Fear the Walking Dead, so far...
If you haven’t been watching Fear the Walking Dead, let me give you a quick synopsis of events thus far of episodes one through four. This is from memory, so don’t yell at me if I get something wrong or leave something out. Mea culpa.
Travis and Madison are BF/GF’s living in her house. They both work for the local school system. She’s a guidance counselor and he teaches literature or something. Living with them is Madison’s college-bound daughter (Alicia). She also has a heroin-addicted son (Nicky) who drifts from place to place. Travis has an ex-wife (Liza) and son (Chris).
Okay…the series opens with Travis waking up in a heroin den to a scene of undead terror—his friend is eating another person. Scary! He flees, gets rammed by a car, and ends up in the hospital. The family is called and everyone is reunited. Travis (something of a dumbass, he is) investigates the heroin den and finds a bunch of spattered human remains. Nicky escapes from the hospital and seeks out his dealer.
While the family looks for Travis, they visit his friend, Calvin. Calvin is a nice boy who, as it turns out, is Nick’s supplier. As they search, they run into a major police operation that ends up in a civilian getting shot (guess what his problem is). They take the off ramp and leave the scene.
In the meantime, junk-dealing Calvin doesn’t want a loose-lipped junkie around and tries to kill Nicky. Nicky turns the tables and kills Calvin with his own gun. He calls his family and they go to investigate the scene. Calvin’s car is there, but no Calvin. He’s turned and he attacks the family. Nicky saves them by running over Calvin with Travis’s truck. The adults (always the last to figure out when something is ‘up’) decide to pack it up and head for the desert until whatever is happening blows over (none of these people seem like they’d be very skilled at desert survival, but whatever).
The next day at school, a video is circulating showing the events of the police operation, including a guy in a plaid shirt attacking (and biting) police officers despite getting shot dozens of times. A half day is declared and everyone (including Travis’s son, Chris) is sent home.
On the way home, the bus stopped by a mob. There’s been another police shooting, this time of a homeless man. A mob forms to protest the shooting and Chris begins to film in, in spite of police orders to stop. A female cop is approached by an ostensibly undead walker and is forced to shoot. This triggers a riot. Travis, who went to his ex’s (Liza) house to collect both of them and bring them to stay with them, decides to go with her to find Chris.
Meanwhile, at home, Nicky starts to violently withdraw from heroin and Madison goes to the school nurse’s office to collect whatever meds she can find—OxyContin, Percocet, etc. She encounters the school’s beloved (and now undead) head of security. She and a student who was hiding in the school dispatch him, and she brings the meds home to Nicky, who is overjoyed at the supply of Oxys, and shows himself to be more of a dirt bag than a sibling.
Travis and Liza find Chris and, in the middle of the riot, find temporary harbor in a barber shop, along with the owner and his wife and daughter (Daniel, Griselda, and Ophelia, I think). The barber is none too thrilled, but agrees to take them in. They are forced to leave when the mob sets fire to the building. Griselda’s foot gets crushed (blame heavy-handed police tactics) but they manage to get her and the others to Travis’s truck and they make their to Madison’s house. The three newcomers promise to stay until the morning, when they will leave and stay with Daniel’s cousin.
In the meantime, Madison and crew flee when their undead neighbor attempts to enter their house. Figuring they need to protect themselves (because they’re the one household in America without a gun), so they enter their neighbor’s house in search of one. They see their neighbor in the yard. She has turned. They enter the house and find the neighbor’s skeet gun and bring it home where the rest are waiting. Their undead neighbor breaks in and attacks Travis. Daniel takes the gun, loads it, and dispatches the “zombified” neighbor. As they are set to leave for the desert (not sure what supplies they’ve collected. The only thing we hear about is Nicky’s supply of Oxys), the military enters the scene and secures the area.
Jump forward a week, and the military (led by an officer of questionable ethics) has fenced in the neighborhood and is giving residents medical screenings (and not giving a choice in the matter). Travis, the now de facto mayor or the community is called in to talk his neighbor into stepping outside and submitting to a screening. Nick, between gulping Oxys and sleeping, takes up the hobby of sitting on the roof with a mirror, trying to signal survivors outside the quarantine zone. He gets a response and tells Travis.
Nicky’s Oxys are running low, what with half of them going to Griselda, who is in danger of septic shock from her crushed foot. He breaks into a neighbor’s house and steals what I think was morphine. Madison, upon find out what he’s been up to, gives him a massive slap-down. Travis informs the military officer of the possibility of survivors outside the perimeter, but is met with complete indifference. Meanwhile, his neighbor has been detained for trying to escape the quarantine zone.
Madison slips past the perimeter and finds evidence that the military is indiscriminately killing people outside the perimeter—‘dead and not dead alike. Liza (a nurse, apparently) is drafted by the military, Griselda is taken to a field hospital to have her foot operated on, and Nicky is taken from the house by force. Daniel is the only one who knows where this is inexorably headed, recounting a similar experience in El Salvador where villagers were taken to receive medical care, but ended up murdered by the government.
And there we are.
Okay…….I really wanted to like this show. And the first two episodes seemed promising—like The Walking Dead, but in a different social context. So far, the dead folks haven’t really presented much of a threat to the main characters. I count five ‘walkers’ in four episodes (not counting those already put down by the military). As it stands now, whatever threat faced by the characters is going to come from other, live human beings. The military is being presented as the bad guys; led by a seemingly sociopathic Governor-esque commander.
The original Walking Dead was essentially survival horror, as most decent (and not so decent) zombie films are. The ‘walkers’ were ancillary to the story. The climactic scene at Herschel’s farm (when they open the barn doors) wouldn’t have worked if the main bugaboo was say, the Ebola virus or alien invaders. Not so much anymore, with Rick and crew facing cannibals, megalomaniacs, and creepy suburbanites, the dead have taken a backseat. They serve as filler material while the show jumps between its three or four disparate story arcs. But that’s the way it goes, I guess.
So far, in Fear… the zombie outbreak is simply a springboard for the interpersonal dramas and the coming clash with the military. The dead are simply a McGuffin. Like the contents of Marcellus Wallace’s brief case, they could literally be anything—and alien invasion, a natural disaster, lizard people, anything scary. In spite of the title, the ‘dead haven’t really given us much to fear at all. The authorities, charged with restoring “order,” are the heavies now. During the riot scene, when the riot squad was called in, you could literally hear the marching cadence of jackboots. In ep4, faceless soldiers patrol he street, looking for something to gun down. They aren’t even disposing of the bodies. At this point, it’s become bland and formulaic. If you remember the original early-eighties “V” (not that botched abortion from a few years ago), then you can probably predict where Fear… is headed.
Usually, by the third episode, I can tell whether or not I’m going to like a new series and give it my full attention. Overall, in spite of a promising start, I’m disappointed as things have ground down into a kind of soap opera. I mean, why spend money on elaborate dead makeup when you can just dress the bad guys in military-type uniforms and call it a day.
But with two more episode left in the season, I’m going to ride it out. Back at you next Monday.
I really wanted to like this show, but so far The Dead have not given us much to fear at all. I counted some like four—averaging to one per episode
Maybe Fear is meant to be some kind of analogy to the war on terror, what with the suppression of civil rights and due process, all in the name of “protecting” us from some enemy that very few of us have ever even seen.