Because Fear The Walking Dead only has six episodes in season 1, the fourth installment, “Not Fade Away”, drops us in an entirely new status quo rather than slowly building up to this point. When last we saw our extended family of survivors and the other family that they picked up in a barber shop, the National Guard had just moved in and surrounded the neighborhood. And that was about the happiest thing to happen in the pre-zombie apocalypse, aside from a riveting game of Monopoly.
Nine days later, the residents of the neighborhood are literally fenced in by the military and they are already chafing under their rules and control. But Travis (Cliff Curtis) is pretty okay with it. After all, he still gets to go on his morning jogs and pretend that things aren’t so bad. Travis is used by the military as a go-between with the civilians, and he’s even directly told that if he doesn’t talk his neighbor, Doug Thompson (John Stewart), into allowing himself to be examined, than the military will force the issue.
Travis does his best to bring Doug out of his stupor, but Doug only goes a few hours before he abandons his family and disappears during the nightly curfew. Travis’ friend in the military chain of command eventually admits that they picked up Doug and shipped him out because he was unstable. Meanwhile, Travis’ son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) stumbles upon an apparent signal from outside the “safe zone,” but Travis basically blows him off and doesn’t even take the idea seriously until Madison (Kim Dickens) buys into it as well.
Madison is really all over the place in this episode. There are scenes where Madison is completely justified in her frustration, like the beginning of the episode when she tears into Travis over the military occupation and the fact that her house has become overcrowded with his old family, and the Salazar family that they barely know. And I was actually cheering when Madison caught Nick (Frank Dillane) looking for drugs, and she proceeded to knock the hell out of her jerk of a son for lying to her.
But then Madison had some of the dumbest moments of the episode as well. Madison is so caught up in Chris’ signal from survivors on the outside, that she actually breaks out of the camp and discovers that the streets of LA are littered with bodies of people who don’t even appear to be infected. Curiously, there are no “walking dead” in this episode, nor any kind of zombies at all. I wonder if that’s a first for the TV franchise.
Madison’s ill-advised trip remains undiscovered by the military, but she has an absolutely irrational response to the situation at the end of the episode that really killed my sympathy for her. We’ll get to that later. First, let’s look at Nick’s contributions to this episode: he lounged in a pool and flirted with Dr. Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt) as she examined him. Nick also pretended to be getting clean, but like a little s—, he broke into the house next door and mainlined himself with his neighbor’s morphine drip. Nick doesn’t even offer a defense when Madison catches him in the act of looking for more drugs. He knows what he did was wrong, but he keeps doing it anyway.
Nick’s sister, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), does have a subplot of her own this week. First, we see that she seems to have struck up a friendship with Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). But the main part of Alicia’s story attempts to build up her emotional relationship with Suzanne, the woman turned zombie who was dispatched by the military at the end of the last episode. While she mourns her “Aunt Suzanne” (as seen in a framed picture drawn by Alicia), she’s really pining for Matt (Maestro Harrell), her infected boyfriend whom she can’t quite give up for dead despite the obvious signs of infection he had two episodes ago.
Alicia’s saving grace is that she seems to have more genuine compassion for her brother, Nick than anyone else. It’s certainly more than he deserves, and Nick’s one truly decent moment of the week is when he can’t bring himself to admit how and why he was beaten up by his mother. It’s almost as if he has shame when his sister is around.
Ofelia doesn’t get a whole lot to do, but it seems obvious that she started a romantic connection with one of the soldiers to get access to better medicine and treatment for her mother, Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola). Both Ofelia and Griselda need more to do in order for actual character development to happen. But Ofelia’s father, Daniel (Rubén Blades) is already one of the most interesting characters on the show. When you get a chance, look up Blades’ history online. This is a man who could have been the President of Panama (seriously), and he’s considered to be a music icon in Latin America.
But on this show, Blades’ character is the reasonable voice of dissent. Daniel can be a jerk, but he has generally good intentions for his family. By far one of the best scenes of the week came when Daniel convinced Madison to tell him what she saw beyond the safe zone before telling her about his history with military takeovers. Daniel fully expects that the offer to take his wife for better medical care is a ruse, but he’s willing to go with her anyway because he loves her.
The only other character to get significant screen time this week is Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who has apparently been passing herself off as a nurse and done a fairly good job with it. So much so that Dr. Exner actively recruits her. But on the night of Griselda’s transfer to the army base for treatment, Daniel is stunned to find that he can’t go with his wife. Instead, the military has orders to take Nick…and his attempt to get away doesn’t amount to much.
Travis is actually forced to get between the soldiers and his son and Daniel, but Travis’ personal connection to the military’s leader doesn’t seem to help him here. And when Liza accepts a last minute offer to come with the soldiers to help Griselda and the others, Madison takes that as an admission of guilt and immediately blames Liza for the whole incident. Wow…way to make Madison unlikeable, FTWD writers! And of course, Madison transfers that anger onto Travis. Because conflict!
The episode ends on an unsettling note as Travis finally sees the signal light that Chris told him about…only to see a flash of gunfire follow it. If there was someone alive out there, they probably aren’t alive now.
I think the slow burn of Fear The Walking Dead runs the risk of alienating viewers of the core Walking Dead series. So far, this is a more character driven show, and only about half of the characters are actually clicking. That can change in time, but the shortened first season is working against the creative team. There are only two episodes left this year to make us care about these characters or else any season finale cliffhanger is going to be meaningless.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
What did you think of the fourth episode of Fear The Walking Dead? Share your thoughts and your theories in the comments below.
Image Credits: AMC