Fear the Walking Dead
Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Mercedes Mason, Lorenzo James Henrie, Rubén Blades
Regular airtime: Sundays, 8PM
US: 13 Sep 2015
At this point in the season, Fear the Walking Dead is built on dualities and parallels. This begins, of course, with Travis Manawa’s (Cliff Curtis) two families: his ex-wife, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie); his girlfriend Madison (Kim Dickens), and her two children, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey). This episode begins, in fact, by emphasizing that duality, the two families separated: Travis and Chris are holed up downtown with the Salazar family, and Madison and her children are riding out the blackout at home.
Already we see the two sets of children in relation to one another: Chris is driven by his sense of social responsibility, while Nick and Alicia seem driven by more selfish motives (while Travis and Chris fight for their lives downtown, Maddie, Nick, and Alicia play Monopoly). At one point, Alicia nearly breaks Chris’s nose as he’s trying to rescue her, while Nick lurks behind abandoned neighborhood houses searching for more drugs. More pointed, perhaps, is the interaction between Liza and Madison, with Madison asking Liza to kill her if she should ever become infected, since Travis could never do it. In case we missed these parallels and crossing, Travis himself makes a wry joke about now having two “wives” under one roof.
A second doubling, however, occurs with the development of the Salazar family, introduced in episode two. Already Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) represents the counterpoint to Travis’s tendency to look for peaceful solutions to problems. The two come into direct conflict when Travis walks into the room to discover Daniel teaching Chris how to use a shotgun. Later, Daniel tells his wife that Travis won’t survive the coming crisis.
Other doublings have to do with how we contextualize the show itself. For example, as we watch downtown Los Angeles erupt in chaos, or the police shoot a patient/walker who is staggering out of a hospital, we partake in a double vision: the fictional landscape of the show is laid over the realities of actual violence we face in America. While watching Travis, Chris, and the Salazars as they attempt to escape the downtown rioting, we come across scenes including a policeman/walker overcoming another policeman, but at the same time much of the violence and aggression going on in the streets has to do simply with battles between citizens and the police.
As a result, we see both the show’s world, in which the walkers are the enemy, and our own world, where we often find it difficult to separate the good guys from the bad guys. Ultimately, this is one of the show’s strengths: its ability to fuse that real life ambiguity into the show such that we understand in both worlds the difficulty of making sense of these situations.
The most important doubling, though, has to do, of course, with the relationship of this prequel to the original series, The Walking Dead. Here again, many parallels exist: we are reminded of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) struggle over whether to allow Carl (Chandler Riggs) to learn to shoot; we think about Carl being forced to kill his own mother, and how Rick dealt with the aftermath; we find in Travis and Daniel a replay of the season one power struggle between Rick and Shane (Jon Bernthal).
As I’ve previously written, this particular doubling drives the new show to a certain extent, with some of our pleasure in watching derived from our knowledge of what’s to come, and some from our interest in how that future wrecked world came into existence.
It may also, however, contain the seeds of the show’s undoing. Already it feels as though we have dealt with all the same moral conflicts that were covered in The Walking Dead: how does a person come to terms with mercy killing? What is the line between holding on to your humanity and fighting for survival? What defines family? Can an apocalyptic event redefine our relationships to one another in terms of race, gender, and age?
We’ve seen these questions played out already in The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking dead seems anxious to not only revisit them, but to include all of them in the first handful of episodes. To be sure, Fear offers us a very different atmosphere – not just another moment in the chronology of the event, but another place altogether. The yellow Los Angeles sun tints everything a very different hue from what we’ve seen and felt in The Walking Dead‘s Georgia setting. Even the lights in the houses, dim from the rolling brownouts, cover everything with a sickly feeling we don’t get in the original.
The question remains, though, whether atmosphere is enough to convince us to relive what we’ve already lived. I’m not sure yet that it is, but I continue to hold out hope that the producers have something more up their sleeves.