Skipping forward nine days is a bold move for Fear the Walking Dead, not the actual event itself, but how the show responds to the time jump. For the first time, it feels like Fear The Walking Dead‘s attempt at exploring its characters beyond their reactions to a plot we already know the outcome of: there’s real attempt in engaging with characters in “Not Fade Away,” and how they’re adjusting to the new ‘safe zones’ citizens have been placed in. And yet, all “Not Fade Away” does is remind us its cast of characters are a cipher of bland personalities, an intricate “modern family” with no stakes whatsoever in their relationships: the attempts to both further character and plot in this story don’t really go anywhere, either in further defining or shifting the trite personas we’ve been presented with so far.
The children in particular are frustrating: Nick the inefficient junkie (even a junkie who has a regular fix isn’t going to turn down free narcotics; NEVER), Alicia the depressed budding tattoo artist, and Christopher, the idiot who won’t put the damn camcorder down, are all characters sucking the life out of the more interesting, adult tensions guiding “Not Fade Away.” With the military settling their neighborhood as a designated safe zone, there’s a growing (and thoroughly predictable) sense of paranoia forming between military and civilian, as the former continues to assert that they’re in control, and everything will slowly return to normalcy. Nobody’s buying into it, of course, as the government runs around throwing people, including Nick, forcibly into free “medical care” programs, is only elevating that tension between the so-called protectors and the protected – yet “Not Fade Away” spends a lot more time with the other, lesser ideas of this episode, reducing its sizable impact on the rapid movement of time to open the hour.
“Not Fade Away” is really a litmus test for Fear the Walking Dead‘s first season: the first episode that goes beginning to end without a live zombie (Madison sees one, in her thoroughly inexplicable trip outside the safe zone to see what’s really going on) is a chance for the show to highlight the interlocking family structures, and develop the tensions inside them. Rather, we get two ominous government employees for characters, and more time spent focusing on how much a heroin addict Nick is: rather than developing the tension and claustrophobia the community is feeling, “Not Fade Away” continues to watch characters engage with the emotions and debates of the past, even as they assert that the world has changed and things are not normal.
Without that dramatic trajectory for its characters or its story, “Not Fade Away” is unable to create any kind of tension, vacillating between ironic/unsettling images (Travis going for a casual jog, the “Curfew is Endorsed” signs) and unbelievably weightless interactions between characters. Which begs the question: should Fear the Walking Dead have taken that leap forward through time? Those nine days are key in helping define how this apocalypse went from being isolated events to an outright catastrophe: with no news of what’s happening around the world, or depiction of how the military ripped apart a fracturing society in the name of saving the world, those tangential bits of information become meaningful holes when the hour following said time jump does nothing to fill the space.
Instead, “Not Fade Away” is victim to the same issues as the episodes preceding it – eerily familiar to those of early The Walking Dead episodes, where nothing happens and relationships between characters eternally existed on a spinning wheel of anger, adoration, paranoia, and horror. Rather than embrace the potential of its own world re-jiggering and capitalize on some serious potential (again, this is an episode devoid of zombies – there’s no better chance to build out a show about humans!), “Not Fade Away” again embraces typical conventions of the genre, lessening the impact of each increasingly predictable scene that follows.
- Did Liza “sell out” Nick? Who cares!
- I hope Alicia gets a blood infection in her arm, so we can stop with the scenes of her walking up to a room Nick has locked himself inside, and knocking on it with sad puppy eyes.
- Car sex!
- Fear the Walking Dead has a military leader who presents himself as arrogant, evil and slightly unhinged? No. Way.
- “Not Fade Away” plays the final scene – where Travis watches the military murder a blinking light – like it’s a revelatory moment about the real situation between civilization and the military, when in reality it was pretty clear that mirror was doomed when Madison never found it.
- No more Christopher voice-overs, please and thank you.
[Photo via AMC]