This review contains spoilers.
1.3 The Dog
Fear The Walking Dead has been good, but not great, for its first two episodes. After a week off, the show returns to a cooler climate. Summer is becoming autumn, and as the sun and warmth begin to fade, so too begins to fade any hope of a positive resolution for the dysfunctional family at the center of AMC’s LA-based zombie drama. The escalation of the situation hasn’t been slow, per se, but they’ve been taking their time and attempting to roll the carnage out in natural waves. Civilization doesn’t collapse immediately, it starts fraying at the edges and then spreads. The spreading has started.
One of the touches I like about Fear The Walking Dead is its sound design. To say I live on a busy street would be an understatements; I’m on a major thoroughfare leading to a collection of hospitals, so during daylight hours there are always sirens passing by and helicopters overhead. One of the things Fear does well is its use of the sound of helicopters as a warning: helicopter blades means something bad is going to happen. Helicopters buzz overhead as the riot rages on. A helicopter fly-over welcomes Madison Clark’s neighbour home, just in time for him to be nearly eaten by his zombie wife. Helicopters, in the Fear The Walking Dead universe, are never a good sign, even when they appear to bring help, because that means things are escalating.
Of course, it’s strange to say the situation is escalating when half of the show’s cast is trapped in the middle of a riot. Strangely, the riot part isn’t as tense as the suburbia scenes. Part of that is because of the chaos of the riots. It may be a bunch of people knocking over cars and starting fires, but it feels alive. It’s suspenseful, but it’s also living people, and there’s safety in numbers. There are cops present, people with weapons… you might get attacked, but it’s going to be by a person, not a thing (unless you’re a very unlucky riot cop). People might hate the cops, but unless you’re the ‘wrong’ skin colour, a rioting mob will be unlikely to turn on you. This mob seems pretty ethnically diverse, so even racial tensions are likely not to be an issue preventing you from getting helped when set upon.
The suburbia scenes are more terrifying, because while there’s peace from without—neighbours are still taking the trash to the curb—there’s also no one around to help you, and having grown up in a suburb, if you start screaming, odds are your neighbours won’t hear you, even if they are inclined to be helpful like Maddie. Like the neighbours with the weird arbour maze in their backyard, the suburbs are where people go to get away, not become part of a community. That feeling of isolation has been part of horror movies since John Carpenter unleashed The Shape on Haddonfield, Illinois, but just because we’ve seen it before that doesn’t mean it’s not still effective in Adam Davidson’s hands. After all, the neighbours had a shotgun which was used to awesome effect in one of the most spectacular zombie kills we’ve seen in this corner of the Walking Dead universe.
One of the things I like about this episode, courtesy of Jack LoGiudice, is that Daniel Salazar (the awesome Ruben Blades) is instantly the show’s most interesting adult character by virtue of a few little details. First of all, he’s originally from El Salvador, which spent the better part of 13 years engulfed in a violent civil war. Given his age, he spent time in the country during the war, either on one side or stuck between the two sides, which means he’s got serious survival skills that are going to come in handy—he’s already teaching Chris how to handle a shotgun—and he’s smart enough to realize that Travis and Maddie just might be anchors rather than survival teammates. Nice people die first is one of the best lines of either show. Nick is also proving himself to be useful, as his years as a druggie and general ne’er-do-well have given him some knowledge of breaking and entering. He’s also the only one to connect the shambling face-eating people with death, not sickness.
Between the two of them, they know that the arrival of the military is going to lead to bad things. No matter which side of the drug war or the El Salvadorian Civil War you might be on, having gone through two of those things means that the two characters are aware that authority clamping down on things and dragging away unharmed, uninfected neighbours is just the beginning of the proverbial shit hitting the metaphorical fan. It’s also a good sign for the future of this particular show.
At times it’s hard to remember that The Walking Dead takes place in a universe where zombie media doesn’t exist, and so these people are clueless to the threat they’re facing. They’re also in Los Angeles, which is kind of a different world than the rest of America lives in, so you’re going to find things like Travis telling his son to stay away from guns just after the gun saved their lives. (That’s likely a stereotypical exaggeration, but not unrealistic.)
I hope against hope we don’t have a lot of hand-wringing from Travis, because the last thing this show needs is to go down the Lori hole, but so far, it’s holding up well. The key is to dole out enough zombie action to keep folks coming back to watch everything go to hell. Three episodes in, Fear The Walking Dead is pacing itself nicely without losing the ability to sprint headlong into chaos at any moment.
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