Fear the Walking Dead, “The Good Man”
“It’ll break him.”
Upon finishing the season 1 finale of Fear the Walking Dead, I couldn’t help but to feel slightly disheartened.
Sure, there was a lot of heart-pumping action, a fright or two, more anti-authoritarian themes making our military out to be a giant collection of buffoons, and some haunting imagery. But as we flew over the ocean, I couldn’t help but to think this thing didn’t turn out nearly like I thought it would. Completely different actually. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that maybe what I thought this show was doing was in my own head, what I wished to be watching.
Instead, what I got was a thing that’s been proven to work against my preconceptions which is based on how much I like things that don’t really work. Confused by my vagary? Let me put it to you another way.
I wrote 11 things about this season finale, good and bad, to explain myself a little better.
1. DTLA in the Dark:
Particularly as a resident of Los Angeles, seeing no light coming from the city is a particularly haunting image. You’ve seen that building with the starburst helipad a hundred times in just about any show that features LA: the US Bank Tower. But it’s far more disturbing as a mark of a city’s ruin and all you needed to do to make it look creepy is turn it off. That also means the episode is starting macro. Anyone who was up this high could see from the derelict towers that this city is dead. Now let’s peek in on the micro-level amounts of doom.
2. We’ve Gone Round in a Circle:
Now that the grown-ups know about Cobalt, we’re back exactly where we started when Travis made the decision to stick it out with the calvary: let’s run far, far away. Except now Nick, Liza, and the charred corpse of Griselda are elsewhere so they have to go on a rescue mission which, if there’s any part of the show that goes off the rails, it’s the be-a-hero mentality of the English teacher and the guidance counselor. Not to say that those professions aren’t every day heroes. But how many of them would be willing to take up arms, penetrate a military base, and take on bands of flesh-eating monsters? There doesn’t even seem to be hesitation about it. OF COURSE that’s the thing we’ll do.
3. How to Survive – Part One, Much Ado About a Soldier:
There’s is only one thread that matters in this episode and, really, given what we have for an ending, the entire season. And it starts here with this soldier, Andy. The episode is titled “The Good Man” and this is where Travis is put to the test about how good a man he is. It turns out he is good but not in the way that people in a fallen society need to be good. I see a heavy price coming.
4. Dan the Man:
There has been no more baller move in The Walking Dead universe than Daniel saying, “You should save your ammo” as he walks two thousand walkers from the arena to the military’s front door. This is how you know Daniel is this show’s Daryl. No one else has that swagger or that flair for the dramatic. I mean, let me be upfront about how terrible an idea this is: you basically create an uncontrollable chaos that could swallow everything up. Two thousand is no small crowd and there has to be a simpler diversion. But you don’t mind that. Not when he’s got that swag.
5. Strand Suits Up:
For what will be his glorious exit from this terrible prison, Stand makes sure to clean up nicely. The tie is back, the pocket square is crisp, and all he’s waiting for is an opportunity to close on this get-the-heck-out-of-this-zombie-trap deal. Heck, he even snags his cufflinks on the way out but I’m guessing that it’s less about the value of the actual things as it is that unfastened French cuffs are really uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Nick is still wearing his old man pants and jacket which I don’t really understand because didn’t he go back home? Couldn’t he have picked up some new clothes? Does he just really like the feel of that drop-crotch and that sweet, sweet nylon? I think Strand just keeps his hunched, oddly-moving compatriot around so that he can look more statuesque.
6. Abandon All Hope:
The last opportunity for this show to, in any way, redeem the military and what’s left of the government, flew away in an evac helicopter. After there it was nothing but the army coming off either as selfish thugs or confused children. This is a military base and no one has anything more than individual bullets to chip away at the throngs of ghouls? Why did that guy try to march into the horde wearing riot gear with his skin exposed? And did he really just run into the propeller blades of the helicopter? Come on now. That’s just ridiculous. The army Keystone-Kopping their way through a zombie attack is the absolute end of the old world. We’re now on the Rick Side.
