Sunday, April 17, 2016

REVIEW: 'Fear the Walking Dead' - Madison and Travis Meet a New Family of Survivors in 'We All Fall Down'

AMC's Fear the Walking Dead - Episode 2.02 "We All Fall Down"

The group seeks shelter with a survivalist family. Madison tries to uncover the family's true motives. Daniel works to uncover Strand's intentions.

Fear the Walking Dead has struggled finding consistent momentum. That has largely been because it's never clear where the show is going. The main characters have just bounced around from place to place with very little purpose. Now, all of them are on Strand's boat trying to find a safe harbor. It was an escape from the current devastation rocking Los Angeles. They barely made it out of the city alive. That was a thrilling start to the season. The premiere also ended on the tense note of another nefarious boat at sea that may wish the protagonists harm in the future. It was a solid moment of excitement leading into "We All Fall Down." And yet, the show drops that potential danger fairly quickly in this episode. It happens so that Madison and Travis can investigate a potential safe haven on a nearby island. It sets up a different episode but one that isn't inherently bad.

The families at the center of the show are still getting used to the rules of this new world. Madison and Travis are still filled with hope that a safe place exists where they can continue to be a family. They hope that Catrina island is that place. Strand agrees to dock there because it can help them avoid detection from the boat that has been following them while a rangers' station could provide some valuable supplies. So, the heart of this episode is about Madison, Travis and the three teenagers docking at this island and interacting with the survivalist family that lives there. It's basically the show showing all the potential consequences to fans saying they would just get on a boat and find a deserted island in order to survive the apocalypse. These first two episodes have showed some really practical problems with that strategy. It still just feels like the show just needlessly addressing those concerns though.

And yet, when this hour becomes more personal for the characters, it actually somewhat works. It's a brief respite from danger for the main characters. The majority of this episode has a low stakes energy to it as the two families get to know each other. It's still fraught with tension because of the darkness in the world and hiding underneath the surface of this family. But hope is still alive for Madison and Travis. Their character arcs have been really muddled over these first eight episodes. As the leads of the show, their ideologies and beliefs should be more well defined at this point. And yet, they are basically reduced down to two talking heads about the morality in this world arguing with Strand about what they can and can't do. It's only been two episodes of this premise and it's already starting to get very annoying. That's problematic when so much of the storytelling is focused on Madison and Travis still trying to keep hope alive and be good to others in this world.

That's a perspective the show is allowed to have at this stage of the apocalypse. On the original series, everyone knows it's unwise to trust any strangers - even though the main characters constantly do it and then pay the price. But here, the symbol of hope comes from a light turning on in the middle of the night. Madison quickly decides to push Strand to go towards it and investigate. Travis still very foolishly announces his presence at the front door without knowing what's awaiting him on the other side. He doesn't know what he's walking into. And yet, he still feels comfortable just trying to be neighborly and rational. The family on the other side has been living on this island for quite awhile. Family patriarch George is a major survivalist. He is joined by his wife Melissa, sons Seth and Harry, and daughter Willa. They deal with the threats of this new world as the inflicted collect against a fence. But George is also aware of all the devastation that has happened across the West Coast.

The show is essentially saying that there is no safe harbor for Madison, Travis and company to head towards. The military has turned against the citizens and bombed the land in the hopes of stopping this infection from spreading. It's a haunting image. But it's not so bad that it destroys Madison and Travis' spirits. They still want to hold onto their humanity in this world. They aren't as cynical or cruel as Strand or Daniel are. That's probably why they aren't that interesting of characters right now. They are still trying to do the right thing. In this case, that's trying to take Harry and Willa far away from this place so they have the possibility of living a normal life. George is content with the fact that this is the end of the world and now people only survive for as long as they can before death comes for them. He's even planning on being around his family when they all turn on each other. That comes across very poorly though. Apparently, he's poisoning his family so that death comes much sooner than the hundreds of inflicted just across the shore. That's a rushed development that just helps explain why Travis is willing to go along with Madison and Melissa's plan.

The episode also doesn't do a great job with the parallels between the two families. It's pretty obvious that Melissa and George are a stand-in for Madison and Travis - just under different circumstances. They are all just trying to do what's best for their families. Melissa has a death sentence no matter what due to multiple sclerosis. She can't provide for her family and hopes that Madison has enough love for her two kids as well. Meanwhile, Travis is taken aback by how much cynicism George has about the world and how content he is to die in this home with his family by his side. The parallel even continues to the children. Seth is a cold killing machine and it seems like the show is heading in that direction with Chris as well. It's a very perfunctory moment where Travis lashes out for no real reason. But it at least allows Chris to get his anger out somehow. It could spell trouble for the future as the family is on shaky waters on the boat. They aren't ultimately able to help this family. They all fulfill their destinies of dying on this island together as a family. It's a harsh reality. But it largely exists to show that no matter how much Madison wants to help others in this world, she can't. And that's just not that engaging of a storyline right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "We All Fall Down" was directed by Adam Davidson with teleplay by Kate Barnow and story by Brett C. Leonard & Kate Barnow.
  • George and Melissa's family also feels like this show's version of Rick's group meeting Noah Emmerich's scientist character in the first season finale of The Walking Dead. He's a man who has a much larger comprehension of this world and just how terrible it is everywhere with no hope for survival. Plus, both meet a tragic end at the conclusion of their episodes.
  • However, George and Melissa's family all felt of the same piece. The episode flowed pretty naturally with them as characters. The big exception was Seth who was awkwardly placed in the story at all times just to be an unnerving presence. It was weird and didn't work. It just needlessly complicated things.
  • Daniel doesn't trust Strand and his motives for taking them all aboard his boat for an unknown destination. And yet, it's not important at all on why he feels that way. He just does. Plus, he's proven to be right here too. Strand has an unknown contact in Mexico - which is where he's trying to take the family now.
  • Daniel and Strand agree that the weapons used to destroy that other boat were military-grade. That could signal that the government has been taking their nefarious plans to the sea to deal with the thousands of people who escaped there.
  • That cold open was very manipulative. It depicts inflicted coming out of the water and walking up a beach to Harry and Willa who are innocently playing. And yet, it never felt realistic that the show would kill them in brutal fashion. So, it felt inevitable that a twist would appear - which it did in the form of a fence.
  • Was Nick searching the house for pills because he's still a drug addict or was he looking to see what the power pills that Harry talked about were because he didn't trust George? It's very ambiguous which doesn't play well or in an interesting way at all.