Monday, August 31, 2015

Not Close, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Only Goes So Far v. 3.0

"So Close, Yet So Far," the second installment of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, dramatically ramps up the pace from the series' unfortunate pilot but the writing continues to be just terrible.

What does Travis actually know? He's just seen Nick's drug dealer Calvin turned into a slobbering killer who, seemingly impervious to pain, keeps trying to kill even after suffering significant bodily harm. He freaks and, the writers granting him magical knowledge he doesn't, in fact, possess, immediately decides it's time for the family to pack up and leave the city! Leaving one's home is, of course, the most extreme possible course of action, one that would be reserved for only the most extreme emergencies. Here, there doesn't appear to be any emergency at all, extreme or otherwise. The media are silent. People are going about their ordinary lives. Some sort of bug is going around but, absent the magical knowledge, Travis has no reason to connect that to the zombies and, in fact, every reason not to do so. Travis knows of three cases of apparent zombie-ism: Calvin, Nick's girlfriend and the street person shot by the police. Two of the three were into drugs; it's no big leap to hypothesize a street person may have been as well and to conclude from that it could be some drug causing the zombie-ism. It's impossible to consume the crime-obsessed news media without seeing story upon story of people indulging various illicit pharmaceuticals then behaving in a violent manner; as a high-school teacher in a major metropolitan area, Travis would have probably even seen this before. That doesn't constitute any sort of emergency and it certainly doesn't erect any sort of bridge between the bug and the zombie-ism. Calvin wasn't sick and Travis knows it--he'd seen Calvin, who was the picture of health, earlier that same day. Calvin hadn't been felled by any illness--he'd been shot. At the same time, the widespread nature of the mysterious bug--enough students had fallen ill that the schools have been closed--argues against drawing any connection to zombie-ism because if the bug was causing that, turning its victims, a large number of whom are kids, into mindless killers, the press and the internet would be single-mindedly drowning in coverage of it. Instead, the press in the world of FTWD has been entirely silent on the matter and even as Travis is making his pronouncement about leaving the city, Nick is flipping through local radio stations and noting that no one is talking about it.

TWD would never be mistaken for a smart show--not, at least, by anyone qualified to render the judgment--but the idea that a national and probably even international zombie outbreak could occur and be so entirely covered up, presumably by malevolent officialdom, is the worst insult to the intelligence of viewers this franchise has ever delivered. It's absolute bottom-of-the-barrel writing. This entire series is being premised on it.

Absent magical knowledge, an ordinary person isn't even going to suspect he's dealing with the dead returning to life. That would seem fantastic, ludicrous. Just about any other remotely plausible explanation would be preferred. And without the magic, Travis just watched Nick kill a guy (or at least break him up and leave him for dead). It's a matter of self-defense but Travis doesn't even call the police. He just leaves the scene.

Travis is a gangstah!

He's not alone in this either. Later in the ep, Madison returns to the empty high-school where she works in order to steal oxycontin for her junkie son. Apparently, high-school nurse's stations these days come equipped with oxycontin that can be had by merely prying back the door on a locker. While there, she encounters Tobias, the odd kid from last week who had figured out zombie-ism. He's there at the school to pillage food and supplies and loads up an entire push-cart with them. When he and Madison learn there's a zombie in the building, they flee through the hallways with the cart. Something falls off it, Tobias goes back to get it and Madison scolds him. "Leave it!" He doesn't. Smart kid. Then, within reach of the door, they encounter the now-zombified school principal. Madison tries to reason with him. He attacks them. In the ensuing struggle, she kills him by bashing in his head with a fire extinguisher.[1] Ever conscious of the show's budget, she does so just outside the camera's range to spare any expense for make-up effects. She's a gangstah too. She doesn't call the police. She and Travis just stroll out to her car in a leisurely manner and drive off, leaving the principal's corpse and the entire cart full of supplies they'd just gone through so much trouble to acquire.

In a single ep, Madison and Travis, two middle-class, middle-American professional educators, walk away from what are, as far as they know, two murders. They not only fail to alert the authorities or do anything to establish their innocence with officialdom, they make matters worse when returning home by destroying evidence. Travis washes Calvin's blood off his truck before going to look for his son; Madison washes the principal's blood out of her jacket.

