Monday, October 5, 2015

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: When the Good Man Has Bad Writers

The freshman season of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD reached its ignominious end tonight with an overly long hash of cliche, chaos and randomness entitled "The Good Man."

Last week, we learned that the Evil Military was secretly preparing to initiate "Cobalt," a plan to "humanely" liquidate the civilians living in the safe-zone. Though this random plan acts as the spur to action for everything we see from the central cast tonight, no further mention is made of it. Rather than pouring into the safe zone the force necessary to carry it out, the military simply packs up and leaves. This allows our heroes to, in a budget-conscious way, drive, without opposition, right out the front gate, which "Mayor" Travis, still bucking for that Larry Vaughn Award For Excellence In Public Service, leaves standing open, exposing his neighbors to the army of the undead he's about to unleash.[*]

The military, you see, has conveniently established a facility right next door to the stadium full of zombies Daniel found last week and has even been kind enough not to post any guards there. Our heroes' plan--they've obviously seen "No Sanctuary" from last season's TWD--is to unleash these zombies and allow them to overrun the base. The base they wish to infiltrate in order to rescue Nick and Liza.

Yeah, FTWD is that kind of show.[**]

Much shooting and random chaos ensues. Ofelia's boyfriend Cpl. Andy, whom Daniel spent last week torturing, tells Travis and co. exactly where to go in the facility to find the holding pen where Nick had been stashed but when they arrive at the pen, Nick has already escaped with Strand.[1] Though the doctor with whom she was working tells her how to get out, Liza just spends a lot of time running around the facility as it collapses. Strand's escape-plan goes wrong and he and Nick do the same. The characters all just sort of aimlessly run around the massive, maze-like facility until coincidentally running into one another just in the--forgive me--nick of time for a last-minute save! Hooray!

Or maybe not.

Prior to leaving home, Travis had deduced--probably correctly--that Daniel intended to kill Andy and, being the soft-hearted guy he is, set the man free. As, near the end, everyone runs to the parking garage to escape, a clearly-angry Andy suddenly appears with a gun. He's pointing it at Daniel, which makes sense--even in the random world of FTWD, it seems, torturing a fellow will leave him with a bad impression on your character. But then FTWD reasserts itself and he shoots his girlfriend Ofelia instead! This is supposed to provide for a big dramatic cliche moment when Travis decides he isn't so civilized after all and pummels Andy half to death but the randomness of the shooting had me laughing like a loon. It's the end of the world and for no reason at all he's suddenly going to shoot his girlfriend?

Everyone escapes--in a budget conscious but inexplicable development, the army of zombies simply vanish--and makes their way West to Strand's big home by the sea, passing through some cheap effects shots of Los Angeles, a city from which all the people and most of the zombies seem to have disappeared. There's some more emoting and over-the-top melodrama and one more death before the end--Liza was somehow horribly bitten on her torso by a zombie during the escape and didn't even realize it!

Overall, this season of FTWD was a perfect 0 for 6, an across-the-board failure absent a single redeeming merit. A creative abortion on the scale of Glen Mazzara's TWD. Awful characters, awful writing and a series that seemed absolutely determined to avoid at all costs the one story it had.



 [*] 5 Oct., 2015 - Reader Steve Johnson notes that, as our heroes are preparing to leave their neighborhood, "Madison justifies not warning her neighbors that they will be killed by saying something like, 'My neighbors don't know. They did nothing when the soldiers came for us.' In her moral indignation, she has apparently forgotten blocking her daughter from helping other neighbors earlier, when zombies were eating them."

[**] 5 Oct., 2015 - Though it provokes not even a moment of reflection, this plan results in horrible death for hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people, not just those Evil Military guys.

[1] Last week, Strand, the cool-and-collected guy in the holding-pen with Nick, traded some cuff-links for the kid's ass, asserting that, because Nick was a junky, he'd have skills Strand could use when it came time to escape. As Lebeau over at Le Blog noted last week, "aside from stealing morphine drips and mussing his hair, I wasn’t aware Nick had a skill set." And tonight when Strand escaped, no skills by Nick were in evidence.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Z NATION Whips Up Batch 47

Last night, the Crazy Blender that is Z NATION yielded another flavorful, first-rate concoction. In the early days of the zombie apocalypse, the crumbling government established a crash program in Minneapolis in which researchers were, among other things, growing dangerous plants in zombie mulch in an effort to develop an herbal vaccine for the zombie virus. The results were a deadly greenhouse full of phyto-zombies--plant/zombie hybrids linked to one another root-and-branch--and, if the researchers' incomplete notes are to be believed, "Batch 47," the leaves and seed-pods of which rendered a successful vaccine. For obvious reasons, Murphy is very interested in this facility; he turns up to investigate with our heroes in hot pursuit.

