‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Review: ‘The Dog’ Is a Brooding, Tense Hour of TV
Recap and review of Fear the Walking Dead – Episode 3 – The Dog:
Fear The Walking Dead is a visceral television experience, relying less on the jump scares of its parent series, The Walking Dead, and instead utilizing atmosphere and mood to create a sense of foreboding that makes for tense viewing. And yet, there’s a disconnect between what the show wants to accomplish, and what it’s actually doing, that makes “The Dog” a mismatched episode.
I can see that the show is going for the “less is more” approach, which is an excellent approach to take, since it not only differentiates itself from The Walking Dead, it also ups the tension by keeping the characters in the dark about what’s happening, which has the effect of leaving them powerless to fight it. The only way to manage this threat is to learn and grow as survivalists, and work together as a unit, despite their issues. For the most part, “The Dog” expands on this character arc, with a clear division between the three families. Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Maddie (Kim Dickens) are trying to hold it all together, to maintain a unified front that suggests that everything will be okay. But Daniel (Rubén Blades), who took Travis and his family in only to require rescuing themselves after their barbershop is overrun, is far more pragmatic. He knows the world is essentially over, and thinks Travis and Maddie are weak for trying to deny the reality of what’s happening, particularly when Maddie allows herself to be talked out of killing a dear friend who’d turned into a walker, all because Travis doesn’t believe that the walker condition is permanent. Daniel’s cynicism about Travis and Maddie seems well-founded. When his daughter, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), argues that they should leave with Travis and Maddie since they’re “good people,” Daniel quickly retorts that this is exactly why they won’t be going anywhere with the strangers: “Good people are the first ones to die.”
And he might ultimately end up being right, since this episode is front-loaded with the show’s biggest shortcoming: drama that arises not out of the nature of the situation, but from the apparent stupidity or willful ignorance of the characters. I still don’t know why Maddie seems to think she’s doing Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) any favors by keeping her in the dark about what’s happening, particularly since it almost gets her killed when she goes running back into her neighbor’s house to get shotgun shells that were left behind, despite the very real possibility that the house had been overrun by a walker. And then there’s the aforementioned business with Travis talking Maddie out of killing her turned neighbor, Susan. Maddie had planned on putting Susan out of her misery for the sake of Susan’s husband, Patrick, who has been away on business. Provided he hadn’t already been killed, Maddie wouldn’t want him to come home to find Susan turned. But Travis gets her to put down the hammer, and as an end result, Travis and Maddie’s families are prevented from heading east. In short, Maddie and Travis are leaving town with their families, only for Maddie to witness Patrick returning home from his trip. Not wanting him to find Susan as a walker, Maddie tries to chase Patrick down. And, naturally, everyone follows her — just in time for the military to arrive on the property, shoot Susan in the head right in front of her husband, and order the families back into quarantine in Maddie’s house. I can understand why the writers wouldn’t turn Fear the Walking Dead into a travelogue right away, since that’s more or less what we’ve had with the parent series. And yet, this felt like such an overwritten contrivance to keep the three families (Clarke, Manawa and Salazar) in the same household that none of it felt natural to the characters as they were written.
In short, it simply felt as though the characters were doing things because the script told them to. And that’s problematic, because it indicates thinly-written characters. I didn’t have a problem with these characters before, but this episode left me feeling hollow towards the Clarke and Manawa families, because they essentially feel like paper-thin characterizations. Travis is a good man to the point of being a liability (nearly getting killed when refusing to take down a neighbor who’d turned), while Maddie would rather her children remain in ignorance about the world around them, chiding Nick whenever he offers anything approaching real insight about their situation. Alicia is a girl who doesn’t seem to care about anything beyond her boyfriend, and, occasionally, her brother Nick (Frank Dillane).
And then there’s Travis’s family, ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), who are just so needlessly antagonistic towards Travis that I don’t even know why they need to exist in this story. I seriously don’t think Chris has been anything other than “kid with a massive chip on his shoulder over his parents’ divorce” since the premiere. Not one single facet to that character since then, except maybe that he has a crush on Alicia or something. Only Daniel and his wife, Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), feel like real people. Ofelia too, to an extent, although she’s gripped by the show’s obnoxious tendency to have all of its teenage characters act rebellious towards their parents. I get it, they’re teenagers. But I suppose what I’m asking is, did we really need a Walking Dead series that featured more teenagers? Give me more of Daniel and Griselda, who fled the political upheaval of El Salvador, only to find themselves mired in a new sort of upheaval in America. That’s a story worth exploring, and Daniel is a character worth digging into. Sure, he mutters his criticisms under his breath, in Spanish, but right now, it feels as though he’s the only person in this cast with any sense, choosing to remain boarded up in the Clarke home until Griselda recovers from her foot (granted, Daniel has no idea just how severe his wife’s injury is, as it apparently threatens to poison her bloodstream unless he can find a doctor to treat her. All this, according to nurse Liza). Naturally, this isn’t an approach that will get his family away from the danger, but Daniel at least appears to understand that it’s a strategy that won’t get them all killed.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad in the character department, necessarily. Maddie slowly coming to the realization of what this new reality entails was interesting stuff, particularly when she tells Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), to put her out of her misery if she should ever end up like Susan. “Don’t let Travis do it. It will break him,” she says, and in that moment, you get more of a sense of just how deeply she cares about Travis than from the scene in the bedroom in which Maddie embraces Travis (while uttering the eye-rollingly cliche line, “I thought I lost you”). For his part, Travis is resisting the reality of what’s happening, first trying to help the aforementioned turned neighbor (and getting rescued by Daniel and his shotgun), and then by assuring Maddie that she’ll never lose him, and that they’ll never be separated again. Naturally, these scenes instantly mark one of them for death, and I would guess it’d be Travis who isn’t long for this world. It won’t be this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bit it in Season 2. Then again, if Travis’s refusal to face facts results in Maddie’s death, that could make for a rich character arc, as Travis finally accepts the reality of his world, but only doing so when it’s too late to save the woman he loves. And, really, that’s what has me optimistic for this show, the storyline possibilities. Because there’s any number of directions this story could take, and there are far more good options than bad ones, in my opinion.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the excellent imagery scattered throughout this episode. The lights of Los Angeles dimming one at a time as Travis and his family escape is an unsettling microcosm of what’s going on in the city below, and how civilization is crumbling around them. We see this during that escape, with the city being destroyed by rioters, a walker chomping down on a member of the riot squad, and the police responding by unloading on a walker in an absolutely gorgeous tracking shot that follows the destruction as Travis drives through it. I also thought the image of Travis’s friend feeding on the dead dog (whose lifeless, hollow eyes were downright haunting) signified the death of domesticity as we know it, and the birth of a new wilderness. This is the sort of stuff I love about this show, the imagery that could be essays unto themselves, as well as the overall atmosphere of the show. This was the first episode in which I felt Fear The Walking Dead truly shared a world with its parent series. And that feeling has me excited for what’s to come, even if “The Dog” was a bit of a hit-or-miss episode.
But what did you think of Fear the Walking Dead, “The Dog”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Fear the Walking Dead, check out our review of the previous episode, “So Close, Yet So Far”!