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Review: ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Season 1 Struggled To Carve Its Own Path

Review: 'Fear The Walking Dead' Season 1 Struggled To Carve Its Own Path


The question on most people’s minds when “Fear The Walking Dead” was
announced was not “Why?” (the ratings for “The Walking Dead” made greenlighting
two seasons of a spin-off a no-brainer) but, “How will it be
different?” It’s not like the world of “The Walking Dead” has a lot of room for nuance. So when it
was announced that the show would be a prequel chronicling how the world
descends into the zombie plague, as perceived by one suburban extended family. Well-trodden
territory, to be sure, but it was at least a change of pace from “The Walking Dead” proper.

READ MORE: Watch Episode 1 of AMC’s New “Airborne Zombies” Series, ‘Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462’

The pilot wasn’t very encouraging — unfortunately several
of the leads turned out to be some of the most patience-trying characters in
narrative fiction: sullen teens and drug addicts. Alicia (Sullen Teen #1) was
given some development (or at least wasn’t as one-note), but Chris (Sullen Teen
#2) was a pain from minute one and never managed to redeem himself. Nick (the
drug addict) was similarly frustrating; if you’ve seen one addiction story
you’ve seen them all, and “Fear
The Walking Dead” brought nothing new to the table. Probably best
to give Nick the Charlie from “Lost” treatment in Season 2: claim he
finally kicked heroin and go about developing him as an actual character.

Despite the weak pilot, I still preferred the first half of
“Fear The Walking Dead’s”
first season to its militarized second half. The suburbs provided a quiet setting
for some mounting dread, and also effective was the sense that a single zombie
could be dangerous. Since the Ricketeers of “Walking Dead” Prime are an ultra-competent fighting force,
watching the families of “Fear” struggle to take down a single walker added a nice edge of suspense in the
early going. Of course, there were still pitfalls: Characters seemed willfully
stupid about zombies even after it was obvious that you shouldn’t try to reason
with them. Also, having such a big cast for such a short season meant that the
characters were thin across the board, despite a fine cast including Kim
Dickens, Cliff Curtis and Ruben Blades.

But things took a downturn in the show’s back half. Once the
military lockdown began, it was nothing we hadn’t seen in other zombie media. Also,
a time jump between episodes 3 and 4 meant that we didn’t see the characters
acclimating to their new situation; they were all used to it by the time we
caught up with them. The last few episodes were extremely rushed and
underdeveloped; we only got the barest effort at establishing the community or
any characters outside the main cast (there was a Mean Soldier, a Nice Soldier,
and a Neighbor Who Is Losing It). Which makes sense, since the final episodes
were all leading to yet another upheaval in the status quo.

And then we come to morality. I’ve never been much concerned
with the morality of “The Walking
Dead,” a show that repeatedly argues that killing is the only
answer and that an unwillingness to participate in violence is a lethal
weakness, because its bleak post-apocalypse wasteland is so divorced from our
own way of living. But on “Fear
The Walking Dead,” society has yet to fully collapse, so it seemed
like something of an overreaction when Daniel decided the only response to his
wife and Nick being forcibly taken to the local military base was to kidnap a
friendly soldier and torture him with knives. Daniel at least had the excuse of
his tragic background in El Salvador, but the moment Madison figures out what’s
going on, she’s on board. Apparently the second her dirtbag son is possibly in
danger, all bets are off.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to what happens in the
season finale, “The Good Man.” Seeking to enter the military base
undetected, our heroes decide the best possible cover is to release the
thousands of zombies locked in the nearby stadium, let them overrun the base
and escape in the chaos. The soldiers, the prisoners, the patients: all of them
are acceptable collateral damage as long as the ostensible good guys can
retrieve Daniel’s wife (who’s already dead) and Nick, who sucks. It’s
apparently Daniel’s idea, but everyone else seems to be cool with it, since
none of the characters find time to discuss whether this plan of attack is right
or wrong. And oh hey, they abandon all of their neighbors without warning them,
to boot. The end result is that the whole cast goes from zero to psychopath in
the course of two episodes.

Since their collective morals are already compromised, there’s
really nowhere else for the characters to go. The world has already descended
into chaos, and the streets are empty, save for random zombies. So we’ve got a
group of survivors wandering the desolate zombie apocalypse, willing to do
whatever it takes to survive. Hey, that sounds like it could be a successful TV
show!

Grade: C

READ MORE: Watch: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Teaser Shows What Fear Looks Like

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