Oli Davis reviews the fourth episode of Fear the Walking Dead…
Not Fade Away.
Directed by Kari Skogland.
Written by Megan Oppenheimer.
Using Lou Reed’s Perfect Day is a bold move. Think zombies are scary? Try dead babies crawling on the ceiling to that song in Trainspotting. But here, in episode four of Fear the Walking Dead, it’s played over a montage of the show’s primary characters returning to normalacy. Just nine days ago, the lights went out across L.A. and they were fending off the undead. Then the army’s Deus Ex Machina unit saved the day. Now Maddie, Travis, Nick and the gang are going about their everyday lives – jogging in the street, sunbathing in the pool and performing terrible voiceovers.
Chris’ (Lorenzo James Henrie) monologue snottily whines over most of the opening montage. He speaks with jarring eloquence about how martial law is now in effect. The army put a fence up. Exposition, exposition. Henrie remains an intensely irratating screen prescence.
What’s more frustrating, though, is the voiceover’s follow-up – specifically how it plays into Chris’ character and the episode’s structure as a whole.
Firstly, there are no references by any other character to Chris’ new diary hobby. No “so our rebellious teenager son is making a video journal on the apocalypse” from his parents; no Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) awkwardly asking her step-brother-in-waiting what he’s doing. Chris just talks and records because the viewer needs the story explained and someone thought it would make a cool opening sequence. Which it didn’t.
The show never brings Chris’ video journalling back up. They had the perfect place to put it, too – right at the end, neatly bookending the episode with Chris VOs, him crying over his departed mother. Instead, they inexplicably use Alicia reading aloud an awfully written letter to her definitely dead boyfriend.
There are occassional highlights. Nick (Frank Dillane) is a terrific actor, and his self-destructive addiction is watchable. There’s the scene where Travis (Cliff Cutris) talks to the military commander through a fence, while the latter plays golf, driving balls into the ravaged streets of L.A. (“I’m not a social worker.”). There’s also when Maddie (Kim Dickens) goes to leave Travis immediately after sex because of “things to do.” You’d almost say she’s the closest character to Rick Grimes in Fear…until she embarks on one of the show’s most unforgiveable plot threads.
With hardly any foreshadowing (bar a brief and not particuarly emotive post-coital conversation), Maddie suddenly decides she must investigate the flashing light from a building across town. The army insist nobody out there is alive.
Why Maddie decides to explore, though, is bewildering. From a character perspective, the sudden call-to-action comes from nowhere – she’s more concerned about her son than events Beyond the Wall (to borrow a Game of Thrones-ism), and we haven’t been shown any scenes where she clashes with the army.
And from a show perspective, why wouldn’t you build up the street’s isolation more? Let Maddie have at least one botched breakout attempt where she’s discovered. Make the soldiers more threatening. Instead, she snips the fence open with ease and trundles around the patrol zones in broad daylight (this episode seemed almost allergic to night scenes). She quickly forgets all about the flashing light – her main objective – getting distracted by dead bodies in the street.
When she returns, just like the opening voiceover, there’s no follow-through. She doesn’t tell Travis. She doesn’t tell Chris. She just plops her stuff on the table like she’s been out buy groceries. This is escaping a military-lockdown to investigate the post-apocalyptic world outside; not a trip to the newsagents.
Season one of Fear the Walking Dead is only six episodes long, and thus now two thirds of the way through. The show has dropped almost 3 million viewers in as many weeks sinces its record-setting debut. The Walking Dead, by comparison, gradually increased its audience over its first season. If you analyse any part of Fear close enough – it’s characters, their relationships, the plotting – the same hunched-over, groaning attitude of its undead antagonist reveals itself: it’s lazy.
Fear currently has all of its older sibling’s negative traits, and very, very few of its good one. They’ll be lucky to have half of episode one’s viewers by the finale.
Oli Davis is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors, curator of its Super Newsletter and Lead Producer of Flickering Myth TV. You can follow him on Twitter @OliDavis. Check back here every Monday for his episode-by-episode reviews of Fear the Walking Dead Season 1.