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. 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, 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. 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.
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).
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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