Sunday, September 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'Fear the Walking Dead' - Travis Doesn't Understand Chris While Alicia Meets a New Friend in 'Do Not Disturb'

AMC's Fear the Walking Dead - Episode 2.10 "Do Not Disturb"

Travis struggles to connect with Chris while searching for shelter. Meanwhile, Alicia meets a lonely woman with a bloody past.

Travis and Chris haven't exactly been great characters throughout Fear the Walking Dead's run so far. Whenever they appear on the screen, they are either annoying or bland. They are either doing something insanely stupid just to complicate the episode's story a little more or they just express profoundly empty feelings about the state of the world. Neither are all that compelling. In fact, they are the two characters who largely reflect the show's troubles with character development. Even in its second season, the show still favors plot over character. It's tried during something smart over the last few weeks by providing stories to just a select few characters per episode. That allows each of the main people more screen time to actually make a lasting impression. And yet, the plot continues to needlessly complicate things without providing any kind of true or new depth to any of the characters. The hour that focused on Travis and Chris could have reframed that dynamic and made them interesting characters struggling to survive and fix their familial bond. However, that's such a non-important part of "Do Not Disturb." What the hour instead focuses on is incredibly meaningless and seemingly without purpose. That's more annoying than anything the characters could have done.

The last time Chris was seen the show was taking him down a really horrible and laughably ridiculous path. He was essentially becoming a sociopath. His sole purpose was to be an unnerving presence. No one could relax comfortably into their new surroundings because Chris was around and still a problem. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. It felt like the show finally giving him a direction to go in to find consistency. And yet, it's such an annoying and cliche direction. This apocalypse forces everyone to confront just how far they are willing to go in order to survive. Chris just seems more comfortable killing the dead than everyone else. That's not an inherently bad thing. The group needed someone with those skills. However, the rest of the group isn't tame and against killing the dead. They too have inherited those skills. They understand what they need to do and then do it when the dead are right in their faces. But things are different with Chris because he still has that disturbed aura about him. The show wants the audience to be very concerned about his mental well-being. But he didn't exist as a character before this twist occurred. And now, this twist is doing nothing to ensure that he's a gripping or necessary component of the show. He's a product of the show's initial idea of a blended family needing to come together during the zombie apocalypse. But now, there's just absolutely no clue what his purpose really is.

It's been equally laughable to watch Travis be completely oblivious to Chris' behavior. He's almost written it off as Chris processing his mother's death. And yet, Travis struggled to connect with Chris long before Liza died. He along with Madison believed in the idea of a picture perfect blended family where nothing would go wrong. They wanted to just ignore all the previous problems that their children had. If they found sanctuary, they could be a family again. That didn't work out though. Nick was pushed away even further while Chris' problems only became more pronounced. It made it so everyone was afraid of Chris except Travis. And now, the show considerably cools off on Chris' disturbed behavior. Throughout this episode, he's simply the teenage son a father struggles to connect with. It's a familial story just told through the prism of the zombie apocalypse. They are all by themselves now. Travis wants to be a good role model and push through his pain. He wants to finally teach Chris how to drive. He does all of this because he believes the world will come together again someday. He's still holding onto that idea of a perfect life. Right now, he needs to put in the work to survive. He and Chris need to come out on the other side of this stronger than they were before. That has taken him away from Madison. He's not actively trying to find her at the moment. But he still wants to return to her eventually.

And yet, that still remains an illusion. It's Travis refusing to accept what his reality is. It's idealistic and admirable that he believes the world can be fixed. He doesn't want to believe that this apocalypse will last forever. He believes so strongly in the society that has been lost. He still follows those rules. He doesn't see any of the fun or happiness that comes from this apocalypse. Chris isn't like him in that regard. He's a teenager who likes messing around and having a good time. It's typical behavior for someone his age. But now, the new world means those actions have deadly and horrifying consequences. Travis doesn't want to live in a world where killing is okay. He believes Chris isn't as bad as everyone fears because he doesn't run over the dead while driving. Instead, he chooses to go around the guy. That shows progress. But all of that is undone because they run into three frat guys - Brandon, Derek and James. Chris stole from them but they aren't mad about it. In fact, Chris bonds with them much more easily than his father. They don't see the world as broken. They see it as a new form of freedom. Now, they can do absolutely anything they want. That freedom has grave consequences when it comes to searching an abandoned farm. Travis wants to respect the owner. He sees this as an ideal place to life and survive. The boys just see it as a place that has chickens which they can steal. They believe they are entitled to this place because the rules of society no longer apply. They don't respect the owner when he shows up. In fact, Chris actually kills him because he threatens the peace and fun of this freedom. That's the action that finally shows Travis what his son is becoming. But it comes too late in this episode to have any true meaning whatsoever.

