Fear the Walking Dead: “Pilot” episode dodges sophomore slump

fear the walking deadGotta love The Walking Dead.  And though I was amped to see that Fear the Walking Dead would deal with the start of the walker pandemic, I feared sophomore slump.

I needn’t have worried.  Fear the Walking Dead starts off with a creepy stew of disbelief, dread, and self-doubt.  The characters here don’t know what’s going on, and all except for two don’t believe it’s anything to be seriously worried about.

That’s mostly because in Fear, things get creepy when a heroin addict (Frank Dillane, Sens8) sees some horrifying zombie stuff go down in his “shooting gallery”…and gets hit by a car when he runs out into the street.  So naturally, nobody believes him because they figure he’s tweaking.

Meanwhile, you’re introduced to the leads, Madison (Kim Dickens), a guidance counselor who’s also Frank’s mom;
Madison’s boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), who works with Madison;
Madison’s daughter Alicia (Alycia Debman-Carey), the “good kid” of the family, who loves her brother but has all but given up on him.  Add to that a bunch of other characters that are really good people. The heartbreak to come will be seeing some – or all – of these redshirts die horribly, possibly joining the shufflers. (Okay, there’s one huge jerk, but it’s The Walking Dead.  You know not everyone will be kumbaya-ing their way into the apocalypse.)

Yes, there are themes here.  Fear of losing your sanity, the slavish belief in being protected by the powers-that-be, the generation gap – adults saying “the authorities would tell us” vs kids knowing what’s all over the Internet. Meanwhile, children aren’t showing up to school…

Fear is an interesting commentary on who would be missed if things took a turn for the gruesome. Junkies, the homeless, runaways; the disenfranchised are the first to be hit, and nobody even notices.  Dave Erickson and Robert Kirkman’s first ep shows hints of what’s going on all around LA.  A homeless man looking a bit too disheveled, “missing” flyers everywhere…yet the world goes on.  These outliers  could turn one by one, and nobody would notice. Until there were too many of them to not notice.

There are definitely some moments that telegraph what’s to come.  They don’t completely pull me out of the narrative, but they do cause a giggle.  Travis is discussing Call of the Wild and it’s man vs nature themes, and a science teacher talks of “nonlinear things that are impossible to control”. HINT HINT Y’ALL.

A traffic stop three quarters of the way into this ep is reminiscent of a similar traffic snarl in World War Z. However, though we as viewers know Something Is Wrong, the characters don’t, and leave what they think is simply a jam caused by criminal activity.  Poor bastards.  Bread, water, crossbow!  Stat!

At the end, video footage shows a walker attack EMTs. And things start to get real at the final scene, which I won’t spoil here.  The question is, in the next episode will people start to believe, and take action?  Well, considering this is the first of a six-episode season, it’s doubtful.  Right now I’m enjoying the dramatic irony, and the “who’ll make it to the season finale” suspense.  So far, there’s enough spine-tingling here to keep me invested in Fear.  Here’s hoping future eps are able to dodge the sophomore slump just as gracefully.

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