The principal difficulty in harvesting the materials necessary to proceed with any effort to replicate the original work is that, over time, the many batches grown in the greenhouse have become integrated into a single living organism. Its a veritable jungle of dense, interconnected foliage and damaging any part of it harms the whole. At the same time, its phyto-zombies fight back against any effort at invasion from the outside. When Murphy and Cassandra arrive, the site manager is sending random hopefuls into the building one after another, exploiting their desire for a cure and getting them killed in appalling numbers. Murphy's ability to control zombies seems to make him an ideal candidate for carrying out the harvest.

And, indeed, Murphy does manage to make his way through the building to the precious Batch 47, which is both guarded and personified by a creature that strongly resembles DC Comics' Swamp Thing. He acquires a sample, which the site manager then tests on what appear to be the zombified heads of the Three Stooges--he keeps them under glass on his desk. A big dose for Moe makes his head explode. A smaller dose for Larry just puts him to sleep. Splitting the difference in dosage results in Curly enunciating the word "BRAINS!" Success!

Unfortunately, the compound is under the control of the dread Zero Cartel, a powerful criminal empire that uses it to grow z-weed and, as we learn, takes a very dim view of the site manager's efforts to plumb the mysteries of Batch 47. Hector Alvarez, the cartel's "vice-president in charge of sales," turns up, takes out the wayward manager and orders the greenhouse destroyed. Murphy tries to save the Swamp Thing but it doesn't go so well and our heroes are forced to reduce the creature to shredded spinach.

Lots of stuff here: Citizen Z finally manages to reestablish contact with "Operation Bitemark" and relays to Addie the coordinates of the California lab. The now-scarred Dr. Kurien turns up too. After his misadventure in fridge-nuking back in "The Murphy," he's, as Murphy puts it, a nuclear irradiated mad scientist whose ear looks like Elvis. He says Murphy's "kind"--human/zombie hybrids--will inherit the earth, then is hauled off by the Zeroes. Vasquez apparently has some connection with/grudge against the Zeroes or at least some of them. Upon coming across one of their gun thugs, he unmasks the fellow, asks to see the fellow's tattoo--he seems to know about it--then kills the fellow. More grist for future eps. The creators also manage to work in a story about a dying little girl whose, in effect, last wish is that she not become a zombie. When Alvarez confiscates the material related to Batch 47, Doc manages to swipe some of the harvest and deliver it to her before the end. And as things are winding down, the very pregnant Pie Girl reappears!

This continues to be a great season for ZN. One only hopes it will continue at this level and will lead to many more.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Z NATION Goes Up Zombie Road

On foot and in hostile territory, the Z NATION gang, this week, hooked up with a MAD-MAX-ed-out motorized caravan of survivors and took a trip up "Zombie Road."

"Can't expect to travel through a valley without an ambush," muses Murphy, chewing on a piece of straw like some hayseed. "Didn't nobody ever watch Westerns growing up?" Custer, the subtly-named leader of the caravan, looks as if he may have seen one or two but how much ever John Wayne, Marshall Dillon or RAWHIDE he may have imbibed as a tyke, he kicks off the story by driving his people right into a trap set in a valley by a gang of bushwhackers. Our heroes, taking in the action from a hill above, come to the rescue.

Custer, it turns out, is hauling a group of survivors of the recent nuclear mini-holocaust. His destination: Edmonton, where perhaps there's peace and tranquility but where there's definitely damn cold weather to keep away the Zs. Pleased by the save, he asks Warren and co. to join him and, essentially stranded in these badlands, they do.

These are particularly bad badlands, Custer explains, because they're "blaster" country. "Blasters" is his name for those killed by the nukes. Altered by radiation, they reanimate as a peculiar, mutant breed of the creature. As the story progresses, they're shown to be faster than ordinary zombies, they exhibit quite strange and unpredictable behavior, hunt in packs, only eat brains and Murphy, the burgeoning lord of the dead, learns he can't control them at all. As events proceed, they become a menace that overwhelms everything in their path.

