The third episode of Fear the Walking Dead delivered a bit more action than usual in its first half before going back to the slow-burn storytelling that ultimately makes this an unexciting hour of zombie television.
Pacing has been a bit of an issue for the show, especially in its first and third episodes, where things seem to lose momentum in the middle. While watching the fall of Los Angeles is completely terrifying, most of the episode spends way too much time building up setpieces we’ve seen too many times before. It felt tonight that this show was up to the same old tricks as its older, much more popular predecessor.
I’d kind of had it with this episode by the time the Clark’s Monopoly game was interrupted by a scratching at the door, something meant to be unsettling but too familiar to possibly execute the right tone. The “did you hear that” moments become quite tiring in these scenes, mostly because we already know what’s out there and what’s coming. With such an established sense of the future, the cheap scares, the mystery of what’s on the other side of the door, will just never be that interesting. The show’s biggest challenge is to overcome the fact that it isn’t actually telling a new story, but showing us a new perspective on a tale we know too well.
We get that new perspective in the early scenes in downtown Los Angeles, where riots and walker attacks are running rampant through the streets. Angry citizens flip over patrol cars, smash windows, break into barbershops just to destroy and burn, and kill and eat each other. And this is all followed by a bright city engulfed in darkness and fire, all done in 20 minutes, a hopeless group of characters riding off into the hills in an old pickup truck.
I struggle to think of many classic zombie-related films or shows in which we see the very first few hours of an outbreak. The closest I can think of is the “one day later” apocalypse in the Dawn of the Dead remake from a few years back. And perhaps the second outbreak in 28 Weeks Later, whose predecessor is also the only zombie story I can think of where we see the very first bite — although you could argue we’re not dealing with actual zombies in these specific movies. But you get the point.
Fear the Walking Dead‘s advantage and disadvantage is that it’s giving us the fall of mankind from the beginning. While we know where things are eventually headed, although its clever to see the army show up at the end of the episode as the cavalry we all know is going to end up being quite antagonistic, it’s great to finally see the initial chaos only hinted at in past zombie tales.
We see that not only are most people still ignorant of the fact that there are walkers among them, even with all the social media available to everyone (someone has to be tweeting the riots/checking twitter), they’re quite deliberately helping the apocalypse along. The anti-establishment tone has been quite purposeful so far, and it’s why introducing the army midway through the season as the saviors (Ruben Blades’ stolid Daniel Salazar isn’t buying it) works so well in this story. While we’ve seen the characters on The Walking Dead try to establish a new order through the years, Fear the Walking Dead quite effectively shows us people rejecting that same order. It works really well, because we’re witnessing human destruction, not a complete takeover by a zombie horde. Los Angeles ultimately falls by its own hand.
But these scenes, including the great drive past the hospital that is spectacularly eerie, come to an end too quickly, the Manawas and Salazars escaping too easily, making it feel like that little piece of Los Angeles is just a tiny bubble. We only see about a block’s worth of destruction and a hospital before the characters are already in the outskirts of town, riding in that pickup truck like refugees. By the way, how great is that pickup truck?
The rest of the episode struggles to find anything interesting for the characters to do besides jump at every sound, look out windows, and hide. The intimate stories haven’t quite caught on as well as the ones offering a larger scale and commentary on current social issues. Here’s hoping these characters get some worthwhile stories very soon.
– The three walkers in this episode aren’t stellar, but it was pretty creepy when the riot police guys were eating each other, while an angry continued to trash the place, seemingly paying no mind to all the cannibalism. The way the walker riot guy dragged his comrade on the concrete was pretty gruesome. It’s also a nice call back to the prison zombies from The Walking Dead season 3.
– Chris is still just the most annoying teenager on apocalyptic Earth. Hopefully, Ruben Blades can adjust his attitude.
– I really just want Tobias back. Here’s hoping he rode in with the cavalry.
– I hope Nick gets more to do in the next few episodes. He was brilliant in the series premiere, but has since been relegated to desperate junkie.
– Griselda is a goner, amiright?