Well, that sure escalated quickly.
The problem many, myself included, had with the pilot of Fear the Walking Dead wasn’t that it was a slow burn, it was that it was the slowest of slow burns that ever slow-burned. The argument wasn’t “MOAR ZOMBIES AND GUTS PLEASE,” it was “more, uh, anything? Please?” Yes, there were signs of the coming zombie outbreak, from the traffic on the highway to the school buses without kids, but they were kept way out on the outskirts of our main family drama.
In episode two that fact still holds true, but one episode and one murdered homeless person later, those subtle signs exploded into total social anarchy. I’m talking hanging off lamp posts, looting stores and rioting in the streets. Which works in terms of amping up the story in a season that only has six episodes, but does it make any sense?
Well, yes and no. A lot of things happened this episode simply because the plot demanded it. Like, when a person runs on to a bus and screams that the cops just shot a homeless person 20 times, and the entire reaction is to immediately run to check it out and not “um, I don’t want to be a part of that.” And the fact that a group of protesters forms immediately in retaliation. And the fact that Travis’ son just so happens to be the kind of kid that not only carries around a camcorder but is just dying to be a part of a protest. “There’s a protest!” Christopher says to Travis, in a parents-just-don’t-understand voice. “I’m at a protest!”
This results in Travis, his ex-wife Lisa (who has absolutely zero time for BS), and Christopher riding out the riots in a barbershop with the Salazar family. The patriarch, Daniel Salazar, will finish your haircut even as looters and sirens rage outside his shop but he will not like letting strangers hide out after he’s closed up.
Over on the Clark family side, everything is equally as shitty. They find Alicia’s boyfriend in his bed, not dead yet but just sweaty enough to obviously be infected. Nick is too busy going through withdrawal to care, so Madison decides to use her school keys to get some of that good nurse’s office Oxycontin to wean him through it. That is the best kind of Oxy, by the way. Once inside the high school Madison runs into that kid Tobias who, oh come on, also just happens to be the only other person there.
The Tobias character kind of bothers me, because he’s not so much a character as he is walking, talking exposition. He’s like the magical fairy that shows up to let all the unaware characters know what a zombie apocalypse is. When Madison tells Tobias her plan to get her family out into the desert until the outbreak is over, Tobias replies “it doesn’t end.” Oh, come on Tobias. Spoilers. You only know all this because you totally own The Walking Dead seasons 1-5 on Blu Ray.
With that being said, the fact that Tobias wasn’t eaten by the zombified high school principal is just a travesty. These Fear the Walking Dead walkers are so bad at biting people. It’s a wonder anyone has been infected through a bite so far. Especially when Madison, who doesn’t exactly understand the zombie virus but has a pretty good idea, watches as the principal slowly shuffles towards her and asks “Arty, can you hear me?”
While Madison is off shooting the most violent reboot of The Breakfast Club with Tobias, Alicia and Nick are stuck home alone. I think Frank Dillane is doing a fantastic job of playing shifty, jittery Nick (and not just because I learned he is the in-real-life son of Stannis Baratheon). But when Alycia Debnam-Carey has to scream “Don’t do this now, you stupid son of a bitch!” at Nick as he vomits, something is just…off there. Mostly because she pronounces it “Sonuvabitch!” like a Spanish soap opera star finding out his twin brother is sleeping with his girlfriend.
I should also mention that there is a birthday party happening next door to the Clark’s house, and that is somehow my favorite part of the episode. There is something so creepy and so utterly discomforting about a family preparing to host a child’s birthday party when you know a zombie outbreak is about to occur. The scariest thing about zombies isn’t the zombies themselves, it’s the fact that the zombies are people you know. Zombie stories work as horror because of how scary the idea is of your friends, your family or just the people next door suddenly coming to kill you with no explanation. What more disconcerting place to set that idea than a birthday party with cake, a bouncy castle and toys? When Madison and Alicia look out the window to see a relentless attack happening among all those things, holy shit that is terrifying. It’s even scarier because Madison knows she can’t help, but doesn’t understand why.
That’s welcome character progression, because I don’t know how long a show can last when every interesting thing is happening so far on the periphery of the story. Up until that final moment, when Madison locks the door to her house behind her so Alica can’t leave, I worried FTWD wouldn’t learn that. But now this gets interesting. When Tobias says “it doesn’t end,” it’s easy to cringe because we know that already, Tobias! But now the characters — from Travis to Madison to the Salazars to the protesters in the streets — are learning there is no end in sight. And that, more than anything, is something worth getting scared over.