But a lot happens before things get that bad. In the caravan is Custer's nephew, a dimwit known only as Wrecking Ball. "The cheese slid off that cracker a long time ago," as Custer tells it. He pulls Doc and Murphy aside for some momentary chemical amusement; they puff away at a joint full of what he describes as "z-weed." Supposed to come from some facility in Minneapolis that uses zombies as compost in growing it. Those running the place are also, Wrecking Ball says, supposed to be working on some herbal cure for the zombie virus. Murphy perks up at the mention of this. Later, he shares some of the z-weed with Cassandra, who is still quite animalistic in her behavior. It seems to make her more lucid and she wants more. All set-up for episodes to come--by the end, Wrecking Ball, Murphy and Cassandra have boosted Custer's vintage Charger and are heading for Minneapolis.

This is the second of the more auteurist approach with which ZN's creators have been experimenting this season and the results are definitely a continued argument for the soundness of this way of doing business. Dan Merchant, the writer of record on three previous ZN eps, handled the writing chores here then stepped behind the camera as a director for the first time. He delivers an action-packed tale, though he doesn't go for the same pace and intensity as the previous "White Light." All the great ZN bits are here, the quirky humor, great dialogue, subtle character interactions, suspenseful atmosphere. As the ill-fated Custer, William Sadler--rock-solid as always--makes for another of ZN's great guest-shots.

On the other side of the ledger, the script does cough up a clinker line or two, some of the scenes of the characters shooting at blasters from the moving caravan seem rather random and pointless and some of the MAD MAX homage was a bit more on-the-nose than I would have necessarily preferred.

I wouldn't want to overstate any of that though; this was a very good episode. On Twitter, Craig Engler, ZN's co-creator, just announced that ZN's ratings increased with this ep and were, as he puts it, "higher than I expected." Good job, ZN gang. Can't wait 'til Friday.



A Note: For those who have asked, I was late in getting this piece written because I was working on another project this weekend, a short film I hope to have ready very soon.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

With Cobalt, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Is Out Of Its Element

Ofelia is upset. As "Cobalt," tonight's installment of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, opens, she's down at the fence cursing the military who have taken her injured mother and spectacularly failing to goad the surrounding civilians into revolt. The boys with guns are about to address the spectacle in a most unkind manner when Adams, the kindly corporal who has taken quite a shine to Ofelia, steps in and insists he can deal with the matter. The goon-squad stands down and he takes the little lady under his wing to walk her home and try to dispel her anxieties.

This turns out to be a big mistake.

Prior to tonight's ep, the soldiers occupying our heroes' neighborhood had been portrayed as little more than sinister, even malevolent automatons. "Cobalt" tries to put a more human face on some of them but it's a bit little and quite a bit too late. Adams, the only one who has shown any ordinary human warmth toward any of the central cast and their only potential ally in the military camp, ends up taken prisoner, strapped to a chair and tortured by Ofelia's father Daniel.[1] This, Daniel assures Madison, is how they will get back his wife and her son. Daniel has no weapons and no one else with him. How he thinks he's going to secure his wife's release (or accomplish anything other than radically shortening his own lifespan) by declaring war on the military in the midst of a small, military-occupied safe-zone is anyone's guess. It's that peculiar mystery that constitutes the "reasoning" behind most of the characters' actions on FTWD. Take, for another example, the one useful thing Daniel learns from this exercise (a thing irrelevant to his stated goal): the word "cobalt," used by the soldiers in their radio transmissions, is a code for abandoning the civilian areas and "humanely" liquidating the civilian population!

In a dying world where the dead become the enemy army, why on earth would this be a policy? And why would anyone carry it out? Why would the unfortunate corporal Adams have to be tortured to divulge that info rather than simply telling the civvies upfront what was happening? Was he going to let his comrades liquidate his own girlfriend and her family without so much as a warning?  We're shown a large medical facility the military has established not far from the safe zone but why would the military go though all the trouble of setting up and maintaining such a thing if the plan is just to kill all the healthy people in the safe zone?

Those who ask such questions are not among FTWD's target audience. For the rest, it seems, the loss of reputation that would befall an evil military were it to fail to do evil things in a big season finale blow-out is sufficient motivation.[2]

There was plenty of filler material tonight. A great deal of time is spent with Chris and Alicia pointlessly trashing the home of some absent rich family. A military excursion outside the fence establishes that Travis still thinks of the dead as people, the latest ham-handed effort by the writers to stamp "expiration date imminent" on his forehead. He's jacked by a pair of deserters who leave the lieutenant in change of the entire safe zone in a sticky situation[3] and say they'll dump Travis a few blocks from the wire. Even given these circumstances, he apparently has no trouble regaining entrance.

