A few minutes into the fourth episode of Fear the Walking Dead, Madison and Alicia talk about paint. It’s an appropriate conversation because this episode was as entertaining as watching paint dry and it covered up all the goodwill won by the last episode.

Obviously, Fear the Walking Dead has to be different from The Walking Dead. It has to do everything in its power to distinguish itself from the gory original show and the third episode did that. It took the reason we’re watching the series—a zombie apocalypse—and filtered it through the eyes of our characters. The latest episode shuts that threat out completely. Now, the characters are in a fenced off safe zone, run by the government. You know, a powerful, shady organization with mysterious intentions. Just like every other show on TV. Zombies and a virus are still a presence, but they’re way in the background.

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How was this revealed? Through a mountain of boring exposition with our characters that ranged between almost interesting and character building, to confusing and odd. I actually wrote it all out in order like a proper recap but I was so bored reading it back, I deleted it all, and decided to streamline it. Here’s how Episode 4, “Not Fade Away,” progressed for the characters.

Madison - Nine days have passed since the last episode and Madison doesn’t trust what’s going on. She’s mad that Travis is helping out the soldiers and leaving her with the family responsibilities. They do make up—in the car no less—but Madison continues to reiterate she feels they’re being lied to or at least being left in the dark (both figuratively and literally). So she decides to get that information herself. She sneaks outside of the fence and finds not just zombie bodies, but human bodies too. The soldiers are killing everyone outside the fence, without mercy. She tells Daniel about this and he’s not surprised. He, too, sees the writing on the wall and tells her to keep an eye on her son Nick.

Travis - He’s the “mayor” of the safe zone, which reportedly stretches six miles outside of the fence. The soldiers give him various duties, including talking to potential problem people, but these tasks force him away from his family—mainly Chris, who sees something very curious outside the fence. Eventually though, Madison (and the disappearance of another man) convinces Travis to be a tiny bit skeptical and the cracks begin to show. Everyone is lying to him. At the end of the episode, Travis finally decides to believe his son and what he sees should, finally, bring him to Madison’s side.

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Chris - So what does Travis see and believe? Well, at the very start of the episode, Chris lays out the situation for the audience and sees someone signaling from outside the fence with some light. He shoots it on his camera, shows it to Madison, who believes him, as well as Travis, who doesn’t. Later, once Travis realizes things are shady, he goes on the roof to look for the signal light and sees it. Unfortunately, it’s then covered by more frequent, brighter lights—machine gun fire. Whoever was signaling them is now dead, probably because Travis mentioned it to the soldiers.

Alicia - Alicia didn’t have much to do in the episode. After playing peacekeeper between Madison and Travis (and maybe doing some painting), she goes next door to Susan’s house. There, she finds some kind of letter which makes her cry, and later starts to cut herself. What’s going through her head? We don’t know. But at the end of the episode, we realize the note she found was from Susan to her husband Patrick, acknowledging that she’s about to become a zombie, is sorry and loves him.

Nick - Like his sister, Nick had a mostly light episode. At first, we think he’s gotten off the drugs and is clean. But later, we see that he’s sneaking into a next door neighbor’s house—a very sick man—and stealing his morphine drip. When Madison catches him, she freaks out and beats the crap out of him. After this, just as Nick is finally feeling regretful, there’s a knock at the door.

Daniel - Like the last episode, Daniel is very cautious. His wife Griselda is very sick, his daughter Ofelia is very confused, and he’s trying to keep it together. Ofelia is seen making out with one of the soldiers (Shawn Hatosy) to try and get extra medicine. And when a new character, Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt) is introduced and sees Griselda’s injury, she wants to take her for surgery. Can Daniel come? Of course he can, he’s her husband. But when the soldiers come to take Griselda to surgery, they don’t let Daniel come. They want Nick instead.

Liza - Travis’ ex was the crux of all the action in this episode. Much like Travis, she’s helping people out, going house to house and giving people medicine and care (including the man Nick steals from). Eventually Exner finds her and besides outing her as a liar for telling people she’s a nurse, asks for her help. Liza helps by introducing Exner to the ex-junkie Nick, which is how the soldiers know to take him at the end. As Madison is kicking and screaming with her son being kidnapped, Liza makes the decision to leave Chris and Travis to help Exner. In the end, Madison blames Liza for everything.

Basically, the entire point of this episode was to create a scenario so obviously bad for everyone that Travis is forced finally realize things aren’t what they seem. And this happens. While life in this almost prison camp has the illusion of normalcy, it’s actually uncomfortable, unfair, and it only took Travis a few weeks to figure it out. With only two episodes left in the season, the hope is having this new threat for everyone to band together against should make for good TV. But it just feels very removed from the zombies and what’s happening in the outside world—you know, the interesting stuff. We were promised we’d see how civilization fell and we surely still will, and this is clearly a part of that. But it’s a storyline that feels so insulated and familiar, it’s just boring and frustrating.

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To be fair, being four episodes in, even if I don’t really care about any of the characters, I’m curious of how this is going to play out in a larger context. Why is the government being so secretive and evil about this? How are they dealing with issues outside the fences? Who is making these decisions? And when will their luck run out? All these are interesting questions subtextually posed by the sho; it’s just unfortunate that none of them have much to do with the characters who are actually on the show.


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.