We’re already two-thirds of the way through the first season of Fear the Walking Dead. Obviously, thus far, creators Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson have taken strides at distinguishing this standalone series from its “big brother.” As compared to The Walking Dead, the new show is the tortoise (to Frank Darabront’s “hare”); but detached from it, Fear the Walking Dead still retains much of the potential that viewers thought was lurking in the background in the pilot.
In the latest episode, the fourth, entitled “Not Fade Away,” written by Meaghan Oppenheimer and directed by Kari Skogland, there are no “north-south” progressions — to use a football term. That is to say, no weighty step forward is taken; instead, Oppenheimer takes a step to the side, then maybe half a step forward. By the end of the episode, the characters are still in the Clark/Manawa household, within their neighborhood.
While there are signs of finally moving out beyond the fence (it doesn’t compare to the one in Alexandria!) — such as Madison’s trip to the closest neighborhood and an envoy leaving the grounds in the closing moments of the show — the episode may still bore you to tears.
There’s plenty of exposition this week: for the story has leaped ahead nine days to the establishment of a military safe zone in Madison’s neighborhood. As an army captain makes clear: “You are the lucky ones.” No one feels entirely safe, though, and that’s what gives the show its suspenseful aura. Still, is it enough to string viewers along to next season?
Chances are, the answer is yes, as no less than 7 million people tuned in for the first three episodes, but this following tidbit cannot be ignored: Whether Kirkman and Erickson like it or not, Fear TWD will draw comparisons to the smash-hit counterpart, so in terms of narrative scope, they need to get things moving a bit faster.
It’s been stated before, in the initial recaps: that the imminent societal collapse takes time to come to fruition. They cannot employ a story leap so drastic as to neglect some of the finer details. But nonetheless, Fear TWD needs to glean some strategies from the other AMC hit, for at this point in the other show, the gang was regrouping and on the move with Dale and Shane, etc.
The most we’ve gotten from Fear the Walking Dead so far is the removal of Griselda and Nick Clark from Madison’s household, and an egotistic Army man hitting golf balls into the “Danger Zone.”
So, since the show has been episodic thus far, what unraveled on Sunday night?
It begins amid a surreal sense of normalcy, with Travis jogging his streets, and Alicia and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) hanging out. Turns out, Travis is staying within the confines of the newly-established safe zone, and the girls are off to retrieve rations from the “altruistic” army.
Back at the house, Chris Manawa (Lorenzo James Henrie) uses a handheld camera to film out beyond the fences, and helps fill viewers in on the previous nine days: The infected were removed (Burned? Shot?) and the areas were drained. There are now only 12 regional safe zones. Believe it or not, this may have been the most exciting moment of the episode. (It is here a soul beyond the gate signals toward Chris on the roof.)
From there, the episode deals a bit with the perception of Travis as a powerful figure (he taught high school English, and hence has a very learned, objective or even intellectual worldview). Naturally, one of the Army men calls him “mayor.” This is the same military man who does not empathize with Travis’ neighbor who has a nervous breakdown and is ultimately removed from the compound.
Ofelia, in a selfless maneuver, seems to use a military guardsman to get closer to more medicine for her mother, Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spindola), but that attempt is rendered moot when a government official arrives in the neighborhood to help assess the sick.
This woman, Dr. Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt), does not immediately emit a sense of comfort. She’s secretive and obviously manipulative — for after a hasty consultation with Nick Clark, she deems him OK, but later has the military come to rush him off the grounds.
Nick is not the only one that Dr. Exner (seemingly) has removed. It is also Griselda, who at this point needs medical attention, or else face the amputation of her foot. Her husband, Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades), who is emerging as the show’s most alluring character, expresses his concern over his wife’s removal, citing a story as a kid when folks were removed from his community but came back — floating in the river as corpses. This statement may speak volumes about the direction of the show, for this new place needs to compare to a place like Terminus, or the CDC, or even Alexandria.
After a few guardsmen get feisty with the gang (the Clarks, Manawas, and Salazars), knocking over Daniel and butting Nick with a rifle, the government troop gets what it wants. The objective is realized. The folks are removed, and we’re left wondering what’s next. And for the record, Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez), “hops on the train” and skips town with Dr. Exner. Predictably, Madison blames Liza for this exodus.
There’s plenty to dissect here; the characters are growing stronger each and every week. But, in order for this to be a mainstay on the cable channel, Fear the Walking Dead will need to have a clear-cut, defining moment; it will need to be a moment where fans can reflect back and say “Ah, yes, it was here where it all came together” (or where everything was suddenly splayed out — in gory fashion; that we’ll take, too).
Catch Fear the Walking Dead on AMC on Sunday nights at 9 p.m.
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!
Follow Dan Gunderman on Twitter @dangun127