Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1 Episode 4
“Not Fade Away”
Episode 4 of Fear the Walking Dead begins the second half of this short debut season, bringing with it the introduction of a mysterious dystopian tone and themes. Life in the neighbourhood has changed drastically since the end of the last episode – a safe zone, fenced off from the decay of the outside world, has been established, and the residents are attempting to come to terms with a new way of life. Some, like Travis continuing his morning jog, are trying to behave as normally as possible, cooperating with the Army and accepting that they are doing their best to help. Madison and Daniel are more suspicious of the government and question the motivations of those in charge.
There’s a bit of show and tell at work early in the episode, establishing the new setup. The opening montage, set to Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’, is a little in-your-face with its depiction of Travis carrying out his morning routine, taking us on a tour of the now fenced-off streets, whilst Chris’ narration of his video diary spells out exactly what has happened since the Army rolled in (his devotion to his camcorder turns out to be a useful narrative device!). No longer are we dealing with a zombie outbreak, this is a full-blown quarantine situation; a strong military presence being felt in every aspect of neighbourhood life. There’s a curfew, and power is only available at certain times of day. Handily enough, someone in the Clark household has taken it upon themselves to put colourful labels on the kitchen clock so we as an audience will know exactly when to light the candles. At first, Madison appears, like Travis, to accept the transition, however Alicia points out that worrying about normal domestic arguments won’t change the fact that their lives have been significantly altered.
Interestingly it’s the younger generation that lead the way when it comes to the forward-thinking acceptance of the situation. Nick is using the disorder to score drugs wherever he can find them, even if that means depriving his sick elderly neighbour of vital medication. Chris spots what looks like a flashing signal coming from a house on a hill opposite the safe zone, and echoing Nick’s unheeded words about the very start of the outbreak, Travis is unwilling or unable to believe that there’s life out there. Eventually Madison indulges Chris and watches his video, providing an interesting dilemma for the protagonists; to accept the safety of their fenced-off neighbourhood, or to help the people trapped on the outside? This also establishes the Army/government/regime as an antagonist, as they are unresponsive when made aware of the possibility of citizens in danger outside the quarantine.
Indeed, it’s pretty obvious that we’re meant to side against the Army, as the officer in charge of the safe zone is presented as incredibly callous and aloof. He’s the type of guy that’s seen it all before. He cajoles citizens into doing his bidding, works on his golf stroke in the middle of the street and casually talks about shooting people when delivering news from the outside world. His initial speech about the rules of the perimeter and his disregard for those he’s there to protect are unprofessional and over-the-top. He certainly works as a symbol of government malaise in dealing with the outbreak, albeit a blatant and clichéd one. At least we can be sure that a man this unlikeable will be getting up close and personal with a zombie or two in the near future.
Once Madison has determined that she needs to help those outside the safe zone, she makes the baffling decision to source some wire cutters and sneak out, just to… have a closer look? Why she takes this course of action is beyond explanation. We know that she’s supposed to be a rule breaker – we’ve seen her undermine authority before, but never on such a potentially suicidal level. With all her knowledge of the situation, and after everything she’s seen, it seems incredible that she’d leave her kids and partner behind for a jaunt out into no man’s land. Whilst on the other side of the fence, she does pass the prerequisite missing persons notice board, festooned with flowers and pictures of lost loved ones. These things are so prevalent in the genre that you’d be forgiven for thinking that they come flat-packed from some post-apocalyptic Ikea. Having seen enough graffiti and bullet-riddled bodies, Madison returns as easily as she left and inexplicably opens up to Daniel about what she’s seen. It’s only supposed to have been nine days of quarantine, but these two seem to be on pretty good terms. He retorts with some of that famous Salvadorian wisdom he’s known for (something about fear and hate being interchangeable).
Speaking of strange relationships, Daniel’s daughter Ofelia has been busy during her time inside the perimeter. She’s started hooking up with one of the grunts, which will inevitably lead to conflict in one of two ways. A) She falls deeply in love and at some point has to choose to save either her new boyfriend or her mother/father (delete where appropriate) OR B) The soldier turns out to be as bad as his commanding officer, heartlessly disregarding Ofelia’s beloved parents in a moment of peril, sending himself, them or both to their doom. Either way we should expect this relationship to be resolved by the season finale.
The conflict at the end of the episode is presented in the form of a doctor arriving in the safe zone, assessing which civilians need to be moved to a secure medical facility. By this point we shouldn’t trust anyone associated with the Army, so we can assume that nothing good happens at these sorts of places. Griselda is on the list, but everyone knew that, because her foot was crushed last week. Daniel had expected to be able to accompany his wife, but is denied. Nick is identified as requiring ‘treatment’ and is carted off at gunpoint. The regime is now firmly established as a threat to family unity, but they don’t seem all that worried about pissing off the locals. Who needs a PR department when you’ve got guns?
The episode comes to a close as Travis witnesses shooting in the houses on the opposite hill. Why didn’t he listen to Chris? No doubt he’ll be out there investigating in the next episode, and thanks to the complete absence of zombies in this episode, we now know that Travis and the rest of the protagonists will need to be wary of the danger posed by those sent to guard them in the metaphorical prison of the safe zone.
The setting of the quarantined neighbourhood provides an interesting new dynamic. At the end of last week’s episode the Army was presented as a liberating force, however it has quickly become a new source of tension.
The commanding officer is stereotypically cold and heartless – it remains to be seen if he’ll stick around for a while, or quickly reap what he’s sown.
In terms of the writing, we’re still getting show and tell, rather than show, don’t tell. Also, some of the choices made by characters in this episode are suspect, others are downright ridiculous.
The absence of zombies in this episode is interesting, placing the emphasis on the human relationships (some of which appear to have progressed a little too quickly) and possibly representing the calm before the undead storm.