Fear the Walking Dead, “Not Fade Away”
“Liza. She did this.”
Ready to dig into another life-affirming, feel-good episode of Fear the Walking Dead?
I’m actually of two minds about this episode because “Not Fade Away” deals with a lot of interesting family drama within the context of this military occupation. But it’s also kind of dumb. In a lot of places.
So depending on how you went into the episode, the penultimate episode to the penultimate episode of the season either came off as intense or came off a little silly. Either way, you can’t deny that things are much different after what happened That Night. (PLL references everywhere!)
We are now in a full-on wartime occupation metaphor right now. Nine days after the events of “The Dog,” the military has conveniently cordoned off the Clarks’ neighborhood and unofficially appointed Travis the “mayor” of No Sicky Town. Everyone is understandably upset about being invaded and ruled by a military class. There are curfews and limited supplies and an arcane bureaucracy that’s frustrating for people that just want to head out to the desert and live off the very hot land.
How the military treats the healthy citizens is important. There’s a macabre humor (like when Corporal Adams tells everyone to be nice so he doesn’t have to shoot anyone) along with a cavalier attitude regarding the people’s qualms and fears (like hitting golf balls while telling Travis his concerns are dumb and he needs to look out for the “camp” while hitting golf balls into the houses of the vacated and/or deceased).
The military is depicted not as the compassionate, helpful army in the commercials they show me during football. It’s shown as an aloof, hostile organization that’s quick to force, treats everyone like enemy combatants, and does things by the textbook definition of surreptitious. What trustworthy organization steals people in the middle of the night?
The seeming justification for their attitude is that any human can possibly be the enemy. Every person has the potential to become a monster so the military, rather than tend thoughtfully to the survivors, treats everyone like they’re monsters-in-waiting. Soldiers aren’t paid to have people-skills but they are taught to be wary because things trying to kill them could be lying in wait in every single place. There might be infected people, cells of them, just sleeping somewhere nearby. It’s better to be wrong about how many non-enemies you kill than it is to miss the enemy entirely and have them threaten the entire healthy population.
We know that the infection is widespread and devastating but the military acts in a way that demands people prove themselves unburdened by ghoulishness while keeping their motivations clandestine as to not cause a panic. It’s hard to not see their methods as inherently flawed given what we know about the future.
Travis has bought in to the military protecting them or at least pretends to have bought in and this episode goes out of its way to make him look a fool. The corporal in charge appears to feel like he’s being wasted watching a bunch of whiny well-to-dos, nothing the military promises actually happens, and people feel like they’re worse off under this protection than they would’ve been if they’d high-tailed it out of town.
In fact, everything the military does in this episode seems to be diametrically-opposed to what Travis preaches to his family of deaf ears but, more importantly, the army is keeping the people from adhering to the tenets of all-important Jack London, a theme that keeps cropping up episode 1. By sticking it out with the army, they find themselves incapable of self-reliance. And, as it unfolds, it turns out self-reliance might be the only sane option.
Here’s where things get a little stupid. Both Maddy and Travis get themselves into positions where they’re violating the laws laid down by the guys with big guns. Travis sets out on a quest around the fence looking for his sad-sack neighbor Doug (of course his name is Doug) even though it’s well after curfew. Maddy’s is more egregious as she bolt-cuts through the fence behind the backs of some soldiers and goes to explore the other side. Which is like a literal interpretation of an old Korn song. There are dead bodies everywhere.
Maddy’s discovery throws some shade on the already dubious military presence and, eventually, someone was going to have to find their way outside. But these things cause me concern for two reasons:
(1) How are they actually able to do these things? They’re sneaking around after curfew and cutting holes only a few feet from guys with guns. Are we supposed to assume that Maddy was the first person in these nine days of captivity to find a way out of the safe zone? How bad are these patrols?
(2) These actions seem slightly out of character for them. Maybe that was the only reason why they set up in the first episode that Travis and Maddy were willing to break into the Nick’s Church of Drugs. But the “taking actions into their own hands” doesn’t seem much like the guidance counselor and the English teacher I thought I knew.
Now that I think of it, it does seem a little more like Maddy, who’s starting to really embrace this Rick role. Ha ha. Rick Roll.
Sorry, I’m only interested in references to ancient cultural artifacts.
