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by Thom Yee

Fear the Walking Dead images courtesy of AMC.

Fear the Walking Dead images courtesy of AMC.

1×04: “Not Fade Away”

We’ve still got two episodes to go, and we really only have four episodes to judge it on, but I feel like I can say with confidence that I like Fear the Walking Dead better than its parent show so far. The Walking Dead may be, by and large, an easy show to like for pretty obvious reasons, but it’s also been pretty grating if not mind-numbing to understand some of its characters, the choices they make, and the resulting prolonged dramas they’ve caused, and that’s led to a lot of really stupid things happening with alarming frequency and some unnecessary character assassinations like what happened with Andrea becoming an unlikable, shrill turnoff before her welcome demise. In Fear, even if you don’t like a character, at least it’s not hard to understand where they’re coming from, and I don’t particularly want to see anyone die just yet.

In “Not Fade Away”, everyone’s saved! Now living inside of one of twelve L.A. safe zones (this one just happens to be surrounding the Clark homestead we’ve been following this entire time), life’s gotten back to semi-normal for our wayward heroes, and everybody’s dealing with things in their own way, which is to say privately and badly.  Travis has become the de facto “Mr. Mayor” of the new makeshift community, acting as liaison between the military men and the more disparate human elements of the safe zone, an act that’s distanced himself from his own family, especially his son Chris, who thinks he’s found signs of life beyond the community fence; Madison’s growing distrust of their military protectors/captors has led her to explore beyond the gates to find troubling signs of military murder; Nick’s gotten over his heroin addiction by siphoning his sick neighbours’ morphine drips; Liza’s become a nurse to the infirm; and Ofelia’s getting some on the side from one of the army guys. That’s kind of a lot of people to follow (and a few others didn’t get that much to do this episode), but their stories all felt vital and additive to (rather than distracting from) our understanding of the show’s direction, whereas the parent show has often struggled to find things to do for some of its characters (remember T-Dog, who kept inexplicably staying alive week after week?).

Ah, young love in the time of zombies. That guy's definitely a goner.

Ah, young love in the time of zombies. That guy’s definitely a goner.

There was a definite Prisoner vibe to a lot of this week’s episode with some of its directorial and musical choices, and it worked well in amping up the show’s sense of intrigue even if what’s going on here is a lot more straightforward than that show. Discontent is growing throughout the community as power, food, and medical resources are being carefully rationed and as the military keeps everything on a need-to-know basis, and the show’s making a real villain out of Lieutenant Moyers, the man in charge who seems more concerned with his golf game (and maybe the thrill of being in charge) than actually helping anybody. In a world where we’re led to believe that everything will inevitably go wrong (even though we don’t definitely know that the insanity of Atlanta is reflective of what’s happened with the rest of the country), what’s happening inside the safe zone walls is starting to feel like the beginnings of another Woodbury, particularly as undesirables, initially in the form of those in need of medical attention, are being taken away, ostensibly for help at an outside medical facility. The shipping out of the infirm is being played for all of its ominous potentiality, and at this point it’s hard not to imagine them all being thrown in incinerators or something like that. It feels like there’s an Obamacare joke to be made about that, but I’ll leave that joke for less cool heads to tell.

Travis: "Yeah, you're stroke is okay, but how's your short game? Also, why are you killing all of the survivors outside of the fence?"

Travis: “Yeah, you’re stroke is okay, but how’s your short game? Also, why are you killing all of the survivors outside of the fence?”

Right now, Fear the Walking Dead, despite its slower pacing and focus on domestic dramas, feels like a show that’s learned a lot from its forebear, specifically how not to make us want to see main characters die horribly and soon, and it works particularly well since we already have a show for all the zombie-related gore we might want. The dramatic moments land successfully more often than not, and when we see the disappointment Nick feels in himself when Madison discovers how he’s been self-treating his addictions, the horror of family members being taken away against their will, or the shock on Travis’ face when he finally learns what’s going on at the episode’s end, it’s all far more impactful than we’ve come to expect from watching shows like The Walking Dead.

Fear the Walking Dead — “Not Fade Away” final score

4.5


Items of Note

  • “I made some soup… Squash from my garden.” No thank you. Squash is terrible. Just because it’s easy to grow doesn’t make it worth growing.
  • Say what you will about Nick, but I thought the morphine siphoning was pretty industrious.
  • So Madison explores outside the safe zone and brings nothing for protection or self defense with her? You guys know there are zombies everywhere, right?

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