Fear The Walking Dead S01E04 “Not Fade Away” REVIEW

Fear The Walking Dead S01E04 “Not Fade Away” REVIEW

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stars 3

Airing in the UK on AMC
Writer: Meaghan Oppenheimer
Director: Kari Skogland

Essential Plot Points:

  • The story jumps nine days into the future, with the neighbourhood now under curfew, fenced off and one of 12 local safe zones. The army has arrived in force and is preparing to take back LA.
  • Travis has become a willing neighbourhood “mayor”, and point of contact for the slightly erratic Lt Moyers. Madison and the family are resolutely unhappy about this.
  • And, in fact, everything else. The Salazars hunker down and wait for treatment, while their daughter starts a relationship with Reynolds, one of the soldiers.
  • Nick claims to be doing well with rehab but is actually stealing morphine from an ailing neighbour.
  • Alicia can’t stand to be in the house and spends her time at the other (now very dead) neighbour’s house tattooing Matt’s symbol onto her arm.
  • Chris spends his time on the roof, recording self-righteous YouTube videos no one will ever see, which is a relief. Until he sees lights in a house out past the fences…
  • Travis, because he’s an idiot, ignores Chris. Madison, because she’s an idiot, does not. She cuts a hole in the fence and goes out to try and find out if it really is a survivor. She finds bodies, not only zombies but apparently healthy people, all of them executed…
  • Back at Camp Lovely, Liza is approached by Doctor Beth Exner, the military doctor. Exner gently points out how Griselda has been telling white lies to help her patients feel better and asks her to come aboard with the relief effort.
  • Elsewhere, Travis is strong-armed into helping talk down a friend who’s refusing to be screened. He does so, but, later, the man goes missing. Travis is told by Moyers that he’s been taken away because his fragile mental health was a danger. Moyers seems remarkably unconcerned that no one told the man’s family first…
  • As the episode ends, Madison is warned by Daniel that things could turn bad, fast. He turns out to be right as his wife and Nick are both taken away by the army. Liza, desperate to help, goes with them leaving a horrified Chris behind and Madison convinced she was responsible. A horrified Travis stumbles onto the roof and sees the light that Chris saw. As he watches, rifle fire illuminates the building and the light vanishes…

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Review:

It’s a “good news, bad news” kind of week on Fear The Walking Dead so let’s go with the good news straight out of the gate. While the arrival of the army is almost certainly a very bad thing for the characters it’s a great thing for the show. The slight time jump and retooling helps everything immensely, giving all the characters a new framework to push against and giving the show a sense of progress it most certainly lacked last week.

The opening scene is a good example of that, as Travis goes for his morning jog round the com pound. Yes, using “Perfect Day” over scenes of imminently doomed relaxation is a bit of a cliché but it works very well here. You get a sense of the neighbourhood as a soap bubble of normality, ready to pop at any moment. The way each character relates to that says a lot about them, and it’s interesting to see the show not only return to some of its familiar tropes but question them. Alicia yelling at Travis and Madison for having a stupid, pointless argument is a nice touch. Chris defaulting back to obsessing over whatever crusade his camera is pointed at is another.

Everything seems normal, but everyone can tell it’s only superficial. That creates huge amounts of tension that the episode feeds off, and gives some surprising characters some interesting stuff to do.

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Liza finds herself at the centre of the show’s new big dilemma; to help or hinder the military. Her part in the final scene is genuinely great and you can see her anguish at having to leave her son with no notice. It’s nicely played, even though the reactions to it, which we will get to, are not.

However, the breakout stars this week are Daniel Salazar and Alicia. Ruben Blades has always been great but his final speech here is chilling. It also neatly sidesteps the terror I had last week of his family being involved in a stereotypical cartel. Here, in one scene, we find out they’re survivors of tremendous political uprest. It’s a great scene and it repositions Daniel as less of an adversary and more of a possible Hershel figure for the series’ future.

And there’s Alicia. Alycia Debnam-Carey hasn’t been given a lot to do so far this season but this episode hands her some quiet, important character stuff. Her self-inflicted tattoo is surprisingly poignant and the fact she’s all but moved out, and no one’s noticed, shows just how wrapped up everyone else is in their business. It’s a smart, brave beat in the script and I’d like to see Alicia get more to do. Debnam-Carey’s up to the task and, unlike Chris and Nick, the character isn’t utterly unbearable.

Elsewhere there’s a lot to enjoy too, especially Jamie McShane’s wonderful turn as Lt Moyers and some really nice direction from Skogland. Oppenheimer’s script is also the tidiest the show has had so far, beginning and ending with the same image to show both how enclosed the family are and how badly things have changed. It’s really smart, fun stuff and a sign of the show firing on all cylinders.

Well…most cylinders.

I’ve talked a lot in the last couple of weeks about how Madison has the show’s most interesting arc. An authority figure confronted with the realities of what’s going on, she’s shifted gear effortlessly into frequently the smartest person on the show. She’s made some smart choices, looked after her people and is well on the way to being the sort of survivor Rick Grimes would nod wordlessly at. Which, as we know, is Rick speak for, “Well done, you’re an asset to the team.”

This episode? She’s an idiot.

One of the difficult things to remember about both Fear and the parent show is they’re set in a universe where zombie stories don’t exist. That’s why no one calls them zombies and why they’re such a terrifying and unfamiliar threat. As a result, you have to cut the characters at least some slack.

