Fear the Walking Dead took a few more turns in episodes 3 and 4 of Season 1, taking this modern family into darker and more dangerous waters. These episodes made up for stumbling out of the gate in episode 1, an episode plagued with irritating teen angst, false scares, and puzzling behavior.
In “Dog,” the Travis side of this family escaped downtown LA and brought a Salvadoran barber and his family back to the suburbs with them, while Maddie and her teen kids play a tense game of Monopoly. The drama surrounds a handful of neighbors who have turned into zombies, including the kindly neighbor lady Susan.
“Not Fade Away” shows what life behind the fence is like as the army has moved into the neighborhood—one of 12 safe zones in the region. The commander seems to be an amoral prick who jokes about shooting civilians and mocks Travis, who he has dubbed “Mr. Mayor.” Meanwhile, a glint of light in the distance captivates Chris and Maddie while Liza offers medical assistance to neighbors.
The barber, Daniel Salazar, explains to Maddie that he’s seen things go bad before, and he offers her advice for when he leaves with his wife and the medics. Little does he know that he’d be left behind as the army takes who they deem sick and leave behind everybody else. By the end of the episode, we know the score: Daniel and Maddie are poised to lead the resistance while Travis remains confused.
There are some clunkers in the episode. Kim Dickens continues to deliver powerful performances that draw us onto the slowly sinking ship, but her last line of the episode—“Liza did this”—is delivered with just the right amount of venom but seems utterly beside the point. There is enough drama in that moment without trying to keep some kind of rivalry between these women going.
Also, the teen characters continue to be annoying and a distraction. I think that this tired pattern needs put to bed. They are self-involved, spout indignant lines, and add very little to the plot from where I stand. Nick’s addiction problems are just as predictable as they are irritating. Chris discovers the light in the distance but turns it into unrealistic demands that the adults do something about it. I hope these characters turn it around soon. Finally, we discover that Alicia may be “cutting,” drawing blood with a sharp metal awl or ice pick, or possibly trying to make her boyfriend’s scribble into a permanent tattoo.
The show creators have taken some serious problems that plague some young people like addiction and self-harm and have sprinkled them onto this story like a little seasoning here and there. There could be portrayals that help us better understand these problems and how they affect people, but Fear the Walking Dead is using them in a superficial manner to try to give the characters depth. Similarly, I wonder how Salvadorans feel about their national nightmare being snuck in to give one character apocalyptic experiences to draw on.
Nevertheless, there’s enough in the performances of Dickens, Cliff Curtis (Travis), and Ruben Blades (Daniel) to keep me coming back. And the plot is going right where I hoped it would. A sense of the beginning of the end and an inside look at the government’s response. I hope there are some scenes in a government facility as well as a well-orchestrated uprising inside the fence.