by Rich Cross
The second episode of The Walking Dead spin-off Daryl Dixon has one clear objective: to establish that this is a show with an atmosphere, a tone and a sensibility like no other in the Walking Dead universe. The storyline of Alouette achieves that ambition very effectively by combining some astutely executed narrative contrasts. Between the past and the present, the city and the countryside, and the frenetic and the thoughtful.
Opening episode L’âme perdue traced Daryl’s arrival as a small boat refugee on the French coast, having seemingly escaped some form of enforced deportation from US soil. As an alien abroad, Daryl has made common cause with the survivors of a small religious sect. They’ve agreed on a joint mission: Daryl will help them transport their young messiah-in-training Laurent to safety in return for passage to a dockyard north of the capital. Venturing out onto the narrow roadways of rural France to begin their arduous journey to Paris and on to the seaport of Le Havre, Daryl and his new trio of protectees discover that their quest will confront many threats – both from the endless Gallic undead and from French settlements whose territories they stray too close to.
The script for Alouette, by David Zabel and Jason Richman, explores two different contexts – the spread of the contagion as the original zombie outbreak reached Paris and life in the French hinterlands a decade and more on from the pandemic. What connects those two timelines is the fraught life story of Isabelle, the pious nun with a less-than-angelic past, and her familial connection to the awkwardly intelligent Laurent.
Isabelle’s backstory is a revelation, confirming that her character’s moral compass points in directions unexpected from a strict religious devotee. Yet her story enriches and develops the audience’s appreciation of her nature and makes Isabelle a much stronger and more convincing foil for Daryl – which is something the show will need as it develops. It is also interesting to learn that the strength of Isabelle’s connection to Laurent was born of blood, not theistic conviction. This makes the question of why this sheltered young man has risen to the status of a proto-prophet all the more intriguing.
It might be down to a boost in the budget or because making a show in France gets you more bang for your Euro, but Daryl Dixon is able to deliver expensive-looking action sequences. The extended flashback to a fateful Parisian night is full of impressively realised set pieces. Director Daniel Percival frames the city’s degeneration through a chain of events that has a surprising sense of scale. There’s depth and detail in the frame, crowds of extras filling the streets, tense camera work, strong visual effects and an edgy soundscape that all add to the impact. It may be a familiar sort of vista in zombie fiction, but it’s a rarely shown precursor in Walking Dead storylines, and it’s rendered with real pace and élan here. The image of Isabelle and a scattering of passengers watching aghast as horror overwhelms a passing Metro train is especially memorable.
As the episode flips between pandemic Paris and present-day bucolic France, one of the defining distinctions of the look and feel of this particular spin-off looms into view. It’s a truism to point out that modern-day America is a relatively young country. The makers of Daryl Dixon are cognizant of the fact that continental Europe has been shaped by the experiences of a far longer history. The collapse of modern civilization would have thrown French survivors back into the remnants of that extended past. This means that the show is able to set its stories in and around castles, abbeys, stone-built farmhouses, ramshackle villages, and hamlets. So far, that’s imbued the series with something of a mediaeval feel, enhanced by the way that the atmospheric glow of lanterns and candles lights buildings.
When Daryl’s group are detained by independent-minded youngsters living at their former preschool, the pace of the story slows as questions of character and community take centre stage. There’s warmth in Daryl’s interactions with the youngsters and a sense of the growing camaraderie of the travelling group. Daryl agrees to launch a raid on the citadel of a nearby thief and hoarder who has stolen from the children – although his motivations are not entirely altruistic. Compared to the arresting Paris sequences, the fight scenes that follow are not as accomplished, with an escape from a walker-infested castle moat less than wholly convincing.
But it’s the efforts of the children and their resolute leader, Lou, to survive without the guidance of parents and teachers that are the primary focus. There’s a moment of quiet melancholy when the children gather to watch an episode of the seventies sitcom Mork and Mindy on a TV screen powered by bicycle dynamo – a joyous artefact from a lost world that these children barely knew. The parallels between Robin Williams’ extraterrestrial character and Daryl’s own refugee status are hinted at without being overdone. It’s a scene with a poignancy only matched by the improvised prayer that Daryl is compelled to recite at the community’s mealtime.
It’s not until the episode’s end that the malevolent forces on the trail of Daryl’s group come back into view. The hunters’ pursuit of their prey will doubtless shape the later episodes of this first series. But the textures of Alouette confirm that the showrunners of Daryl Dixon understand the need to create both a distinctive sense of place and connections that bind together the fate of characters if the confrontations to come are to matter. Last week’s opening episode was great. This is even better.
New episodes of THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON premiere on Sundays on AMC and AMC+ in the US
Read our previous reviews of THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON below…