This post contains spoilers from Fear the Walking Dead on May 15, 2016. If you have not seen the episode, come back later.
The key to good storytelling is consistency.
It’s similar to a muffin. In every little bite you expect there to be a little bit of soft bread, and a little bit of blueberries, chocolate chips, or whatever. You don’t suddenly expect there to be a pebble or a puff of flower. Last night’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead was a pebble.
I have a lot of issues with the episode and they all are rooted in the inaction of season one. It’s easy to forget that the survivors in Fear the Walking Dead were sheltered for a good portion of time at the start of the zombie apocalypse. How long they were under the protection of the National Guard wasn’t really clear. We were thrown forward in time from the first night of chaos to an unspecified date. If we calculate time based on the facts that we know, it was long enough for the army to cut down several hundred thousand zombies (LA is huge, and the streets were empty once they took Travis out on patrol.) They also set up a highly functional medical quarantine where the very important “we’re all infected” fact was learned.
The first time Travis was taken out of the quarantine, he didn’t understand what really happened out in the world. There was a scene where the soldiers attempted to get him to shoot a zombie waitress from long range, and Travis is confused by the ordeal. The first real encounter with the dead is when Salazar released them from the stadium during the rescue of Nick. From there they ran straight to Strand’s house, were forced to say goodbye to Chris’ mom, and boarded the Abigail. The end of season one and the start of season two happen on the same day.
This is important because we have been with our survivors every step of the way from that point. The number of times they have encountered zombies has been limited. 1) The island with the crazy family. 2) The beach with the wreck of Flight 462. 3) Some random floaters. 4) Nick’s walk to Luis’ house. 5) Zombie pirate. You can list them on one hand!
Yet last night the survivors get into a scuffle with the zombie church goers from the top of the show. The scene adds to the confusion with these free range zombies hanging out where they died.. We all know how easily walkers get distracted. Maybe the poisoning had just happened. It’s hard to say because of the order in which the episode was run. Church. Avoiding the border patrol. Then back to the church. Sure, I guess it could have happened shortly before they arrived.
That’s another thing; the border patrol. We’ve been building up all season to get past them for what? This plot point which has been a driving point for much of the season was completely useless. We didn’t even see the exchange (or lack thereof) go down. The only thing we got out of it was getting rid of another throw away character that never needed to exist in the first place due to his not adding very much to the plot at all. He was a “saving grace” to get our cast out of a corner with the pirates, that was all. Adios, Luis, we hardly knew you.
At the church, our highly sheltered survivors battle the fresh zombies, easily stabbing them in the head with relative ease. They’re acting like pros when they are not. Their intimidation level is way too low for the lack of time spent in danger. To go along with this, when Nick is talking to Cecelia about how he’s “so tired of the killing” it’s a head scratching moment. Sure, we’ve seen some death, and yes, I can see people being scared and not wanting more people to die, that’s not the issue. It’s traumatizing, and I don’t doubt he wants to be safe. The real issue was the way in which he delivered the line. He said it like Rick, or Maggie, or Michonne. It doesn’t add up.
I admit that writing a series is hard. It’s easier for The Walking Dead because they already have strong source material. Fear the Walking Dead is having a case of the prequel blues. It’s based on the fuzzy, mysterious world building that birthed The Walking Dead, but it’s missing the point of being a prequel. It went from prequel to “we’re just going to see what’s happening in another part of the world.” That’s fine, of course, but it still takes place in the past. The characters need to be learning what we already know, and there is a fine line to walk between moving too slowly for the audience, and moving too fast for the characters. Right now this show is struggling with the latter.
This is why spending time in the early days of the apocalypse would have been better. We moved these characters from “early days” into “a lot of bad has already happened.” It feels as if the show is trying to recreate the confusion Rick felt after waking up in the hospital. I’m going to tell you now that it can’t be done, especially for long-time fans. It can’t be done for the new fans at this point, either, because of the inaction of season one. It would have been more interesting to watch them deal with things before anyone knew anything. (And I’m not talking about the confused mush that we were given.)
Another big issue with last night’s episode is with Chris. He’s gone from timid kid feeling guilty about letting pirates onto the boat to a psychopath wanting to murder his step-family.
Yes, Chris is suffering trauma, but this is an unexpected turn, and not in the mind blowing “oh my god, why didn’t I see it coming?” type of way. What was his motivation for this twist? Madison not believing that Pirate Reed was about to turn, and that’s why he shot him. Okay, so she doesn’t believe him one time and now the best answer is murder?
Is there a possibility that Chris could make a turn toward this type of behavior? Sure. Does it make sense that it happens right now? Nope. The primary reason it doesn’t is because only two episodes ago he was hesitating to kill possibly innocent strangers. Suddenly turning on one of the few people with whom he has an attachment in the entire world doesn’t fit his character at this point. It could eventually. But right now is too soon.
Chris’ character arc is now suffering from what I consider “Anakin Syndrome.” That’s basically when you want to showcase how a character turns to the Dark Side but have completely goofed up in their development. They are too caring, just, friendly, or innocent in their behaviors when suddenly, out of the blue, they massacre a village full of Sand People.
Using the “annoyed with authority” trope is exactly what happened to Anakin (and a big reason why the Star Wars prequels are terrible.) It seems to be what’s happening to Chris. Madison’s concern of Chris’ behavior is plausible, and the fact that she overreacts to everything is annoying, sure. At the same time, Chris killing Pirate Reed could be a tiny first step in the direction of antagonist, rather than the flying leap he is making.
My last thoughts are on Cecelia. I want to call her Evil Hershel. The Abigail compound in Baja is reminiscent of the Greene Farm; picturesque, self-sufficient, and housing zombies. The big difference here is that Cecelia doesn’t think there could be a cure. She’s fully accepted that the zombies are dead. They’re just, you know, like any other ancestor spirit except we can see them.
I’ll admit I don’t know much about the beliefs of the dead in Mexico much farther than the celebration of the Day of the Dead. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the beliefs include the idea that our ancestors are just beyond our field of vision trying to rip our guts out for a snack. The fact that she’s totally okay with her dead family becoming flesh eating monsters is disturbing, even more than Hershel hoping for a cure. At least they keep them locked up, I guess. The real creepy, possible psychopathic killer in the episode (other than Cecelia, obviously,) is the little boy who feeds the zombies a live puppy and doesn’t blink an eye. Our survivors need to keep an eye on that guy.
Next week is the mid-season finale. What consequences will our survivors be able to bring the show back level before the break? Maybe we’ll find out next week but with this show, who knows!