"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. It's a jaw-droppingly bad decision. Showing the fall of civilization was the series' major selling-point and it has just cast that away with a 9-day time-jump, landing after the end. 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.
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.
 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.