Fear the Walking Dead came to an end on Sunday and quite frankly I’ve never seen a show destroy it’s own premise quite so quickly. It’s clear that this spinoff of The Walking Dead isn’t an attempt to do anything creative or fun with the Walking Dead series. Rather, it’s an attempt to make a carbon copy of the original and hope that it makes just as much money while at the same time using cheaper actors and effects. It’s the Law and Order: SVU or CSI: Miami of The Walking Dead franchise.
I’ve reviewed the first season below and [spoiler alert]: I won’t be tuning in for Zombies on a Boat next season.
Fear the Walking Dead:
A Storytelling Review
I was genuinely excited for Fear the Walking Dead specifically because I’ve always thought the collapse of human society is the most interesting part of zombie apocalypse stories. What I was hoping for was a prolonged look at how society tried to deal with the zombie crisis before succumbing to utter anarchy. Instead what I got was…well I don’t know actually, but it sure wasn’t what I was hoping for.
The first episode was awful. It wasted ninety minutes setting up a lot of pointless relationship problems that even a soap opera would have cut from its script, the characters were bland and uninteresting, and it schizophrenically jumped from boring family drama to zombie horror with no regard for pacing. And yet… I loved it.
Because at least it was trying to do something new and interesting with the setting. It wasn’t succeeding at it, but I appreciated the effort, and the first episode did have some redeeming moments. One of the best scenes was when the characters come to the traffic jam at the freeway off-ramp. You can’t see anything and until the gunshots ring out, you can’t even hear anything. Yet there was this palpable sense of dread, because they didn’t know what was happening, and there’s nothing we fear more than the unknown.
It did such a great job capturing that creeping uneasiness that the hairs the back of my neck were standing straight up, and I knew it was a zombie causing the ruckus. Thanks to that scene, for a few precious moments I thought that Fear the Walking Dead could turn into something truly great.
Then I saw the second episode.
To be fair, the second episode added several plot elements that I thought had the potential to really make this show great. There was a mysterious Spanish Flu-like illness sweeping across the city, and possibly the world, which would explain how so many people became zombies so quickly. Civil unrest was mounting as people interpreted police attempts to contain the outbreak as police brutality, and given the police’s record with reckless shooting I thought this was perfectly realistic response. And finally zombie footage was beginning to flood social media, probably completely drowning out any official responses from government agencies, and spurring massive panic mongering and conspiracy theories. It was a perfect stage for creating the panic, death toll and chaos that could lead to a zombie apocalypse.
This should have been the foundation for the entire season and the show should have spent the next four episodes exploring those elements, slowly building up to the zombie apocalypse. Something like a man dies of the flu in his home, comes back as a zombie, bites his family and turns them, they attack the neighbors, and soon half the neighborhood is zombies. The government and media begin disseminating information on the undead plague, while social media sabotages their efforts by claiming it’s a government conspiracy. This sparks riots and protests, the huge crowds making the flu spread faster and zombies infiltrating the crowds causing mass panic. You know, a logical progression of events.
Except we didn’t get a logical progression of events, we got the main character sitting in a barber’s shop while everything interesting about this show occurred outside and off-camera. When they emerge from the barber’s shop, society has collapsed and it’s basically game-over as far as civilization is concerned. For the record, nearly four million people live in Los Angeles (that’s a lot of people to turn into zombies all at once) and its had its fair share of violent riots. One riot should not have brought the entire city to its knees.
Watching the slow decay of society as it struggles to deal with the zombie apocalypse was the entire point of the show. Here’s the official synopsis for the show:
What did the world look like as it was transforming into the horrifying apocalypse depicted in “The Walking Dead”? This spin-off set in Los Angeles, following new characters as they face the beginning of the end of the world, will answer that question.
Except you didn’t answer that question, AMC, you skipped over the entire premise of your show so you could make it into a carbon copy of The Walking Dead. Everything interesting about your show was happening while your main character was stuck in a barber shop, and he didn’t even get a nice haircut to show for it. The plot was literally the only thing keeping this show together and you utterly ruined it before the first commercial break in your second episode. The only way to make the show interesting at this point was for interesting characters to carry the narrative. And that sure as hell wasn’t going to happen.
Not only are the characters completely boring, but worse yet, every single one of them acts like they’re in a zombie movie. And by that I mean they act on information that they shouldn’t rightly know yet. When Madison finds her daughter taking care of her sick boyfriend, she sees he’s bitten and immediately tells her daughter to get away. Now hold up, how do you know that the disease is transmitted by bite, Madison?
