably the single most influential sequence in the gangster genre bar none: the baptism/massacre montage in The Godfather. (Or as Christopher Moltisanti from The Sopranos would more familiarly put it, “in One.”) You know the deal: While Michael Corleone renounces Satan at the christening of his godson, his hitmen take down every rival mob boss from New York to Las Vegas in various elegantly choreographed ways — a bullet through the eyeglasses, a tommy-gun volley through a jammed revolving door, a shot in the back and a fall down a massive flight of steps, and so on.

This episode of Narcos, “Cambalache,” gave us the show’s own version, and it’s telling how much less grandiose the whole shebang is. Forget the Catholic symbolism, folks: Pablo Escobar is too busy slow-dancing with his lovely wife Tata in one of her endless succession of flow-y flattering dresses to recite prayers in Latin. And there’s nothing elegant about how his goons slaughter Medellín’s cops, unless you consider drive-bys, hand grenades, and a few point-blank executions elegant. As the premiere already proved, Narcos just isn’t the kind of show to play to its characters’ delusions of grandeur, or play up delusions of its own. It sees Pablo’s story as too straightforwardly sordid, too pointlessly wasteful, for all that. It plays things straight, and is a much more enjoyable, if less spectacular, viewing experience for it.

I reviewed the second episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode One: “Free at Last”

“Okay,” groans DEA agent Steve Murphy as the second season of Narcos begins. “Here we go again.” Friends, that is the sound of a show that took Socrates’s advice to Know Thyself. Stepping into the prestige-gangster void left behind by the departures of Breaking Bad and Boardwalk EmpireNarcos has never taken the stylistic risks of those shows (bilingual scripting aside). It’s not as flashy as either its larger-than-life subject matter, the multibillionaire druglords of cocaine-era Columbia, or its Scorsese-indebted, voiceover-narrated, tapestry-of-criminality format would lead you to believe.

Rather, it takes its cues from its central performance: Wagner Moura as the lethal, laconic legend of the drug trade, Pablo Escobar. Portly, poorly rested, perpetually stoned, yet the most dangerous international criminal (non-government-official edition) this side of Osama Bin Laden, his reign of terror over his country rarely requires him to ruffle his own feathers. He simply stares into the distance, his dark brown eyes glowing beneath thick black eyebrows, then issues an order in a deadpan baritone and gets on with his day. His exploits may be unbelievable, but he takes it all in stride. So does Narcos, the most low-key series about a gigantic manhunt for a mass murderer you’re ever likely to see.

I reviewed the season premiere of Narcos for Decider, where I’ll be covering the Season 2 daily. Woo!

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “eps2.7_init_5.fve”

The malevolent beauty of “Mr. Robot” Season 2 is such that knowing and not knowing are equally unpleasant options. The show’s twists earn it constant comparisons to films like “Fight Club” and “The Sixth Sense,” but its ability to create and sustain the look and feel of a bad dream has much more in common with David Lynch’s roughly contemporaneous, twist-based mind-benders “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive.” You’re no better off on one side of the reveal than you are on the other.

I reviewed tonight’s creepy Mr. Robot for the New York Times. A point I’m trying to make here is that an overly literal focus on Elliot’s dissociative identity disorder, either in terms of twist-based plot mechanics or psychological realism, misses the point, which is to viscerally illustrate powerlessness and dread.

Emmys 2016: What Will Win, What Should Win

Best Drama
The Americans
Better Call Saul
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Homeland
House of Cards
Mr. Robot

WILL WIN: Mad Men, the final jewel in the crown of TV’s New Golden Age, wrapped up its run with a triumphant final season last year — and Game of Thrones still beat the damn thing. Despite the long-overdue appearance of The Americans and the well-deserved debut of Mr. Robot on the Best Drama list, look for the Khaleesi and company to repeat the feat this year.

SHOULD WIN: We said it last year even while we were hedging our bets:“No series on TV thinks bigger or strikes harder than Game of Thrones. With its stunning dual climaxes — the jawdropping “Battle of the Bastards” and the destruction of seemingly half the cast as Cersei Lannister settled all family business — the show left it all on the field this year, and deserves the gold.

ROBBED: While Showtime’s smart, sexy The Affair and Lifetime’s breakout reality-TV satire UnREAL had to settle for Best Supporting Actress nominations to even get their feet in the door, the year’s two biggest turnarounds from their first-season woes, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and HBO’s The Leftovers, were unjustly shut out entirely. Any of those four shows deserve the slots occupied by the Downton Abbey/Homeland/House of Cards trifecta.

