This review contains spoilers.
1.2 So Close, Yet So Far
In this week’s episode of Fear The Walking Dead, high school student and canary-in-the-coal-mine Tobias tells Madison that when things fall apart, they fall apart fast. There’s already some sort of flu epidemic that’s dropping otherwise healthy people like flies, and with that comes the reanimated dead, screaming, blood, and general chaos, but it’s not just the dead causing the problems. If anything, at the moment, the dead are incidental and the real chaos is being caused by the sick living.
Think about the first episode; the school is half-empty thanks to the flu going around, and everyone’s staying home. When someone stays home from a work situation, it creates more problems for the folks that have to cover for them. That creates more stress, which weakens the immune system, which leads to being susceptible to illnesses like, you guessed it, this mystery illness that’s debilitating Los Angeles. When people are too sick to work, systems don’t get much-needed maintenance, and it doesn’t take long for the grid to grind to a halt. It’s not as if this grid is all that well maintained even on the best of days. As mentioned in the episode, every earthquake or natural disaster causes the cell phone circuits to grind to a halt. Even something as relatively commonplace as a car accident can wreck a person’s morning commute, and those happen dozens of times a day.
The speed of collapse is going to help Fear The Walking Dead. As good as Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens might be, no one’s tuning in to watch a relationship drama about a blended, dysfunctional family or a guy going through heroin withdrawals. We’re here to see what it says on the tin: walking dead. Thus far, the zombie attacks have been minimal, but more meaningful because of how well they’ve been set up. As Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) participates in some slightly anachronistic rioting—I don’t remember 2009 all that well, but I don’t remember a lot of protesting over police shootings, unlike 2015—Madison sneaks off to the school to raid their contraband drug closet to ease Nick’s violent, vomity withdrawal symptoms. (It’s been a while since I was in school, but I don’t remember bottles of Oxycontin pills being kept for very long, even if they’re under lock and key.)
It’s a pretty logical conceit to separate the group. After all, as established in Marco Ramirez’s dialogue, withdrawals can kill an addict, particularly opiate withdrawals, and it makes even more sense that Travis would have to go make sure his son and ex-wife are safe, since it’s his son and that’s worth the drive across town. It also amps up the tension to isolate the family members from one another and put them in dangerous situations, like a school with a random walker shambling around or trapped between rioters and the police. Though, fortunately for Madison, she’s got Tobias there to show her how to kill zombies and to try to convince her to horde canned goods, rather than just eating whatever’s in her fridge on the drive out to the desert to wait out the apocalypse and detox her junkie son. However, it’s frustrating that this takes place in a world without zombies in mass media, because it would make the explanations of what’s happening so much easier.
That’s a frustrating tactic for the show, because it would make things much easier if Travis could just tell his wife what’s going on, rather than just being insistent that she needs to come with him and not really explaining what’s going on until they all lock themselves inside the barber shop of a friendly Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) and his family. It seems as though they’re going to get all that noise out of the way, fortunately, because bogging down in this ‘because I said so’ is one of the problems that the parent series had for the whole second season. Lack of communication does not create effective dramatic tension, it’s just an annoyance.
If you want to create tension, look no farther than Madison and Tobias wheeling a cart of stolen canned goods around the school hallway while waiting for the undead shambler in the building to track them down, or the image of Travis and his family trapped between rioters, zombies, and police. Adam Davidson’s visuals are doing a lot of the heavy-lifting thus far, and the show of the family driving away from Los Angeles with the little girls wearing awesome decorated surgical masks was a brief, awesome glimpse into this world and creepier than the shambling walkers have been. The show continues to make great use of the Los Angeles background functioning more-or-less normally while at the fringes of police society, where junkies and homeless people are marginalized, things are starting to unravel. I just wish it would use more of that and perhaps a little less not talking to your daughter about why she can’t cuddle with her dying boyfriend.
That slow escalation of visuals is going to work out really well for the show. We know what the world outside looks like. We know what the world of The Walking Dead looks like. Watching one become the other is going to be satisfying.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Pilot, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan cannot wait for the inevitable police mass-shooting that’s going to take place on the streets of Fear The Los Angeles. It’s definitely going to happen, and we’ll see that zombie-shooting LAPD officer again before this is all over. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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