After Episode 3, “The Dog,” took major leaps in the right direction for the overall storyline of Fear the Walking Dead, the fourth episode, “Not Fade Away,” may give viewers a “one step forward, two steps back” vibe with its haphazard construction and sluggish pace.
WARNING: What you’re about to read contains spoilers about this episode and possibly this season of Fear the Walking Dead. Proceed at your own risk/reward!
RECAP: The episode opens with a voiceover from Chris, who is sitting on a rooftop recording things with a handheld videocam; while I wasn’t particularly fond of the vibe of this narrative, it did serve to help “catch up” the audience to recent procedural changes for those living under the military’s protection. A week has passed since the last episode, and a fence has been built around a large section of the neighborhood and surrounding area. This is one of 12 “safe zones” in the Los Angeles region, or so Lt. Moyer, the commanding officer, would have the characters believe…
We also learn from a military announcement that everything is being rationed or is in short supply: power is only on at certain times of the day, potable water and food is starting to become scarce, and medicine distribution is practically nonexistent. Even though the military is definitely in charge, Travis has become the de facto “mayor” of the safe zone, acting as a man-of-the-people sort. While he’s out trying to help keep people calm and under control, things are slowly unraveling under his own roof.
Nick is doing better than expected on kicking his drug habit – but only because he’s sneaking into neighbors’ homes and taking their meds, sometimes literally right out from underneath them. It’s revealed that Alicia had a deeper connection to former neighbor Susan than was originally shown; between this and her missing her boyfriend, she is starting to break down mentally. Madison is feeling the strain of having to do so much for so many people staying in her home. Lisa is trying to help around the neighborhood with people who are sick – until an actual doctor shows up and discovers that she’s been lying to everyone about actually being a nurse. Chris becomes obsessed with seeing a blinking light coming from a house in the demilitarized/quarantined zone; he thinks it’s someone trying to send a signal, but the military says they’ve swept that area and no one at home will really listen to him.
It takes Madison, fighting off a bout of stir-craziness, to finally accept that what Chris is saying might be true. She cuts a section of fence and wanders out into the DZ, where she finds more than she bargained for: while the streets are desolate of life, there are a handful of bodies strewn about. The dead, however, are a mix of both infected and “normal” people who appear to have been shot by the military.
A small sub-plot about a neighbor going crazy leads us to the episode’s “big hit:” the doctor and troops come to take Griselda away (ostensibly to provide life-saving surgery on her broken and festering foot), but instead of taking Daniel with her for support, they nab Nick and force him to go to the “medical facility” as well. At the last second, Lisa accepts the doctor’s invitation to come along and help out at the hospital, seemingly abandoning Chris and Travis. The military rolls out, leaving several broken families in their wake.
>>> I’ll just come right out and say it: for a show that’s main focus has been to give its viewers character development first and foremost, the choice to flash-forward ahead one full week – after only getting to know the characters for about two days’ time in their world – seems like a very poor one to me. Now we have new characters that we don’t know anything about, and the existing characters that the show was trying so hard to “get to know” have been shown to essentially just languish around the Clark household for an entire week, taking orders from the military and twiddling their thumbs while awaiting further orders. This supposition doesn’t sit well with me.
>>> I also find it an extreme challenge to believe that in a heavily-populated urban area like LA, the streets in the DZ are so empty and desolate and that the infection appears to have been so well contained/eradicated so quickly in their area (we viewers all know that’s not true, but that’s what we are being shown, anyhow). There wasn’t a single zombie kill shown this week, and while that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just seems like the threat of being constantly overrun by the undead would be a major issue that would have to be contended with. At the risk of geographically over-generalizing, this community with its see-through fence and close proximity to one of the most-populated areas in the entire United States feels instead like a small rural town set in the cornfields of the Midwest.
>>> The primary thing that this episode does “hold over” from previous weeks, though, is the fact that the government/military/”people in charge” definitely know more than they are letting on to the public. This is almost assuredly why they are hustling injured and mentally-unstable people out of the safe zone(s) as quickly as possible: knowing that one dead or dying person can quickly start things spiraling out of control is something they are clearly taking every precaution to attempt to avoid. The real question now becomes: where are the injured truly going? I sincerely hope the show follows this line of plot in the upcoming episodes.
>>> While I had hoped that Travis would eventually become a tougher, wiser, leader-of-the-pack type of character, the time for that transition to be a truly effective one is quickly approaching being overdue. To remain this pacifist, overprotective-of-everyone-not-just-your-family, “zombies are people too” type of person is to tread down a dangerous path; The Walking Dead has shown us characters like this (to varying degrees) in Herschel, Lori, and Dale… and look where they all are now. The final scene of the episode may provide just the catalyst he needs, as he sees what is assumed to be troops in the building where the blinking light had been coming from, possibly executing whomever was present; death(s) that would be indirectly on Travis’ hands, since he was the one that told Moyer about the light.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: The show seems to be struggling to find its “vibe,” interspersing long stretches of often-forced-feeling character development with only minimal information and visual cues about the actual burgeoning zombie apocalypse. With only two episodes left until the end of this shortened first season, viewers have got to be wondering where – and how – things will go from here, and if Fear the Walking Dead can deliver a satisfying season finale that will provide enough incentive for the audience to want to tune back in for a second season.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Cliff Curtis as Travis Manawa
Kim Dickens as Madison Clark
Frank Dillane as Nick Clark
Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia Clark
Lorenzo James Henrie as Chris Manawa
Elizabeth Rodriquez as Lisa Ortiz
Mercedes Mason as Ofelia Salazar
Ruben Blades as Daniel Salazar
Patricia Reyes Spindola as Griselda Salazar
Jamie McShane as Lt. Moyer
Sandrine Holt as Dr. Exner