This was the penultimate installment of FTWD's first season, a freshman performance that continues to be a creative disaster. With "Cobalt," the series was definitely out of its element.



[1] And the normally-solid Ruben Blades is terrible here. I'm normally quite merciful with the thespianism of TWD on the grounds that it would simply be impossible for the actors to convincingly enact a lot of what the writers give them. Even the greatest actors in the world have their limitations. Blades as the rationalizing torturer was particularly bad though.

[2] The series' horrendous writing and apparent budget shortcomings have conspired to deny the construction of any sort of environment of desperation as well. Zombies are practically never seen. There are no hordes of them at the safe-zone fence. We haven't seen any of them at the fence, in fact, or much of anywhere else. Except for an encounter we only hear on the radio, the area around the safe zone seems to be almost entirely deserted for as far as the eye can see. The soldiers don't seem desperate or on the verge of being overwhelmed; to the extent that this ep gave them any reaction, they're just bored, homesick and don't see the point of what they're doing. We don't even get any news about such-and-such position being overrun or zombies massing here-or-there or trouble heading so-and-so's way while they're running out of ammo or any of that sort of no-budget tension-building.

[3] It's a very budget-conscious sticky situation--it happens mostly off-camera and we hear it on the radio. Likewise, Daniel is careful to keep the gorier aspects of his abuse of Adams' flesh below camera range. Adams describes how he and his evil military comrades dealt with a stadium full of civilians among whom zombie-ism had broken out; much cheaper than showing any such thing.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Not Fade Away? That'll Be The Day

"Not Fade Away," tonight's installment of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, gives some little glimpse of what this series could have been in more competent hands but largely remains bogged down in the same problems that have, to date, rendered it a waste.

The story has jumped ahead in time from the end of the last ep, wastefully skipping over more and more of what would have been the most interesting period for it to cover. The characters are now under military occupation, their neighborhood one of several safe-zones set up around the greater Los Angeles area. Travis has become the "mayor" of the civilian population. Liza has parlayed her limited medical school training into the closest thing there is to a medic within the wire and everyone else just seems bored. Nick finds appalling ways not to kick the junk while pretending as if he has. Madison obsessively paints and repaints the wall on which their neighbor's brains were splattered--just can't seem to get it to a point she can't see it anymore. As the ep gets underway, some of TWD's notorious misogyny rears its ugly head; Madison sees Travis and unleashes a tirade of ugly, pointless bitching about domestic affairs. When it escalates into an argument, Alicia speaks for viewers when she essentially tells the both of them to knock it off and grow the fuck up.

Chris sits on the roof with a video camera recording the comings and goings within the zone and talking to himself. He notices a recurring flash coming from the window of a building outside the wire, possibly a signal by someone trapped in an area that's supposed to be all dead. He tries to show it to his father but Travis, perhaps reveling a bit too much in his new role as a public official and fearing a more rational reaction may endanger his chances of netting the coveted Larry Vaughn Award for Excellence In Public Service, is entirely uninterested. Hey, it's FTWD. Later, when Madison tells him there's something to what Chris is saying, he tells her not to encourage the boy.[1]

Travis was definitely working his way up the award short list but he eventually has a change of heart and does tell Moyers, the military commander of the zone. Chris had a video of the signaling flash; Travis doesn't bother to show it to Moyers, who insists it's a dead area and that he and his men searched house-to-house. That's the end of the matter.

Madison, however, also sees the flash and in another incredibly random and stupid move decides to go outside the wire herself. She cuts a hole in the fence--the one that theoretically keeps the dead from their doors--and ventures into one of the surrounding neighborhoods for a brief period. If she ever intended to search for the source of the flash, she never does so. She sees (and smells) lots of dead bodies scattered here and there, almost gets spotted by a patrol then simply returns home, the mystery of the flash advanced no further than before she left. It did eat up running-time though. That's important when, as with last week, the ep has been granted an extra five minutes.

Anyone who, throughout the ep, presents a potential problem--a depressed fellow, a guy suffering congestive heart failure and eventually the barber's wife and Nick--is hauled off by the military for "treatment" elsewhere. Liza is recruited by a military-provided "doctors" to facilitate this process, though it's not yet clear how complicit she is in the matter.

