Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1 Episode 5
Episode five of Fear the Walking Dead further entrenches the military (and those whose orders they follow) as the enemy. Thought you were watching a show about people running from zombies? Wrong. The overriding message here is “Don’t trust the government”. Last week established an uneasy truce between the army and the civilians they were sent to protect, but here we witness it all begin to crumble. Any hope that those in charge might have been able to turn the tide of the virus rocking Los Angeles is lost, and our protagonists realise that they must do what’s necessary to survive in whatever remains of the society they once knew.
At the end of episode three, the US military heroically swept into town to stamp out any threat of a zombie uprising. By episode four, our protagonists had been confined to the neighbourhood, shielded behind a security cordon of fences and sporadically-manned checkpoints. The commanding officer was an arrogant bastard, but the residents could probably put up with this as long as their unelected representative Travis was looking out for their best interests. This dynamic changed dramatically when the army began rounding up anyone deemed medically unsafe. Now, the neighbourhood feels as though it is under hostile military occupation; a wedge has been driven between the citizens and their saviours. That’s not bad going for a three episode arc. It creates an interesting dual threat for our protagonists – not only do they have to contend with an imminent zombie outbreak (they might not know about that quite yet), but the guys with the guns and the Humvees aren’t too trustworthy either.
Chain link is the de rigueur infrastructure of the apocalypse. It works well in many situations; partitioning off neighbourhoods from ‘Dead Zones’, building gladiatorial arenas, fortifying prisons against swarms of walkers, and creating detention areas for those deemed expendable under government policy for dealing with epidemics. Nick finds himself in just such a facility, and we’re introduced to an intriguing new character, Strand (Colman Domingo). A sharp dresser and smooth talker, he’s unnervingly prepared for the worst (not unlike Daniel Salazar). Seeing the writing on the wall, Strand is looking to set himself up for life in the new world order, and thinks Nick’s experience as a heroin addict will come in handy. From our point of view, with the benefit of hindsight, Strand seems incredibly prescient. From Nick’s he must seem mental. But, doing Nick a favour by saving him from the soldiers, Strand obligates him into future service. This is an odd relationship, and Strand is admittedly an odd (and potentially sinister) character, but with him comes an ever-so-slight shift in tone. We should expect more and more of the people we encounter to be motivated by desires beyond the sphere of our own experience, as Fear continues its inexorable drift from a story about our world to one containing ubiquitous flesh-eating undead horror.
Meanwhile, Ofelia’s relationship from the previous episode is developing in a rather unusual manner. To be fair, hooking up with a soldier as he guards your town from the onset of a zombie apocalypse is hardly high on the list of how most couples meet, but even so, luring your new squeeze away from his squad and tying him up in the basement so that your barber/refugee/revolutionary father can torture him for information would be considered a fairly extreme second date by most people’s standards. In an interesting twist, Ofelia isn’t entirely on board with Daniel’s plans for the soldier as she expresses concern for him, even if it means they won’t find out where her mother is being held. Madison’s reaction is a little puzzling: she encounters the torture plot, but appears to accept it almost without question. Yes, she wants to get Nick back, but would she really be fine stumbling across Daniel channelling his inner Sweeney Todd? It seems unlikely – she has made strange choices in the recent past, but doing things for the sake of the plot shouldn’t be a character trait. We’ll have to keep an eye on her.
Daniel is developed further as we learn that his flight from El Salvador was not as a refugee, but came after his involvement in government atrocities of which he’d previously implied he and his family had been victims. This explains his knowledge of weapons (we’ve previously seen him take charge of blowing away one of the first zombies, and later instructing Chris on the use of the shotgun), and his distrust of the army as they began carting people off to the detention centre. Of course, this paints Daniel in a different light – not only is he willing to use torture to obtain the information he wants, but we now know that his experience in El Salvador was one of power and control, rather than the oppression he had previously described. He does mention that he had to make the choice; to be the tortured, or the torturer, and in a classic piece of Salazar wisdom explains that they are really one and the same – they both suffer. Easy for him to say? He is the one holding the knife, but the tough choices he’s had to make appear to weigh heavily on him. It also shows he’s prepared to do anything for his family – a characteristic we’ve learned is handy when it comes to surviving a zombie plague.
Travis feels the human cost of the outbreak when he takes a ride in the Dead Zone with the army and they encounter a lone zombie roaming a fast food restaurant. The soldiers treat the situation with levity, laughing and joking about shooting the woman while setting up the sniper rifle. As callous as ever, their commanding officer, Moyer, challenges Travis to take the shot. Travis is understandably shaken by the goading and taunting – presumably he’s never shot anyone before – and attempts to pass up the attempt, but under pressure from the soldiers he takes aim down the scope. Seeing the woman’s face up close, reading her name – Kimberley – on her badge is too much for Travis. He can’t accept that she’s no longer considered human, and just as he couldn’t pull the trigger on his undead neighbour (despite the fact that zombie had just been feasting on dog guts) Travis watches on in horror as Kimberley is dispatched. Presumably at some point soon, Travis will be confronted with a situation in which he has to overcome his moral stance on taking what he still sees as human life – it will be interesting to observe how he deals with the decision, and the aftermath (if indeed there is one for him).
The first major revelation from Daniel torture session is that the army locked a large number of infected inside a nearby sports arena. This may have seemed like a good containment idea at the time, but it seems obvious to us where the next wave of zombies is coming from. Secondly, the army have a codeword – Cobalt – that is to be used as a command to evacuate the Los Angeles area, followed by the ‘humane’ termination of the remaining population. It is revealed that this order will be carried out at 09:00 the next day. If the government weren’t to be trusted before, they’ve definitely confirmed their status as the bad guys now. The ticking clock of the evacuation order must mean that final episode or Fear will be a race to escape the city, or stop its destruction. Upping the ante and the pace as it hits its season finale, we’ll find out next week if Fear will finally hit stride and deliver the killer episode we’ve been hoping for.
The army are firmly established as the bad guys. Life under military occupation grows intolerable for the residents of the neighbourhood.
Strand is introduced as an intriguing new character. He seems to know how to survive the oncoming chaos, and looks to recruit Nick to his cause.
Daniel and Ofelia plan to extract information from Ofelia’s new boyfriend. Daniel reveals more about his past and character. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Madison seems ok with this – maybe the lives of Salvadorian revolutionaries and high school guidance counsellors aren’t that different after all?
Travis is exposed to the army attitude to human dignity first hand – he can’t bring himself to shoot a zombie – what does this mean for his chances of survival long term?
The government plan to terminate the population of LA is revealed and we now know that our protagonists must act very quickly if they are to survive.