Fear The Walking Dead S01E03 “The Dog” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC
Writer: Jack LoGiudice
Director: Adam Davidson
Essential Plot Points:
- The rioters start setting fires so Travis, Liza, Chris and the Salazars have to flee.
- Mrs Salazar is badly injured when a water cannon knocks scaffolding onto her leg. The nearest hospital is overrun so Travis takes her to Madison’s house.
- Back at Casa Clark, Madison, Alicia and Nick pass the time waiting trying very hard not to think about what’s happening.
- The power goes out, city wide.
- A neighbour’s dog, covered in blood, appears at the back door. Alicia and co let it in and it immediately starts barking, warning them a zombie is heading for the front door.
- Madison and her kids go next door to retrieve the shotgun Nick once tried to steal. Because Nick is the best son ever.
- They watch the zombie attack and kill the dog. And then Travis arrives home.
- Rushing to save him, they forget the shells and discover Madison’s neighbour is now a zombie. Given how close they were, Madison is crushed (metaphorically, not under scaffolding).
- Travis frantically tries to reason with the zombie. Daniel shoots it in the face. Twice.
- Travis is far less okay with this, and most of what Daniel’s doing, than basically everyone else in the house.
- They pass an uneasy night waiting to leave at sun up.
- Madison and Travis debate whether or not to kill their neighbour. To Daniel’s disgust, Travis talks Madison down and they leave.
- On the way out of the city, Madison sees her neighbour’s husband return home. She rushes back but he’s saved by soldiers who swarm the neighbourhood.
- The day is saved. Hurrah?
There’s a moment really early on in the episode which may be immensely significant. Chris, who you’ll be pleased to know is still utterly unbearable, is looking out of the Salazar’s window at the riot. A man in a hoodie stops and turns to face him. He’s clearly not human, moves with purpose instead of shambling and doesn’t growl like most zombies. It’s a weird moment, and it may just be an unusually dressed zombie but he just feels…significant. Here he is:
Whether this is a massive clue to the cause of the outbreak, or just an undead hoodie enthusiast remains to be seen. Isn’t he spooky though?
Anyway, mysterious hooded gentleman aside this episode neatly combines everything the show does very well with everything it does very badly. There’s some typically great direction from Adam Davidson, Jack LoGiudice’s script is packed full of pitch-black humour and there are some really great performances.
So let’s talk about Davidson first. He’s approaching the series in a way that feels almost documentarian and it’s really paying off. The riot and subsequent hospital battle could have felt cheap. But, under Davidson’s direction they feels like what they are; an encroaching new reality, the world changing one block at a time with the characters as a very reluctant point of view for the audience. Davidson’s direction has been so good for these three episodes I’m honestly a little nervous both about and for the other directors. They have a lot to live up to.
Then there’s this.
The moment the city blacks out is chilling and a really smart way of unifying the two halves of the story. The collapse is accelerating and there’s a huge sense of urgency as the characters rush to try and reunite.
That urgency, and a huge amount of fatalism, is what makes the script work. LoGiudice brings the best out of what’s been, to date, a pretty ghastly cast of characters. Madison in particular continues to improve and the emotional arc she has here is one that fans of everyone’s favourite horrifically traumatised Southern cop will find very familiar. Madison’s hardening, even as Travis is starting to lose his edge, and it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamic shifts. Madison is the one who wants Chris to learn how to use guns; Madison is the one who tries to euthanise her neighbour; and Madison is the one who risks everything to try and save her neighbour’s husband. She’s not making uniformly good choices but she is making consistent and interesting ones. Plus the scene where she asks Liza to kill her if she turns is a masterclass in minimalist writing with maximum impact. It’s a moment of kinship, establishing dominance and a cry for help all at once. Brilliantly done.
Elsewhere in the cast, Cliff Curtis continues to be one of the best character actors on the planet. The show’s most surreal moment comes when he wheels his bin down to the curb and sees another neighbour do the same. This moment of suburban acknowledgement becomes an uneasy faceoff, made all the more interesting by the fact we know Travis’s bin has a zombie in it. That collision of the mundane and horrific is where the show’s at its best and there’s a lot of it here. In fact, even the moments that could be viewed as stupid are at least put in context. Travis, Madison and Liza’s families are very bad at this because they’ve never had to survive a zombie apocalypse before and for now, that’s letting the show go for some effective scares. That being said:
I doubt I’d wander through this particular garden in a hurry.
Unfortunately, the episode’s pacing destroys a lot of this good will. Most of the above happens in the first half hour and there’s a 10 minute dead spot that follows it where the characters literally sit around and wait for the next bit of the plot. It’s a really odd choice, and sets up a false sense of expectation. The first half is so good you’re waiting for it to escalate and instead you get Chris being taught how to use a shotgun and Nick being a horrible human being.
Even the, admittedly game-changing, ending feels weird and forced. The show’s changed gear seismically this episode but it’s done so like a tank instead of a sports car. Hopefully the second half of the season will transition more smoothly.
- An actual white rioter! On screen! Possibly more than one but this guy’s photogenic.
- An actual white zombie!
- Ruben Blades. The script’s giving him a really fine line to walk but he’s doing a great job. The scenes he has with Travis in particular are great.
- Cliff Curtis. Like Blades, one of the best character actors of his generation. Like Blades, being given difficult material. Like Blades, nailing it.
- Kim Dickens. Aside from the weirdly-paced, and oddly emotionless, ending of this episode, Dickens is rapidly becoming the show’s MVP. She’s got the strongest, most Rick-like character arc so far and she commands the screen just as much as Blades and Curtis.
- The LA blackout. A simple, incredibly chilling shot.
- The 10-minute rest break the episode takes for no particular reason. This is a six episode season and it’s managed, so far, to do a great job of keeping pacy without seeming forced. This, good character moments aside, was the first sequence that felt aggressively dull.
- Nick and Chris. It’s not actually Frank Dillane or Lorenzo James Henrie’s respective faults, they’re just playing deeply unlikable characters. There’s hope for Nick but Chris is becoming a whining, shrill liability. Worse still, his likely character arc is looking dangerously predictable and, worse, dull.
- The Salazar family. Not because they’re bad people, they’re not. But the references to what they’ve been through in the past seem to hint strongly at connections to the drug cartels or organised crime. We desperately hope that isn’t the case. If it is, combined with the show’s hilariously ill-advised black zombies, then it’s starting to look less like an oversight and more like lazy, deliberate stereotyping.
- “The cavalry’s here. Things are gonna get better.” Travis Manuwa, Graduate of the Albert Square School of Optimism in the Face of Horrific Imminent Death.
And The Random:
- Shot of the week has to be this. Madison debating if she can “save” her neighbour, Travis talking her down and the hand between them. Another perfect metaphor for the show and another great shot from Davidson. He’ll be missed.
- Think I’m an enormous fanboy over the direction of this and the last two episodes? Here’s Vox talking about why it’s so smart and the show’s similarities to Battlestar Galactica: http://www.vox.com/2015/9/14/9321977/fear-the-walking-dead-episode-3-recap.
- There’s a long, lingering shot of a plane presumably on its way to landing at LAX. As the shot seems somewhat pointless otherwise we can’t help wondering if it’s supposed to the plane on which the forthcoming, one-off, online “Zombies On A Plane” story will be set (see here if you don’t know what we’re on about).
Review by: Alasdair Stuart