NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Fear the Walking Dead are present in this review
Fear the Walking Dead made a gutsy shift in environment and tone this week, in the aftermath of last week’s episode, which saw the military rolling in to the Clark family’s neighbourhood. Now, an enclosed zone has been established in the neighbourhood, with soldiers keeping the infection at bay, and civilians certainly not having the whole story of what’s going on.
On paper, this shift in character dynamics, with the Clark family no longer being in any kind of power position, is a bold, but effective idea. Placing the characters in confinement, with scraps of information, in a heavily controlled community that would hopefully force them to work through their differences, is an idea with a lot of promise, particularly since this seems to be where the series is parking it for the rest of the brief six episodes comprising Season One.
Unfortunately though, this upheaveal resulted in Fear the Walking Dead sliding back into some frustrating old habits from the first two episodes, even when the show appeared to be kicking them in the third. The pacing once again slowed to a crawl, which wasn’t as dull as it was in the pilot, but still pumped the brakes to a surprising degree after last week’s more intense episode. Likewise, while some more standout character moments occurred this week, there was an unfortunate return of annoying, head-slapping character moments too. These aren’t the aggressive wave of stupidity that dragged down the second episode, but they’re still enough to annoy many viewers.
Anyway, as this week’s episode begins, Chris catches a glimpse of flashing lights in the distance, which he believes are people living beyond the wall. Meanwhile, we get a peek at some of the ways that the Clark family, Travis’ family and the Salazar family have tried to adjust to life in the military community. Madison and Travis fret over constantly painting the house, Nick bumbles around in the pool, Chris makes private video documentaries (at least him using that camcorder in this fashion makes a bit more sense now!), and Liza is a nurse… Sort of. More on that later.
This is where Fear the Walking Dead ranges wildly in credibility. On the one hand, scenes of Alicia chastising Madison and Travis over having misplaced priorities, and Nick secretly stealing morphine so he can lie about being clean, are great stuff, especially when you see where they lead. On the other hand though, we also have to struggle through some really frustrating material, primarily centering around Travis.
To a point, Travis’ new appointment as a so-called, “Man of the people”, makes sense. He seems to be the most friendly and passive, and would no doubt strike the military as a good listener and negotiator. Still, the rate that people in his own family unit get angry at Travis for this role really doesn’t make sense (shouldn’t they be proud of him?), and moreover, Travis isn’t any more together than anyone else. This is why the military suddenly trusting him to be an unofficial therapist to emotionally shattered people feels really unbelievable, especially when they bring in a government doctor later in the episode, Dr. Exner. Could they not find a real, qualified therapist in a city like Los Angeles, a place that’s no doubt packed with therapists, while they were at it? Why do they need to send Travis to go calm down a neighbour that he barely knows?
Oh, and speaking of Dr. Exner, she reveals that Liza is not actually a qualified nurse. Eep. This could be an interesting development, but the show kind of sweeps it under the rug for now, with Dr. Exner asking Liza to keep pretending that she’s qualified, especially after so many people credit her with being the reason that they’re still alive. The show feels like it’s setting up for something later, but it was a bit annoying to see it not really bothering exploring this deception yet.
Fortunately, Madison had better scenes, beyond worrying about paint too much. She sneaks out for a bit to see that perfectly healthy people appear to be shot in the street, and this nicely creates an atmosphere of dread. Clearly, the military is not only being dishonest with the people, but also becoming more unhinged themselves. What happens when the soldiers lose control of the situation, and still exercise their claim to being in charge? Nothing good, I imagine, especially if the backstory of Atlanta’s breakdown in the main The Walking Dead series is any indication!
Likewise, Madison also had a standout moment with Nick, when she finally discovers that he’s been lying about being clean, and has been stealing drugs from sick people. Madison rightfully smacks the bejesus out of her son, and storms off. Nick’s spent most of this show up to this point being an asshole, and he definitely needed a good smacking, but the heartbreak we see Madison experiencing as a result was very powerful and effective.
This only got better when Dr. Exner orders Griselda to be taken away to a, “Special facility”, leading to Daniel recounting to Madison how soldiers acted out of fear back in El Salvador, which, as you can imagine, is not a happy story. Daniel isn’t even surprised when Madison tells him that she found bodies on the other side of the wall, which didn’t appear to be sick people.
Daniel believes that he has secured passage to the facility with his wife, but when the night comes, we learn that Nick is actually the second person on the list, and, after some resistance, Madison is repelled, and Nick is hit with a rifle and dragged away. This is one of the episode’s best moments overall, and it sets up a beautiful opportunity for everyone to come together under a common cause, especially when Travis finally witnesses soldiers executing the people that were flashing the lights at the start of the episode, hopefully making him a bit less spineless now.
Unfortunately though, “Not Fade Away” completely faceplants at the finish line, with two groan-worthy developments that completely shoot the show in the foot. First, Madison blames Liza for Nick being taken away, which is absolutely idiotic. Yes, Madison and Liza apparently dislike each other, and yes, it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that Liza could have found out that Nick was stealing morphine from her patient (which the episode does not at all establish), and wanted to teach him a hard lesson, especially when she ends up riding along on the truck to the mysterious facility at the end, but there just isn’t enough of a reasonable motive for Liza to want to set up Nick.
This leads to the second big issue with the way that this episode ended, that being that the lead cast is now being driven apart more than ever, when they should be starting to unite as a group, even when Nick’s arrest gives them a big whooping excuse to band together. AMC, you’ve only got two episodes left in Season One! That’s not a lot of time to build these characters up as a unit, and unless you’re going to start off Season Two with the characters not having moved at all from where they are (and that’s not the best plan), you’re really cutting it close when it comes to actually developing this new group of survivors as, you know, an actual group, not ill-defined family members that are somewhat tolerating each other.
A few other developments occur, such as Ofelia starting a fling with a soldier, and Alicia carving into her arm (again, the character is not supposed to be an idiot, so why is she blatantly doing something so stupid during a viral outbreak?!), but they don’t mean much for now. Fear the Walking Dead once again feels like it’s getting too far entrenched in petty family drama and frustratingly unbelievable character turns, sadly. There wasn’t a single Walker to be seen this week, and the show surprisingly didn’t suffer on that note, but it definitely felt like the writing nonetheless caused it to take some steps backward in the fourth episode. With Nick being taken away and the military becoming more untrustworthy by the minute though, hopefully next week’s episode once again sheds some of these early rough edges for this series.
- Martial law dynamic is done well
- Madison's trip beyond the fences
- Nick being taken and finally seeing consequences
- Liza's deception goes nowhere
- Madison blaming Liza over Nick is idiotic
- Travis being the town therapist doesn't make sense