Fear the Walking Dead, S1 E3: “The Dog”

JFC this show. I’m trying so hard to like it. I really want to like it. But Furiosa help me, the writers ain’t making it easy. I tend to give new shows a lot of slack in their first few episodes. Pilots nearly always suck, what with setting up an entire season worth of plot, introducing all the relevant characters, and establishing tone, and the second episode usually rehashes the pilot but on a smaller scale. By the time the third episode rolls around, because it’s the first episode that’s just an episode, independent of any larger structural concerns or network machinations, the audience gets a real look at the heart of the show. And if “The Dog” is where Fear is headed then we’re off for a bumpy, uneven, and largely frustrating ride. Much like TWD, as it were.

“The Dog” picked up a few hours after the second episode ended, with the Manawas and the Salazars still hiding out in the barbershop as chaos ensues outside. Which brings us to our first moment of eye rolling. I don’t buy for a second that a riot of anarchist hoodlums and partying rabblerousers would erupt so quickly at such a large scale with both cops and an ever-increasing horde of zombies munching on people. People should be fleeing in terror, not smashing up local businesses just for the hell of it. (Don’t even get me started on the grossness of tying the idiocy of this riot to the #BlackLivesMatter police protests.)

Anyway, the two families are forced out of the shop when someone sets the neighboring business on fire. Good thing Travis’ truck is parked only a few short blocks away…Hang on, if getting to the truck was just a matter of wading through a few blocks of rioters then why not just go straight there early on? Why wait for the riot to intensify? And why was the truck was untouched and sparkling clean if it’s in the center of a major riot? Ah, there I go again, hopping through all the massive plot holes.

FTWD S1E3_1

Next up, Monopoly! No, seriously. Because when I think zombie apocalypse, I think family game night. Look, I get the reasoning behind the scene. The writers wanted to give the Clarks a chance at character development—Papa Clark is apparently dead, Alicia is more than a little pissed off at her druggie bro, and Madison doesn’t really know how to interact with her children now that they aren’t little kids anymore—but it came about in the most inane way possible. I don’t believe anyone could play a happy little board game after having just watched their neighbor eat his wife and kids, after Madison bludgeoned her boss to death, after Nick watched his friend eat another friend’s face off, after Nick and Madison killed a dead man in the LA River, after Alicia watched her boyfriend succumb to a zombie bite. No way. I get wanting a moment of peace to pretend things aren’t all that bad, but ugh. Just ugh.

Problem is, the episode is chock-a-block with actions and behaviors completely at odds with what people would actually, you know, do when confronted with the living dead. Teenagers find time to enact petty acts of vengeance with each other even as one is trying to save the life of the other. A husband decides it’s a good idea to try to hug his wife despite the fact that she’s obviously at the very least desperately ill and with a disconcerting amount of blood around her mouth. Then again, this is also the same couple that built a bamboo labyrinth in their backyard, conveniently have a shotgun that apparently the whole neighborhood knows about, and keep spare house keys under the welcome mat even though they live in LOS FREAKING ANGELES. And Travis. Hoo boy. The man just drove through a riot and has seen how many dead people coming back to life, eating people, and having their brains blown out, but no, he somehow still thinks he can talk his neighbor—the same guy who just ate his family and some random person’s dog—into chillaxing on the couch. Daniel Salazar is right, Travis is weak and it’s bound to get them all killed if he isn’t reigned in.

There were glimmers of greatness, however sparse. Kim Dickens has finally lived up to her acting chops. Clearly she’s going to be the resident badass, and straight out of the gate, too. Not only was she ready to kill Undead Susan, she was planning to do it with a hammer of all things. And she’s smart enough to realize that not telling the military all of their secrets is the best way to survive in the short run. She suspects Peter won’t survive his decontamination, nor is she as silver lining as Travis about the military’s arrival heralding better days. If the Salazars, Clarks, and Manawas are going to survive, it’ll be because of her and Daniel. What they really need is a planner. No one in their group thinks in the long term, and that’s going to bite them sooner rather than later.

FTWD S1E3_2

The shots of the overrun hospital, of Susan’s mottled, graying legs, the distressing creaking wood and scratching at the windows, all of it builds a world of fear. As ridiculous as that trellis maze was, it made for a creepy sequence as the Clarks maneuvered to and fro. The plane jerking around in the sky made me gasp audibly. And the ominous presence of the military as they round up corpses and possible infecteds could potentially lead to some fascinating commentary on government overreach and citizen paranoia. All those things Jenner hinted at in TWD could come to fruition here, which would make for some damn fine television.

Except I’m not confident it can pull it off. Like TWD, Fear is great at setting up evocative shots and setting an undercurrent of deep horror…and both struggle mightily to translate that into effective storytelling. It’s safe to say plot will never be Fear’s strong suit. What remains to be seen is if what’s left—scares and characters—are enough to keep the show afloat. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to want a show to have three-dimensional characters, a solid narrative, and a well-crafted visual style, but Fear the Walking Dead has so far proven itself unable to manage more than two at a time.

Final Thoughts:

  • As much as I hate to keep digging back into The Walking Dead, Fear makes it very hard to not make comparisons. Mostly because it keeps copying scenes its parent property already did. This ep we saw Daniel stepping in as a surrogate father figure by teaching Chris the practical skill of how to shoot a gun, which is what Shane did with Carl with knot-tying in the second ep of the first season. Griselda getting a life-threatening leg injury is an update to Hershel.
  • Predictions for the season: Nick gets someone killed when he goes on an ill-advised drug run. Griselda is turned so as to give the characters first-hand experience with an info dump. Chris and Alicia will be forced to rely on each other, thus ending their feud. Liza and Madison will fight over Travis’ affections while Travis flails about trying to keep the peace.
  • We’re getting a second season whether it deserves one or not, so might as well try to make the best of it.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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