Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E02 “So Close, Yet So Far”


FearTWDS1E02

“I’m about to step into a world of shit. You know that, right?” — Nick Clark

[some spoilers]

Is watching a zombie apocalypse unfold during it’s early days something that fans of the original series, The Walking Dead, want to actually watch happen? That was probably the least important question asked by AMC producers when they were brainstorming about how to take advantage of the pop-culture phenomena they had in their hands with The Walking Dead. This was a show that consistently beat every show it went up against and even manages to surpass some Sunday Night Football games in viewership.

The show enjoys viewership ratings of every type of metric one can think of that only the biggest network shows today can pull. Yet, the question remained of whether a second series exploring the world that Robert Kirkman created in his Image Comics title of the same name would have a similar reaction from fans. If the numbers brought in by the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead would be of any indication then the answer was a resounding yes.

The pilot episode of this new series introduced viewers to a cast of characters that wouldn’t look out of place from any family drama on network tv, cable or even the big-screen. It’s a world focused on the densely-packed Los Angeles area with all it’s different neighborhoods from glitzy and glamorous Hollywood and Beverly Hills to it’s surrounding middle-class areas like East L.A. and Venice Beach. One could substitute any major American city as location and we’ll still be able to relate to the opening narrative beats of an apocalypse descending on an unprepared populace.

Witnessing a zombie apocalypse in it’s early stages has it’s drawbacks and for some fans it’s the lack of the very zombie mayhem which made the original series so “must-see” that has become this companion series’ own weak point. Yet, there’s a logic and reason to the lack of zombies. It is the early days and the lack of zombies doesn’t mean the show lacks in tension and dread-building moments.

As Madison Clark’s drug-addict son succinctly says during the second episode, and could mean for the rest of the cast in the show, they’re all about to step into a world of shit.

“So Close, Yet So Far” jumps into literally right after both Madison Clark and Travis Manawa sees the truth in Nick’s words about what he witnessed in the drug den during the pilot episode. Their disbelief still governs some of their rash decisions (like splitting up to find other family members), but it also gives them a leg up on some of their neighbors and most everyone of the Greater Los Angeles area. Outside of Travis and Madison we’re given glimpses of others like Tobias (Madison’s paranoid but well-informed student), a next door neighbor looking to stock up and flee the city right up to a cop on-duty stocking up on water supplies. The city and the surrounding seem oblivious to the hell about to land on everyone, but that primordial part of everyone’s brain the says something is wrong seem to be working more efficiently for some.

The episode finds both Madison and Travis and their respective families split up when it looks like the zombie apocalypse is finally hitting it’s stride. Police actions turn into riots as civilian bystanders witness cops shooting (many, many times) and killing who look like innocent homeless people. As an audience we know better and it’s that knowing the rules of the game while those in the series are still so uneducated to the changes in this world of theirs which gives Fear the Walking Dead a fresher look at Robert Kirkman’s world.

This advance knowledge of this new world’s rules make for both a exhilarating and frustrating show. We wait for when the rest of the cast catch up in how to deal with the zombie apocalypse, but we also worry that some characters may not get the time spent during this shortened first season to survive. Rick Grimes was the lone babe in the woods in The Walking Dead. His family, best friend and the other survivors he has met with since he awoke from his coma already knew the basics on how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Madison, Travis, Nick, Alicia and the rest do not have the luxury of knowing what’s happening. They’ve seen examples of what’s coming, but they’re still dealing with it as if it’s your typical natural disaster. That everything will sort itself out in the end.

Tobias, our on-screen oracle, knows better and in just two episodes have become the audience’s proxy for a series cast full of babes in the woods. His very insular nature of spending way too much time on-line has given him an insight to this current calamity that everyone else around him seem oblivious and/or not extremely worried about. Whether Tobias survives the season has been left up in the air and with 4 episodes left in this inaugural season there’s not much time to dwell on who will live or who will die.

As we saw with Madison stopping Alicia from running out of the house to help a neighbor being attacked by another neighbor (the same one Travis saw earlier that day planning to get out of the city but already sick and infected) zombified, some have begun to worry about just protecting those closest to them and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

Fear the Walking Dead has navigated a narrative that could get frustratingly old and stale with some great character work from it’s cast. Yes, even the annoying way the teenage children of the two leads have been written. The series has chosen to focus on the lives of your typical American family of the 21st century and that includes the annoyances and warts of parents and children.

Will fans continue to tune in without the zombies showing up more often? That will depend on whether show’s writers slows things down just as the apocalypse is hitting or just press the pedal to the floor and ride the zombie apocalypse wave and hope it lands with a bang instead of a whimper.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • The episode’s cold opening of the high school principal walking the grounds of an empty high school made for an eerie sequence.
  • While it seems like instances of zombie attacks have been concentrated in the more densely populated city area of LA, we still saw some signs of it hitting the outer areas like East LA. Alicia’s boyfriend Matt being one on the way to turning.
  • Interesting way for the writers to incorporate the current climate of distrust the public have with law enforcement into the series with civilians protesting then rioting over cops shooting what they think were innocent people. Audiences know better and we see how this civil disturbance look like it’s adding to the chaos that helps the zombie apocalypse take a foothold in the city.
  • Always nice to see Ruben Blades on-screen.

Season 1