Fear The Walking Dead S1E02 “So Close, Yet So Far” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC
Writer: Marco Ramirez
Director: Adam Davidson
Essential Plot Points:
- Fleeing the scene of their first zombie kill, Nick and his parents decide to leave the city while they still can.
- …They pick up Alicia, and leave her boyfriend Matt, who’s been bitten, behind.
- They then decide to split up. Because that always goes well.
- Travis goes to his ex-wife Liza’s place to get their son Christopher…
- …who’s been caught up in a protest against the apparent execution of a homeless man.
- Meanwhile, Madison returns to her High School to steal drugs to help Nick detox.
- …The protest turns violent, forcing Travis, Liza and Chris to take refuge in a barber shop run by Daniel Salazar (The always excellent Ruben Blades).
- ….While at the school, Madison and Tobias fight off their first zombie – the principal.
The good news is that anyone worried Fear the Walking Dead would be running on the spot for its first season need stop worrying. This episode picks up seconds from the end of the previous one, with Travis, Madison and the staggeringly annoying Nick speeding away from their first zombicide. They decide, in the space of about two minutes, to gather the family and leave the city. It’s an immensely refreshing scene because there’s no false drama, no denial; just two people realizing things have gone very bad, will only get worse and deciding to get their loved ones clear while they still can.
The slightly less good news is that means they split up. It’s clearly a plot mechanic and if you’re surprised that they’re trapped apart at the end of the episode then check your pulse. That being said, the reasoning behind it makes sense. Even the endlessly fractious, argumentative nature of the central family plays into this as Liza and Chris both argue with Travis who, being Travis, is very bad at communicating what he actually wants them to do. Make no mistake, Chris is, if anything, even more of a whiny brat this episode than he was last time but there’s at least some context for it.
In fact, this episode the two family’s weakest links both improve. Nick is beginning to transition from being over the top to just being vile. He seizes as Alicia tries to return to Matt, forcing her to stay and save his life. The exchange after that and the tired venom with which Alicia says “I hate you!” is one of the darkest moments in the episode. Possibly the only thing that tops it is the childish glee with which Nick “tells” on his sister to Madison, even as he’s ingesting the Oxycontin she stole for him. There’s still a way to go, but Nick is on course to become a memorable monster for all the right reasons.
So the good news is the show’s underway, fixing its problems and the characters show a refreshing lack of stupidity. Fear feels like the parent show does these days, in fact; bleak, tightly-plotted and character focused.
The bad news it’s also inherited The T-Dog problem. The Walking Dead has a justifiably terrible reputation for killing black male leads. So bad, in fact that they managed to off two last season and much like Supernatural’s well-documented problems with female characters, it’s an issue that doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.
That brings us to this episode which sees the show leave one black male character to die and bludgeons the other one to death. The first one just about feels understandable; Madison and Travis have seen what’s coming and they know anyone who’s bitten is in trouble so while leaving Matt behind is cold, it’s also understandable. Plus, the fact Matt has also figured this out and tells Alicia to leave is a nice moment of both agency and heroism that the show could have spent more time on.
The second though, where Madison kills the newly zombified Principal feels flat out gratuitous. It’s especially clumsy given the fact Chris’s entire plot this episode is essentially at a Black Lives Matter rally. Ramirez’s script tries to have its zombie cake and bludgeon it to death too, attempting to comment on the racial tensions in the city while at the same time playing to them for a cheap scare. It lessens the episode, feels clumsy and forced and is the worst possible creative choice the spin-off could make. Producer Dave Erickson’s comment to Business Insider (“…it’s clearly become an issue and it’s something we are mindful of. But ultimately it’s trying to tell the story the best way we can and cast the best people we can”) is all well and good but two episodes in, Fear The Walking Dead is already in deep waters. With luck they’ll be more mindful in future episodes.
“So Close, Yet So Far” does a lot of things right. It’s menacing, pushes the plot along and does a great job of making the central family people you care about. But for a spinoff show to be leaning on the laziest, most egregious element of its core show by episode two is a very bad sign. The show has a lot of work to do in very little space. Here’s hoping it’s up to the challenge.
- The sound mixing is amazing. Whether a scene is deathly quiet or filled with sirens or screams, there’s constant threat and tension.
- Director Davidson cleverly hints at the world that’s coming in a lot of shots. The empty road we first see Alicia on and the quiet destruction in Matt’s house are both chillingly well done.
- Likewise, the shots of the LAPD seeming a little too ready are very nicely done and will hopefully pay off in later episodes.
- This really is escalating quickly. Two episodes in we’ve got characters looting and committing murder to survive. Rick and co were slackers.
- Tobias. Lincoln A. Castellanos plays the wise-beyond-his-years geek as pragmatic and likeable. His delivery on ‘This doesn’t end,” in particular is chilling.
- Also Tobias’s, “I am NOT OKAY with this!” face is epic.
- Setting a good chunk of the episode at a protest against police brutality is a good idea. Killing the only two black male characters in the same episode plays as tone deaf at best and outright offensive at worst.
And the Random:
- This shot is brilliant; the tiny little bloodstain on the front of the truck representing the gradually spreading chaos that’s overtaking the characters.
- Ruben Blades! Not only a superb musician but an actor whose geek cred is rock solid. As well as being one of the best parts of Predator 2, he also appeared in The X Files episode “El Mundo Gira”.
- The song playing over the finale of the worst ninth birthday party ever is “Wait for Me” by Moby from the album of the same name.
Review by: Alasdair Stuart