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Tuesday, 21 of November of 2017

Fear the Walking Dead – “So Close, Yet So Far”

“I hate you.”

“I know.”

 

Kids wearing surgical masks with frightening grins drawn on them

This is probably the scariest thing this show has done yet.


So now that we seem to have a better idea of who’s who in the world of Fear the Walking Dead, let’s do a rundown of the characters.

Tobias, our blemished, knife-obsessed, (most-likely) redditor, is the only person in the world that seems to recognize anything that’s happening. In this world that seemingly has never produced a zombie movie, he has information that no one else seems to consider and has put together all the puzzle pieces faster than anyone in Los Angeles. He’s also the one that wants to build a bunker and be his own king of canned food. Smart kid.

Liza, Travis’s ex-wife and willing thorn in his side, is the only person within two or three degrees of this crew that has any amount of medical experience. While the show is better off without deus ex machine-gunists, we have to allow some latitude that if no one knows how to fix a wound, this family would surely perish.

And then there’s the rest of the family. Who are all dead weight.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is exactly what I asked for from Fear the Walking Dead. I’m not interested in a series where you have a band of brothers (and sisters) who are also conveniently zombie killing machines. I want to see regular people in extraordinary circumstances. I’m pretty sure that’s a textbook definition of a television drama, isn’t it?

And these people are certainly regular. Well, maybe you don’t have a teacher, a guidance counselor, a drug addict, and woman with unusually perfect hair in your life. But, at a basic level, these are people that aren’t the kind you’d pick if you were about to watch the fabric of society rip apart. In the beginning of The Walking Dead, by the time we meet actual people, they’ve already settled into their post-apocalyptic roles. So much so that they aren’t even really normal people anymore. They’re just those roles.

And it’s not like The WD didn’t have its own amount of dead weight. Think of all the people they killed off in the first season and then think of how much you would’ve hated checking in on them when they were staying at the Farmhouse. As much as I liked the slow, slow burn of Season 2, I would’ve quit if we had to check in on Andrea’s sister or that other guy who really needed to dig some holes. You know. What’s his face.

Cool, calm, collected. Tobias will probably grow up to be the Governor someday.

Cool, calm, collected. Tobias will probably grow up to be the Governor someday.

But the difference between The WD and Fear the WD is that those survival roles haven’t been established yet in the latter series and everyone is conceivably dead weight. Even the two who have useful roles don’t seem necessarily skilled in use of the knowledge (Tobias isn’t exactly Sarah Walker with a knife but at least he did go for the head the third time) or super invested in helping out certain people (though Liza warmed up to Travis once they rescued Chris from himself and cowered in that barber shop). The collapse of civilization is going to be so fun.

At some point I hope that I won’t feel compelled to compare this series to The WD but, within these first few episodes, it’s hard not to consider the differences. I mean, obviously, these are shows in the same universe so there’s always going to be that comparison, especially since The WD is the Ghost of Fear the WD‘s Christmas Future. But their means to their mutual ends are so different, it (hopefully) should lend to some unique perspectives on how to live now. For instance, Maddy does something at the end of this episode that’s starkly different to how Rick the Dick would handle things.

Alicia wants to help her neighbor from being viciously attacked, which makes sense because she seems like the action type or at least the throw-herself-into-situations-and-stubbornly-stay-in-those-situations-against-her-better-judgement type. But her mom, even with her advanced knowledge of how to put down one of these things (RIP Principal Costa) wouldn’t let Alicia go outside to help.

Could someone please just tell Alicia what's going on?

Could someone please just tell Alicia what’s going on?

This is such an important diversion from Rick’s early season sense of honor and justice where he felt compelled to help the living if they’re being bullied by the dead. It was a different story if it was the living bullying the living (The Governor really deserved repeated fists to the face).

Rick is more of a messiah figure, or at least tries to be. He collects the poor and wretched from the havoc of the terrible monsters roaming the earth. That’s why this choice makes this a whole new world. Maddy and Travis are into hiding and being on the run, not in operating as close to a utopia as can be managed in these conditions. They have no intention of finding more information or seeking authorities or finding a cure. Granted, it’s a little early for them to even think about that kind of thing but that just feeds into the narrative. We get to watch civilization collapse through the perspective of those living through it instead of putting the puzzle pieces together as Rick’s crew stumbles over them.

And while that also means we stew more in the reactions of these unfortunate folks, like Maddy’s powerful yet short-lived break-down in the bathroom, it doesn’t mean that this series is going to be without its action moments. In this episode there are a number of tense and horrible situations, from principal-bashing to narrowly avoiding a riot. Just because this is the more emotional and reflective series with more focus on human melodrama, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to shy away from action.

It’s also not going to shy away from social issues, which is something the best of the horror genre incorporates seamlessly. I think it’s interesting that this episode builds in a mistrust of the police via police brutality. It’s no accident that “So Close, Yet So Far” features a protest that starts over an unarmed man killed by police, which leads to civil unrest which could exacerbate the zombieness of it all by prematurely collapsing a society that’s already on the brink. But is that what the show is trying to convey?

The revolution will be televised by the shaky hand of a teen.

The revolution will be televised by the shaky hand of a teen.

Obviously, we know that the police were killing zombies and trying to protect the public but a history of violence committed by the authorities, particularly the LAPD, against minorities and the impoverished is now built into this show since it reflects our current events. So what is it trying to say? Is it saying that police should be trusted and that overzealous protestors will lead to undermine civilization? Or is it saying the government is no longer trustworthy and, when an grave external threat appears, who in their right mind would trust a twitchy, racist institution to protect them?

I think the show intentionally lands in the middle to demonstrate that blame doesn’t matter here. It’s about the fact that we have the will of the people and the authority of the institutions at odds with each other and that lack of cooperation could lead to the death of all of us. Why else would everyone assume that packing up and moving to the desert is a better option than waiting and seeing how governments will handle the situation? One of the basic threads that connect both The WD and Fear the WD is that casual trust has completely evaporated. What Fear the WD holds is that process was gone before the end times even started. It doesn’t seem like a far leap from our current side-eyeing of our most powerful institutions to having to scrutinize everything that looks human to make sure that it’s not a monster. See what they’re doing?

Even after scrubbing the floor? You don't even want to throw your hair up in a ponytail? How does it stay that perfect?

Even after scrubbing the floor? You don’t even want to throw your hair up in a ponytail? How does it stay that perfect?

One of the other basic threads is that you’ll probably never leave the show feeling on top of the world. Welcome to another opportunity for gore-spattered nihilism. Even though things appear to be on a different trajectory, we also know how this turns out. There’s no hero that’s going to save the earth from cataclysm. There’s no light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel. All we’re doing now is waiting for the incident to fully occur, for the collapse to happen, just to see where that leaves these characters that don’t seem like they’re ready to endure the elements of post-civilization. Things look like they’re going to get out of control fast.

I hope Alicia’s enjoying her perfect hair while is lasts. Blow-outs will be hard to come by in the desert.

 


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