The second episode of a new series is crucial in establishing the show’s identity. It’s the first real episode, in a way, and a good one is usually a great sign. For Fear the Walking Dead, episode two is definitely an improvement over the pilot, but improvement doesn’t mean it’s great.
Exactly like the first episode of the series, this episode of Fear the Walking Dead starts with the not-so-shocking reveal of one of the main kids, this time Alicia, discovering their boyfriend/girlfriend is in a bad way. From there, things shift immediately to moments after we left the characters, with Madison, Travis and Nick quickly driving away from their first real zombie encounter. Nick is amazed no one is talking about this rising threat and that the world is seemingly going along unaware. That’ll finally start to change in the next 40 minutes.
Travis starts the episode with a great idea: The family should get as far away from people as possible. Yes! Now you’re thinking! Unfortunately, the episode never achieves that because almost every character is separated from each other as they try to accomplish tasks needed to make the trip happen. Separating the characters pretty much crushes the forward momentum of the show, but a few of the tangents end up being interesting.
So Travis, Madison, Alicia and Nick are briefly reunited, but Nick is going through severe drug withdrawal and Travis’s son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), is missing. That means Travis goes off to find Chris, Madison goes to get Nick medicine and Alicia stays with her brother.
Chris is ignoring his father’s calls, as any angsty child of divorce would do in a budding zombie apocalypse, and is distracted when a random dude jumps on his bus to tell everyone the cops shot a homeless man 20 times. He gets off the bus and joins a protest against the police for what the public believes is a random act of violence. We, of course, know it’s not and this juxtaposition of the actual social issue of police brutality with the dramatic irony of a zombie apocalypse is pretty interesting. So of course, it almost immediately falls by the wayside.
Eventually, after some battling with Los Angeles traffic (and then, magically, it disappearing), Travis finds Chris just as riots begin. The pair, along with Chris’s mother and Travis’ ex Lisa (Elizabeth Rodriguez), need a place to hide from the looters and randomly pop into the barber shop of Daniel Salazar, played by the legendary Ruben Blades. Obviously this will be an important character, but the show doesn’t give him or his family an interesting introduction. They’re just there, set dressing at best with no standout characteristics. Surely the show will eventually give us reason to care about Daniel and his family but there was little sign of it in this episode.
As this is happening, Madison decides to break into her school to steal some confiscated medicine. There she runs into Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), the all-knowing nerd of the first episode. He’s back to get his knife, load up on canned goods and spit out truth bombs such as “When civilization ends, it ends fast.” His presence is random, but necessary, so that Madison has a slightly more pessimistic viewpoint on what’s about to happen. That viewpoint gets more defined when she finds the school’s principal Art (Scott Lawrence) in the building and he’s a zombie. A battle ensues and Madison is forced to bash in Art’s head with a fire extinguisher. Yes, we finally get some of the action Walking Dead fans crave. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
As the first character in the series to kill a zombie with their bare hands, Madison’s perspective is the first to truly change, which is further evolved later in the episode. She gets home and sees her next door neighbors are being attacked. Alicia wants help but Madsisn won’t let her—it’s the first time we see an every-person-for-themselves mentality which will eventually ruin the world.
Finally, as the episode draws to a close, Madison and Travis are separated, because they need to be to keep the wheels spinning, and each is scared about what’s coming. At the very least Madison has started down the path this show promised. A path that’ll shine some light on how the world goes to hell and what it’ll take to survive.
Due to of Madison’s slight devolution and the hint of social commentary, the second episode of Fear the Walking Dead is surely better than the show’s glacially paced pilot. The story moves along ever so slightly, there is an increasing sense of dread and it’s all done in half the time of the first episode.
However, the problem with Fear the Walking Dead at this point isn’t the slow story and lack of action. It’s that the characters are all so one dimensional, you don’t care about them at all. Nick is the drug addict and Alicia is the love-sick daughter. Madison is a confused mom, Travis a clueless father and so on. They’re all just clichés. No one is interesting, unique or someone you want to spend more time with.
Actually, scratch that, Tobias—the nerdy kid that actually has a clue what’s going on—is. Unfortunately, when Madison asks him to come and hang out with her family, he declines. He too probably realizes his show would be better than this one, at least so far.