I predicted the winners of all the major Emmy Awards categories for Rolling Stone. As is custom when I theorize or prognosticate, this is 100% real and serious and definitive; I am right and I will be proved right. Don’t @ me.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Flipping the Switch”

5. Joe MacMillan, inscrutable guru. Of all the masks Joe has put on — yuppie hard-charger, friend in need, devoted husband, employee of the month — this is by far the funniest, most fascinating, and most convincing, because it’s essentially a performative version of what he already is: a cipher, a riddle even he doesn’t know the answer to. Why not make other people do the work of figuring it out for him? Bearded and aloof, he can be all things to all people: a coke-orgy hedonist, a bottom-line businessman, a Time magazine cover icon, a power-to-the-people tech ecumenicist, a rip-it-up-and-start-again maverick, a gnomic mentor for an up-and-coming genius. In fact, it seems like he hired Ryan to help him figure out his next step as much as the next step. “I am the product,” he tells the kid, arguably his most honest admission. Earlier, as Ryan slinks home the morning after Joe’s big soiree, his roommate asks “Was that fun?” “I don’t know what the hell it was,” Ryan replies, courtesy of a beautifully baffled line reading by actor Manish Dayal. You and Joe both, Ryan. You and Joe both.

My review of this week’s marvelous Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer came in the form of a list of the wonderful things about this week’s marvelous Halt and Catch Fire.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Eight: “The Call of the Wild”

But no one here is more poorly served than Andrea, the actual victim of the murder. Repeatedly shown through surveillance footage, crime-scene photos, a bikini snapshot, and Naz’s flashbacks — culminating in him remembering her sweet and seductive smile just as he smokes heroin at the spot near the bridge where they hung out together that fateful night, like it’s her fault he’s there doing that now — she is rendered ethereal and ill-omened, like a fairy-tale creature who lures men to their doom and is doomed herself. Never mind that Don Taylor estranged her from her dying mother and made life in the house she was left a living hell. Never mind that her financial advisor slash boyfriend stole her entire fortune, then stabbed her to death between beating prostitutes. Never mind the countless shots of her nude and mutilated corpse throughout the length of the series, or the reduction of her life to the drug problems every character makes a point of saying “no no, don’t reduce her to just her drug problems” about without ever saying anything else. No, the important things to remember are Naz, the man who was wrongfully accused of killing her; John, Box, and Freddy, the men who cleared his name and saved his life; and the DA, his mom, and Chandra, the women who damn near fucked it all up for him. She’s a footnote in her own story — a tragedy for her as a person, and for The Night Of as a purported hard look at criminal justice. It barely gave its most important character a second glance.

I reviewed The Night Of’s (season?) finale for Decider. A thoroughly disappointing show from start to finish.

“Fear the Walking Dead” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “Los Muertos”

Unfortunately, high-rise-hotel-dwelling zombies attracted by the ruckus raised by the extremely drunk Maddie and Strand in the lobby weren’t the only things that went plummeting on “Los Muertos,” this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead: The show’s quality did, too. After airing its first top-to-bottom Good Episode with last week’s quiet, thoughtful, Nick-centric survival-horror road-trip ep “Grotesque,” the series has returned to form: fascist tribalism, ham-fisted dialogue, half-baked philosophy, and more idiotic and inconsistent behavior than you can toss an empty shot glass at.

I reviewed this week’s typically bad Fear the Walking Dead for Decider.

Hey, Kids! Comics!

You can get great deals on graphic novels from me & Julia’s merged collections by visiting our spiffy Amazon store! Titles for sale at bargain-basement prices include books by James Jean (a really rare one at that), Neil Gaiman, Darwyn Cooke, Jack Kirby, Ulli Lust, Michael DeForge, Jonny Negron, Blaise Larmee, John Stanley, Paul Dini, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Dennis Eichhorn, Paul Gravett, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Raymond Briggs, Dave Cooper, Jenn Manley Lee and more. Check it out!

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12”

The most striking thing in this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot” wasn’t in this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot.” It’s Elliot Alderson, the mentally ill mastermind behind the hacker collective fsociety’s rapidly disintegrating plan to level the world’s economic playing field. For the first time in the history of the series, Elliot — and Rami Malek, the wide-eyed actor whom the role has made a star — did not appear.

