The Walking Dead spin-off takes us back to the beginning, showing us a slice of the events between the beginning of the outbreak (Kirkman will presumably keep to his insistence on not revealing its origins) and Rick waking up from his coma in the pilot to the original series (the entire first season of Fear the Walking Dead will take place during this time period).
And the zombie apocalypse has started by the time of the pilot, even if no one knows it yet. The episode opens with
Matt from Seventh Heaven Nick shaking himself out of a heroin-induced stupor. He goes looking for his girlfriend, and finds her kneeling over another junkie. He calls to her and she turns her head toward him. The lower half of her face is covered in blood! The junkie below has a sizeable portion of face missing! Unless he was an aficionado of krokodil (don’t do a google image search for that), we have a first zombie sighting! And I have used my allowance of exclamation points for the entire episode. This is ok, though, because it’s slow going from here.
Nick is understandably mortified by what he saw (including his girlfriend shambling toward him with a large knife sticking out of her ribs). He dashes out of the church-turned-crack house and runs into the street, and, as our mothers always feared would happen if we didn’t look both ways, is promptly hit by a car.
Shift scenes to domestic bliss, or at least your standard morning rush, as
Pablo Escobar Travis does a little home plumbing and apparently my favorite actor, Saracen’s Mom Madison, tries to rush her daughter Alicia out of the shower. They get that call and go see Madison’s son Nick, not restrained in the psych ward with breathing down his neck. He showed up to the hospital raving and no one believes a junkie.
We’ll fast forward through the rest. It’s a lot of scene-setting and character introduction, with a bunch of little creepy touches dropped in. Travis has a teenage son (he isn’t married to Madison) that doesn’t want to come see him (for the weekend?). We see that Travis and Madison care about the kids at the high school they both work at. Travis is teaching Jack London and tells the kids London argued nature always wins. Madison confiscates a knife from a scared Hispanic kid, who raves that there is safety in numbers and alludes to strange happenings around the country. Madison tells him he has a bright future ahead of him at college. He retorts that nobody is going to college next year. Madison tells him to spend less time on the Internet (why don’t you cool it Madison? I need web traffic. You surf the web as much as you want.). Alicia is established as bright but not driven and has a boyfriend who disappears halfway through the episode. Travis investigates the church—at night, because it’s important that it be as creepy as possible—and finds one very freaked out junkie and a pile of blood and viscera (if you know what that word means). Madison goes from insisting Nick is crazy and the blood at the church no big deal to taking a complete 180 on the subject when she visits the church after Nick escapes from the hospital, because apparently the sins of the Walking Dead father will be visited upon the son. Travis and Madison get caught in a traffic jam that leads to the video from the trailer of a man taking multiple gunshots, unfazed, to the chest, and at one point drive past a ragged figure shambling through a park, but don’t take notice because that’s hardly a strange sight when you live in the city.
Things heat up when Nick’s drug dealer, Calvin, meets him, very unhappy that Nick’s parents came looking for him, suspicious that Nick tells him what he does (it isn’t really explained, but presumably they went to him because he and Nick were friends in high school). Nick just wants to know what was in the drugs he sold him, what they were laced with. The rational drug dealer points out that he has a vested interest in not giving his customers bad drugs. But he’s sufficiently spooked that he takes Nick to the obligatory dry canal (some sort of SAG deal with LA or something) to kill him. He can’t overpower a junkie, though (no wonder he doesn’t want them to have super-strength), and Nick shoots him with his own gun.
Nick rabbits out, but almost immediately tells his mom and Travis that he killed someone. They drive out there instead of calling the cops, because what’s a little obstruction of justice among friends? Calvin the drug dealer, though, isn’t there. He is, however, shambling back up the tunnel to the canal when they go to leave. Madison narrowly avoids our first zombie bite of the show (something I suspect more than a few watchers were cheering for—Kim Dickens is a much better actor than Sarah Wayne Callies, but her character doesn’t appear any better written), and Nick takes the wheel and runs over Calvin the zombie. Twice. Travis and Madison seem nonplussed, so maybe that’s why they drove out to the canal, to finish the job if necessary. Episode wrap.
The choice to essentially start the Walking Dead after the fall of society met with some lamentations. We know there is a lot we missed. But the great advantage is a wonderful pilot with Rick Grimes riding a horse across a post-apocalyptic hellscape and escaping a horde of zombies in a derelict tank. Many well placed criticisms can be lobbed at The Walking Dead, but it had a hell of a pilot. Fear the Walking Dead, by necessity given the decision to set it so much sooner, has a very slow pilot.
They brought some very strong acting talent, but I don’t know that the writing is any stronger than in The Walking Dead, and I’m concerned that the show will be plagued by the same failure to meet its potential. I’m not sure I’m invested yet in any of the characters, 90-minute pilot notwithstanding.
There are essentially limitless stories to be told from the zombie apocalypse, but the show’s creators were wise to make so much different. The show is set in LA instead of Georgia. Where The Walking Dead has always been the Rick Grimes Show, Fear the Walking Dead looks to revolve, at least initially, around a family. We get to see the fall of society, something The Walking Dead only hinted at with a few flashbacks and some props. They will eventually get to the same point, but this will allow them to tell stories it’s too late to tell in the main series. What will not change is the main series’ just tremendous use of horror set pieces.
Will I be back next week? Oh yeah.