Unless, for example, they decide to go out into the city which they know is infested with things trying to kill them armed with… Actually nothing. She doesn’t even take the boltcutters she used to open the fence.

Because, oh yes, Madison snips a hole in the fence that’s the only thing between her family and certain death.

The sheer level of stupidity she shows here goes over and above the zombie ignorance (zombignorance? Zignorance? Yeah let’s go with that) you’d expect. She’s just a straight up cretin, and it’s nothing short of miraculous a horde of walkers didn’t follow her back. She didn’t even make it to the building Chris saw, turning the entire expedition into a vandalism nature trail with added dead people.

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Amazingly, while that entire expedition is the stupidest thing she does this episode, it’s not an isolated case. Her final line of the episode, after Nick and Mrs Salazar have been taken away is to look at Travis and snarl: “Liza did this.”

Yes, that’s right. The show’s smartest character has just decided that her sociopathic drug addict son who she knows was stealing medicine from a neighbour was taken away because her husband’s ex doesn’t like him.

There is nothing good here. It shoots for the same human drama of the previous episodes but instead lands on soapy nonsense, rendering a major ethical dilemma down to a clash between Travis’ girlfriend and his ex. It belittles the situation, it belittles Eliza and it all but collapses Madison as a character. You can see that the show is trying for moral ambiguity but it misses by a mile, instead landing squarely in the sort of fake drama nonsense the rest of the episode has been trying to convince you it isn’t. It’s such a shame, and, after last week, the start of a worrying pattern. If next week’s episode falls apart in the last few minutes we’ll know the show has a problem. Right now, all we know is this; the Army are trouble and Madison is an idiot. Let’s see which one of those changes next week. Let’s hope both.

The Good:

  • The entire supporting cast. Seriously, we meet four new characters and they’re all really interesting. Moyers’s jovial belligerence is the most fun, but Doctor Exner, who clearly knows just how bad things are, comes a close second.

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  • Also top marks to the show for the scene where Travis talks down Doug. Having two male characters talk about their emotions like that is the sort of smart writing this show excels at and needs much, much more of. “Everything will be okay. That’s all you have to tell them.” “Will they know I’m lying?” When this show’s dialogue is on form, it’s phenomenal. This exchange says so much about the fragile bubble of civility they’re all living in.

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  • “Don’t be a hero.” “No chance of that.” Likewise this exchange between Madison and Nick is just lovely. There’s a snap to the dialogue here the show’s not quite had before and it works beautifully.
  • “Relax, count your blessings. Be nice, so I don’t have to shoot you.” Moyers’s charming, slightly harangued and clearly not quite right. This line, funny on delivery, becomes much less so by the end of the episode.
  • Nick, under the bed, siphoning the morphine, is one of the show’s most repulsive images yet. Scarier than any walker.
  • Madison finally losing it with Nick works all the better because there’s no screaming. She’s just had enough. It’s a great moment for both characters which Madison in particular desperately needs this episode.

The Bad:

  • Madison being an idiot.
  • Madison deciding she’s on a daytime soap called End Of Days Of Our Lives.
  • “Another one burned last night. Better than TV.” Oh shut up, Chris. Your YouTube channel, that you will never access again by the way, has three subscribers. Two of them are your sockpuppets. The third is the MySpace guy.
  • The implication Ofelia is only making out with Reynolds for drugs for her mum: on the one hand, it’s smart survival tactics; on the other it’s an unnecessarily skeevy character beat.
  • We’re now four episodes in and Travis is just starting to maybe think he should perhaps think about considering changing his world view. Any time you’re ready, big guy. Please be ready soon.

The Random:

  • Shot of the episode is actually two. The first is at the top, as Travis runs round the hamster wheel the neighbourhood has become.

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  • The second is towards the end of the episode as Travis finds Doug’s car and sees the city, still there, now isolated and deadly, through the fence. It’s a clever way of echoing the circular structure of the episode and one of the show’s most haunting images to date.

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  • The music at the top of the episode is of course “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed.
  • The music at the bottom of the episode is the splendidly titled “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness” by The Owl.
  • Guest Star-o-Rama! First off, Jamie McShane who’s so much fun here as the increasingly sinister Lt Moyers; he’s had long runs in Southland and Sons Of Anarchy, appeared as Agent Johnson in Thor and most recently was a part of Netflix’s dark family drama, Bloodline.
  • Next up, Shawn Hatosy who has been a serial guest star on shows like Felicity, CSI and Numb3rs. He’s also another Southland alumni, where he played Detective Sammy Bryant and was a big part of Amazon’s recent detective show, Bosch. He’s also this week’s entry in “Actors Who Were In Cult Movies We Love”, given that he played Stan in the magnificent The Faculty.
  • Sandrine Holt is great this week as Doctor Exner. She’s also got the best genre qualifications of any of this week’s guest cast. She was a regular in the US versions of The Returned and on a season of House Of Cards. She’s also appeared in The L Word and 24: Day 5 as well as Starship Troopers 2: Hero Of The Federation, Underworld: Awakening and Terminator: Genisys.
  • Finally, John Stewart (no, not that one), gives Holt a run for her money. He’s great, and deeply sympathetic, as Doug this week. He’s also done good work in Horns, 2012, Supernatural (twice! As different people! Or maybe twins…) and Walking Tall.

Review by: Alasdair Stuart

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