Taken in isolation, the idea for this ep was a good one, a slice of day-to-day life under military occupation. So much of the execution is what sinks it. The characters are just unbearably awful--when Nick is taken into custody and trucked away, one can't help but cheer and wish the same would happen to several others. The walking dead could thin the herd a bit but, ever conscious of the budget, they helpfully stay out of sight throughout the ep, even when Madison is strolling outside the wire. The series remains isolated from whatever is happening in the rest of the U.S. and the world, which is even less forgivable given the circumstances--they would definitely be hearing something official now, even if it wasn't true; they'd definitely be listening to the radio.

While one could certainly say this is the best ep of this series to date, it's probably a more accurate reflection of the ep to frown, excessively ruminate on how very little it took to accomplish that and shake one's head at the wasted potential.



[1] In the pilot, strung-out junkie Nick told Travis what happened with his girlfriend and, Nick himself believing it was probably some sort of hallucination, Travis gave it enough credence to venture, unarmed, into a crack-house in the middle of the night in order to investigate. Tonight, when his own son tells him someone may be signalling, he's entirely uninterested.

Friday, September 18, 2015

By White Light Burneth Z NATION Most Bright

"White Light," this week's installment of Z NATION, jumps in with both feet. Murphy is in Cheyenne, our heroes are on his tail and now, because Citizen Z spilled the beans on their mission before the entire world and falsely claimed there was a large reward waiting for whoever could deliver him to California, so is every bounty hunter and greedy nutcase in reach. In the previous ep, Warren and co. discovered that many of these hunters had, like themselves, descended on the town. Murphy charged out of the strip-joint in which he was hiding and, tonight, right into what very quickly became a war-zone, everyone trying to catch Murphy and trying to kill everyone else trying to do the same.

What follows is a relentless, riveting, balls-to-the-wall action epic that carries on for the entire hour leaving barely a moment to breath. In the course of it, each of the major characters come very close to death and each has a momentary vision, the white light of the title. Sometimes, it's some memory from their past. For 10k, who gets flattened by a blast from a rocket, it's merely the sight of Cassandra pausing to make sure he wasn't dead before fleeing the scene, something that actually happens. Doc gets into a hardcore brawl and loses and as he's being strangled to death, his spirit seems to leave his body and notice a way he can save himself--a very well-shot sequence that managed to convince this viewer ever so briefly that the character had reached his end. Doc makes it but Death is clearly closing in and won't leave without exacting a toll. By the end, it claims Mack. Last season, the leader of the "Sisters of Mercy" cult warned Addy that is she continued with our heroes, she would one day have to put down Mack when he eventually fell and returned. This, the cynical machinations of a master manipulator, was also, it seemed, prophecy.

I've described Z NATION as a crazy blender of ideas and influences that embraces all manner of wild, unorthodox storytelling. Some of what went in the blender for tonight's show were 1940s serial adventures,[1] silent movies,[2] Three Stooges comedy, MAD MAX-style post-apocalyptic tales and Hong Kong action pictures. What came out was a ballet of violence punctuated by highly emotionally-charged moments that should forever silence both ZN friend and foe alike who so often reach for the convenient cliche in assessing that the series doesn't take itself seriously. As I've noted in the past, ZN can do "seriously" just fine. Here, there was more "seriously" than we've ever gotten from a single ep, with the comedy elements so strongly associated with the series radically toned down. High action content aside, one could, in a sense, see this as ZN challenging the always-ever-so-serious, no-humor-allowed WALKING DEAD on its own turf. And, TWD's pilot excepted, it managed to not only top but rather handily put to shame anything we've ever gotten from TWD.[3]

Back in May, ZN showrunner Karl Schaefer offered TV Geek Talk a preview of the coming 2nd season. Among other things, he said:

"A lot of our directors this season are also writers. So, you have a lot of really strong writer/director filmmakers getting to make their own episodes of Z Nation, and so, they put everything into it. So, every episode is going to have its own signature spin a little bit too."

"White Light" was the first look at this auteur-ist approach this season, written and directed by John Hyams, ZN's most prolific director who also both co-wrote and directed ZN's spectacular season 1 finale. If tonight was any indication, it's an approach that's going to work very well for the series. Fast-paced, action-packed, thoughtful, heartbreaking, exhausting and free of any of the sort of cheats and corner-cutting of "The Murphy", this was, in every way, a remarkably good episode, easily one of the best-executed of the entire run.

