Sunday, August 30, 2015

REVIEW: 'Fear the Walking Dead' - Madison and Travis Attempt to Flee the City with Their Families in 'So Close, Yet So Far'

AMC's Fear the Walking Dead - Episode 1.02 "So Close, Yet So Far"

While Madison struggles to keep Nick from crippling withdrawal, Travis ventures out to find his son before the city of Los Angeles falls.

The premiere of Fear the Walking Dead was so dull and broad last week. It wasn't gripping in the slightest. It didn't establish a show that needed to be watched on an ongoing basis. It needed to operate as a character drama more than anything else. And yet, it didn't really create interesting stories that could be compelling to watch as the world changes into a zombie apocalypse. Action and urgency have always defined characters well in this universe - at least better than times of relative peace. The story does start to pick up a considerable deal in " So Close, Yet So Far." The characters are forced to make decisive choices in the face of the uncertain virus ripping its way through society.

It is very much appreciated that this show doesn't want to insist that society will last long once the apocalypse hits. Most people don't even understand what's happening in the world. And yet, the structure of society is starting to crumble. Not enough to completely remove humanity from the conversation. But enough to freak people out in order to act. It's an interesting approach to frame the start of the zombie apocalypse with the police shooting of unarmed citizens. Most people of this world want to believe that the world around them is still what it has always been. A world that is unfair and unjust. But the true horror of what reality is becoming is still on the horizon for the vast amount of the population.

All the rioting in this episode seems completely extraneous and weird. Yes, it's horrible when the police shoot an unarmed suspect for no understandable reason. It's more horrifying to see another happen in front of the vast crowd just a little while later. But the extent of the riot seems a tad extreme. How many of those people rioting are aware that the power grid is starting to fail and a virus is going around making people act increasingly violent? Or are they just doing so because they foolishly believe that that is the only to be heard in this kind of situation? The narrative wants to have it both ways. It wants to ramp up the tension that more of the city is becoming aware of what is happening while also having a dialogue about police brutality. It never works. Those riot crowd scenes framed around Travis' son are horrible. The dialogue is especially pointed but without any kind of weight to it. All it does is establish a circumstance where the characters are forced apart for a significant amount of time.

The show really isn't all that subtle with its theme of "it takes the apocalypse in order to bring this blended family together." So much of the personal character moments center around this family drama. It's suppose to establish the connections amongst the characters and how they feel about each other before this disaster strikes. And yet, so much of it is just lame and weak storytelling. The blended family aspect is current. But it's not told in a particularly exciting way. Throw in some teenagers and things continue to get overbearing in a drab and dour fashion. The audience knows it's a bad idea to split up in a time like this. And yet, the episode creates a situation that forces the characters apart just so it can end on the cliffhanger of the two sides not being able to find each other again.

Also, the need to keep certain characters in the dark with what's happening in the world is such a strange narrative decision for the show to make. Nick basically abandons Madison, Nick and Alicia in order to find his family who the audience knows absolutely nothing about. His ex-wife and son have no personalities whatsoever. This episode doesn't help establish them in the slightest. It's just more family drama angst until it converges with the riots. The action helps things get more exciting. But it doesn't make them worth caring about. Nor does it do anything for the Salazar family they seek refuge with - who will be important characters moving forward.

Madison does get slightly more to do in this episode. Kim Dickens is bringing a level of passion and emotion to the role that's not necessarily on the page. She's the only character who is actually forced into a situation that deals with the zombies. Sure, the show's racial politics continue to get me even more angry. But at least she was in a situation where action was needed in order to survive. That was genuinely thrilling - even though she was accompanied by Tobias who is a walking apocalypse encyclopedia and nothing more. It's admirable that she wants to do whatever it takes in order to protect her kids from what's happening outside. But the way she and the show go about depicting that is incredibly annoying. Alicia can't be shielded from it. Everyone can go through the motions of trying to get out of city with everyone relatively fine. It's noble but also very fleeting in the execution.

Some more thoughts:
  • "So Close, Yet So Far" was written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • This cast is incredibly diverse and represents the true dynamic of Los Angeles. It is still very bothersome that the only major characters - aka ones the narrative has spent time with and given names to - to be turned or bitten so far have been African Americans. In this episode alone, Matt is dying from a bite and Artie the principal has been turned and attacks Madison. It is so incredibly troubling and the show doesn't even pretend to care about the depiction of race in the horror genre and how it continues to trump up such stereotypes.
  • The Salazar family have very vague and brief introductions. They are basically the harden businessman father, the overly religious mother and the peacemaker daughter. None of it promises to be that much more interesting than the rest of the show. 
  • Tobias seems very smart about the apocalypse. He knows exactly how society will fall and where to go for supplies. And yet, he's not all that physically capable of handling the zombies when they attack. What are the odds that he has been scratched and won't be able to help Madison for much longer in the future? Or what if it's the reverse of that and the narrative places more importance on him? That seems even worse considering he's not a great character at all.
  • I'm not sure if Frank Dillane just doesn't know how to play withdrawal symptoms or if the writing and directing just completely failed. Either way that was just really weird to watch.