Yes, she saw the drug dealer earlier in the first episode as a zombie, but she didn’t even fully understand what he was let alone how the disease was transmitted.
Later in the show there are several instances where characters immediately aim for the zombie’s head. Now obviously we all know, as the audience, that you aim for a zombie’s head, but how the hell do the characters know this? Do zombie stories exist in the Walking Dead universe, were all the characters playing Left 4 Dead before zombies suddenly became real?
These are important details because without them, the characters lack that sense of horror and confusion that is pretty much the entire mythos surrounding zombies, and suddenly the main threat of the series is just a minor annoyance. Which is why they felt the need to introduce a new threat to the characters, and gave us a version of the U.S. Army if it were run by Cobra Commander.
Now I’m not a jingoistic patriot who refuses to see the U.S. Army as anything but a force of heroic freedom fighters, especially given their recent bombing of a fucking hospital, but even a cynic like me was a little insulted at just how evil the soldiers were. They stopped just short of using puppies for target practice.
At one point one of the kids sees a light in a far off house, blinking in a pattern and probably a call for help. The kid tells Travis, Travis tells the commander, and at the end of the day Travis sees gunshots going off inside the house. The implication being the soldiers killed whoever was inside.
Why? What possible advantage would that grant the soldiers? This isn’t a foreign war zone. This is their home. If anything the army would be conscripting every person who could hold a rifle in order to combat the endless legions of the dead, not killing people out of pure spite. If Fear the Walking Dead wanted to portray the army as the bad guys, that’s the route they should have gone, coercing people into serving and using other civilians as slave labor. In a cataclysmic emergency like this, I could see the army resorting to such tactics. But just slaughtering people for kicks? Not so much.
The army’s prison system was equally baffling. Just a bunch of people sitting in cages for no apparent reason. Now I get that this was some kind of quarantine facility, but what kind of moron sets up a quarantine in the same building they’re using as a headquarters? If the illness turned out to be airborne, the entire garrison could have been infected. It would have made much more sense to confine symptomatic people to their homes, far away from where they could infect your soldiers.
Inside this baffling labyrinth of chain link and bad lighting, we meet a smooth talking con artist who’s so god damn suave he should have his own theme music. And that music would be Smooth Jazz. When a guard arbitrarily decides the drug addict is really just a zombie who hasn’t hit zombie puberty yet, Smooth Jazz barters with him to keep the kid. Now first of all, why is the guard even interested in his watch and fancy cuff-links? There’s no pawn shops, no jewelers, there’s not even any currency anymore. The world just fucking ended, what is he going to use them for?
But let’s assume that the guard is just a greedy moron, okay fine. Why doesn’t he just take them? The suave con-man is a prisoner and the world is ending, who exactly would he complain to? Is this the only soldier in this army of evil that has a conscience?
Finally, and the worst part of this scene, is why does Smooth Jazz even bother with the drug addict? Nick is clearly the most messed up dude in the entire series, but Smooth Jazz says Nick has skills he can use. What skills? What possible use is he? Apparently none because he contributes exactly nothing to their eventual escape at the end of the finale.
After the group is reunited, they make their way to the medical ward where the doctor tells them about a magical, reality-bending exit that leads to the parking garage they entered from. Then the group leaves the doctor behind. A fucking doctor. One of the most important people you could possibly have with you in a post-apocalyptic environment. Even without access to medications or proper tools, she’d know how to set broken bones, how to diagnose illnesses, and even perform surgery. She’s worth her weight in gold! No, even more valuable than that, because now gold is just useless chunks of heavy metal.
And they leave her. They don’t even attempt to reason with her. Okay, maybe they don’t have time to reason with her, fine. The woman couldn’t weigh more than 150 pounds, everyone grab a limb and let’s carry her out. We can sort out her emotional issues later.
And those emotional issues could have been resolved in thirty seconds, because that’s about how long it takes for everyone else to deal with their emotions. When Travis finds out his ex-wife has been bitten, he spends about twenty seconds trying to convince her to live, and then spatters her brains like it ain’t no thang. Seems like the woman could have taken a few seconds to say goodbye to her son, it wasn’t like she was going to turn right then and there, but whatever. At this point I no longer cared.
I’m glad this series was only six episodes now, because at least it didn’t waste too much of my time. It destroyed everything interesting about itself, and then ended. Good, at least now I know I won’t have to tune in for the premier of Zombies on a Boat.
If you thought the farm from season 2 of Walking Dead was boring, just wait until the most boring group in the world is stuck on a boat surrounded by endless water for an entire season…