‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Review: Mistrust of Authority Anchors ‘So Close, Yet So Far’
Recap and review of Fear The Walking Dead – Episode 2 – So Close, Yet So Far:
Fear the Walking Dead is earnings its bones as one of the most promising new shows of the year. There’s a pervasive sense of atmosphere here, with the brooding, inescapable dread that takes hold as the world around the characters collapses. And yet, for everything “So Close, Yet So Far” gets right, it gets nearly as much wrong.
While an improvement over last week’s meandering premiere, “So Close, Yet So Far” still faces problems in the department of characterization. For instance, the story this week involves Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) planning to escape this nightmare by hiding out in the desert until it all blows over. But Madison needs to get Oxycontin for Nick (Frank Dillane) while Travis needs to go find his family so they can come too. This separates everyone into three different storylines, with Madison at the school, Travis at large in L.A., and Nick and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) stuck at home. And yet, the drama this week springs forth not from the circumstances facing the characters, but rather from the characters needlessly withholding information from each other. Case in point, Madison goes through the entire damn episode without once telling Alicia what’s going on, even though she has no reason not to tell her daughter the truth. In fact, it would be to everyone’s benefit for Madison to be more honest, since being ill-informed about what’s going on with this plague is what ultimately leads to Alicia trying to leave the house to go be with her infected boyfriend, Matt (who has apparently acquired the illness after receiving a bite that, infuriatingly, hardly gets addressed). If she knew the extent of the danger she would be facing, then she might not have ever tried to leave the house. But then we wouldn’t have been able to have the scene in which Nick goes into withdrawal, forcing Alicia to stay and nurse him through it while Madison is out making the supply run. Honestly, if the goal was to have a scene that illustrates Alicia’s dedication to her brother, I don’t think it was necessary in the least to have Alicia try to leave the house against her mother’s wishes.
Seriously, I think it actually would have been an interesting subversion of expectations to have Alicia stay, and respect the promise she made to her mother. But nope, Alicia is a teenager, and that means she has to be rebellious for its own sake, which is every bit as played out as Madison deciding that, for some reason, it’s better not to tell Alicia anything about what’s going on. Hell, the ending of the episode has her forcefully closing the blinds to keep Alicia from seeing a neighbor getting attacked, which would be understandable if Alicia were under the age of 10. But if the goal was to prevent Alicia from being exposed to the horrors, 1) it’s too late now, 2) she’s going to be exposed to it eventually anyway, so like sex ed, it’s better to be informed early, and 3) protecting your teenage kid by lying to them is generally a bad idea, since it undermines your authority if/when they learn the truth. Alicia already mistrusts her mother’s authority as it is, so by continuing to lie to her, Madison is only further undermining her cause, and putting Alicia in greater danger, since she has no reason to suspect anything calamitous is truly happening. She just thinks Matt (Maestro Harrell) is sick, and her mother is arbitrarily being a bitch for not letting her see him. It wouldn’t be such a maddening development if the episode surrounding it hadn’t been as good as it was. But I really did enjoy “So Close, Yet So Far”, so it was particularly frustrating to see these lapses in judgment occur.
I should probably get into why I actually liked the episode. A lot of what worked so well about “So Close, Yet So Far” was the depiction of society’s collapse. There’s this expectation in a lot of fiction that, should something like this ever happen, the deterioration of society would be this gradual thing. There would be confusion, sure, but we’d hold it together long enough to first find out what’s going on, and then try to find a solution, and only fall into chaos and rebellion once it became apparent there was nothing we could do about it. But Fear The Walking Dead takes the opposite approach by depicting this as a society that riots first and asks questions later. People want to know what’s going on, but they aren’t going to wait for the answers before they start looting and rioting in the streets. I find that a whole lot more realistic. This approach also reinforces the running theme of the episode, hammering home the mistrust of authority running through the population. Nobody trusts what they’re being told on the news, nor do they believe the non-answers law enforcement is giving them. When the police come to break up a protest, things quickly get out of hand, as they often do in these sorts of situations, because it’s construed as law enforcement waging open war with the citizens they’re sworn to protect, rather than give them the answers they’re seeking.
There are also little nuggets of law enforcement distrust throughout the episode, such as when Travis sees a police officer lying to a woman about the cause of the outbreak-related traffic jam, all while loading valuable bulk supplies into the trunk of his police cruiser. Then, while Travis’s son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) is on the bus, a man starts yelling about how the police just shot a homeless guy repeatedly. It’s clear that the police know something the citizens don’t (as evidenced by the news report at the start of the episode, that notes a rise in the amount of police shootings. Law enforcement is encountering the undead far more often than the regular joes, and the likelihood that they’ve taken down a number of them already is the only reason more people don’t know about the true nature of the outbreak). There’s a wide gulf separating the populace from the information they need in order to survive. People are having to figure out on their own just how dangerous this outbreak really is. Hell, Madison has to kill her own friend/school principal, Art (Scott Lawrence), in order to rescue Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) from her now-turned colleague. This is a Los Angeles that is thick with fear, and for good reason, since that fear is fed by uncertainty: about what’s going on, about how to protect oneself, and about how long it’s going to last (according to the eerily-prescient Tobias, this will never be over).
Ultimately, no one seems to know more about the situation by episode’s end than they did at the start. Travis is hunkered down in a barbershop with Chris and ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) in order to ride out the riot, since the barbershop has reinforced shutter doors. Meanwhile, Madison remains locked in her house with Nick and Alicia, refusing to leave for the desert safehouse without Travis. The future, and the nature of the outbreak, is just as uncertain, and every bit as terrifying in actuality. While I found myself wishing the story would move a little faster, the amount of detail given to the collapse of this society is surprisingly affecting, as I felt a certain terror at how quickly the world seems primed to end. If nothing else, Fear The Walking Dead is a series with a distinctive mood that separates it from the raw-boned, survivalist terror of its parent series. “So Close, Yet So Far” is an improvement on the series premiere, and indicates what could be an even stronger episode next week, provided the show continues at this pace. At the very least, I’m optimistic.
But what did you think of Fear the Walking Dead, “So Close, Yet So Far”? Sound off in the comments!
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