Kim Dickens and Alycia Debnam-Carey in AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead.”
It took us forever to find a picture from this episode to put on top of this post. Normally, cable network sites like AMC offer a dozen or so shots from each episode just so reviewers and media outlets can have something to illustrate their stories. The problem wasn’t that AMC didn’t have any pictures on the site. The problem was the pictures all looked like they came from a staid domestic drama rather than a zombie apocalypse story. See the above for reference. Then we remembered that we just watched a staid domestic drama punctuated with a couple of zombies and realized our error.
But we’ll say this: episode 2 was a much better and much more tense and riveting episode than the first one, although that very fact tends to make us question whether the people involved with the creation of this show are on the right track or not. It’s not necessarily the domestic drama we have a problem with. It’s the way in which it’s unfolding. To be perfectly frank, teenagers with addiction issues and blended family drama are the types of stories we tend to run screaming from when they appear on our television screens. And we’d wager that a very large portion of the FTWD audience feel roughly the same about such shows. Watching a suburban white junkie puke into a wastepaper basked as he goes through withdrawal isn’t really the kind of thing we want to see for a show like this. But even that’s beside the point because it’s merely a personal preference of ours. No, the bigger point is that the domestic drama is all so toothless and uninteresting.
And can we talk about the fact that, after years of Carl being widely designated as the most annoying child/teen character on television, that they populated the first two episodes of the spinoff with no less than FOUR annoying-to-semi-annoying teenage characters? Granted, the only teenager not related to the main characters is slightly less annoying because he’s the only person in the story who seems to know what’s going on, but how much time in this story are we going to have to spend watching parents tell their kids to stay where they are, only to have the kids ignore them? We’ve had more than our fill of that crap with the main show. And again, we question the instincts of the creators, because it tends to make most of the teenage character instantly unlikeable. If the point of all this domestic drama is to get you to care for the characters before their lives come undone (or end), then they’re not doing a particularly good job of it, we’re sorry to say.
Not that the adults are faring much better. The massive emotional transitions that should be at the heart of this story are not being effectively or believably portrayed. We’ve gone from a normal society to one with the vague understanding that there’s a sickness going around, to one where Madison can brutally kill a co-worker and not even worry about the body or the fact the she can be implicated in a murder because she left her fingerprints all over the weapon. You have to believe that things have collapsed to a point of no return for that to happen and while we think it’s understandable if Madison believes that, we never really saw her get to that point on an emotional level. Sure, she cried a little and asked in a monotone what the hell was going on, but to take a normal high school teacher and mom to a point where she could bludgeon a man to death with a fire extinguisher requires at least some sort of on-camera transition or change in point of view. And since we assume the whole point to a show like this is to depict exactly that transition on both a personal and societal level, we can’t help but think it’s already failing.
Also: where is everybody? There’s a nicely unsettling vibe as people navigate areas that seem to be very lightly populated all of a sudden, but it just forces the question of where everyone’s gone. If death is happening on a scale massive enough to leave certain parts of the greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles suddenly empty, then why is there so little evidence of it? Shouldn’t there be more than just a handful of walkers by now? Or is everyone inside slowly succumbing to the illness that will turn them into walkers?
Oh, well. It’s a Walking Dead show, so of course we’d have a lot of practical questions that will likely never be answered. Should’ve seen that one coming.
Even so, despite our problems with the show, we have to admit this episode ramped up the tension considerably and had a few moments of real suspense or with a forebodingly ominous feel to them. The scenes in the empty school had us on the edge of the couch and the shot of the cop filling up his trunk with water was a pretty damning indictment of the very institutions we’re supposed to turn to in times of crisis. Nothing says “get the hell out of town” like a cop filling up his car with bottled water rather than dealing with looters. More of that sort of real-world foreboding (shades of Katrina) and less of teenagers acting like selfish assholes, please.
And finally, we think we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out something about the death toll so far. Not only have they ignored all the complaints about Carl by populating the spinoff with even more self-absorbed teenagers, but they’ve responded to the complaint that the main show tends to kill off black men at a very high rate by … killing off three black male characters in the first two episodes. In fact, they are the ONLY speaking characters to die. Showrunner Dave Erickson “addressed” this in a THR interview by pretty much waving off any concerns. Look, this isn’t an accusation of racism, and certainly there were plenty of dead white people in the first 5 seasons of the main show, but there was a definite pattern of killing off a black guy in the cast so a new black guy could be introduced. To start off the new show by killing off three black guys in succession is, at the very least, a bit tone deaf on the part of the show creators.
Bottom line: despite the high ratings, the show has gotten off to a slow and rocky start with us. We can see glimpses of how it could be great, but we’re not at all convinced it’ll get there.