Oli Davis reviews the sixth and final episode of Fear the Walking Dead Season One…
The Good Man.
Directed by Stefan Schwartz.
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson.
There’s that dog again, in the street. It’s a persisting metaphor in Fear the Walking Dead – one symbolic of the characters slowly being backed into a corner, more animal than man, ready to lash out for survival.
The dog is the neighbour’s. Maddie (Kim Dickens) doesn’t tell them about the impending Operation Colbalt, where all civilians are about to be abandoned by the evacuating army. It’s that ‘us or them’ mentality the dog represents. “They didn’t do anything for us,” Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) reminds Maddie. It’s barely been a fortnight since the lights went out, and already a neighbour is too distant.
Those are the best moments of The Walking Dead shows – when a character’s true nature is revealed as societal conventions are stripped away. Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) condemns Maddie’s family to death when choosing who she wants aboard the transport; Mr Strand (Colman Domingo) strides past imprisoned, pleading families on his way out the hospital. It exposes how far one’s love of humanity extends.
Travis is the man apart in this scenario. He still clings to the morals of normalcy. Daniel (Ruben Blades) despises this. He sees it as weakness. Really, he should’ve reacted more strongly when Travis let the soldier Salazar had been torturing walk free (a character motive the show twice failed to follow through on). Instead, he was too busy being a badass.
In the season’s best scene, two soldiers converse atop their watch-tower at the hospital. Daniel walks into view below, flashlight in hand, looks up and starts, “lovely evening for a walk.” The guards threaten to shoot him. “You should save your ammo,” he replies, casually revealing the enormous zombie horde he had freed from a stadium downtown. So that’s where the showrunners were keeping episode 1-5’s zombies.
Unfortunately, this is a prime example of why Fear the Walking Dead doesn’t work. It’s lazily written. Daniel leading a zombie horde to overrun a hospital in order to save his wife makes sense for him. He’s single-minded like that. But what about everyone else? Does dedicated pacifist Travis really want to be indirectly responsible for so many zombie murders? Does not even one member of their posse think unleashing the Undead would just as likely kill the people they’re trying to save as those they’re trying to distract? The scene is there because it looks cool. No thought or consideration has gone into the events leading up to it, or the decision’s consequences.
It’s easy to forget these gripes when the action starts, though. Seeing so many zombies rip through gates, overthrow watch towers and eat soldiers is almost cathartic. When a just-bitten-guy gets shredded by the swirling blade of a grounded helicopter, try not to punch the air with glee.
Then there’s a few emotional moments that actually land. Daniel learning about his dead wife. Daniel walking past a pit of human remains. Daniel watching the expression of his daughter. Daniel…well, Daniel doing pretty much anything. Nick reuniting with Maddie through a locked door is also genuinely affecting.
But with every shuffling zombie stride forward, the show insists on severing its ankles and rolling back from where it came.
The aforementioned pit of human remains is spoiled by a too-perfectly-placed child’s doll. Mr Strand’s safe-haven boat Abigail is Sharknado levels of CGI bad.
But worst of all is the characters. They’re terribly written, poorly directed and tediously acted. In the episode’s best character beat, when Alex shoots Ofelia instead of Daniel (though she should’ve died), NOBODY REACTS. Voices don’t raise. The over-protective, former torturer Daniel doesn’t move. Nick, Maddie and company stand still, their expressions ranging from bored to ‘what shall I have for lunch?’.
The final scene, of Travis shooting his ex-wife, reached for every conceivable heart string. Emotional music. Mute reactions. Slow motion. Waves on a beach. Hands clasping shoulders. It looked like an overwrought, low-rent pop music video, rather than the climactic scene for a ‘serious drama’.
And in those concluding moments, you feel nothing for these characters. Without an emotional investment in them, exciting scenes (shredded soldier aside) become flat. Poignant character moments are hollow. Bar the rare flicker here and there, much like the show’s primary antagonist, Fear the Walking Dead season one had no life.
Oli Davis is the Co-Editor of Flickering Myth, curator of its Super Newsletter, host of the Flickering Myth Daily podcast and Lead Producer of Flickering Myth TV. You can follow him on Twitter @OliDavis. Check back here next Monday for Flickering Myth’s coverage of The Walking Dead Season 6…