You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. And, don't worry--your loved ones are safe.
This weeks episode of Fear the Walking Dead features the monotony of everyday life, closely held secrets, and young Nick's superior abilities as a cat burglar. Madison Clark is the reason why people are going to love this show, hands down. The elevation of Melissa McBride's Carol in the original series should have been all the warning needed. What gender bias? Kim Dickens is the reason why this show will resonate with viewers. Yeah, we're laughing at dumb Travis right now, but he shows signs of getting it, albeit too late. His son Chris and his ex-wife Liza are in on something as far as a realization of what's going on, while Alicia and Nick Clark are just treading water and dealing with their pain.
It's too soon to expect the level of competence that we've seen after watching five full seasons of the original series. It's way too soon for Madison to be as clued in as she is, but this is more of a testament to her years of dealing with Nick's drug addiction than anything else. A lot of the reviews of this episode are going to draw attention to the fact that people aren't smarter about what's going on. Well, who would be? The world turned upside down two weeks ago, and everyone is acting like this is a really bad earthquake scenario. I find their "incompetence" to be realistic, just like I see Daniel's skepticism to be a tremendous asset.
The military comes off as being the bad guy this week, and so you have to keep referring back to the scenes that appeared throughout The Walking Dead. How many times did they find a "FEMA" camp or a military encampment and find everyone dead and overrun, despite their weapons and their fences? The Governor knew the truth, and the Governor killed anyone in the military any chance he got. Well, you can see why.
In this episode, you see the unit begin to break down at the edges. One lunk is all too eager to pretend to go on patrol in order to get a little sophisticated time with Ofelia, who is probably in it just to get some medicine and not because she's repressed or anything. These troops are probably all waiting for a chance to frag Lt. Moyers but we just don't see that yet. Everyone's boredom and humanity is dumped into the mix--the residents try to stretch their supplies and the soldiers tee off and play golf, patrol endlessly like they are looking for someone to shoot, and then ration everything. They don their protective masks and go on armed patrols, looking to put rounds in anything out there, but you can tell there is a stressed logistics chain because, after less than ten days, nobody has much of anything anymore. It's all coming apart, just not at once.
I don't think this is how real soldiers would operate. First, among American citizens, the National Guard is more citizen oriented and willing to to do more help than harm. Active duty troops live in a bubble, only coming into contact with the communities where they are stationed. The Guard and reserve have more experience with public affairs and disaster relief. These troops look like California National Guard to me. They're not going to be in on some conspiracy because what would happen in that scenario is that someone would start blabbing about it. Second, they have their own families--a lot of them would desert, en masse, to go home to their own if they were in danger, just like cops and firemen would. Third, someone has to realize that as the supplies run out, so does the legitimacy of any military unit. I suppose they could keep things together through fear, but what would likely happen is that, as soon as there is a chance to slip away in tightly organized groups, a lot of them would do so in order to save themselves. This doesn't mean anything bad about the military--this means they're human, after all, and they would be unlikely to follow a jackass like Lt. Moyers.
Resources are collapsing quickly. Fuel and food are going to run out unless someone start's harvesting all of the gardens that still exist. And I think this is where Nick's benefit to the group will be his ability to scrounge. He's seen doing that in this episode with shocking results. I don't know what Alicia can do, other than tattoo herself and scatter among the wind chimes. At least Chris is recording videos of the aftermath that will be of critical help to historians (which is useless, of course, but how will anyone know anything in the future if someone isn't doing what Chris is doing?)
This is why I think it was absolutely the thing for Chris to be doing on the roof. He is able to find evidence of something in the hills around their neighborhood, outside the fences and the razor wire. He tries to show his dad Travis what's going on and Travis is too worried being the mayor of the block. He blows him off. He shows Madison and, like the badass she is, she's outside of the wire, trying to see what's going on. There's a good reason why no one is allowed outside--the military is trying to get control of the "infected" population through patrols, controlling the uninfected, and through intelligence gathering.
What you're seeing here is more of the temporary Army story line with the Human Terrain System in action--everyone is controlled, kept in a single place, and monitored for signs of being infected. They're also looking at undesirables, like Nick, and at people who are taking up more medicine than is necessary. Medical supplies aren't for people who are going to die and turn into zombies. They're running out of everything, of course, or the military is just stockpiling things for their own use.
The writers have blown one aspect of the storyline, and it's a nitpicky thing for me to bring up, but, where are the NCOs? In the Army, a Lt. Moyers is going to have at least one Sergeant First Class out there, supervising and leading the troops. In a unit like this, we're seeing a lot of lower enlisted soldiers. In reality, you'd see more NCOs holding everyone to a higher standard.
We're introduced to a few new characters. The two that stand out to me are the aforementioned Lt. Moyers, a First Lieutenant in the Army who acts like he's a light Colonel, and Dr. Bethany Exner, who is triaging everyone and "removing" the people who can't be saved or helped. She gets rid of anyone who isn't going to make it without more health care than they can afford to provide. Lt. Moyers is just an asshole, so there you go. Dr. Exner represents bureaucratic necessity to me, and she is more than willing to scoop up someone like Liza because she probably things Liza is going to be a realist. Both Moyers and Exner are menacing enough without me spilling all of the beans, but the focus of this episode is control. Imperfect people with questionable motives are now making calls that will affect the group dynamic.
So, we're at a dividing point here. Three characters are removed from the group (and it makes sense to think of them as a group now because we're ten days into the outbreak and they've begun to cohere together as a working unit, even though Travis is still clueless and Daniel is ready to tell stories of El Salvador's death squads.
Madison has a piece of information and so does Chris. This unlikely combination creates the drama of Madison's sojourn out into what's left of East Los Angeles. She sees evidence that people are getting blown away and that there has been grisly activity all around. Everything outside the wire is abandoned, or is it?
And what's with those flashing lights? Well, you have to tune in. Suffice it to say, this was probably the most tense and scary episode so far, ranking up there with the original series in terms of set decoration and design. We've seen a lot of Madison's house, the neighborhood, and now the world as it will look nine days after the world ends. We know that the soldiers are leery of blood and breathing the air and they're no letting anyone, no matter how ill, reside amongst healthy people.
We also know Madison is too savvy to believe anyone's bullshit. The next two episodes are going to be where Travis will eventually catch up to her. Aligned with Daniel, these three will form the nucleus of their group and they will know that you're a fool if you think men do evil just because of fear.