Note: I’m going to be talking a little more broadly about this show instead of really focusing on the plot of the episode. So, if I leave things out, keep that in mind.
However strange this may seem, when analyzing art, it’s important to pay attention to gut reaction. Of course, you can’t exclusively do this, as you end up making arguments you can’t support, but gut reactions can help you figure out what avenue to take your analysis. It provides a starting point from which to build a foundation and move forward. It might seem like I’m getting overly academic here, but as television analysis gets more and more academic (which it should get because it deserves to be taken more seriously), it’s important to think about this.
I say this because my experience of viewing this episode of Fear the Walking Dead was very different than my experience of view on last night’s episode of Girls. I watched Fear the Walking Dead first, probably around 11:45pm, and I felt myself occasionally almost drifting to sleep during the back half of the episode. Watching Girls (which had a riveting double-episode finale), probably around 12:45am, I was focused the whole time, never drifting or feeling my eyes close. It seems like an arbitrary detail, but I actually like Fear the Walking Dead. I want to really enjoy this new season. But there’s something about this episode (which is a good episode) that felt bland.
Maybe it has to do with how predictable and ordinary this storyline is. It’s a self-contained storyline, which often have the potential to be very, very good, but it’s a storyline about a survivalist family with a dad that sees the impending end of the world and a mom that desperately wants her children to be safe. The one-off characters are created and defined well, but the story never really takes off, existing on a larger scale instead of digging into the intimate thoughts that lie within these people. And that, more than anything else, is the problem with this episode: Everything is good, thought out, well-structured, but nothing is great.
The Walking Dead also exists in this weird space between good and great (even though the Season 6 finale was, by far, the worst thing the show has ever done). It often has smart things to say and knows how to say them, but can’t quite articulate them in a way that goes beyond simply saying them. It takes nuance to utilize a character’s innermost motivation to articulate a larger thematic point because it requires both using the character for that articulation AND understanding the complex human features of the character, structuring the character’s actions to fit that complexity. The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead both occasionally show us glimpses of the characters’ complexity, but not enough to get us invested in them as people. Right now, I’m invested in Nick and Travis and Strand at setpieces, people that are there to serve a function in a story before becoming zombie food. And as soon as the audience can see the big picture, as soon as immersion gives way to that, there becomes a serious disconnect and a serious lack of engagement with the show as a whole. Fear the Walking Dead is a young show and has so much potential to grow (I keep trying to remind myself that this episode, “We All Fall Down”, is really only episode eight of the series), so it’s disappointing to see an episode entirely dedicated to a single story falling somewhat flat when it comes to really developing who these people are.
Take Chris, for example, a character that has the potential to become more interesting but is currently being distilled down to the traumatic death of his mother. Chris is trying to place blame on the death of his mother, first going to his father (who was the one that shot her), and then going to the zombies (who were the ones that bit her). Ultimately, he can’t find blame, as there is no real offender to the crime, and he feels unhinged as a result, unable to understand this new world. As character development for the early stages of a television show, this is great, great stuff. BUT. It’s really all reactionary to things that are happening to Chris, never really diving into who Chris is as a person and what complex human characteristics he really has. And it’s a shame to see Fear the Walking Dead fall into the same pitfalls that The Walking Dead has stumbled into. It’s solid television, but never really ascending higher than that.
Fear the Walking Dead is off to at least a decent start, and “We All Fall Down” is a strong second episode for the season, but it’s still struggling to find its identity and develop its characters as real people instead of singular motivations and pieces of a story. Really, all Fear the Walking Dead needs to do is look at another show that is successfully accomplishing everything it is trying to do: Better Call Saul. When I watch Better Call Saul, I am watching complex people (Kim, Chuck, Jimmy, Howard) try to figure out how to transcend their current situations, dealing with jealousy, love, motivation, failure. When I watch Better Call Saul, I am watching real people. And as much as Fear the Walking Dead wants to be that good, the characters on that show aren’t real people. Not yet.
What did you all think of “We All Fall Down”? Do you think the show is going to improve or are we in for a long second season for this show? Let me know in the comments!