7. Alicia is Kind of Cold Blooded:
Sure, only her junkie brother who she admittedly hates and the woman that was once married to a guy that currently banging her mom are the only ones that would be sacrificed if Citizens on Patrol doubled back to save themselves, but Alicia has a pretty stoic position on the issue: “Would you rather they all died?” “You can’t save everyone.” She says it in a way that looks like she’s intentionally trying to hurt Chris, who really comes off as a little boy here. Maybe it’s still the inherent pettiness of a teenage girl in a situation in which she doesn’t want to be. But I tend to think of her as a smart young woman who’s growing up fast after the zombieing of her boyfriend, the collapse of her worldview, and the exposure of what the army is really capable of. Alicia, along with Daniel and maybe Maddy, might be the only people in this crew that are actually ready for what’s coming.
8. How to Survive – Part 2, Oh, Wait, So Much Ado About a Soldier:
In case you were wondering, yes, Travis being a good man backfired. Or forward-fired, really. Into Ofelia. And then Travis punched him so hard and so much it was like he just wanted to destroy something beautiful. Something something about every panda that refused to something to save its species. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Fight Club. Anyway, by the end of it, Andy looks almost exactly like Angelface, complete with a quick shot of him spitting up blood through his face newly made to look like raw meat. This is where Travis stops thinking the right decision is the easiest decision. It was easy to let the kid go. It was hard to withstand his incessant blathering and maintain discipline. The easy vs right decision making process is deeply important to survival in the Walking Dead universe. But it also has a tendency to muddy up those white hats.
9. Ofelia Death Pool:
Not that I think Ofelia is a bad character but it just that she seems like the most dead weight on the show, narratively speaking. Chris has his teen problems. Alicia’s shown herself to at least be multi-faceted. Nick is the weasel we need. I can’t say enough about how Kim Dickens is making Maddy worthwhile. Daniel brings the Daryl-style cajones. Strand is the only one that can see the chess board. This whole show seems to be about Travis. What does Ofelia do? The gunshot won’t kill her (probably?) but she needs something. She’s moving into Andrea territory which is both exciting because Andrea eventually made herself dynamic but it can also go the other way where her death would just pour more fuel to Daniel’s already raging fire and possibly take him over the edge.What I can say is that, if budget cuts come down, Ofelia is at the bottom of the roster.
10. Swanky Digs:
Strand’s place puts the rich-rich house in El Sereno to shame. Just a day after Chris and Alicia trash a house for it daring to be wealthy, they walk into this one with thoughts of surviving in style. You might’ve thought to yourself that pinning yourself against the ocean seems like a terrible idea. But why not when there are popsicles and views? Heck, go nuts, kids. Enjoy yourself, at least until the few precious vacation-like moments where you felt just an ounce of security for the first time in weeks are eventually marred by clumsy tragedy.
11. How to Survive – Part 3, A Series of Completely Avoidable Events:
This is a set-piece that’s probably been in the works since Liza was pitched as a character but it’s tomfoolery. It’s shenanigans. It’s completely avoidable. We do get clear information from this: people can’t survive bites and scratches because the infection itself isn’t treatable. But how this whole thing is handled is far more soapy than anything that’s come before it. Yes, Liza will need to take a lead nap at some point but it didn’t have to be right then, it didn’t have to be in secret, and it didn’t have to be handled like that.
There are a couple of good things this ending does that are good for the show but there are so many more terrible things. Liza was still sentient. Why not wait until the infection started to present itself before insisting her family shoot her in the face? She could’ve passed on some more medical knowledge as she was the only person in the house with any amount of medical training. Why not spend as much time as possible with her son? Why leave the body on the shore best casino reviews so it could be found if they didn’t want Chris to see her dead? It would be one thing if Liza was a character we all fell in love with and her tragic loss would influence the trajectory of the show. But she was a tertiary character. She barely interacted with the mains and ditched them all midway through the season. She’s been expendable since Day 1 but I was tricked into believing she’d stick around because medical people on these shows usually do. So while it was a surprise to see Liza go, I wasn’t really broken up about it either.
