Sunday, April 17, 2016

On FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, The Writers All Fall Down

Last week, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD opened its second season with what amounted to a bottle episode, which seems an extraordinarily bad idea--I've certainly never seen it done before--but the FTWD gang knew something we didn't; they'd already been renewed for a 3rd season, something that was publicly announced shortly after that unfortunate episode had aired. While it must be great to be working on a series owned by AMC and never have to worry about turning out a good show in order to get renewals (FTWD was similarly "renewed" for a 2nd season before the 1st had even aired), it isn't exactly conducive to the production of quality television. Exhibit A: that season opener. Exhibit B: "We All Fall Down," tonight's offering.

FTWD's sophomore year has adopted the same approach as the parent series in its just-concluded season; pack in the filler, kill as much time as possible and sell this as building up to a climax that somehow never manages to come. In the closing moments of last week's ep, one in which the plot was "characters drive around on a boat," a bogey appeared on radar, probably a gang of pirates who had shot up another boat encountered earlier. The witless Alicia, mooning over a voice on the radio, had given away our heroes' position. Here comes trouble. Capt. Strand said the unidentified craft was closing fast, could outrun them and then the ep ended on this cliffhanger. But this week, the writers apparently decided they didn't want to follow up on this. As the ep opens, our heroes are still in flight with the bogey still following but it suddenly doesn't seem particularly important. Despite the previous assertion about the pursuing boat being much faster, our heroes seem to be keeping their distance just fine. They decide to put into a cove on an island and try to hide until the potential pirates have passed. It wouldn't be a TWD series if the plot wasn't made dependent upon everyone being an idiot, so as they put into port, they see a light on the island and with heavily-armed pirates hot on their heels and the light representing a possible unknown danger, everyone except the Salazars and Strand decide to leave the boat and go check it out.

Theoretically, the pirates could swoop in at any moment with guns blazing and those in the away party, who are completely unarmed, have no way of communicating with the boat once they leave it. Strand tells them to hurry back. And of course, they don't. Solely because the script says so, the pirates just fade away, along with any real concern over them.

In place of that more interesting storyline, we're given a dull mini-soap starring a family the away team meets. There's lots of talk, talk, talk. No one tells the family about the potential gang of armed pirates bearing down on them. The father is a fatalistic type, just marking time until the end. The mother is dying of cancer[*] and wants our heroes to take her two young children away with them. The oldest boy does his chores, which includes killing any zombies who have washed up on the beach below his home. Travis still doesn't have a clue where he is--when his son kills a zombie, he's horrified by it. Alicia walks around on an island already established as having a zombie population while listening to music through earphones. The writers once again forget Nick is a junkie until they briefly need him to be one for the sake of the plot--though he's still suffering no withdrawal of any sort, he prowls around that faimily's house for drugs and finds some pills. Via a magical deduction from something one of the children said, Nick not only knows they're poison pills of some kind but also that the father intends to one day give them to his family. And so on.

The family soap ends in tragedy, the pirates have disappeared from the radar and the characters leave port with long faces, the entire affair having added nothing to the series but running time.

FTWD has always intended as the lower-budget version of TWD, the show AMC wanted TWD to be back in season 2. Its really only interesting in that it shows what TWD is like with even less interesting characters and without any of the flash. Without major changes--and I don't for a moment believe any such changes will be forthcoming--it seems likely this will crash and burn even more spectacularly than last year (when it only had six eps to bleed audience). That's what happens when a series is guaranteed renewal--no incentive to do better.



[*] Update (18 April, 2016) - Reader VeilluerDeNuit informs me that the illness in this case was multiple sclerosis rather than cancer. It sounded to me as if the mother said "a mass," which I took to be cancer and even reviewing it, it still sounds like "a mass," but M.S. would make more sense.


  1. At least I find the original series watchable if only because of the cartoonish level stupidity the characters display. This one is just paint drying. Dull paint.

  2. As a Brit , I struggle with this American obsession with mid season breaks and the tedious metering out of episodes to fill a schedule- it doesn't make any sense to me.
    The most obvious side effect is the need to create cliffhangers and story upswings to generate views and internet chatter at these pointless junctures.

    Aside from the poor writing of characters, events, entire seasons, its the effect these breaks have on the actual programme content that jarrs the most. We end up with a tediously drawn out series with either end heavily weighted- usually with more dung.

    1. A recent example,
      The Glenn dumpster fake out.
      Not only was it a galling , woeful mess, it made me very aware that it was done solely due to a 'mid season break'
      They might as well have had Glenn talking to the camera, it was that jarring.

    2. There's nothing in the structure of these series that demands or encourages that kind of treatment though. The TWDs end up the way they are because the people behind them insist on making them that way. It wouldn't matter if TWD had only 5 or 6 eps to the series; those 5 or 6 eps, placed in the same hands, would look exactly like the 16 we get now. Without an entirely new creative team, they'd be just as tediously drawn out and packed with filler. The premise sells the show and there isn't any motivation to do anything better.