When prominent characters drop out of the stories they sparked, they still sometimes function as a structuring absence, tying the action together even when they’re nowhere to be seen. Think of a generation of Stark children trying to live up to their slain father, Ned, in “Game of Thrones,” or even of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone casting a shadow over Al Pacino as his son and Robert DeNiro as his younger self in “The Godfather Part II.” But in “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12,” by contrast, Elliot’s absence has a destabilizing, disintegrating effect. Without his high-tension energy thrumming through the hour, without Malek’s unmistakable face serving as a landmark, viewers are sent the message that something is missing, off, wrong. Sure enough, the episode chronicles the downward spiral of Darlene, his sister and successor, and her compatriots into paranoia, flight from the law, violence and murder. When the center cannot hold, things fall apart.

I reviewed tonight’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times.

What “Stranger Things” Is Missing from the ’80s Horror Genre

Saying Stranger Things wears its influences on its sleeve is like sayingBarb had a lousy time at Steve’s party: It’s true alright, but it understates the case considerably. Entire articles have been written detailing the themes, concepts, creatures, fonts, sound effects, and imagery swiped more or less wholesale from other films — here’s Vulture’s, just for example. And any fan of genre entertainment, particularly (though by no means exclusively) from the ’80s, can rattle off the creators whose original visions fueled the Duffer Brothers’ own without breaking a sweat. Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter are the most obvious touchstones, but you can also spot Judd Apatow, Shane Black, John Byrne, James Cameron, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Wes Craven, Joe Dante, Richard Donner, Fred Dekker, Jonathan Glazer, Gary Gygax, Tobe Hooper, John Hughes, Richard Kelly, John Landis, David Lynch, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Robert Zemeckis from a mile away. Any show assembled from building blocks that solid is going to be entertaining, at the very least; factor in universally fine performances from the show’s many child and young-adult actors, the strongest such cast assembled since Game of Thrones, and you’d be tempted to move Stranger Things out of the “hey, that was kinda fun” column straight into “this is a stone classic, gimme season two immediately” territory.

But unlike many of its countless forerunners, Stranger Things’ story of small-town terror communicates little beyond the contents of its creators’ Blu-ray collections. It’s so fixated on stirring nostalgia for the science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and adventure tales of yore that it has no time or energy left over for what made those horror tales compelling in the first place: wrestling with the fears and desires of the time period, and the different kinds of people — boys and girls, men and women, parents and children, kids and teens and adults — who found themselves struggling with them. Nearly everything difficult about the original works, everything weird, gross, uncomfortable, unexplained, and hidden beneath the surface (“occulted,” to use an evocative lit-studies term) has been stripped away in favor of a lowest-common-denominator pastiche that retains the surface elements but loses the power within.

The more I saw of this show, the more what it did with its source material bothered me. I went in-depth on how Stranger Things squandered its potential to actually be a stranger thing for Vulture.

How “Halt and Catch Fire” Became the Underdog Success of the Peak TV Era

Indeed, Halt seems to reboot itself with each new season. It began as a familiarly anti-heroic drama about Joe’s hostile takeover of a tiny Texas electronics company in a quixotic quest to design a next-generation personal computer, but by Season Two the focus was on Cameron and Donna’s joint venture Mutiny, a video game company turned early Internet service provider and proto-social network. From the new setting to the new showrunners (Jonathan Lisco, who was at the helm for the series’ first two seasons, departed for TNT’s Animal Kingdom), the leap from Season Two to Season Three is equally dramatic. “We almost err on the side of so much reinvention that it’s frustrating,” Cantwell says. “But the technology industry is like that. Having to keep up with that constant change allows us to reinvent characters, to do some really cool stuff.”

It’s also helped the show itself catch fire—critically, if not commercially. After early growing pains driven by antihero fatigue (not helped by AMC’s decision to plop Joe and company right into the time slot recently vacated by the network’s previous period piece Mad Men), the show slowly evolved into a story about its passionate core quartet of tech whizzes struggling to work together, rather than to tear each other apart. By the time the women took center stage in the second season, critics were fully on board, making Halt one of 2015’s most acclaimed shows. Audiences, however, had yet to follow suit, and the series’ low ratings made its renewal an iffy proposition for months before the network finally gave the go-ahead.

