Horror Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E04-05 “Not Fade Away” & “Cobalt”


FearTWDS01E04-05

“Sometimes all we can do is not enough.” — Dr. Bethany Exner

[some spoilers]

Fear the Walking Dead has been a mystery to some audiences and critics. If there was something the original series was criticized on it was that it’s writing throughout it’s current run has been uneven. There would be some great episodes and some good ones, but then some go nowhere episodes that stops any sort of momentum a particular season was having. The Walking Dead deserved some of the criticism leveled at it’s writing and how some of it’s characters appeared one-note for too long. Things began to improve once Scott M. Gimple took over a showrunner beginning with season 4. yet, some of the damage had been done by a very uneven first three season.

One thing The Walking Dead was never lacking was it’s creativity when it came to the zombies and the violence around them. Greg Nicotero and his KNB EFX crew never flinched from whatever hellish idea the writers were able to come up with. It’s probably one of the main reasons why the show has succeeded so much despite flaws in the writing and characterization. People were willing to tolerate the soap opera-style character interactions if it meant the flesh-eating and the headshots came a-plenty.

The first half of Fear the Walking Dead didn’t have much of the zombie action. It was a bold decision by the writers to stay on the path that brought the early days of the zombie apocalypse to life. This was a show that didn’t already have zombies taking over and with civilization having fallen by the wayside. It was still a world where everyone went about their daily routines. Sure the first episode gave some hints that something was amiss, but not until the final minutes did we finally see our first zombie. Even after that initial reveal at the end of the pilot the writers kept the zombies more off-screen. When they did appear it was as one or two.

Episodes four and five, “Not Fade Away” and “Cobalt”, continued this trend of keeping the zombies at arm’s length and off-screen. We saw Travis and Madison’s neighborhood turned into a safe zone by the National Guard who had been deployed to help contain and combat the spreading infection. Some took the military’s arrival with optimism (Travis) while others saw their arrival as a sign that things were just going to get worse and that things might already be too late to save (Daniel).

These two episodes were some of the strongest in this shortened first season of Fear the Walking Dead. We got to learn more about every character, but mostly we learned just how differently each parent of the core group reacted to the growing situation. These were reactions that were as varied and complex as any we’ve seen in any of the characters in The Walking Dead.

Each parent tried to do what they thought was best for their immediate family. On one end of the moral spectrum we had Travis who tried to serve as a sort of de facto mayor of the walled-off neighborhood. Become the person that would be the one who dealt with the military liaison when it came to his family’s and, to an extent, the neighborhood’s well-being. So far, throughout the this short first season, Travis has come across as the sort of enlightened, civilized man who tries to reason and talk things out instead of acting out rashly and on instinct. This sort of personality is what we as a society want to keep the wheels of civilization moving along problem-free. But as we’ve seen this has also become a weakness as things progressively begin to get worst. Travis can’t seem to see that the rule of law and reason seem to be fighting a losing battle with the need to survive.

Yet, despite Travis’ coming off as some sort of pacifist we get a hint of logic to his seeming weak-willed madness. He sees the world crumbling around him and as a father and role model he has tried to be that moral center to his circle of family and friends. Even when what he’s seeing chips away at his belief that those in power will protect and save them, Travis tries to remain that strong, moral center.

The opposite seems to be true for the other father in our group, Daniel Salazar. This character has been quite the revelation in this series. We first meet him in episode 2. He comes across as a leery, but good man like any immigrant in the US looking to make a new life for his family. But with each new episode we learn a bit more of what makes Daniel tick. He’s a father whose past history before coming to the US hints at chaos and bloodshed. He has seen how crisis could spiral out of control in a blink of the eye and he sees that now with the arrival of the military. He doesn’t trust too many outside his wife and daughter and when he does, as the case with Madison, he does so begrudgingly. He’s adaptable to the ever-changing situation the way Travis is not. He’s willing to resort to immediate action to solve a problem or to find a solution. There’s a darkness in him that’s the current situation has awoken once more and it terrifies him, but he allows it to emerge nonetheless in order to keep his family safe.

Throughout these two episodes we see the recurring theme of authority in its many forms (parental, civilian and military) trying to do their best to keep the situation from spiraling out of control, but they despite all their efforts they fail due to that basic flaw that humanity can’t seem to shred and that’s the inability to work together at the most dire situation to solve the problem.

Both Travis and Daniel try to do the best they know how to navigate through and around the encroaching apocalypse. They succeed in some way, but in the end all their efforts still don’t amount to much as everything right from the start of the crisis has been stacked against them. All they could do now is try and save those closest to them.

The question now as we head into the season finale is whose path will ultimately be the best one to navigate in this apocalypse.

Will it be the Way of the Open Palm that we seem be getting from Travis?

A path of sticking to one’s moral center and principles. To try and keep oneself from sliding back into one’s darker impulses as we’ve seen signs of in these two episodes.

Or will it be the Way of the Closed Fist that Daniel seem to be following?

A mentality that requires quick thinking and direct action even if it means allowing one’s darker side to take hold in order to survive. It’s a path that looks to be well-suited for this apocalypse, but one that also brings with it a set of unknown dangers.

So, while the series has so far lacked in major zombie action and the gore quotient has been tame in comparison to The Walking Dead, it has one-upped it’s older sibling by allowing for it’s cast to grow as characters. Whether they all turn out for the better remains to be seen, but in the span of 5 episodes they’ve become full-fledged characters and now the finale will see who will remain steadfast and who will break.

Notes

  • “Not Fade Away” and “Cobalt” were directed by Kari Skogland. Meagan Oppenheimer has writing duties on the former with David Wiener being responsible for the latter.
  • It’s been nine days since the events of episode 3 and it looks like both the National Guardsmen and the neighborhood are fraying at the edges. It doesn’t help that the unit commander is a reservist who also happens to be an LAPD policeman on a power-trip.
  • Still no sign of Tobias. It looks like his own place might be located in the unsafe and unwalled “dead zones” the military have been doing sweeping patrols for the past nine days.
  • Sandrine Holt comes in as Dr. Bethany Exner. Not her first time in a zombie production. She was also in Resident Evil: Apocalypse as Raccoon City news reported Terri Morales.
  • Ruben Blades is turning out to be the MVP of the series, so far. I guess being a government torturer in his native El Salvador during it’s time of troubles is turning to be a good skillset in the coming zombie apocalypse.

Season 1