All that magic is, of course, present to more rapidly advance a poorly constructed plot. One of TWD's worst plotting tropes is also present throughout this ep, characters who fail to communicate vital information to one another, information that, in such circumstances, they absolutely would not fail to share. When Travis calls his ex-wife Liza trying to find their son Chris, he doesn't tell her what's going on, so she proceeds to bitchily reargue their custody dispute. When Travis finds Alicia with her very ill boyfriend Matt, he also sees Matt has been bitten by something--granted more magical knowledge, he immediately searches for a bite--yet incredibly fails to even ask the guy what happened! The family drag Alicia away but don't tell her why or what's going on; absent any explanation, she is, at one point, rushing out the door intent on returning to care for Matt (fortunately for her, her brother has a well-timed seizure and she must stay). Other than Nick's flipping through the radio dials, no one even bothers to turn on the tv and try to find any news of what might be happening. Y'know, that first thing people do when there's a crisis. Then when Liza is trying to locate a protest at which her son is present, her first move is--what a shock!--to turn on the tv and--whaddya' know!--coverage of the protest is the first thing that comes on.

Normally, this "poor communication" bad-writing trope is present in order to artificially extend a poorly-constructed, terminally underwritten script and that's also the case here but FTWD has an additional reason for wallowing in it. Because the writers have granted Travis magical knowledge of what's happening, things his character doesn't know and wouldn't intuit from what he's seen, he can't explain, on screen, what's happening. There's no way he can know. If he has to explain, what's he going to say?

Tonight's installment succeeded in making the already-terminally-unlikable characters even more unlikable. When Travis rings Chris's cell, Chris, seeing his father calling, puts on his headphones and listens to loud music instead of picking up. Later, Madison's neighbor is attacked by a zombie and rather than going to the neighbor's aid, Madison tells her daughter not to look at it and barricades the door with her body to prevent her daughter from rendering assistance. Charming.

With only 4 eps left, FTWD continues to be worthy of the original--another creative abortion that leaves one shaking one's head at the waste of such a rich premise.

--j.

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[1] Yet another black character decimated.

5 comments:

  1. Its like in this show L.A. lives in some bubble..Europe would be exploding with insanity by this point. Since zombies started happening its been about 3 days or so. Maybe in LA its taking a slow time. But your right its completely stupid with all the natural deaths and war,violence around the world all hell wasnt breaking loose somewhere some countries would have had martial law or mass panics/riots by now. I think it was too complicated for the writers and would have cost to much money to try to talk about whats happening in other places the internet still is working and phones still work at the end of this episode, they seem to want to show people not realizing whats happening. But the internet cant be censored people eould at least know that other parts of the country/world are descending into chaos.this show has failed so hard.
    And that kid tobias should be dead their first chance to show how dangerous and brutal zombies are and he can fight one off that easily. If he was killed in front of her and knows the danger it would make more sense that she would be terrified and selfish and not help the neighbor.

    The budget must really suck since all the cool stuff is happening off camera, they are not even showing any gore.

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    1. Arnold Blumberg, the "Doctor of the Dead," reviewed the FTWD pilot on his podcast last week and noted how AMC had constantly leaned on Frank Darabont to deliver zombies about which we hear but don't see--AMC trying to be cheap. The FTWD pilot, he noted, seems to be an effort to deliver on that: TWD without zombies.

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    2. that's just so crazy!
      people still watch the original series pilot and will for a long time, this show is going to be forgotten quicker then saved by the bell:the new class.

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  2. I said last week that I would give the conspiracy/cover-up angle a pass as long as they didn't call attention to it. Because, yes, it's ridiculous and pulls you right out of the show. You can't help but realize how unrealistic everything is when the characters are pointing out things that just make no sense whatsoever. The idea that this wouldn't be all over the media by this point is absurd. The measles outbreak in Disneyland was national news for months. A few cases of ebola had the nation in panic mode. A while back, there were reports of a homeless guy "acting like a zombie" and people were seriously talking apocalypse based on that. Plus, what would "the government" have to gain at this point by covering up the zombie outbreak? Wouldn't they want everyone relatively safe in their homes rather than taking to the streets? It's like the purpose of the conspiracy is to expedite the fall of civilization because really, that is the purpose of the conspiracy. The writers need to expedite the fall of civilization and this is their idiotic means of doing so.

    Having said that, by nature of the fact it was 30 minutes shorter, the episode was still a vast improvement over the pilot.

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    1. "I said last week that I would give the conspiracy/cover-up angle a pass as long as they didn't call attention to it. Because, yes, it's ridiculous and pulls you right out of the show." I'm not giving any of it a pass; TWD inspires from me no such mercy. In this instance, the entire FTWD project is being premised on this conspiracy garbage. One of my other readers noted that when Liza wanted to locate that protest over the police shooting, she had but to turn on the tv and there is was. Are there, he asks, malevolent government overseers there in the tv crew vehicles, waiting to hit the kill-switch if zombies should appear? Awful.

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