We’re now over halfway through the first season of Fear the Walking Dead, and while it continues to struggle with, well, basically everything, it seems to be congealing into a not entirely awful show. If the first episode was the best and the second and third the worst, then the fourth is right smack dab in the middle.
Nine days have passed since we last saw our not so intrepid heroes, and stuff is shaking up in the LA ‘burbs. Ask Travis and he’d tell you things are looking up. Ask Chris or Alicia and they’d pout and give you some rambling pseudo-poetry about how much everything sucks. Maddie would mutter something about repainting the living room, and Lt. Moyers would laugh then threaten to shoot you.
The Manawas, Salazars, and Clarks are holed up in their neighborhood, apparently one of twelve containment centers in the southland. But despite their promises of medicine, food, and protection, all the military has delivered on thus far is thinly veiled threats and forced removals of the ill and the non-compliant. Travis has found himself rather unexpectedly in the role of mayor, but he’s no Rick or the Governor. He holds no authority or even the aura of it. He’s a puppet who may not care for Lt. Moyers’ hand controlling him but thinks it’s better than no control at all.
Nick’s drug problem continues to be a meandering, frustrating plot. Having to dedicate 15 minutes of each episode to the ups and downs of his rehabs and relapses is a waste of time with severely diminishing returns. Unless he’s battling heroin withdrawal while running from walkers, I just don’t care. I’m not one for abusing your children, grown or no, but Madison smacking the hell out of him for looking for morphine dregs in a sick old man’s house was at least cathartic for the audience. If you’re going to tell a drug addiction story, then we need to understand the underpinnings for the addiction itself. Why is Nick a user? Does he want to quit? How does he feel about the whole thing? How has it affected his family? Instead it’s merely a plot point to stir up some family drama until the writers could ship him off to the military hospital. So what should be a goldmine for character development is instead reduced to a plot device.
Alicia and Chris are still the draggiest bits of the whole show. I don’t know why cable shows can’t write interesting teen characters in family dramas but it’s especially glaring here. Kiernan Shipka singlehandedly rescued Sally Draper on Mad Men, but otherwise it’s been a steady stream of Carl Grimeses and Walter Juniors. Alicia continues to pine for her boyfriend we saw for a whole 5 minutes. When she started reading Susan’s suicide letter to her husband Patrick, I thought at first she was writing a letter to her probably dead beau until it turned into a religious screed and I remembered his name was Mason. Wait, it was Mason, right? Let’s just go with Mason.
While Alicia is busy giving herself a prison-style tattoo to remember whatshisname, Chris is working on his impression of Ricky from American Beauty. He spends his days sitting on the roof monologuing as if he were a great philosopher when in fact he sounds like a kid who ran his English paper on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis through a thesaurus. But he needs a reason to be in a position to spot someone in a house a few miles away signalling at him with a light.
I couldn’t tell you why Chris, Madison, and Travis are all able to easily and quickly find and respond to the lightmaker while the military seemingly hasn’t noticed, but whatever. Chris shows his video of the flashing light first to Travis, who lies and tells him it’s probably nothing, and then to Maddie, who immediately forgets she’s supposed to be the smart, capable one and goes to find the source. She uses a wire cutter to sneak out of the middle of the fence in the middle of an open field in the middle of the day and goes on walkabout in the DMZ. At first it doesn’t look so bad, desolate sure, but recoverable. Then she turns the corner and is hit with the sight and stench of rotting corpses.
Maddie’s excuse for breaching the perimeter was ridiculous and ultimately fruitless since she never made it to the lighthouse, but it revealed two key things: that things are worse than the military is letting on, and that the military is probably the reason things are deteriorating. They certainly didn’t cause the plague, but murdering uninfected civilians who were unlucky enough not to live in a protected zone only makes matters worse. Daniel is right that there is no difference between a person who is evil by nature and one who does evil things out of fear. Evil is still evil no matter what the intent, but adding fear into the mix leads to acts of desperation to keep control.
Dr. Exner is the personification of that desperation. I doubt the military is loading people onto trucks to kill them, but experimentation is likely. What better way to understand how zombiefication takes place than to watch what happens why the dying finally die? Even though Griselda and Nick aren’t at death’s door, they’re still a drain on resources, which makes them expendable in the eyes of the military. Good on Liza for going with them to the military hospital. She has Maddie’s same streak of risky adventurism and need for the truth even if it hurts. The only way the families will survive is if Madison, Liza, and Daniel take charge. Daniel has the wisdom of bitterness and experience, Liza the medical know-how and ability to spy on the Powers That Be, and Madison the no-nonsense muscle.
A bit of an odd choice to start the third episode well over a week after the undead chaos got started. Skipping all the action is a troubling habit of Fear’s, first with locking away the Manawas and Salazars in a barricaded barbershop as a riot roils outside and now with fencing in the civs and time-jumping past the actual apocalypse. I’d like to accuse the show of penny pinching quality for the sake of a too-small budget, but it’s also as likely an attempt to distinguish itself from TWD. Every season of TWD includes people escaping a populated hellscape of wicked leaders and irrational residents, and a prequel redux isn’t likely to spark innovation there. However, it does drain a ton of the tension away. Rather than have the walkers be the main source of drama, or even the other survivors, Fear points the suspicious finger at the people in charge—insert “who watches the watchers” reference.
Travis chafes at Moyers playing golf just outside the fence as if he weren’t in a once happy residential neighborhood. When Travis calls him on his cold bedside manner, Moyers claims he “isn’t a social worker.” A better military leader would look at their position as just that, a person to whom the civilians can respect, but Moyers treats the town like a military base full of snippy recruits. Either he doesn’t know the full extent of what’s really going on or he doesn’t give a shit about it, but regardless it’s a bad sign for anyone under his care. The end of days isn’t brought about by a spiteful god or virulent force of nature but by idiots and assholes.
- Sorry for the review delay. My cable decided that the Emmys were the perfect time to stop working.
- Loved Maddie’s reaction to the smell of decaying corpses in the street. Like the characters on TWD, the audience has come to accept the stink as business as usual, but for Madison it’s a whole new world of terror.
- Forgot to mention Sean Hatosy as Ofelia’s new paramour, but there’s no way that relationship ends well. You don’t cast Hatosy as a sweetheart loverboy and not use his oily, slightly sinister undercurrent. Heaven help Ofelia when he learns she’s been using him to get more rations and aid.
- Willing to bet the hole Madison cut in the fence lets walkers into the safe zone by the finale.
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.