Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1 Episode 3
Fear the Walking Dead episode three is a tale of two halves. The central characters are separated on a night of civil unrest in Los Angeles – Travis and his family sheltering from the downtown riot in the Salazar family barbershop, while Madison and her kids attempt to avoid the unusual activity of their undead neighbours in the suburbs. Once the characters are reunited, the tone changes and becomes much more contemplative, as the characters are afforded time to reflect on the drastic upheaval happening around them.
At the barbershop, as Travis and family ponder their next move, the mob outside becomes increasingly agitated, and glimpses through the shop shutters reveal that some rather unhealthy-looking members of the crowd have desires beyond smashing windows and setting fires. There’s tension within the shop too, as Daniel (Rubén Blades) is clearly wary of the strangers his wife and daughter convinced him to help. It’s interesting to note that at this stage, those hiding in the barbershop believe that the threat is presented by the rioters and looters, the living, in other words – they are unaware of the danger posed by the rapidly increasing number of undead hidden by the pandemonium of the riot. The scenes of unrest in the city are well done; the believable chaos is a welcome injection of action to a show that has been relatively placid thus far. As Chris realises that the fire next door is in danger of spreading, and Travis declares that they’ll have to take to the streets, the characters are presented with their first situation of consistent peril.
A key to survival in The Walking Dead is a willingness to help one’s fellow man (more often than not, strangers), and Travis is a shining example here, repaying the Salazars’ for their earlier kindness by offering to shelter them in his home after Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) is injured in their escape. As the group hightail it in Travis’ somehow unscathed truck, the cityscape below them begins to flicker and darken as power outages spread across the landscape. This is a striking image, as lights that previously stretched to the horizon blink out of existence, foreshadowing the downfall of the human race. Of course, our protagonists are unaware of the severity of the oncoming plague, but the gravity of the situation is apparent as they gaze at the scale of the disaster in front of them.
Nicely juxtaposing the action of the downtown riot is the tension of the eerily quiet neighbourhood. Madison and the kids are waiting anxiously for Travis to return so that they can enact their plan to flee the bedlam of the city. Having already witnessed one neighbour attack another, and hearing unsettling noises from outside the house, Madison, Nick and Alicia grow increasingly distressed by the position in which they find themselves, unsure of what exactly is lurking out there. Much of these scenes take place in near silence as the family (and by extension the audience) listens out for every creak and groan. Counterbalancing the anarchy of the riot, this is a genuinely suspenseful sequence.
Travis and Madison are reunited as he arrives home just in time to find one of the neighbours feasting on the corpse of a dog. We’re treated to the most arresting of camera angles and a close up of the dog’s eyes as the zombie tears at its entrails. This and Daniel’s subsequent point-blank shotgun blast to the zombie’s head provide the most gore we’ve seen in the season so far. The first two episodes may have been so sedate that we’ve actually been resensitized to the violence (an unthinkable concept for the original series).
Until this point, the episode has worked well, but once the families are reunited, the pace slows drastically as they wait out the night. Yes, this allows the characters time to try to come to terms with the horror they’ve been subjected to, but the dramatic shift in pacing makes the second half seem to drag. It’s not all bad – there are some nice human touches here: Travis has an opportunity to reconnect with his son Chris; Maddie and Travis are forced to acknowledge the violence they now need to use to survive; and Maddie, pitying her friend next door, asks Eliza to do the necessary should Maddie ever become a zombie. In fact, Susan, the undead neighbour invokes many of the moral conundrums now facing our protagonists. Maddie knows her as a friend, a babysitter, a confidant and yet she wishes to ‘kill’ her to end her suffering. Travis thinks they shouldn’t be so hasty to dish out judgement like that, insisting that some things can’t be undone. Maddie literally stares the plague in the face as she regards a rasping, clawing Susan through a hole in the garden fence, but can’t bring herself to put Susan out of her misery.
There are some puzzling aspects to the script as well. Daniel seems very knowledgeable about how to deal with the body of a dispatched zombie, and is altogether oddly comfortable dealing with a situation that should be beyond anyone’s scope of experience. It’s also difficult to accept that Eliza, despite her medical training, would be able to speak so confidently about the spread of the zombie plague. It’s all a little too convenient.
In somewhat of a twist ending, the army arrives on the scene, just as the protagonists are beginning their exodus to the desert. It seems that they have the situation under control, and that the apocalypse might not be upon us just yet. It’s another misdirect, like those we’ve seen in the previous two episodes and should reassure us that Fear isn’t morphing into a clone of its parent show quite yet. The episode closes as Travis and Daniel express opposing opinions about the future. “Cavalry’s arrived”, Travis says, relieved. Daniel, the preternaturally wise old Salvadorian barber believes “it’s already too late”. We know he’s right, but is he just a pessimist, or has he already seen the script for episode four?
Episode three begins strongly as the two sides of Travis and Madison’s family hide from the chaos in L.A. The tumult of the downtown riots set against the tense tone of the suburbs works well.
Once the family is reunited the pacing issues we’ve seen in the first two episodes return.
Despite this, there are touching and thoughtful human moments sprinkled throughout the latter half of the episode.
The decisions and motivations of some of the characters are a little questionable, but the moral questions that are a staple of the genre are introduced.
The twist ending is another nice misdirect – just as the protagonists were about to hit the road they’re given a last-minute reprieve, and are led to believe that the crisis is over. We know better though…