“When civilization ends, it ends fast.”
There we go! I have to admit, last week’s pilot episode of Fear The Walking Dead had me a little apprehensive. While I was excited at the potential built into the show, I was a little underwhelmed by pacing. As is so often with pilot episodes, you catch a glimpse of what might make a show special but have yet to get a developed picture and that makes sense. You’re establishing a world, characters, motivations and plot devices that will echo throughout the lifespan of the show. It’s a daunting task. This is usually why the next few episodes are so helpful, they cement the world only hinted at in the pilot. “So Close, Yet So Far” really fits this description, making it a third act to the first two acts that was our pilot episode. In this 45 minutes, Fear The Walking Dead transformed from a show with a lot of potential to a nail-biting prologue to the end of days. So without further ado:
Before we jump into the craziness of “So Close, Yet So Far” I think it’s fair we call out a few things from Pilot that weren’t resolved in this week’s installment that now just appear to be gaping plot holes.
1) Where are the zombies? Now let’s be fair here, Kirkman has said he will never reveal how the zombie infection started, and that’s fine. It adds mystique. Problem is, we’ve established that everyone is infected wether they are alive or dead. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue except that we spend the first 30-40 minutes of the pilot episode inside of a hospital with Nick while he was held for observation. During that time, we didn’t see the hospital change it’s methodology or refuse patients. In fact, it seemed to me that it was operating pretty much as per normal. That means that the hospital had zero deaths in that time (highly unlikely) or that somehow the infection had not reached all of Los Angeles yet. Since we started the episode with the awesome Glory Zombie, it seems like a stretch that the hospital wouldn’t have become infected yet (presuming the ambulance took him to the nearest hospital from the scene of the accident, which is policy). So where were the zombies? I can’t be the only one who was a little disappointed at the fact that we didn’t have a scene of carnage inside of a place where people become well. Ah. Such is life.
2) What happened in the church? While rewatching the pilot in anticipation of last night’s episode my wife and I had an in depth conversation about what happened at the church once Nick ran away. Clearly Glory and her zombie buddies continued eating the passed out junkies and hobos at the church. So where was the carnage? When Travis and Madison went to investigate later on, we see pools of blood everywhere but zero zombie presence. Not even the eaten remains of those unfortunate souls who became a zombie buffet. So what happened? Our current theory is that either the zombies wandered out or there might be some kind of hazmat squad trying to contain the outbreak (more on that later). Regardless, this is a huge question that is just begging for more information.
Before we go any further though I have to say, while I want answers to these questions, I can understand why I may never get them. In general, our narrative window is shared with that of our protagonists. While the producers might have answers, unless our main characters see/discover the truth, we may never get a resolution. It’s what I love about The Walking Dead franchise. There are questions left unanswered and scenes left unexplained. All we see is the aftermath. This early in the apocalypse though so it’d be nice to have some clarification.
Then again, maybe that’s the point.
“So Close, Yet So Far” goes out of its way to establish that the world is crumbling down around the heads of our heroes. While they’re simply trying to get from point A to point B, the world is convulsing from the trauma of the dead coming back to life. It’s terrifying and means we miss all sorts of interesting moments. In fact very early on in the episode Nick is trying to find some mention of the plague on the radio and can find nary a comment. It’s as if the world has blinders on and is walking headlong into traffic, which is no small irony considering that’s how we started this entire show.
Soon the Clarks track down wayward daughter Alicia at her boyfriend Matt’s house. Inside, she is trying to take care of him as he’s dying from a zombie bite (revealed when Alicia is conveniently out of the room). After a brief but tense argument, Matt’s family arrives and the Clark’s,with Alicia in tow leave. Upon arriving home Madison, Alicia, Nick and Travis see a neighbor throwing a birthday party for their little girl, lamenting all the cancellations but oblivious to anything being “really wrong”. Even in a withdrawal haze, Nick asks if Madison will tell the neighbor what’s really going on. She assures him he will and promptly forgets. It’s one of those human moments that feels pitch perfect and a true reflection of what people would do. They have every intention to help others but get preoccupied in trying to save their own family first. It’s a simple slip of the mind, one you can rectify later, unless there is no “later”.
Once the Clark family established a beachhead at home, Travis goes out to find his son and ex wife so the entire clan can escape to the desert. Madison, trying to ween Nick off of heroin and help with his withdrawals goes back to the school to find any medications that might have been confiscated. This, was where all hell breaks loose. Travis and Liza have to track down Chris because he decided to go check out the protests in downtown LA. While looking for him Travis begins to notice that the police are acting strange, such as off duty officers loading up on gallons of fresh water, looking ashamed as they drive away in their patrol cars. It’s a disturbing thought but a reminder that cops are people too. Moreover it implies that perhaps the police are figuring out that there’s more going on than we know and are making a break for it before anyone else realizes the danger.
Madison on the other hand arrives at the high school in order to raid the coffers and meets Tobias, a geeky kid from the pilot that hinted this may all go down. While she’s there for meds, he’s there for food, reasoning that looters would hit grocery and pharmacies first. He figures no one will think of hitting a school this early despite the fact that they feed hundreds of people daily. Sure enough both Madison and Tobias find exactly what they need and begin to get the hell out of dodge when they come face to face with a – now zombified – Principle Artie. After savagely crushing his head, the two escape relatively unscathed but mentally destroyed after watching a good man’s head explode like a melon. Back at the home front, Alicia nearly ditches a very sick Nick to check on Matt as her anger at her family for abandoning Matt is overriding any common sense. Lucky for her though, Nick begins choking on his own vomit, forcing her to stay and take care of him.
Meanwhile Travis and Liza find Chris at the head of a protest for police brutality as they shot a homeless man in the head. It becomes obvious to the viewer what is really going on but is a great moment to point out that despite the fact the police were doing the right thing, social mistrust of authority figures drowns out any chance of understanding what’s going on. It’s eerie and pitch perfect that our own outrage could lead to a massive zombie outbreak. Of course, that’s exactly what happens as protest turns to riot and the police have to begin shooting into the crowd, forcing Travis and family to duck into a local shop for safety as the streets explode into violence. It is interesting to note, that moments before this all happened we see a hazmat crew arrive to handle the dead hobo, indicating that while the government may not be telling the general public what’s going on, that they are trying to clean up these incidents as quickly as possible, leading credence to the theory that maybe a crew hit the church and got rid of any evidence.
Regardless we end the episode with a stunning moment as Alicia, still unaware as to what’s going on, watches a zombified neighbor eat the birthday bash mom across the street. Madison has to block the door as they listen to woman scream for help. In that moment we see Madison realize if she had taken 5 seconds to tell them to be careful of everyone and to stay inside, she could have prevented that attack, but she didn’t and yet another person is dead. It’s a chilling moment as the world continues to crumble apart. To capitalize on that moment we flash to Matt’s house to see the parent’s car still on, lights blazing, doors open and luggage on the sidewalk with the front door to the house wide open. While it’s not guaranteed, it certainly seems that Matt may have turned and eaten his family. How will this play out in two weeks? I have no idea, but I can definitely say that Fear The Walking Dead has definitely won me over for the season.