I mean it. I’m tuning in for episode one next season solely to see what they do with their new Mr. Fix-It, a man so cool under fire that even the zombie apocalypse can’t put a wrinkle in his suit jacket or a bead of sweat on his forehead. He’s a cross between Winston Wolf and the “hello, ladies” guy from the Old Spice commercials. I’ve never seen a character like him in a zombie drama. And the thing is: It shouldn’t work. It’s ridiculous. It’d be like casting Cary Grant, suit and all, in the Charlton Heston role in “Planet of the Apes” and somehow having that be compelling. The reason it works, I think, is that, after 67 episodes of “The Walking Dead” and six more of this one, the audience is bored to (un)death with the “decent person falls apart as the world falls apart around him” character arc. If all they’re going to do is retell the Rick Grimes story, they might as well put a bullet in this show’s head and stick with the original. Last night was the first inkling that they’re not going to tell that story (or not just that story) and it’s all because of Strand, a man who seems curiously well adapted to the rules of survival in post-apocalyptic L.A. without any of the transformative angst that the rest of the cast, and the cast of the TWD, are experiencing. The perfect illustration was that scene when he takes back his cufflinks from the Army office who’s being eaten alive. No anger, no spite, no pity, no upset, just taking what’s his and then he’s on his way. I kept waiting for him to lean in towards the officer and whisper that he doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis. More of that guy, please.
And less of everyone else, please. The first 40 minutes of last night’s show were welcome atonement for the lack of zombie action over the previous two weeks (albeit indebted to the ending of “Day of the Dead”) but the melodrama on the beach with Liza and Travis was awful. (Come to think of it, that scene was indebted to the end of the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake.) Why do we care about Liza again? She’s Chris’s mom, right, but … why do we care about Chris again? The two of them have had maybe 20 minutes of screentime combined and between them managed not a single memorable moment. She’s not even Travis’s wife, requiring us to care about her because she’s the protagonist’s love interest. She’s his ex-wife, and the two of them don’t seem to get along particularly well. And, oh right, we don’t care about the protagonist either. No one likes Travis. No one’s rooting for him. The scene of him going ballistic and beating that soldier nearly to death after he shot Ofelia in the shoulder was the least plausible thing to happen in the series so far, and I remind you that this is a show about dead people coming back to life and eating the living. Watching him pound that guy remorselessly was like watching Jeb Bush try to insult his Republican rivals Trump-style. Nobody’s buying it. It’s completely out of character for someone who’s already been defined as the well-meaning but impotent dad. And the worst part is, the fact that they put Travis through that stupid ass-kicking scene and then the sacrifice of Liza on the beach proves not only that they’re invested in keeping him around as the protagonist next season but that they really are going to replay the Rick Grimes storyline with him. Right? That was the point of him beating up the soldier — like Rick, he’s a peaceful man who’s been driven to brute force by the anarchy around him. Like Rick, he’s learning that he needs to be ruthless, even in dispatching his ex, to keep himself and his family safe in his new reality. We’ve seen all this before and we’ve seen it through the eyes of a more interesting character. What a horrible mistake to keep this guy going. They would have been fine with Strand and the three teenagers as the core cast next year.
But we are where we are, with season two all set up to take place on … a boat? That makes me nervous — “Walking Dead” fans knows from the loooong season at Herschel’s farm how dull things can get when a temporary safe haven from the zombies is found — but it’s something different for this genre. Maybe Strand will feed Travis to the sharks. Or maybe they’ll just lift his character up and out of frame with an intertitle about him returning to his home planet and dying like “The Simpsons” did with Poochie. Either way.