Airdate: August 30, 2015
Directed by: Adam Davidson
Showrunner: Dave Erickson
Written by: Dave Erickson, Robert Kirkman (creator); Marco Ramirez (written by); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (based on the graphic novels by)
Last week’s pilot episode of Fear began, rather predictably, a little slower than its parent series opened. Predictably I say, considering that it is taking a look at the early events of the zombie outbreak. This is ground much less trodden than the “waking up in a hospital” in medias res approach typical of the genre, a trope that was used via Rick’s awakening in Episode 101 of The Walking Dead, and to which homage was paid in last week’s episode as Nick (rhymes with Rick) found himself awakening not in the full-blown zombie apocalypse, but in a particular little corner of hell that bore a close resemblance to the hell he’d already found himself in before as a lapsed drug addict. Tonight, things begin to ramp up a little, and the episode benefits from the increased tension. This is not to say that Fear is a great show yet, but it is starting to show hints of being good, which will keep audiences invested long enough for the show to properly find its feet. Click through for my full review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points from the Fear The Walking Dead, Season 1 Episode 2, “So Close, Yet So Far” – read on at your own risk!>>
We ended last week with Madison, Travis, and Nick running down Nick’s friend/drug-dealer who had returned from the dead and was intent on eating Madison’s arm. Their reaction (save for Nick’s) seemed a little subdued (Madison’s almost laconic, “What the hell’s going on” was not exactly high drama), but we open with them freaking out and racing home to pack for the desert. They know something’s going on – not exactly what, but they want no part of it.
They track down Alicia to her boyfriend’s house. He’s burning up, and she’s trying to nurse him back to health. Travis, somehow psychically connecting the weird goings on to bite marks, despite the fact that the only zombie they’ve seen close-up – Calvin – wasn’t bitten, checks Matt for wounds and finds a bite on his shoulder. What follows is a series of knowing looks between Matt, Travis, and Madison, as they convince Alicia to leave him. This is a bit of a head-scratcher, because no-one has yet made the explicit connection between the idea that being bitten turns the victim, nor has there been any evidence of such – but they all seem to know it instinctively, even though they don’t voice it. Now, in a world inundated with zombie movies and TV shows, it would be plausible that a character might say something like, “Hey, whenever someone gets bitten in the movies, they change,” and the other characters would agree and exit stage left. However, as the magnitude of what is happening doesn’t seem to dawn on anyone (save for outsider student Tobias – more on him soon), there’s no reason why they would react this way to Matt’s bite. Rather, they’d be searching for iodine and bandages, and trying to help him.
For my money, this would have served the show in three ways: 1) it would show the characters’ lack of knowledge of what is happening to be legitimate (instead of undermining the continuity); 2) it would have placed a dying character in their safe-zone, necessarily ramping up the tension for us, the audience-in-the-know (not to mention that leaving an injured teenager at home during this crisis while his parents are out of town is hugely remiss, especially of two workers from his school); and 3) it would have taught them a key lesson regarding the virus, when Matt turned and tried to kill them, giving the episode some potentially exciting scenes. Opportunity missed.
They get back home, and Travis decides he has to go get his son Chris, and ex-wife Liza while he’s at it. Meanwhile, Nick is going through the early stages of heroin withdrawal, and Madison goes to the school to take advantage of their confiscated items locker, hoping to find some drugs to mitigate his DTs. Thus they break rule number one of horror films: don’t get separated. Things are further exacerbated when Nick’s sister Alicia decides she’s going to go check on her boyfriend Matt – who’s likely dead and turned by now – despite explicit instructions from her mother to stay put. To be honest, things might have gone a little better had Madison decided to, you know, trust her daughter enough to tell her what was going on. In any case, Nick goes into a gran mal seizure, forcing Alicia to stay behind to look after him.
At the school, Madison gets some painkillers, and is surprised by Tobias who, you guessed it, wants his steak knife back. He proves to be the only sensible voice to this point, understanding better than anyone what is really going on, largely due to his fascination with fringe websites and conspiracy theories. He’s at the school to loot the pantries, and goes over a list of usual looting targets with Madison – I hope she’s taking notes.
