So, your ex-wife and your girlfriend are living in the same roof. Your stepson is a junkie. A family of strangers has turned your stepdaughter’s bedroom into a makeshift IC unit. The National Guard has quarantined your neighborhood.
Not a bad morning for a jog.
That’s how Travis begins a new day in Fear the Walking Dead, perhaps in an effort to find mundanity again. It’s been over a week since the National Guard moved in and Travis and his packed household are struggling to adjust. They bicker and fight and yell like normal, but this isn’t normal. Nothing is normal anymore.
“Not Fade Away” is the first time since the series started where things sort of stop and take stock of the status quo. The noise of the downtown riots are a memory, a ghastly echo from somewhere far away. However, danger is still present and the new force to fear is now the government, making themselves cozy with a clean, uninfected part of suburban Los Angeles. By the end, Travis will discover how misplaced his trust has been in the block’s newest residents and will have to find a way to undo it all.
The Army is withholding something. Not just doctors, medicine, or electricity, but truth. Travis willfully followed them and worked for them because he’s comfortable with authority. He’s a teacher after all, he gets it. When asked to convince a neighbor to cooperate, he does so with only a modicum of hesitation.
He has no idea he’s leading them to a grisly fate.
The Army takes in the injured Griselda thanks to the help of a beautiful but untrustworthy Dr. Exner. She’s untrustworthy because she also forcefully takes in Nick, his addiction classifying him as “sick” and is forced against his will into custody. That wasn’t part of her agreement with Liz, and Exner still manages to rope in Liz — not certified as a nurse — to operate under her command. Liz is now gone with Nick, and Madison’s hot grudge against Liz is at peak heat.
Early in the episode, Chris sees a light signal — a call for help? — outside the quarantine zone. He tries to tell his parents, and their response is polarizing. Travis shrugs it off, tells the Army, and they promise to check it out. Madison goes to investigate on her own, and sees the actual apocalypse that is happening, the smell of the dead overwhelming her and the brutish, ghostly military moving with impunity.
Sitting where Chris saw the signal, Travis sees the lights, but now they unmistakably come from the barrels of military rifles. Whoever, whatever Chris saw has been eliminated, bagged, and tagged, and Travis finally realizes who he’s dealing with.
Fear the Walking Dead was at first undercut by its lack of mystery. We knew what was happening, we knew what was going to happen, and we also knew we wouldn’t learn the origins of the virus/mutation, so what do we have to ponder? Now we have them: The hell is the military doing? What do they want? Will this affect The Walking Dead in any way? These questions are making Fear a worthy entry in the zombie genre and Walking Dead mythos, it’s a captivating mystery soap opera disguised as a geek show.
The Walking Dead has always made clear that the living — selfish, manipulative, secretive, with ulterior motives — are the apocalypse’s actual nightmare. Not the zombies. You don’t see any walkers this week, and the show is all the better for it. Those camouflage fatigues are ironic: the enemy is more visible now.