“What I was told was that the journalists were the one who championed this thing,” McNairy confides during a break in shooting. “Like, ‘Please come back, please come back, please come back.’ I think the network was like, ‘Well, they definitely liked the show.'”

So does the network itself. “The guys from New York talk about it like fans,” Cantwell says. “Yes, they factor in all of the analytics and data in determining our future, but so far a big portion of [their decision-making process] has been, ‘Do we like this show? Yes, we like it a lot. Just go do your thing.’” Like the saga of the Internet upstarts it chronicles, Halt itself is, as cast and crew frequently call it, an underdog story—albeit one with an unusual amount of leeway to do things its own way.

Hence the series’ latest reinvention, and its third chance to snag an audience commensurate with the show’s quality: Halt and Catch Fire Season Three, which begins tonight. That fact alone makes Halt something of a success story—or what passes for one in the era of Peak TV, in which hundreds of scripted shows struggle for a share of the public’s attention, an uphill battle for any series without dragons or zombies in its arsenal. Getting that third season is a rare case of a show being rewarded simply for being well made rather than pulling in ratings or tapping the Twitter-trend zeitgeist. It’s a struggle that’d feel familiar to the characters themselves.

“There’s an intrinsic metaphor to what we’re doing here,” Kerry Bishé tells me before shooting that afternoon. “We’re making a TV show and the characters are making their technology, but the big goal is making a beautiful, perfect product that can go to market and succeed. It’d be nice if more people watched our show, but I’m doing work I love and value. We define ourselves so much by success in our jobs that I think it’s worth investigating what success is. What counts. What matters.”

I visited the set of Halt and Catch Fire and interviewed actors Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, and Matthew Lillard, as well as co-creators and co-showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris C. Rogers, for Esquire. Here’s my report on the long road to Halt Season Three. The show starts again tonight at 9pm on AMC, and it’s one of the best on TV. Don’t miss it!

Summer Bummer: Why the Failed Revolution of “Mr. Robot” Is Exactly What We Need

What makes Mr. Robot unique is that it weds its politics to its emotional and visual palette. “We’re exploring what loneliness looks like today,” Esmail has said, and he’s dead on. This starts with the singular look cinematographer Tod Campbell has established for the show: characters “shortsighted” against the edge of the frame, like people staring into their laptop screens or smartphones; vast empty spaces above and around them, creating a sense of isolation and oppression. It extends to how Esmail and his fellow writers script the thing: Elliot and his companions communicate primarily the way most young people do these days—digitally. Text messages are more common than face-to-face meetings, which are riddled with anxiety when they do take place; even phone calls are reserved for only the most crucial information. Angela ensconces herself in the sonic womb of her headphones. Elliot stares listlessly at his few friends and his computer screen alike. Even relative go-getter FBI agent Dom DiPierro masturbates joylessly while sexting between bouts of insomnia. Talk to anyone who really loves Mr. Robot this season and you’ll get the same message: This show speaks to how it looks, sounds, and feels to be alienated in 2016, alone in a house or apartment with the internet at your fingertips and a world outside you but no real human connections.

That’s the difference between Mr. Robot and other political dramas—or, for that matter, between Mr. Robot and other shows that attempt to capture, and even succeed in capturing, young urban ennui, like Girls. It depicts the way political failure and personal failure blend together in our hearts and minds, becoming this inextricable, sticky depressive goo. It’s televised weltschmerz, and not since The Sopranos and The Wire were on has anyone done it better.

Mr. Robot’s first season was televised catharsis: a bracing breath of fresh political air on the TV landscape, unafraid to call out corporate and cultural malefactors by name and construct a story in which these evildoers could be taken down a peg or two. But to continue in that direction would be to betray the plight in which America finds itself—it would be a left-wing version of The Walking Dead’s hyper-violent paean to protecting ourselves from the dreaded outsiders by any means necessary. The bullet fsociety attempted to fire into the head of E Corp was no more fatal than the imaginary ones Elliot’s Mr. Robot blasted into his own brain. For the problems the show is confronting, there is no magic bullet; there may well be no remedy at all. That’s an unpleasant message, but that makes it all the more vital to hear. By wedding its political critique to intensely personal anxieties, Mr. Robot delivers that message loud and clear.

I wrote a defense of Mr. Robot Season Two for the New York Observer.

