So far, I’ve been enjoying Fear the Walking Dead, in large part because of its central premise: How would an ordinary family act in the face of the world ending, people who aren’t survivalists or action heroes or part of a post-collapse civilization? The first three episodes showed us the initial days after a disease began sweeping through Los Angeles that turned the recently dead into monsters.
Episode #3 ended with our lead families holed up in Madison’s house, safe for the moment, preparing to leave the city and head east. Suddenly, the military arrives and takes control of the situation. For the fourth episode, I expected to see a power struggle between an army trying to maintain order during a natural disaster and the regular people whose homes were being quarantined off and whose loved ones were still out in the city somewhere.
Instead, we get a time skip: It’s been nine days since the military arrived, all of our lead characters are more or less safe in the quarantine zone, and, as far as we’re told, everyone else for miles around is already dead. Other safe zones have been established, and there’s still a functional military hospital, but the city’s already fallen. The only indication of life outside the safe zones is a flash of light being signaled from a distant building, which catches the attention of Travis’s teenage activist son Chris. But for the most part, the world’s dead, and in a story about surviving the early days of an apocalypse, the apocalypse happens off-screen.
Episodes 2 and 3 explored what happens when violence and chaos strikes in such a densely packed city, and I felt they did a decent job showing the confusion on all sides, from police to protesters to bystanders. I was expecting to see more of that, more of a morally gray exploration of what it means to be human as all hell breaks loose, with the point of view characters split between Madison and her children mostly safe in suburbia and Travis, his ex-wife, their son, and the Salazar family trapped in the heart of the warzone.
Overall the show feels like it’s moving too rapidly. Travis and Madison reunite too quickly, the city falls too fast, and the military gets things in order (or do they?) too soon. I don’t think episode 4 is bad at all; I like the hamminess of Jamie McShane’s believably jerky Lt. Moyers, I like Travis being forced to play liaison between the military and civilians, and I like Liza using her skills as a nurse-in-training to keep the people in the quarantine zone more or less happy and healthy. Daniel Salazar gets a good monologue about his days in El Salvador during a similar military occupation and we get some bonding between Madison and Chris, to show a sense of family developing beyond blood.
Ultimately, budget restrictions and the six episode limit for the first season have hurt the plot by causing it to skip ahead like this. We don’t get to see the full extent of the chaos in the city, and are instead simply just told about it in vague details. Sure, the military’s obviously hiding something and there’s more out there than our point of view characters know, but we can still see that the city really is more or less dead. The attention now is on whether the military can be trusted, whether the hospital they take a few of our characters to is the real deal, and to what extent the situation is truly under control. None of those ideas are bad, but I wish the show hadn’t rushed ahead to reach them. Still, there’s two episodes to go, and plenty of interesting places for our characters to wind up. Maybe we’ll get a flashback to the central chaos later.