Fear The Walking Dead episode 4 review: Not Fade Away

This week's episode of Fear The Walking Dead robs us of witnessing the true downfall of LA, but also has some nicely-directed moments...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 – Not Fade Away

There’s an old saying that goes, “Good fences make good neighbours.” However, that rule seems only to apply when you’re the person who has chosen to erect the fence. Put up a privacy fence and obstruct someone’s view, or erect a fence where laws prohibit fencing, and your action will make you an enemy pretty quickly. In the universe of The Walking Dead, fences make good targets, because there’s probably food behind said fences – either the canned kind or the mobile, screaming sort.

Things seem to be going on fairly normally in Nick Clark’s neighborhood. His stepfather Travis is out for a run, waving at neighbours and getting up a good sweat. His stepbrother Chris is perched on the roof making videos of the slow death of the world around them. Meanwhile, he’s floating in a pool, soaking up a little sun and enjoying the feeling of stolen morphine in his veins. However, the more perceptive in the Clark household aren’t as settled. Madison is staring angrily at a clock, waiting for the restoration of electricity. 

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As it turns out, life during the zombie apocalypse isn’t exactly great, as the people trapped within the quarantine zone are being both protected by and controlled by the National Guardsmen who keep the fences up and the rations coming, and Travis has the all-important position as mayor of Vichy France via San Angeles. When there’s a problem, Travis is sent in to try and solve it, like when he needs to talk a panicking neighbour into taking a health screening courtesy of the guards and their new physician, Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt). In exchange for their cooperation, the suburb is rewarded with a few hours of electricity, no phone service, a curfew, and the systematic culling of the weak, injured, or sick from within the community. It started with the ‘exposed’ last week, and this week if you’re a little mentally unstable? You’re gone, because you need treatment. Break your leg? You’re gone, because you need surgery. Have a drug addiction? Yup, you’re gone, too.

One of the things everyone wanted from Fear The Walking Dead was to watch society break down. I wanted to see rioting in the streets, which we got. I wanted to see hordes of zombies marching on police lines. I wanted to see buildings burning, neighbours fighting neighbours, neighbours fighting cops, cops fighting zombies, the complete breakdown of social order and the rise of tribalism. Vigilante gangs, bikers running wild, mass hysteria… and we didn’t actually get any of that. I mean yes, we got one fire and one semi-riot, but all that means is the Lakers won another NBA title. That’s common behavior in pretty much any city in the United States when something good, bad, or indifferent happens. The large-scale breakdown didn’t actually happen, or rather, it happened off screen, which is the exact opposite of what the show promised to show us from the very beginning.

Now LA is a ghost town where everyone’s apparently been “evacuated” and there’s a “6 mile zone free of danger” that popped up in nine days we didn’t see on camera. At least, that’s the official word. Clearing out Los Angeles and its surrounding areas would be like clearing out London, but without the mass transit systems. The scuttlebutt is a major refugee camp that was set up in Barstow, which is like moving everyone from London to Manchester, except Manchester is now a veritable ghost town in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t make sense; that’s why Maddie cuts a hole in the fence and sneaks out, to see what’s going on for herself.

What happens to Maddie is one of the better moments of the episode, because she gets to see the military not as harmless, lazy incompetents, but as killers projecting the image of harmlessness. The piles of bodies she encounters suggest a real danger, and it’s a well-crafted suspense scene from director Kari Skogland. Maddie skulks past the patrols in the fence, then has to hide from the armed men going through the neighbourhood, looking for survivors to shoot.

This works as a set piece, but it works even better as a character piece, because after the relatively harmless National Guard come to the house to take away Griselda for “treatment,” Daniel knows what’s really going on. Ruben Blades’ Daniel has been one of the show’s better characters since he first showed up, and the matter-of-fact way he tells Maddie the story about the time the army came and took men from his village was perfectly delivered and really well crafted by writer Meaghan Oppenheimer. It was simple, but it provided Madison a warning: just because you’re of some importance to the community, you won’t be spared when it’s time to pay up. Daniel’s father was important in his village, and while he could talk to the military commander, he couldn’t stop him from doing whatever he wanted.

Sound familiar, Travis? Of course it does, because the episode essentially ends in that exact manner. The trusted government friends of Travis come to the house and not only take away Griselda, but also take away Nick. They take away Liza, too, but she’ll be volunteering (no doubt at the end of a gun) at the hospital while the rest of them… well… this episode makes it pretty clear that these folks aren’t going to come back without going through some sort of chaos or escape scenario. Maybe that’ll be the downfall of society thing, just on a much smaller scale than might be expected given that Fear The Walking Dead takes place in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan is very disappointed by this leap forward in time, even if it does come with some pretty good acting moments. Still, don’t promise chaotic downfall and not give the viewer what you promised! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

You can read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Dog, here.

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