Fear the Walking Dead 1×02 ‘So Close, Yet So Far’: Paranoia and panic

Fear the Walking Dead 1x02 Cover

Fear the Walking Dead has a lot going for it to potentially make it fresh and new. The characters are entirely new and aren’t based on anybody from the comics. The location is as far from Atlanta as it could possibly be. The show starts at the very beginning of the epidemic instead of its aftermath. But the more that I think about these strengths, the more I realize that they could potentially be weaknesses as well. Not having any source material to use means needing a writing crew and showrunner that can really handle infusing a typical zombie story with something exciting and new, creating stories with depth and nuance.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x02-1

Source: AMC

When you look at The Walking Dead, a show that hit its stride halfway through the fourth season, that depth comes from taking remarkable storytelling risks, giving the characters room to breathe in order to inject meaning and depth into their personalities and their stories. Fear the Walking Dead doesn’t seem to be taking many risks, following up the pilot with a panic phase where the citizens of Los Angeles begin rioting in the streets after a merciless police-shooting (even though the police were really gunning down a zombie). Every character has a plot of the episode: Alicia stays at home to take care of Nick while he is going through withdrawal, Madison heads to the school to find medicine for Nick, and Travis searches for his ex-wife Liza and his son Chris. All of the characters are watching the world slowly cave in around them, and none of them have any idea what to do.

Source: AMC

My frustration with the show comes from the simplicity of the story, as well as the somewhat bland characterization and dialogue. The devolution of Los Angeles happens quickly, and while most characters are caught in the headlights, I couldn’t help wondering why they weren’t a little more vigilant during some of the insanity. Madison walking up to Artie in the school while he groans and lumbers after her was absurd, as was Chris telling his father that he was “doing something important” by filming the police protest. We know absolutely nothing about Chris at this point other than that he’s an angry teenager, so having him stand up for a cause doesn’t work. It would work if we knew that he had some connection to police violence or to activism, but there really isn’t any link to be drawn. Not to mention that Travis asking politely to be let into the Salazar’s barber shop during the riots was unbelievably ridiculous. The writing needs to be elevated beyond The Walking Dead’s if the show is going to be any good, and right now it’s not necessarily that great.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x02-2

Source: AMC

That isn’t to say that the show isn’t good at all, or that it might not get better. The eerie mood of the episode is especially enhanced by images of police stockpiling water, people preparing for the unrest to turn into sheer insanity. It’s also worth noting that the police stockpiling water is reminiscent of the “bad guys” in The Walking Dead, where fear turns people against one another and creates within people the capability to do immense harm. We see Madison at the end of the episode forcing Alicia to abandon a neighbor who is screaming for help as she’s chased by a walker. This is after she breaks down, sobbing, having killed her boss with a fire extinguisher. Conditioning yourself to survive in a harder world means contorting yourself to exist in a new status quo. And, for those who aren’t yet willing to condition themselves, it means living in fear. Because, as more people condition themselves into living in the apocalypse, more people will be willing to hurt one another. This is one of the most potent themes that Fear the Walking Dead can use, as The Walking Dead has based its very best episodes off of meditating on this theme. The more they focus on it, the better.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x02-3

Source: AMC

It’s also worth mentioning that there are a lot of black characters being killed off in these two episodes. Calvin from the pilot was run over by Nick, Matt was bitten by a zombie, and Artie gets his head caved in by Madison. The writers may not have planned it that way (and judging from interviews, they really haven’t), but killing a rather disproportionate amount of black people in the same episode you talk about police violence is worth raising an eyebrow about. The showrunner has mentioned that he doesn’t want to polemicize, but when The Walking Dead has already been under fire for its treatment of minority characters, it’s kind of frustrating to see the writing staff unwilling to really think about that as an issue. It goes to show that the writing effort for Fear the Walking Dead isn’t being given the treatment it needs in order to give the story some depth. Right now, it just feels lazy.

Fear the Walking Dead is off to a somewhat shaky start, but with Season 1 coming to a close soon, Season 2’s 15-episode order will likely reinvent the show into a different version of what we see here. This 6-episode season feels like a trial run, a way to introduce the characters so that Season 2 can dig into the stories that the writers really want to tell. The issue is that treating these episodes as a trial run, already having a second season locked in, means that these episodes just need to be good enough to keep viewers watching. And it means that the writing can be lazy as long as people come back next week. Hopefully, the next four episodes raise the stakes enough to really mean something, but for now, Fear the Walking Dead seems content to exist in mediocrity.

So what did you think of the second episode of Fear the Walking Dead? Were you excited to see the stakes escalate or frustrated that the story and dialogue was a little mediocre? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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