"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. 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 Tobias 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 re-argue 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
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.
 Yet another black character decimated.