Fear The Walking Dead S1E2: So Close Yet So Far

So, looks like I’m reviewing the second episode too.

We kick off right where we left off in the pilot, in the aftermath of our second on-screen walker and first zombie kill, as society starts to crumble at an accelerated rate. The plot felt a bit disjointed in this episode, with strong character moments but no clear overarching thread to weave everything together.

The second episode gives more characterization to Travis’ ex-wife and son, and introduces the Salazar family, giving the cast some economic diversity. We don’t know much about the Salazar family so far, since they were introduced towards the end of the episode, but according to TV Tropes, they are immigrants from El Salvador. I’m curious to see how these characters will develop later on in the series.

Fear has, unfortunately, continued its trend of almost exclusively killing off characters of color. The show runners have responded to the criticism, saying to continue watching in order to see how the story will eventually play out. On one hand, I agree with this. It’s hard to critique a show this early in the season. But on the other, Fear has stepped into a racist and all too common storytelling trope. The best course of action would be to acknowledge it and try to avoid it in the first place, instead of making excuses after the fact.

I think my favorite part of the episode was when it focused on Christopher’s character, and his participation in a rally against what he thinks is police brutality. His sense of justice and need to document what is happening will be interesting to explore later on. Furthermore, the need of various characters in zombie films to “document” the events they experience has been a common thread between a lot of stories, but rarely explored in any meaningful sense. I’m hoping that Christopher’s character arc will give him – and the audience – some sense of how the ability to document and record the zombie apocalypse will impact the story. Last episode showed us a powerful scene of video interpretation, and I’m hopefully that Fear will continue to utilize social media in its storytelling.

It bears repeating that Fear The Walking Dead is trying to do something different than its sister show. Thus, it isn’t structured in the same way. Fear isn’t throwing us full tilt into the zombie apocalypse, but letting it unfold in paranoid, disjointed strokes. There are some advantages to that. The creeping shots of the characters watching and being watched as their world implodes on itself are very well done, as are the subtle nods towards their sister show. I’m curious about the choice to skip the scenes where the characters explain and accept the situation – Madison, Travis, and Nick clearly understand what’s going on – and whether that will be a stylistic note that continues through the rest of the season. It feels like a move more suited to a feature film than a TV series, though.

Personally, I liked that choice. However, I can understand why a lot of viewers felt like it missed the mark. Which is indicative of some underlying problems with the whole show, really. Fear is running into some issues with having its characters play catch-up with what the audience already knows. A lot of the people I’ve been talking to have expressed frustration at the lack of zombie action – half the reason they tuned in. In my view, the problem with Fear is that it hasn’t moved far enough away from its sister show to establish its own visual style. We’ve seen that TV shows in shared universes can be done, and with very different stylistic tones – just look at Arrow and The Flash. However, Fear seems to have run into a wall with establishing itself. It feels like a few more steps should have been taken to mark Fear as its own unique show, visually and stylistically. Yes, it takes place in the same world of The Walking Dead, but Fear is not telling the same story, or in the same way.

For a show that’s already been renewed for a second season, Fear seems to be stumbling a lot in getting off the ground. Other reviews have gone into detail with their issues with the plot and characterization, so I won’t rehash them here. The biggest issue overall that I’ve seen people talking about has been the divide between the characters who know (sort of) what’s going on, and the characters who – for various and understandable reasons – do not. Narratively, it’s frustrating to watch the cast play catch up, and Fear doesn’t go into the reasons why it might be difficult or even traumatic for the characters who do know to explain what has happened to them. Alicia’s frustration with her mother’s behavior, for instance, is an excellent mirror to what a lot of the audience is feeling. One party knows the score and the other – while willing to listen – does not.

Another narrative choice that’s had its share of discussion was how a group of characters, including Christopher, interpreted what Fear indicates was a zombie killing as an act of police brutality. It’s worth noting that the audience approaches the scene on the same level of the characters – there’s nothing to indicate that the killing wasn’t police brutality – and while Christopher’s actions are seen as sympathetic, the protest turns into a riot in under ten minutes. And in that moment, any nuance or thoughtful commentary Fear might have been trying to provide was wiped away.

If you’re going to talk about police brutality and protests against that, you need to do it carefully. And for a show that has displayed the majority of the zombie victims as either people of color or visually coded as poor, that’s something that the show-runners need to be extremely careful of. If there’s commentary to be made about the vulnerability of poor communities of color to disasters, even fantastical ones like the zombie apocalypse, then it needs to be made explicit. At the moment, I’m looking at some very unfortunate racial and economic stereotypes.

Right now, I’m hopeful that Fear will take time to address them. I’m giving the show another episode to decide whether or not I’ll be sticking with it to the end of the season.

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