Next Friday can't get here fast enough.



[1] Not just via the constant action and cliffhangers; at one point, Doc bursts into a room and tries to shoot a villain, the gun jams and he throws it at the guy--an old serial trope I can't remember seeing in anything made in recent decades. It made me laugh.

[2] I've written before of my reservations about the restricted color palette of ZN's cinematography. I just think a robust, vibrant, expressionistic use of color would better serve the material. For tonight's ep, the palette was as restricted as it ever has been, bleeding out that color and tinting the footage like a silent film. Sepia-toned for daytime, blue for darkness. When Mack is killed, the white light suddenly throws bright color on the scene, progressively highlighting the blue of his eyes and the blood from his mouth, a striking and effective moment. I don't  know that I'd want to see this color experiment very often but I find it impossible to argue with the results here.

[3] TWD hasn't been blind to what the ZN gang is doing. Toward the end of its last season, its writers suddenly turned Carol into a blackly-humorous comic figure, pretending to be a mousy housewife in public while, in private, tossing out wicked wisecracks and one-liners. It was a very entertaining turn but one that, like so much of what happens on TWD, had absolutely no basis in the character's history and was so out-of-place it looked as if it was being phoned in from an entirely different show. Those eps were shot after ZN had been airing for a while and it's very unlikely that's a coincidence.

Monday, September 14, 2015


Tonight's installment of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is primarily one of those delaying actions for which TWD has become notorious, one of those eps in which the writers seem to be holding an in-house competition for how little plot they can use to fill an entire hour of television. In this case, an hour and five minutes. This one probably wouldn't win any such contest--the second half of TWD's third season is going to be pretty tough to beat when it comes to that--but it did manage to take a few minutes worth of material and stretch it so thin as to render it transparent.

As tonight's offering opens, Travis, his son Chris and his ex-wife Liza are trapped in a barber shop in the midst of a riot while Madison, Nick and Alicia sit at home waiting for Travis' return. The one story this series has to tell--how society collapsed in a zombie apocalypse--continues to be the one story the series aggressively avoids. The series remains narrowly focused on the same small group of unimportant characters. Abjectly contrary to normal human behavior in the midst of crisis, neither Madison nor anyone else turns on the television, flips on the radio or plugs into the internet to try to get any news on what's happening, not even about the riot, which, last episode, was being covered live on television.[*] The writers don't even pretend to provide any reason for this and they make a point of rubbing it in the viewer's face by having Madison and co. instead sit down to play a game of Monopoly, even as sounds of disturbance drift over their neighborhood.[1] So whatever is happening in the city, the rest of the U.S., the rest of the world, the series remains entirely isolated from it.[1a]

Travis' group, along with the family of the barber who took them in,[2] escape the riot with relatively little trouble (it's a very budget-conscious riot), Madison's group are menaced by a zombie, go next door to steal a shotgun, the two groups are reunited and kill the zombie then everyone sits around and talks about a lot of things that don't really matter while not trying to find out anything about what's happening. By the end, Travis and family are ready to leave but their exit is cut short by the appearance of the military, trying to clean up the zombie problem. And that's it. An entire episode from that.

As with both previous eps, this one devotes some of its filler time to making the characters even more unlikable. Madison continues to refuse to tell Alicia what's going on, offering the bizarre rationale that though there's some major crisis afoot that justifies their leaving their home, maybe Alicia will never have to know. When Alicia is going over a fence while fleeing a zombie, Chris tries to help her. For his trouble, Alicia gives him an elbow to the nose. He immediately runs to the mirror to see if this has messed up his darling lil face. When the barber shows Chris how to use a gun--a pretty useful skill, given that they've been attacked by mindless would-be killers three times in the series so far and have seen others attacked as well--Travis becomes incredibly pissy about it. He doesn't like guns.

