by Thom Yee
1×02: “So Close, Yet So Far”
One of the first things I noticed when I began watching The Walking Dead was just how dirty and hot and dark the whole thing was. Something you don’t always pick up on in the comicbook version — especially because it’s in black and white — is just how grimy things would be in this world, where the blood is flying and the brains are exploding and the Atlanta heat is beating our heroes mercilessly, and even in TV scenes that were direct lifts from the comic, it really was striking to see just how horrible the zombie apocalypse would be in real life. In transitioning from comicbook page to television screen, there’s an added layer of reality that makes it impossible to ignore the realities of how hard it must be to safely make your way through hallways and corridors that are just that dark or how unhygienic your knife must be getting after piercing through so much zombie viscera. If nothing else, every time I see Daryl pull an arrow out of his latest zombie head shot, I can’t help but recoil in horror as he wipes away the brains on his pant leg. With Fear the Walking Dead, there’s an even further transition away from simple post-apocalyptic zombie survivalism and towards the profound loss of normal life from an encroaching zombie contagion, and it has the potential to make things in this show hit even harder.
In this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead, our heroes mostly stick to themselves and don’t let other people in on what’s really going on. As story elements, those things might not be that different than regular The Walking Dead, but here there’s a sickening realism to it that avoids much of the incredulity and unearned pathos of that show. In The Walking Dead, people keep things to themselves in a way that often feels designed to further the plot, but in Fear the Walking Dead, it’s not so hard to understand why Madison wouldn’t immediately tell her daughter Alicia about the drug dealer that just wouldn’t die no matter how often they hit him with the truck or why Travis just wants to get his son and ex-wife some place safe and doesn’t have time to explain or why the family would just let their neighbor be attacked by a zombie as they watch on from relative safety. It’s just hard to talk to people about extraordinary things in normal society, especially when you know they’re probably not going to believe you.
This week, we also get a (slightly) better idea of what makes Travis’ family tick — mostly resentment towards each other) — and we meet the final family that’ll make up our season one cast, the Salazars, who take Travis’ family in during a riot and whose chief characteristics are originally being from another country, religious charity, and storm doors. At this point neither family makes much impact, and a far more meaningful moment than either of their introductions in “So Close, Yet So Far” is the brief camera pan over an open police car trunk, revealing that the cops are hoarding water. Things are only going to get worse from here, and, even more than the riots that are starting to occur, this is that one knowing, specific, tip-of-the-hat/wag-of-the-finger moment that shows us that it’s going to be every man for himself. Because The Walking Dead skipped straight past the outbreak and the fall, it’s a show that’s traded much more in survivalist brutality than societal themes, but right now those themes are the key strengths of Fear the Walking Dead as we watch society break down in a series of circumstances that, so far, seem far more plausible than anything that’s happened with Rick and co.
The verbal coming from most critics of the Fear the Walking Dead pilot was that it was too slow, and while that may have been true, it was in some ways a necessary evil in a show that really had a harder job to do than The Walking Dead. For those critics, this week’s episode picks up the pace in a way that’s more instantly entertaining, but is also thankfully still fairly realistic. As much as The Walking Dead may have been (and may continue to be) more fun, it’s a show that’s comparatively free to cavort and frolic in the merriment of killing/being killed by zombies and outlandish almost-super villains. Right now the biggest villain in Fear the Walking Dead may be the awful traffic, but at least that’s a villain we can all recognize.
Fear the Walking Dead — “So Close, Yet So Far” final score
Items of Note:
- Unlike doomed boyfriend Matt, I’d like to think that if it were me sick beyond reason, even if it was with the virus that follows being bit by a zombie, I’d still have the presence of mind to close my front door when I got home. #UnnecessaryTension
- I’m thinking everyone’s cell phone service cutting out has nothing to do with the zombie apocalypse. Remember, back in 2010-11 L.A., the only way to get an iPhone 4 was to go with AT&T.
- Poor Principal Artie, it’s like he lives at that school or something. Well, lived.
- And so, having fulfilled his purpose, the conspiracy theorist/fat kid with acne left our group, for he knew that people such as himself are unacceptable to have to look at on TV for too long.