This review contains spoilers.
3.1 Eye Of The Beholder & 3.2 The New Frontier
Fear The Walking Dead is a show that will soon be undergoing a change in leadership. Unlike the parent show, Dave Erickson (who wrote the first episode of the season) has been at the helm for the first three seasons, with this one being his final as the runner of the show. Unlike The Walking Dead, Fear has been relatively sedate on the back end, and that might be a negative thing for it. Fear The Walking Dead seems to be hitting a lot of the same beats year after year, and the beginning of this season seems no different.
After last season’s hail of bullets, this season opens up immediately in the aftermath of that incident with two episodes designed to bring the Clark family back together and to set Strand back on the road to rejoin the rest of the main cast. The Clarks have to figure out how to escape from some sort of death camp run by a psychopath survivalist named Troy (Daniel Sharman) and his more sympathetic brother Jake (Sam Underwood). One brother is shooting the sick and maimed and performing “research” to see how long they take to turn, while the other brother is trying to calm down everyone and keep things from going too wild.
One of the biggest improvements going into the third season of Fear The Walking Dead is the additions to the cast. The show has picked up three actors that I really enjoy for the third season. Daniel Sharman was one of the better additions to Teen Wolf and was part of the show’s better season. Sam Underwood was one of the better parts of The Following, playing a dual role and adding a lot of fun crazy spice to the serial killer festival. And Dayton Callie, well… what show isn’t improved by adding a cast member from Deadwood? He has immediate chemistry with Kim Dickens owing to their time spent together in the Old West, and he provided a necessary calming gravitas; unlike Troy or Jake, Jeremiah Otto seems like the kind of guy who can command a community of survivalists and provides a cool head to calm down Madison.
Both episodes provide some very tense zombie action. Adam Bernstein has a great pit-fighting sequence in which Travis is forced to prove his worth to Troy and the group by killing a pit full of zombies. The second episode features a really exciting set piece involving a helicopter, and Mark Richard does a good job of shooting around the budget limitations; there’s a helicopter flying around, but a cable TV show can’t afford to crash one, so they work around that limitation and cut away from the helicopter before the hard landing. The interior of the helicopter is shot with a lot of shaking camera and quick cuts, which is appropriately chaotic and puts forth the feeling of being in a crashing vehicle.
It’s a little hard to follow, as is the latter zombie fight in the dark, but that’s part of Fear‘s prevailing atmosphere. It seems to focus exclusively on having things be chaotic in brief bursts, then slower, calmer moments. The action scenes provide some of the gory action fans expect from the franchise, with a particularly brutal (if cartoonish) kill in the waning moments of the first episode, and a pretty tense “group gets split up” scene leaving Nick and Madison on their own. There’s not a ton of danger to the main characters at the time, because we’ve seen just how well they can handle themselves with their plot armor, but there’s at least some action.
Mostly, things seem calm, with the action coming in fits and starts, and situations that could be more interesting resolved fairly easily. Madison steals a gun off screen to protect her and Nick before they arrive at the survivalist ranch. Alicia steps in to save Jake from a group of zombies in the dark, and she also provides a boot knife to fight with Troy. Strand is able to mollify an angry group at the gates of the hotel, but rather than being forced to walk across zombie-infested Mexico, he’s gifted with a car right after he’s forced to leave the friendly confines of the hotel—Strand also delivers a baby with absolutely no medical training and manages to fool a group of people at the gates into thinking he’s a doctor—which puts him on the road towards, guess where? The survivalist compound near the US/Mexico border. It may take him a few episodes to get there, but he’ll find his way, because that’s how things work in this universe.
Maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not sure. I’d rather see them all together, overcoming obstacles and becoming a force to be reckoned with, than separate, weakened and fighting amongst themselves. Nick and Strand can carry an episode, Madison and Alicia can’t, and they need the other characters to bounce off. Alicia and Madison also still feel inconsistent, even before Madison has her life changed permanently.
I’m not sure if that’s a part of the characters or just lapses in script that require them to behave a certain way in response to the needs of the plot. Everyone not Strand continues to feel fairly inconsistent, though I’m willing to give the Otto family a chance given the quality of actors involved. I can only hope that, before long, Madison will become a Carol-style commando, Nick will find another way to use his junkie skills for good, and Strand will continue to lie his way out of trouble while making his way across Mexico to rejoin his friends.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to see Fear The Walking Dead add more Deadwood alumni, like Timothy Olyphant, and give control over the show to, say, David Milch. Zombie Deadwood would be a huge hit. Find more by Ron daily at Popfi.com.