It boggles the mind. Much of the action in the ep is dictated by characters displaying that kind of idiocy. With a zombie somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the house, Nick stealthily searches for it by shining a really bright light out the windows. With the creature still somewhere outside, Nick opens the door and lets a dog into the house then turns to pet it and converse with the others, leaving the door wide open behind him. When he and the others go over to the neighbor's place to steal that shotgun--they're gangsters--they likewise leave their own door standing open, which allows the zombie to get inside. They break into the neighbor's place then--you guessed it--leave the door open behind them. From the neighbor's house, they see Travis return home--the home they've allowed the zombie to enter by leaving the door open--but though they can walk right out the neighbor's front door and be within a few unobstructed footsteps of Travis where he has pulled into the adjoining driveway, they opt, instead, to return the elaborate way they came, navigating a maze of garden wire and climbing over a fence and down a dumpster. They bring the gun with them but don't bother to bring the shells and Alicia has to return for them, which is how she ends up nearly eaten by one of TWD's patented teleporting zombies.[3] Madison has a conversation with Liza in which she alludes to her zombified neighbor and says that if she ever ends up like that, she wants Liza to kill her so Travis wouldn't have to do it. Having to do such a thing, she argues, would break him. And then she leaves that zombiefied neighbor alive so the creature's own spouse can return to find it (and be attacked by it). That's FTWD--a lot of stupid people doing really stupid things.

The writers seem, at various points, to forget the magical knowledge they'd previously granted the characters. In the previous ep, Travis seemed to know the zombies were dead. "They don't die; they come back." In this one, when Nick says they're dead, Travis asks in disbelief, "Why would you say that?" Moments later, he has a discussion with Liza in which she says he was right. Right, that is, in previously saying "they come back." Then he's back to thinking they're just sick and talks his girlfriend out of killing her zombiefied neighbor on that basis. She says they're dead. "We don't know that. We don't know anything." Whatever they know or don't, the family continues to act like gangsters; when they kill their zombified neighbor, they bury him in the back yard rather than even attempting to alert any authorities, the third such incident--murders, for all they know--they've committed then opted to cover up.[4]

Many of those who commented on the series after the last installment tried to justify the gangsterish behavior by these middle-class, middle-American professional educators by asserting society is collapsing but here, the writers can't seem to decide how much of a crisis has developed. They give us mayhem and an atmosphere of crisis but as the families are about to leave town the next morning, Travis sees one of the neighbors putting out his trash for the garbageman. Moments later, still another neighbor returns home and having driven all the way to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City, Utah, he's entirely oblivious to what's happening. When, right after this, the military suddenly appear, shooting zombies and taking names, it feels as if events have suddenly jumped weeks into the future. So far, FTWD has only covered 3 days plus part of a morning and the characters, who have been behaving like gangsters, are less than a day removed from their ordinary, everyday lives. Series showrunner Dave Erickson said the season would cover about three weeks time but with tonight's ep, the season is now half over. Will we have some kind of time-jump in the eps to come or is this just going to be another example of TWD timekeeping?

Whatever the case, the series remains an unimpressive waste. As if aware of this, the writers entitled tonight's opus "The Dog." It fits.



[*] 19 Sept., 2014 - A correction: Travis and the group with him do hear a very brief radio report while fleeing the riot. It seems to have been dropped in after the fact; though no one seems to turn off the radio, it goes away (almost as soon as it appeared).

[1] No one seems to have any friends or extended family about whom they're worried. No one they try to contact, in any event.

[1a] 14 Sept., 2014 - After I posted this, some readers asserted that the Monopoly game came out because the power had failed, which is why they couldn't watch tv to get any news but that isn't the case. Only moments before getting the game, Madison had gone into the dining room and turned down the light and a lamp was visibly burning in the background throughout the game.

More generally, the power failures in the ep were never random; the power company was following the ep's screenplay. When Travis and co. are driving away from the riot, they watch power in the city progressively fail, which provides a rather ominous tableau. Later, when an unseen zombie is menacing Madison and her kids, the power dramatically fails in a bid to ramp up the tension in the scene. When Travis returns home to find a zombie munching on a dog, he first hears it then the power dramatically returns just in time to see his zombie neighbor covered in gore. And so on. This is standard horror movie stuff and the series could be forgiven it if it didn't make such liberal use of it.

[2] As with last week, there's some Spanish-language dialogue between the Spanish-speaking characters. FTWD provides subtitles for these scenes but whatever genius is responsible for them made them so small they're virtually impossible to read.

[3] The zombie was in the neighbor's house when Alicia returns to get the shotgun shells. Alerted to its presence, she fled for home as fast as she could go but the zombie then teleported close enough to grab her through some garden wire. It teleported a second time in order to get on the other side of that wire and grab Alicia again as she was going over a fence.

[4] Of the neighbor gunned down in the house, the barber says they should burn the body, which is the proper procedure if one wants to eliminate any risk of infection. Travis ignores him.