The first season of Fear the Walking Dead has been quite the ride. Not an especially good one, mind, but at least I don’t regret giving up 6 hours of my life to it. High praise, indeed. Most of the season arcs were wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of “The Good Man,” with strong hints to where they’re headed next year. I’ll be there waiting, but not with bated breath.
There are soooo many good stories they could tell about life as the world falls apart. TWD only touched on what happened before Rick woke from his coma. Those few weeks were ripe with tales for the plucking… and Fear has opted to tell none of them. We’ve watched teenagers sulk, a couple bicker, an ex-couple bicker, a drug addict get stuck in an ouroboros of withdrawal and readdiction, assholes boss sheeple around, and idiots making decisions so perplexing they could only be made by characters on a poorly written television show. On top of that, all the most exciting action is skipped over in favor of quieter family moments, a trick that would work if the families at the focus of the drama were actually, you know, interesting. Instead, something that should be tense and frightening feels like killing time until the next set piece comes along. For only 6 episodes there should’ve been no reason for so much uninspired wheel-spinning.
We all know where the show is headed; there’s no need to waste so much time place setting, especially not when the finale is so crammed full of exciting things happening. The finale revealed to all the characters the vast scope of the zombie plague, although Strand, Liza, and Dr. Exner are the only ones who understand there is no end, only survival. The military decamped the safezone entirely, leaving the citizens alone. We’re supposed to be on the side of the Salazars, Manawas, and Clarks, but by abandoning their neighbors to their fate and justifying it by saying the neighbors never stepped in to help them our heroes show their true colors, again when Daniel destroys the hospital with a special walker delivery, and once more when Travis nearly beats Adams to death. This is a good thing! Who wants characters who only operate in black and white when they could get bogged down in the moral grays instead?
The break into and escape from the hospital could have easily been started last week, or, even better, in season 2. If the writers really wanted to talk about occupation and abuses of power we needed more time under the military’s thumb, leaving a battle to rescue their family members and escape Los Angeles plenty of time in season 2 to breathe. As it stands, everything went to shit so fast there was no time for reflection or philosophy. This is another of TWD’s big problems: either characters spend so much time in one spot that all drama flatlines – Hershel’s Farm – or so little that the audience doesn’t have a chance to explore – Terminus. Running through that much material and that many characters left the season without a focus. There was no grand arc, no Big Bad, no central thesis. Just a few effective horror sequences stitched to a whole lotta meh. And how does it all end? Not with a bang but with crying on the beach.
Fear introduced so many amazing actors and ideas this season and abandoned nearly all of them. Lt. Moyer? Presumably killed off camera. Dr. Exner? Left to her own suicidal devices. Griselda dying and going after her family? She gets brained before turning. Adams becoming an ally to take on the military or revealing himself to be as much of a power hunter as his boss? Nope, he’s as much of a cipher as the rest of them. Daniel Salazar? First a grumpy old man, then an even grumpier old man, then a torturer, then a guy who makes ill-conceived, exceptionally violent plans. Liza? A harpy turned healer who’s killed right as she gets a personality.
To be fair, when Fear did see a concept all the way through, they worked like gangbusters. Watching Travis work out all his pent up frustration and fear by punching the daylights out of Adams in the parking garage was the most evocative thing he’s done all season, and the look of revulsion on Chris’ face at his father’s unexpected brutality was Lorenzo James Henrie’s best acting to date. And Strand, my moon and stars. Dude, Strand is hardcore. Just imagine the possibilities of him pairing up with Carol. The zombie apocalypse wouldn’t stand a chance. I couldn’t care less about whatever new character is being introduced on the airplane webisodes. Strand should be in every scene being awesome. I want to know everything about him. To hell with the everyone else. Getting on that boat could be a good plan (certainly better than anything Daniel or Madison’s come up with), but Strand doesn’t seem the kind of guy to do anything out of compassion or empathy. He needs them and they don’t realize it yet. They’re the perfect patsies, and I cannot wait to see how much he makes them regret following him.
What perturbs me the most is that Fear never managed to make a case for its existence. “Making money hand over fist” can be a valid reason to launch a TV show, but it doesn’t set up a good foundation for a quality product. AMC made the same profitable mistake with The Walking Dead, assuming that the reputation of Robert Kirkman and his comic would carry the show. Which is why fans had to suffer through 3 mostly crap seasons and 2 much improved ones.
It seems as though AMC and Kirkman determined all the structural problems from TWD were features not bugs and copy-pasted them right onto the prequel with nary a second thought. This season Fear The Walking Dead proved it had the chops to be a killer show (pun intended), yet time and time again it refused to live up to its own hype. I don’t know what to do with that other than to get used to constant disappointment until it finally gets consistently good in a few years.
- “What is family now?”
- “There’s no story here that doesn’t end with me dead.” You have no idea, kiddo.
- We finally get a real look at the safezone. It’s much bigger than I thought it was. Too bad the point is moot now.
- I’ll give Fear this: the person in charge of their music selection is doing a heckuva job.
- Those doubting Daniel’s walkabout last week, we have confirmation of his trip. El Sereno is Northeast of Downtown LA, and 11 miles from the Area, making it even more unbelievable that he did that trip on foot in a few short hours.
- No, they’re not going West because Strand has supplies. They’re going west because the budget for a season-long desert shoot would be astronomical.
- Um, I don’t think a house with no escape route and a literal wall of windows is the safest place to be when the undead hordes come.
- Was that a tanker out there in the ocean? Now that I’d like a webisode of. How have those guys dealt with the end of the world? Can zombies move underwater?
- Looks like someone spent all their special effects budget before getting around to Abigail. That was some shoddy, shoddy CGI.
- Has Liza been in those heeled boots this whole time? Her feet must be killing her.
- Representation is also still a problem. LGBTQ+ are few and far between, and for whatever reason it seems nigh impossible to have more than two kinds of non-white people on the show at any given point in time.
- It has bugged me for years that Kirkman says that zombies don’t exist in TWD ‘verse. Zombies weren’t invented by George Romero, Kirkman. Removing the concept of zombies means erasing large swaths of Haitian folklore – from which our current perception of zombies is a corrupted form. To cut out zombies from pop culture is one thing, but to eradicate them wholesale means invalidating the belief system of a society already beat up enough as it is. Just because a bunch of Americans don’t know what zombies are doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t exist.
- I’ll see you The Walking Dead fans same time, same place with the return of our favorite unkillable zombie show.
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.