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When writing up this review, it’s hard to look past the episode’s title, “So Close, Yet So Far,” which pretty accurately sums up my thoughts on the second episode of Fear the Walking Dead. For a series that already has to jump over the hurdle of an audience that knows what the future holds (not to mention already knows and understands the “virus” outbreak better than the show’s characters), the writers are making a number of stupid choices with story and dialogue that are making the series harder to take seriously. However, on the flip side, for every stupid line that leaves me shaking my head, the show churns out set pieces that exude tension and build a few interesting characters I would love to spend more time getting to know.
Madison continues to be the star of the series (buoyed in great part by Kim Dickens’ excellent performance) . She’s pragmatic and has the wherewithal to recognize that she’s not only out of her depth in this new world, but that she needs to take time (what little time exists when there are zombies roaming the neighborhood) to take stock of the situation and try to plan an escape. Her calm in the face of a world beginning to panic should serve her well in the days to come. Hell, she even had the good sense to take Tobias seriously when he began listing off the rules to survive a zombie apocalypse (also, I’m firmly on #TeamTobias and hope he comes back at some point). Yes, the scene was a bit hokey, considering the vast majority of the audience is well aware of what the citizens of Los Angeles are about to face, but it was nice to see that someone on the show was willing to accept that things are about to go to hell in a handbasket due to forces they cannot understand. The faster the show’s main characters get on board with the idea that the end of days is here, the faster we will be able to stop rolling our eyes every time Alicia or Chris wants to do something stupid.
And speaking of stupid characters, I think we can all agree that zombie movies don’t exist in the Walking Dead universe, because man, there were some dumb choices being made in “So Close, Yet So Far.” I can understand Alicia wanting to help our her boyfriend, really, I can. But when she came back into the room to see the giant bite mark on his shoulder? Even in a world where a strange, highly contagious, virus isn’t on the loose, if someone I knew was feverish with a massive bite mark on them, I would be rushing to get them to a hospital, not relaxing in bed with them wiping their brow. I’m a bit more forgiving about wanting to leave her brother to detox on his own to check on said boyfriend, considering how Nick has burned the family in the past, but Alicia’s inability to recognize that something isn’t right in the world is quickly becoming the character’s biggest liability- both in terms of surviving the zombie apocalypse and in gaining the sympathies of the audience.
But, by far, the most troubling element of the first two episodes of Fear the Walking Dead is something that will sound very familiar to fans of the mothership series: the show’s treatment of its black male characters. Over on The Walking Dead, there a rule of thumb when a black male character arrives on the scene: the show’s remaining black male characters better watch their backs, because, like Highlander, there can only be one (note that this is only applicable to black male characters, as the black female characters seem to fare pretty well). Case in point- last season on The Walking Dead there were, at a point, three black male characters. By seasons end, there was one (and he was having a psychotic break, so who knows how much longer he has left). That’s a pretty troubling statistic.
So far on Fear the Walking Dead we have been introduced to three black male supporting characters. By the end of episode two, all three had been infected and were either turned or about to be. And these are the only three characters we have interacted with who have been turned (the neighbor from this week’s episode doesn’t count, since he only nodded and didn’t speak before making a meal of the neighbors). Three black characters, three zombies. That’s absolutely ridiculous, particularly considering how The Walking Dead has already been taken to task for similar issues. If I were a showrunner of a popular new series and I knew that my other popular series has a reputation for killing off black male characters at a shocking rate, I might try and take a different path on my new show. But, that’s just me.
— In the race to be crowned the “Carl Grimes Honorary Most Annoying Teen in a Zombie Apocalypse,” Chris is certainly winning. His decision to fight the man and expose police brutality was another major misstep of the episode. Yes, police brutality remains an important part of the national dialogue, but when your audience knows that the cops killed a zombie, well, that makes Chris look like a little kid trying to be tough. Plus, Chris is just plain annoying. Although Alicia is still in a solid second place for the trophy.
— You know who I really like? Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez, who is also spectacular on Orange is the New Black). She’s smart and tough, and I hope she survives a long time. Unlike her son.
— While I would appreciate the main characters getting on board with the zombie apocalypse theory a bit faster, I appreciate the show having the world at large denying the scope of the issue. Throwing in small signs that the government and those in positions of power are aware that something momentous is happening (having that cop loading up on water was a great touch) does work exceptionally well. Having panic slowly begin rings very true.
— Madison having to kill her friend was harrowing. While watching The Walking Dead, unless a main cast member is killed off, it’s easy to forget that the walkers were once people. One of the aces Fear the Walking Dead has in its deck is the death of family and friends of our characters. At this stage in the outbreak, everyone they know and love is alive and in play. Experiencing those losses will be what sets this show apart from its big brother.