The focus on just a few characters in each episode has been a good thing for the show over the past few weeks. And yet, each individual story ends the episode on a cliffhanger or tense moment that basically means the story has to be picked up again the following week. There was the potential that Nick found a place to belong. But the next episode had to confirm or deny that claim. Madison and Strand were backed into a corner while drunk at a hotel bar. And now, this episode has to track how they get out of that situation. That story isn't told from Madison and Strand's point-of-view though. That's a good thing because it seemed like an impossible situation to escape from. Any kind of answer given would have seemed too far-fetched. So instead, the focus is on Alicia. She's all alone in a room a couple floors up. She doesn't know what has happened to Madison, Strand or Ofelia. She's the one who has to survive. It's actually a pretty compelling story. This is her episode just as much as it is Travis and Chris'. That's a good thing because she needed character development as well. With her though, it actually works. Yes, it's yet another story about a character backed into a corner by the dead only to survive thanks to quick thinking from a mysterious stranger. But it also highlights how Alicia needs her mom in her life. She doesn't know how to survive without her - even though she proves she can throughout this hour just in case her mother has in fact turned.

However, Alicia's story gets complicated by the introduction of yet another group of citizens in Mexico. The hour opens showing the wedding that was happened at the hotel that was apparently interrupted by the outbreak. The father of the groom had a heart attack and turned quickly after that. The hotel staff decided to lock everyone into that room to prevent the disease from spreading through the rest of the hotel. Of course, that didn't matter a whole lot. The world still fell. And now, the two employees responsible for that decision - Elena and Hector - are trapped in the place being hunted by the wedding guests who actually survived. They have a right to be angry at Elena and Hector. Those two had all the power and ruined what was suppose to be a happy day. Of course, the dead ruined it more than anyone else. But the decision to lock them all inside to be prey didn't help matters at all. It's a story that feels very expositional throughout the hour. A lot of time is spent on it. So, that probably means that it will continue to be important moving forward. It's a big reveal when it's seen the people holding Hector captive are the groom and the mother of the bride. They somehow escaped despite being right in the middle of that vicious moment. But again, it feels like the show is setting up a lot of plot right now. It may be stretching itself too thin. The show is not trying to force all of the characters to come together as quickly as possible. But there are now at least three distinct places of interest. They each have their own plots and conflicts. None of them are small either. So, this need to go big in order to entertain could really cost the show in the long run.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Do Not Disturb" was written by Lauren Signorino and directed by Michael McDonough.
  • The story at the hotel worked because the audience didn't know whether or not Madison was alive. It seemed likely because it wouldn't just killed off two main characters offscreen. But it still worked because the audience could get inside Alicia's head.
  • However, it was very manipulative when Alicia finally got into the room and saw a member of the dead who looked exactly like her mother and was forced to kill her. That was a little too over-the-top. And then, it's revealed that Madison and Strand found some way to get out of there alive.
  • Ofelia is just completely missing. No one runs into her at the hotel. She's just gone. She's probably the character who needs the focus of an entire episode the most. She needs to develop some kind of personality or purpose. Otherwise, she's just dead weight who can eventually be killed.
  • There are no supplies on the farm. And yet, the owner is still living there. How? And why did no one from the group find any form of life? Just to prop up the surprise encounter in the end? That's lame.
  • Where did Chris even get a gun? He didn't have it when he first stole from the guys. One is never given to him onscreen. And yet, he has one during that final confrontation. It plays as a surprise. But these logistics are still worrisome.