NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Fear the Walking Dead are present in this review
Fear the Walking Dead mercifully picked up the pace in its second episode, after a rather boring pilot, though the show still hasn’t quite nailed its formula. The series is clearly still trying to find its groove, which is common for large-scale dramas in their beginnings, and this was exemplified heavily in “So Close, Yet So Far”, a reasonably decent episode that nonetheless had a handful of noticeable flaws.
Following directly on the events of the pilot, Madison and her family find themselves confused and overwhelmed by the Walker that they barely escaped from. With Madison, Travis and Nick fumbling through radio stations trying desperately to get a handle on what’s going on, they find… Nothing. Apparently, everyone is oblivious to the clear and present danger that is gradually creeping in around them… Mostly… Kind of.
This is where a chunk of the episode’s flaws lie. Fear the Walking Dead can’t seem to make up its mind about how it wants to introduce the Walker epidemic, namely in whether it’s sudden, or gradual. It’s not until the end of the episode that it officially decides to have a bunch of chaos occur, practically out of nowhere, but before that, the leads seem to swap between being collected and being panicked between scenes. Likewise, the setting either acts like everything’s fine, or acts like everything’s going to hell between scenes, and this makes the storytelling feel very inconsistent about what it’s actually trying to portray.
Now, to this show’s credit, it is doing a great job of firmly separating itself from the main The Walking Dead series. It feels distinct, not just in its setting, but in the setup of its lead characters. The show is clearly aiming for a more human, vulnerable touch, to stand in contrast to the increasingly hardened, uncompromising survivors in Rick Grimes’ group over on the main series, who are well into the Walker apocalypse by the time of the upcoming sixth season. Fear the Walking Dead is more delicate and dramatic, which is why the promise is noticeable, even when the writing seems to be letting down the concept in the initial episodes.
This leads me to the other highly irritating flaw in this episode, and that’s contrived stupidity on the part of the characters, and boy was there a lot of that this week! The showrunners were promising to do everything they could to avoid contrived stupidity, particularly after the most recent fifth season of the main The Walking Dead series drew quite a bit of criticism for that. Sadly, they’re not succeeding so far. For every great, powerful and emotional moment in this episode, “So Close, Yet So Far” also has a facepalm-worthy lapse in logic to ruin the realism. Again, I can forgive this to a point, since the show is still finding its footing, but it had best shed this bad habit very quickly, lest it drag down more ambitious story arcs of the future.
To start, the family tracks down Alicia, who has found her boyfriend sick and feverish, and clearly with the Walker virus. When Madison urges Alicia to get away from her boyfriend, while still making sure that his parents are looking after him and coming home to him, that’s reasonable and valid. What’s not valid however is Alicia being trusted to care for Nick, who starts going through withdrawal, and abandoning her brother to try and run back to her boyfriend, when she knows her boyfriend has help on the way, and is perfectly fine and stable at that point! Nick ends up having a seizure, almost choking on his own vomit in the process, and had this happened after Alicia had left earshot, he would have been dead! Yes, Alicia is an impulsive teenager, but the show establishes that she’s smart enough to get into Berkeley, leaving an acceptance letter in clear view of her things. There is no way that she would be so idiotic as to willfully endanger her brother’s life, simply because she wants to be somewhere else! Surely, she understands the gravity of that situation, regardless of how reprehensible her brother’s drug habit actually is, and regardless of how much she disapproves of it!
Sadly, Madison and Travis are no better off in several places. Travis goes to see his ex-wife to try and get his son to safety, yet refuses to explain what’s going on to her, leading her to inevitably hang up on him, and tell him to go away, naturally. Explain that you were attacked by an infected person, you idiot! Surely, she can understand that that’s a legitimate reason to want to double-check on your son, custody or no! The woman is a bit bitchy, sure, but she’s not going to endanger your son just to spite you! Instead, Travis shows up at her front door like a crazy person, and starts demanding his son like he’s read ahead in the script. I get that he’s supposed to be rattled, but again, he’s a qualified teacher! He should be smart enough to know that the hysterical approach is not going to make his ex-wife trust his judgment!
It gets worse still when Madison has to return to the strangely empty high school (and yet, much of the city is portrayed to be oblivious to the danger), and forage for supplies for her son, namely some drugs to help him ease the withdrawal. This only occurs because Travis doesn’t answer the phone for literally no reason, which, again, is contrived and illogical in their situation, especially after Travis tries calling his son several times, and clearly had the phone right there beside him! That’s just lazy writing. Moreover, Madison re-encounters conspiracy theorist student, Tobias from the pilot at the school, returning his confiscated knife, and listening to him come off as an unintentionally hilarious exposition device, who conveniently lays out the whole idea of The Walking Dead for the audience, as if they’re stupid.
Finally, where’s Travis’ son, Chris? He’s at an impromptu protest, after the shooting of a homeless man who was infected, with a growing number of L.A. citizens joining the movement to voice discontent for the LAPD getting more aggressive with infected victims. This is actually a good idea for a plot arc in Fear the Walking Dead, but one that this episode sadly ruins the execution of. This issue comes after an argument that’s started because Chris tried to film the scene with a very conspicuous camcorder that, again, he is carrying for literally no reason, simply so the cops would notice it, and the protest would heat up. This is more glaring when it’s clearly established that he has a smartphone that he could be filming with in a far less conspicuous way! There’s even one mind-boggling moment of idiocy where he talks on the phone, while holding the camcorder! Did not one person on the show look at that footage, and wonder if there was something wrong with it?! Adding insult to injury is the fact that the pilot was full of Walker footage that was captured on smartphones. Why didn’t Chris just do that, especially if he wanted the footage to be easily seen online?!
These glaring contrivances are so incredibly frustrating, because many of the other moments in this episode proved to be fantastic as far as setting up the stakes of the series goes. Madison has to brutally bash in the brain of her infected colleague for example, even saving Tobias from being bitten, and when she hides away in her bathroom to wash the blood off her clothes and cry in despair, that’s very emotional and believable. It’s a great moment! The same is true when the episode ends, following Madison preventing Alicia from rushing to the aid of a neighbour that’s being eaten by Walkers. It’s the first truly controversial decision that the show has displayed Madison making, and it shows that, like Rick, she has to compromise her humanity for the good of her family at times. It’s the first glimmer that we’ve had of Madison being a worthy lead for this new series.
Even the resolution with Travis and his family is pretty good. Eventually, the protest erupts into a full-blown riot, after another infected person is shot dead by a cop, and Travis, along with his ex-wife, Liza, reach Chris just in time, and are forced to beg a kindly barber’s family for shelter. The barber’s family is just as scared and confused as they are, and they had to make a risky choice by letting Travis and his family in, showing that the same tense, basic instinct-fueled dynamic that The Walking Dead has often done so well, exists quite nicely in Fear the Walking Dead as well. Seeing the carnage sink in with both Travis and Liza was another exceptionally executed moment, particularly when Travis finally, at long last, opens up to Liza about what he saw during the end of the pilot episode, with the Walker that he barely escaped.
As it stands, Fear the Walking Dead still hasn’t quite gelled in its second episode, especially with so many stupid plot conveniences in this week’s script, but at least it demonstrated in its second episode that it is capable of more interesting and engaging material than what it displayed in the pilot. The show still isn’t where it needs to be at, but at least it’s getting more interesting, even if next week’s script could use a boost in intelligence.
- Story and characters are more interesting
- Pacing is improved and more engaging
- Nicely intense conclusion
- Way too many idiotic contrivances
- Lack of communication between leads makes no sense
- Tobias dialogue was far too on-the-nose