Episode Title: Pilot
Original Airdate: 8-23-15
Now that you have had your retro dose of The Walking Dead with my thoughts on the Season 2 finale this morning, let’s get into the pilot for its spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead.
The show opens with Nick Clark waking in an abandoned church after an assumed night of heavy drug use. As he’s looking for his lady friend, Gloria, he comes across a dead body with the throat ripped out. There are other signs of carnage all around. Nick then comes across Gloria, eating the remains of another dead body until she starts coming toward him. He escapes to the outside world, only to be hit by a car on a busy L.A. street, where there are no signs of a zombie apocalypse occurring.
Next is the normal-seeming home of Madison and Travis, a couple who work together at the local high school and are trying to make a go of it by blending their two families. Madison’s teen daughter, Alicia, lives with them, but Travis’s son, Chris, still lives with his mother and doesn’t really want to be part of this new family, thanks to Madison’s other child, Nick. Madison gets a call that Nick, whom she has not seen or spoken to in awhile, was taken to the hospital after being hit by a car and saying something about people eating other people, which everyone assumes is the drugs talking. Madison goes to work, as Travis stays with Nick. Nick tells Travis what he saw in the church, and Travis decides to check it out later that night, because he really wants to help Nick. He finds lots of blood on the floor, but no bodies. Madison says not to encourage Nick, and just assumes bad things happen in drug dens.
Meanwhile at the school, fewer and fewer students are showing up due to an apparent flu epidemic going around, not just the area but the country. One of the students tries to convince Madison that it’s going to get worse, and that these “sick” people are killing, but she brushes it off, believing that if there were anything to fear, the government would warn them. The next day everyone is unnerved by an internet video depicting a man being shot in the chest by police multiple times with no signs of damage, until he’s shot in the head.
Nick eventually escapes the hospital and meets his dealer, Calvin, to find out if his last score was laced with any hallucinogenic. Calvin plans to kill Nick because he’s afraid Nick will rat him out to the police, but Nick sees the gun and, during a struggle, shoots Calvin, killing him. Nick calls Travis, who brings Madison, for help. When the three go back to the scene, Calvin’s body is gone. They then see Calvin slowly shuffling toward them with a gunshot wound to his chest. He tries to bite Madison, as Nick throws the truck in reverse, running over the reanimated Calvin. Calvin still gets up and Nick runs him over again, his body flying fifty feet before landing hard on concrete, where he still twitches and turns his head to the very confused and scared Travis, Madison and Nick.
One reason I was so excited for The Walking Dead fives years ago is that most zombie films, as good as they may be, don’t last long enough to see the everlasting effects of the new world they set up. A television series would be able to really flesh out life after the initial collapse. And it has, wonderfully (for the most part) in my opinion. However, with Fear the Walking Dead, we’re now fleshing out the beginning of such an apocalypse, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a very slow burn.
The pilot episode wasn’t bad and it wasn’t boring, but it was much more of a family drama with only a smidgen of zombie horror thrown in. Unlike The Walking Dead that began with a very simple premise, Fear the Walking Dead has many more moving parts and this setup allows for much more complexity, so we’re really going to have to become familiar with Travis and Madison’s families first. Rick Grimes? We had that guy figured out within ten minutes. This, however, will take a little longer.
So far the adults of the show are good, but I’ve always liked Cliff Curtis (Travis) and Kim Dickens (Madison). She is a tough lady who’s dealt with a drug addict of a son for years, but she also shows plenty of compassion through her role as a high school counselor. He loves her very much and wants to help her anyway he can, which is why he takes such an interest in what Nick has to say, then goes to investigate the church on his own, which almost borders on the stupid side. Together they’re doing their best to make this new family situation work.
Sadly, the siblings are another story. Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) counter-balance each other well, because he’s very over the top and she’s extremely subdued, but that doesn’t mean they’re good characters, yet. I know he’s a drug addict, but Nick is just a bit silly and I spent most of his screen time trying not to laugh at the young cracked-out Johnny Depp impression Dillane was attempting. The flip side of that coin is the moody, somber Alicia, who’s done with her family and can’t wait to get away to Berkeley in “one year.” She’s super smart but can just skip class all day and hang out with her artist boyfriend. Everything from her attitude to her wardrobe is why people hate Millennials. One of them will probably end up dead in the season finale, right after they’ve redeemed themselves for being annoying. Hoping we get better characterization when we see more of Travis’s family next week.
As for the initial warning signs of the apocalypse, I think it’s working well. People start missing school/work and it’s an assumed illness like the flu. Then videos of people acting strange appear online, but these days, it’s easy to write them off as a hoax. People assume everyone will be told if there were a reason to panic, but by the time you should panic, you’re eyeballs deep in the end of the world. The show is building toward that at a reasonable pace.
Other than the kids, my only other complaint is the show’s slightly pathetic attempt at jump scares. It happened twice in the pilot, and both were unnecessary. The show has a very different tone than its predecessor, so they shouldn’t be trying these scenes to “spice things up.” Let the tension build naturally, then unleash the hounds of hell. I’m not tuning in for bargain bin horror.
Overall, this was a good, but not great, beginning. Though many might think being a companion show to The Walking Dead would be an advantage, the comparisons might hinder it more than help. This is the jumping off point and there won’t be any Walker herds for awhile, and I’m fine with that. But I can see where other fans of The Walking Dead would have a problem if they are just tuning in to Fear the Walking Dead for an extra dose of gore.