What I’m saying is that Maddy has been a little more proactive and aggressive than I originally thought the premise of the show would allow. The culmination of her arc this episode is the attack on Nick, which I’m referring to as the Slappening. Honestly, the Slappening could be interpreted in a couple different ways, depending on your state of mind when you’re watching it and how you think things have gone so far. You can either see it from the perspective of a family frayed by the destructive elements of addiction. Or, if you think things have been really silly up to this point, you can think of it with Benny Hill music under it.
The first feeling I get when Maddy goes after Nick is that it’s richly deserved. In this time of crisis, Nick hasn’t gone 10 days before going back on his word for wanting to get over the addiction. Part of that is that the Clarks, even on days that they’re not imprisoned in a military subdivision, probably aren’t equipped to dry out a crafty addict.
But the smarminess of Nick once Maddy finds him rooting around in Hector’s bedroom for morphine would be enough to push any mother over the edge. And she’s had it. She’s had it with pretending to be okay with the occupation, she’s had a really tough day hiding out next to non-zombies that’ve been shot in the head, and she’s really tired of having this one extra burden on her and her alone.
So she goes after him and smacks him around a bit. Is that what he needs or deserves? Questionable. But it feels right in the moment. Upon later reflection, you might consider that rooting for a parent to smack her child is not the greatest thing. She levies a physical punishment on him for driving her out of her gourd for something over which he has little control. But it helps that the show depicts him as a manipulative, desperate, entitled wretch to service Maddy’s perspective.
Nick’s reaction to it is possibly the most surprising and most complicating part. He looks sincerely hurt, both physically and emotionally, when inspecting the bruises later. Alicia wonders who did this to him, like he’d been attacked by a vicious guard or some other brutish authority and you can start to feel the shame in his demeanor without him having to actually say it was his own mother.
It’s hard to tell if his sadness is regret for the burden he’s placed on his family or if it’s because he feels betrayed by his mother. In either case, the sequence does a good job of making you feel torn, especially in conjunction with Maddy’s shaking hand while sipping brown liquor from a mug.
And, as if the issue wasn’t complicated enough, Nick is one of the people the army wants to steal into the night so the last interaction between them is her slapping the junkie crap out of him.
The last part, the one where the army waits until nightfall to rip people from their homes, also begins this family’s official fracture. The Salzars, the Ortizes, and the Clarks were able to share a roof for a week and a half before things got wacky. Liza wanting to help people leads to her not only deserting her son (that doctor is super shady) but also directly contributes to splitting up the Salazars (bye, Griselda) and the Clarks (peace, Nick). Liza doesn’t come off looking great by the end of this.
They might not know exactly what to do with Ofelia but, otherwise, the family notes are great. We finally got Alicia’s full reaction to what happened to her boyfriend through Susan’s written farewell, lines are drawn around and through Travis’s families, and I can’t imagine what Daniel is going to do now that Griselda is gone. Daniel might be my second favorite character on the show.
The other exciting turn-of-events is that we could follow what happens in an aspect of the WD universe that we haven’t been privy to: the official side of things. Through the hospital, I’m curious if we’ll get a much closer inspection of the government’s perspective of the outbreak and how victory over the virus slips through their fingers.
“Not Fade Away” changed the game in a good way. I feel like this season and series continues to get better. Where The Walking Dead was anxious to go off the rails so often, this show feels like it’s on track. I’m just hoping it’s on track heading toward something interesting and not to Stupidtown USA.
- Briefly, I think we should talk about Revelations 21:4, since it crops up a few times in this episode (twice on the fence, once in the DZ). It states: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” First, this is, of course, a prophecy of the end of days which, as we watch civilization collapse, is something that’s probably on everyone’s minds. The “wipe away all tears” invokes the same kind of “wiping away” God is supposed to do to non-believers from the Book of Life, so He wipes away the existence of those who don’t have faith and consoles the ones that do. The whole “champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends” thing. So there’s the question of whether these people inside the fence are the ones that have been saved or if they’re the ones living in the modern-defined Hell, which is not a place but just living in the absence of God. Added complexity is the part where there is “no more death.” There, of course, is a lot of death, but bodies reanimate so there’s the illusion of no death. The prophecy proclaims the end of Death to be a win but, in this world, Death is a merciful thing since the reanimation looks horribly painful and destructive. It’s an apt quote.
- September 24, 2015