Well, it's late August and Fear the Walking Dead has finally arrived. I've waited all summer to begin writing about the episodes that are going to comprise Season One and so tonight's 90 minute pilot episode has left me feeling like there are lots of great things ahead.
You can read full episode recaps anywhere, but my general impression of the show is that the pilot is going to go down as a pale comparison of The Walking Dead's first episode. And that's okay because we are being shorted on nothing here--this is a different show with a different set of priorities. The viewers of this version of the franchise are going to be a lot more forgiving than the general public was not quite five years ago when the original arrived with a lot more on the line.
Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens are going to carry this show and they have a great supporting cast so far. New people are going to drop into their lives, so the pilot features characters that we are just now getting to know. But the two characters that stand out for me are Tobias (Lincoln Castellanos) and Russell (Leon Thomas III).
Tobias seems almost like a Morgan character to me. He has the presence of mind to carry a knife and in this universe, being armed early and often means survival instincts are already strong. IMDB has him billed for two episodes--does he die? I have no idea and I wouldn't tell you if I did. But his command of the subject of what's happening with the outbreak in "five states" and whether or not it's a virus or a microbe doesn't go beyond his brief appearance. But what Castellanos does rather well is present a character who closely aligns with what we know is coming, and he gets to be the voice of reason and foreshadowing in an episode where people are still going up to the undead and trying to shake them awake while they're on their feet. Sophistication is coming, and it will take a while.
The other possibility for a "Morgan" type character is the blink and you'll miss him inclusion of Thomas, a seasoned actor who is probably more well known for being onVictorious. He is taught the lesson from the Jack London lecture being given by Curtis--foreshadowing the need for man to struggle against nature. If either of these two characters come back in season two, look for more of these themes to emerge.
I think that what is being set up here is a series of episodes to come that will deal with drug addiction while society is breaking down. Those who have the skill of dealing with it--in this case, the mother, Madison, has the skills needed to wade through her son Nick's problems. His addiction is front and center in this episode and I think a lot of reviewers are missing how important this could be in terms of establishing trust and reliability. Without those things, survival in this universe is next to impossible. How will Nick establish himself as a go-to character? Will we have eight or nine episodes featuring how his addictions and weaknesses kill the other characters? Or will the zombie apocalypse change him as it will no doubt change all of the other survivors?
The City of Los Angeles is a fantastic setting and it becomes a noted character, in and of itself. You hear sirens and gun shots throughout the episode, and you see the characters have been lulled into a sense of false security. They are watching the city begin to unravel and the signs are there, but, with the backdrop of L.A. right there, you can see them ignoring some pretty significant clues. Anyone would ignore those clues--they don't know what's coming but we do. And the city begins to unravel at the fringes and the seams. I'm reminded of Terminator 2 when they go down into the concrete channels of the Los Angeles River and see what happens to a character who is still living in the present world. This is where you will find the evidence of what's happening, all while trains and cars whizz overhead.
The pilot begins with terror, and this is the horror genre of episodic television, of course, but what we're going to see is the breakdown of society and the collapse of everything familiar. I tend to skew towards the "what would you do" line of thinking when it comes to these shows. As in, how would I survive and what would need to be done in order to do so. No, I haven't become a "prepper" but I can see why someone would after watching this.
Overall, the pilot was slow paced, and deliberately so. Why would Curtis go back to the church? Why would they remain in the city when things start to break down? Well, where would they go? They are at home, and their home is beginning to change. The familiar surroundings seen in the pilot are going to make cameos in future episodes, I would think, so it's important to remember the significance of all of these places and settings. The next five episodes are going to tell an important part of the foundation story for these characters, so I'm going to be paying close attention to the fringes, which are now filling up with the infected.
It's okay if people are saying that the pilot sucked. That's not a verdict on the series, however, and it doesn't acknowledge the fact that we were told that the series was going to begin at the start of the zombie apocalypse, rather than in the middle of it, and that this would mean having to have faith in the source material. The clumsy establishment of family relations and characters is always going to have detractors. Rarely do you ever see it done so masterfully that it doesn't lead to criticisms of some sort. This is above average source material and a great way to begin what should be a fairly long and involved story about these people, who are more like the regular viewers of the show.