“Fear the Walking Dead” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Grotesque”

The beauty of all this is that Nick is neither a born survivor nor a feckless, hapless loser. He’s a guy trying his best, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. The false dichotomy usually present in Fear the Walking Dead’s survival stories, where living to fight another day usually comes down simply to how violent you’re willing to be, is nowhere to be found. And throughout, director Daniel Sackheim — veteran of some of television’s best-made shows, including The LeftoversThe Americans, and Game of Thrones — frames Nick with some of the series’ most striking shots to date, driving home both his isolation and the lyrical, largely wordless nature (after all, he’s got no one to talk to) of his emotional and physical world.

It’s reminiscent, frankly, of the long, lovely, riveting silent stretches of, say, The Leftovers or Better Call Saul. Sure, it shows how much potential Fear squanders — imagine if it were like this every week! there’s really nothing stopping it! — but even so.

All in all, Nick’s journey here favorably compares to similar passages in, say, Stephen King’s The Stand, where the main obstacle to survival was distance itself — the vast amount of terrain that survivors of the apocalypse had to cover, and the sheer variety of dangers, large and small, they’d have to face on the way. Frankly, this entire franchise has never earned a comparison with a genre touchstone that strong before. I fear it won’t last, but for one week anyway, it’s manna from survival-horror heaven.

I reviewed last night’s Fear the Walking Dead mid-season premiere for Decider. Believe it or not, I liked it a lot! I think it’s the series’ first top-to-bottom good episode. For many reasons detailed in the review I feel a worthy follow-up is unlikely, but still.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Seven: “Ordinary Death”

Even by the deeply degraded human-behavior plausibility standards of The Night Of, the jailhouse kiss shared by Nasir Khan and his attorney — his attorney! — Chandra Kapoor in “Ordinary Death,” this week’s episode, strains credulity beyond the breaking point and well into the realm of “you’ve got to be fucking shitting me.” Not that I’d expect anything more from Naz, who later in the episode becomes an accessory to murder, for real this time. Nor, frankly, would I hope for much better from Chandra, who despite her law degree and work on a high-profile case for a prestigious firm has been depicted to be green as the summer grass time and time again. (Remember when she didn’t know what ketamine was?)

But from Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, the two highly acclaimed auteurs behind this turkey, I think “not having a brilliant young lawyer make out with the murder suspect she’s representing in full view of Rikers Island security cameras” is the least we could demand. Naz is a handsome guy, sure, and I suppose I could understand how transference could cause Chandra’s protective instincts toward him — at this point, she’s one of the few people alive who believe he’s not guilty — to transmute into attraction. But he’s no more the only eligible bachelor in town than his dad was the only delivery guy capable of bringing her dinner the other week. Yet here we are, once again forcing a plot contrivance the way a prowler would jimmy open a lock. And for what? So Naz can have a series of gruesome flashbacks and visions of Andrea and her bloody corpse during and after the kiss? Whether to deepen our suspicion that he’s guilty or to simply exploit the perverse charge of seeing a woman maimed once again, it’s no more necessary than the kiss itself.

I reviewed last night’s The Night Of, which seems to have caused many in the audience to throw their hands up in despair, and for good reason, for Decider.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Six: “Samson and Delilah”

Six episodes in, two episodes to go, and it’s time to admit it: I don’t understand The Night Of. Like, at all. I don’t understand its pacing — what happens, and when, and for how long. I don’t understand its characters — who gets centered, and when, and what we do or don’t learn about them. I don’t understand the dividing lines between episodes — why last week’s installment ended with John Stone in a dark basement with a lead pipe in his hand and a convict on the run, only for nothing to come of it, and why this week’s ended with him looking at a personal trainer possibly putting the moves on a client of a certain age with a hip-hop song based on Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” playing on the soundtrack. I don’t know why every black man is menacing. I don’t know why every decision Naz makes is transparently idiotic. I don’t know why it continues to pull casting stunts with HBO veterans — all rise for the Honorable Yellow King presiding, for example. I can’t even begin to fathom its fascination with John Stone’s feet — maybe the single biggest discrepancy between the time and effort placed into a plot element by a show and its emotional, thematic, and narrative payoff for the audience. For me, at least, the mystery at the center of The Night Of — including last night’s episode, “Samson and Delilah” — is what the hell The Night Of is trying to do. For a miniseries that’s 75% complete, that’s a bad place to be.

I reviewed this week’s baffling The Night Of for Decider.