George Romero’s seminal 1968 zombie horror Night of the Living Dead was a sharp takedown on the ‘60s counterculture, racism, and politics of the Cold War. Turn on the news today and you’ll see we aren’t far removed from those turbulent social climates. It should be tradition, then, that genre horror can serve as intelligent commentary on the current state of civil decay.
Unfortunately, Fear the Walking Dead is not that. It’s not that at all.
This week’s episode, “So Close, Yet So Far,” Fear imitated the #BlackLivesMatter movement for window dressing, an excuse to get chaos and rampage on the screen. Had it been done right, Fear the Walking Dead would earn acclaim and praise for being emblematic of its time and place. Instead, we got cringe-worthy weakness.
Travis splits from his new family to search for his eldest son, Chris, a rebellious teen who has picked a new character trait this week: social-consciousness. A policeman, somewhere, off-screen, killed a homeless man. We’re led to assume he had turned into a walker, but considering it’s the LAPD who knows. That’s the sort of ambiguity Fear the Walking Dead wants to challenge you with, but it’s a false pretension that feels flat and uninspired. Actual clarity would have been nice.
With a man dead on the street, the people facing the police rise into a furor. As soon as Travis and ex-wife/Chris’ mom Liza show up, hell breaks loose and L.A. looks like it did in 1992. Looters, car tippers, the vultures who take advantage of civil unrest come out for an impromptu The Purge. With his (old) family by his side, Travis finds refuge with a barber and his own family, who have reluctantly let him in.
The Walking Dead and the majority of zombie movies tend to be about strangers becoming family. Even Fear the Walking Dead, mostly about a family tearing apart at the seams, still finds time to have unity with strange company. As Travis and his family take refuge, both driving principles are at play: Will these strangers become family? Or will their in-fighting be their undoing?