As they get ready to leave, they hear a noise on the school’s audio surveillance system. “It’s one of them,” Tobias says, and they rush to get out. As they near the exit, they find the principal who, of course, has turned. Madison, despite all the evidence she’s already seen, and having been involved in the death of Calvin earlier in the day, approaches the principal offering help. For the second time in her short character arc, she’s saved by a younger-yet-wiser person, as Tobias attacks the principal with his knife, proving in the process that steak knives are not a good way to penetrate a skull. Madison hesitates an inordinately long time before grabbing a fire extinguisher, and dealing with the principal, returning Tobias’s favor. When they leave (sans the food they gathered, for no apparent reason), she offers to take Tobias in – I think she’s starting to realize the benefit of having people with a survivor’s mentality around. Tobias refuses, but I suspect we’ll see him again later.
In honor of Madison and Tobias effectively shutting down the school, here’s a little Alice Cooper:
Travis, in the meantime, arrives to meet an angry Liz, who is completely oblivious to anything going amiss (she was studying until 2am, so that’s a pretty good excuse). Travis calls Chris on Liz’s phone, which he of course answers immediately. He’s downtown at the site of a police shooting – an unarmed homeless man they had to shoot “ten times” or so. People are angry, and a mob forms. Travis and Liz see him on TV, and track him down, arriving just as a female zombie shows up, forcing a cop to kill her, and sparking a full-scale riot.
This scene is handled quite well. The tension builds over time as more people arrive, and the camera lingers over the covered body, leading us to believe it will begin to move at some point. The fact that it doesn’t is a good choice – having a new zombie wander in was unexpected, and the officer’s reaction to her shows that the police are well aware at this point of at least the basics of the situation (the officer’s second shot is a head shot, not a typical response to an unarmed, waif-like girl approaching on a public street in daylight). Travis, Liz, and Chris try to get back to the truck, but the situation quickly devolves.
They duck into a barbershop, pleading with the owner, Daniel Salizar [Rubén Blades] to let them take refuge inside. His wife, Griselda [Patricia Reyes Spindola], and daughter, Ofelia [Mercedes Mason], talk him into it. He agrees, reluctantly, and the group listens and watches as the street violence outside escalates. These three characters are likely to become regulars as things begin to go from bad to worse, especially considering Blades’ considerable acting chops – it’s not likely they’d bring him in for one or two episodes. At this point, the core group is beginning to take shape.
Travis does get hold of Madison to let her know what’s happening, but their phones die mid-conversation – the only resolution is that Madison is going to wait for him to get back home before they head to the desert.
At home, Nick’s quietened, and Madison is trying to calm Alicia when they hear screaming from outside. One of their neighbors is attacking another, and although Alicia scrambles to go help, Madison won’t let her. This scene is unnecessary, simply for the fact that it can only occur the way it does because Madison doesn’t trust Alicia enough to tell her what’s going on. In fact, Alicia explicitly asks her mom to tell her what’s happening, and Madison just clams up. Earlier in the episode, as Travis was driving away, she had no problem going across the street to tell her neighbor what was happening (although to no real effect, apparently, as this is the neighbor now being attacked). If she can tell an acquaintance, why not her daughter? In fact, not telling her daughter serves to alienate her even more from her brother, Nick. If Madison just came clean, Alicia would a) not be so eager to run to Matt’s; b) not be treating Nick so poorly (as she’d know he really saw what he claims to have seen); and c) she wouldn’t be fighting her mom about going out to help. Simple bit of communication, and this false tension fades away into something more in line with the series’ claimed direction: fear.
So yes, the episode was better than the pilot, and no, it hasn’t hit its full stride yet. But really, this is to be expected. There’s never been an examination done this in-depth about the early beginnings of a zombie apocalypse. The writers have the luxury of a hit show (TWD) backing them up, meaning that they have a lot of flexibility here to do what they want to do. This means, in this case, a much slower burn than the original series, and a lot more time on establishing scenes. Tonight’s characterizations were stronger, and as we get to know the people that populate Fear and understand their motivations, our sympathies as an audience should be slowly won over. Showrunner David Erickson clearly does not want to rush things, and with a second season of 15 episodes already ordered, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t – save that, should he lose his audience before the end of this short season, it may spell trouble for the show going forward.
Steve’s Grade: B-
A stronger second effort, with more tension but a few missed opportunities. I expect the show to continue to get better as the real scope of the situation becomes apparent to the characters. Tobias would be a good addition to the core – a sort of younger, more honest Eugene.