What it does do is force a lot of hand-wringing from Travis as he’s finally completed his tragic hero’s journey, learning how to “build a fire” so to speak. Sometimes you have to do terrible things to survive and the decisions aren’t easy. And shooting his ex-wife in the brain was that kind of decision. Kind of interesting that Maddy, despite Liza’s insistence that Travis not be the one, after her own insistence that shooting a loved one would break him, still handed The Breakable One the gun to do it, absolving herself and letting her boyfriend render himself shattered. In any case, if there is any thread of this show that can help us make sense of what happened, it’s watching Travis go from self-righteous protector to a guy that killed the mother of his children. Notice, too, the symmetry of two scenes: (1) the zoom-out crane shot of Travis and Maddy, holding each other as the military starts to put their infrastructure in place; and (2) the zoom-out crane shot of Travis and Maddy holding each other on the beach as Trav struggles with having killed human.
The zombie apocalypse means that we’ve all fallen and no one has fallen to earth harder or faster than Travis. Much as we might want to believe we’re following Maddy in this show, we’re actually just following another man of ethics and his moral journey/corruption.
So what does that mean for this show? Clearly, the next goal to make The Love Boat: Zombie Edition by, somehow, making it out to Abigail. But, other than a new venue for this show and a brand new mode of transportation, this really does feel like another dose of The Walking Dead, which, if you remember me saying when this show began, I obstinately believed wouldn’t be the case. The fall of civilization just happened so fast and we didn’t have any time to dwell in the actual collapse. We just have a bunch of new characters to follow in the same framework as the other show.
I mean, why not just franchise this show out now? Maybe The Walking Dead: Seattle where they ride ferries to escape zombies while drinking coffee and eating tossed salad and scrambled eggs. The Walking Dead: Kansas City where zombies learn to barbecue. The Walking Dead: Detroit where no one can tell if the city has actually been taken over by walkers or if that’s just how it is. I mean, if all we’re getting is archetypes of the same characters with different faces, why not just spring them up everywhere? Heck, they’re getting on a boat. Maybe it’s time for The Walking Dead: Waikiki. Poke and spam while fighting a limited number of zombies? Maybe Travis grows a mustache, gets some short shorts, and tools around solving zombie mysteries in a GTS?
Yeah, I’m a little disappointed by the direction this season took. I was hoping for something a little slower and measured than the run and gun of The Walking Dead. I liked the idea of the family drama. But one of the major sources of that drama is now dead and this show doesn’t seem like it’s willing to stew anymore. It’s got to get up and go. Maybe with a larger order of episodes there’ll be more time for them to figure out what life is like in this post-apocalyptic world. Or maybe I was expecting something that’s impossible narratively and commercially. Parenthood in LA with flesh-eating monsters sounds interesting in theory but at what point do you realize that the zombies nipping at their heels would becoming the primary concern versus teen problems. It’s not like anyone’s going to be dealing with a school bully or a flirty receptionist or a science fair or anything. The institutions are dead. What’s left for the family unit to talk about other than survival?
So, in a way, I’ve had my own hero’s journey. I was in a zone of comfort (knowing how the Walking Dead universe works) but I wanted something (a zombie show with more family drama and less slaying). I entered into this unfamiliar situation (a brand new AMC show), adapted to it (got to know these foolish characters), got what I wanted (family drama!), but paid a heavy price for it (it’s still mostly about killing zombies). At the end of this season, I returned to my life without Fear the Walking Dead, forever changed. And that change is realizing that my predictions and hopes for the season were in vain. Because nothing like that could ever last. Oh well. Do you think zombies can swim?
Thank you all for watching with me. See you next season!
- October 8, 2015