For anyone who’s wondering why we needed another Walking Dead TV series, we’ve seen the first two episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, and we have a (spoiler-free) answer. YES, there are similarities; ahem, zombies. But Fear is its own tense and gory beast, and we can’t wait for more.
We gave you a sneak peek of the pilot right after we saw it at Comic-Con, and on second viewing, it holds up beyond that pumped-up (big movie screen, all stars present, etc.) presentation. The opening scene serves as a reassurance that Fear is gonna match up to its predecessor’s standards of blood-spraying, flesh-ripping horror. But once we start meeting the characters and learning a little bit more about the setting and the stakes, Fear pulls back on the splatter a bit and settles into a frighteningly realistic look at what the first few days of a zombie apocalypse might look like, just as the undead virus begins its rapid spread.
Of course, we have the benefit of knowing a lot more about that rotting menace than the characters, having seen not just The Walking Dead but a hearty buffet of zombie flicks over the years. As two characters remark to each other at a key moment in the pilot, “What the hell is happening?” “I have no idea.” We had trouble not containing an evil laugh anticipating what’s in store, because THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU, BARBARA. But in this case, it’s actually okay that we’re quite familiar with the general outline of the genre (imminent: total collapse of society, dystopian desperation, survivor wars, all that fun stuff).
The show takes its time establishing the dynamics among its ensemble cast, making them an interesting and concern-worthy crew, and it uses its urban Los Angeles setting wisely. Traffic is bad enough on an average SoCal weekday; of course it’d be snarled completely in the event of a lurching-corpse uprising even before anyone knew what was going on. In a world in which everyone has a cellphone, first sightings of dead people behaving, ah, strangely would of course become viral videos that spread as fast as the virus itself. And if the cops do something that seems shady, hell yes people are going to take to the streets and protest.
As episode one leads directly into episode two (both are directed by TV veteran Adam Davidson; the first is co-written by Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, while Marco Ramirez penned the second), there’s less a sense of busy everyday life in which everyone is too distracted to focus on the impending crisis, and more a focus on that crisis making itself known. The pilot introduces blended family Travis and Madison and Madison’s two kids, wayward 20-something junkie Nick and gifted but surly Alicia, who attends the high school where Travis and Madison both work. (Gaining more prominence in episode two are Travis’ ex, Liza, and their own surly teen, Chris.)
It’s a modern family that’s making it work, sorta, coping with Nick’s latest run-in with the law with all the tough love they can muster. Alicia, of course, can’t wait to get away from these jerks and head to college ASAP. Eventually, near the end of the second episode, we also meet barber-shop owner Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) and his family, who will clearly be important to the plot as it progresses.
By episode two, the main characters, and Los Angeles/the world in general, are all starting to wake up to what’s happening around them, despite a detoxing Nick’s observation that “No one is paying attention .. it’s like it’s not real.” And what they don’t know could kill them, as Maddie and Travis—who, along with Nick, have gotten a terrifyingly up-close look at what the world is up against—start to realize and frantically try to convey the situation to everyone they care about, including certain surly youths who are in no frame of mind to listen to their parents. But it’s apparent that going forward, it’ll soon be impossible to be ignorant of what’s happening. Shit is getting real... and real scary... and real fast.
A few more takeaways: episode two eases up on episode one’s more heavy-handed symbolism (like having Travis’ students read Jack London stories that spell out a “man vs. nature” theme in 10-foot-high letters), which is reassuring. And you should never dismiss the weirdo who keeps tabs on late-breaking conspiracy theories, and likely spends nights binge-watching Doomsday Preppers. That weirdo just might save your life.