“The only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness,” says the mysterious Strand to Nick the addict in Fear the Walking Dead. Then Strand shows him a yacht parked off the beach behind his house. But…having a boat ready to go to escape an apocalypse seems like a really rational choice at that point. This was typical of a show where dialogue and actions just didn’t seem to line up very well.
As episode 6 of Fear the Walking Dead came to an unsatisfying end, I found myself asking what I was hoping for. When episode 4, “Not Fade Away,” ended, I was ready to dig in and quietly plot an uprising for the remaining two episodes. Little did I know that the military was already planning a maniacal kill-everybody operation and our heroes would unleash their nuclear operation and kill everybody instead.
The last two episodes of Fear the Walking Dead had numerous misfires and confusing plot points from where I stand. The biggest one was Operation Cobalt, where the military would give everybody a “humane death” as they retreated from the safe zones. It is not that that wouldn’t work in this story under any circumstance, but you needed to lay some ground work. This felt hasty and confused.
We spent an episode torturing a private, in what I believe is the National Guard, only to come back in the next episode to find out that they extracted from him what building their family members are in but not the vital information they’ll need to find them. So now Daniel will make a deal with him instead of killing him. What? Wasn’t this a broken man a second ago, willing to tell them anything and everything?
I would argue that one of the problems with this kind of depiction of torture is that it contributes to a false understanding of torture and its value in the wars the US fights. But setting that aside, this became a cheap way for our heroes to have to go to the dark side just two weeks into the apocalypse.
There were many other problems. Setting a whole arena full of zombies loose will likely result in many deaths and kill many of the people who have the potential to help you in the apocalypse. We got so many false signals with Dr. Exner that in the end she just seemed insane. Travis and Maddie seem to have dark pasts, but maybe we’ll learn more about them in season 2 or 3. The adventures of Chris and Alicia need to be discontinued immediately. They do not do things that make sense. Furthermore, I cannot imagine unleashing two thousand zombies onto a hospital or base or whatever, and then saying to my son, “Wait here. It might be dangerous inside the building. You should stay in the parking garage while thousands of zombies fight their way in.”
So many character motivations were puzzling—even within a scene. The granddaddy of all miscues was when the young soldier shows up in the parking garage. He confronts his torturer who he dislikes—we can tell by the way he points a gun at him—and at the last minute shoots and kills the woman he loves, Ophelia. But actually she didn’t die, as we learn a couple scenes later, when she walks into Strand’s house holding her arm. The whole series of events left me wondering what happened there. I don’t think I need to be hit over the head, but just a scrap of dialogue like, “I never loved anyone like I loved you!” Or, “You cut me deep, old man. Here’s what it felt like!”
I’m sure an actual scriptwriter could punch those lines up a little. I definitely believe that less is more, but the catch there is that you need to have created fully developed characters so that when they do give a significant glance, we as viewers know in our bones what that character is thinking. When you have characters saying nonsense and taking random actions, it defies our ability to know what is going on.
So, what did I want from Fear the Walking Dead? Consider these my “notes” on season 1. I do not say that I could have done a better job, but here’s what I wanted to see.
Maddie and her kids get back home, and the lights go out again. Long silence. Close up on Maddie, and we know that the characters are all trying to recalibrate and there’s a sinking feeling that things are going to get worse.
I wanted to live in that moment for the whole season of Fear the Walking Dead. Somewhere between normalcy and apocalypse. I liked the idea that they were working with: some people are ahead of the learning curve and others are behind. But for that to really work, there has to be some hope that things will return to normal.
We All Fall Down
Something else I wanted in Fear the Walking Dead: to see things fall apart. I’m guessing this is the most widely written criticism of the show. Part of me says that it wasn’t in the budget. Being in the barber shop was an excellent example of how to do that, but the time in the barber shop was misspent. Instead of dialogue like, “Y’all go one way, we’ll go the other.” We could have hide quiet moments by the candles with people telling their stories, sharing information, and discussing what their plans look like.
Similarly, if we can’t directly see civilization fall apart because of budget concerns, how about characters who report back from the frontlines? Lieutenant Moyers: “Travis, I’ve seen things that have changed me. Two weeks ago, I was a sales manager who played soldier on the weekends. Two days ago, we had to clean out a school. A bunch of families had locked themselves in, and…[tries to shake off the memories].”
Instead, the reports back from the frontlines were more like, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a zombie apocalypse!”
I also wanted character depth. Often, the Fear the Walking Dead viewers are supposed to draw on what we already know about, say, teenagers and fill in the blanks. I want to see people grappling with the collapse of civilization at the same time that we’re learning more about them. Remember when Alicia read some weird suicide note from Susan? Well, great. Susan’s got a little bit more depth now that she’s dead.
Wouldn’t it have been better if Alicia was under the cover with her flashlight reading all of her college acceptance letters? Alicia: “Dear Ms. Alicia Clark, Congratulations, you have been accepted to Princeton University! The admissions committee was deeply impressed by your test scores and grade point average, but it was your commitment to ending childhood poverty that most moved us…” Or something like that. A letter that tells us who Alicia was and reminds us that she is dealing with the death of those dreams.
I Heart Rick
Finally, I want a hero who knows what is going on or is working very hard to figure it out. I want them to crack a joke every once in a while and do something heroic right when they needed to. For example, the group tumbles out of the army hospital coughing from all the smoke and starts climbing into a humvee. Travis, “Where’s Chris?!” Nick, “You need to get them out of here! I’ll find Chris.” Travis, “No, Nick! I’ll do it.” Nick in a quieter voice, “Travis, they’re going to need you, man. You have my word, I’ll find Chris or I’ll die trying.” Travis nods.
In the News
Oh, one last thing. For some reason, I love news broadcasts during the apocalypse. Would it have killed them to give me a couple more reports from the rest of the country? How about one of those reports where the reporter on the scene says that things are getting out of hand here in Orlando and then the video feed suddenly goes to static?