Sunday, January 7, 2018
Do not fear FEAR THE WALKING DEAD
I was way behind. Life got in the way, and the DVR stacked up the second half of season 3 of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. Last night I finished season 3, and I am here to say that FEAR may have started out with a deadly dull season 1, but in seasons 2 and 3 they have turned the show into what may very well be a better show than the flagship THE WALKING DEAD.
Yes. I said it.
TWD has been under fire for a while. First the Glen under a dumpster move, followed by Negan's play by play arrival right off the panels of the comics, then any number of bitchy fans who tune in weekly just so they can go online the next morning and declare: "I'm done with this show." Every week. Every episode.
Now, my fandom must function differently, since it is my love of characters and their journey that keeps me tuning in. Sure, the longer TWD goes, and the bigger the world and cast become, the more unbalanced and top heavy it feels. And with each passing season, the feeling that they have to make bigger moves puts the producers in a tough spot. How do you keep a show about the dead, alive and fresh, and keep outdoing yourself?
Of course, I remember fans bitching about season 2 being too slow on the farm.
I have complained about the habit TWD established in seasons 4, 5, 6 and 7 of having something big happen, split the characters up, and then spend whole episodes with just a few characters, and not move the story forward for weeks upon weeks. It is inconceivable that they would think it was smart to have 3 episodes without Rick, or Daryl, or Carol, etc. They too often slowed things down, to only build up to a season cliff hanger. Some folks joked that they could watch episodes 1, 8, 9 and 16 of each season, and it wouldn't matter because the producers chose to use all the episodes in between to just guild the lily and spin their wheels.
It is a fair criticism. And in the world of binge watching, it is easier to just wait and blast through a whole season in a weekend. And, it would seem that the show is being catered to that binge approach. Try it. The show is still good. Just not with having to wait weeks between episodes.
Enter FEAR. Season 3 has ended, and episode for episode, beat for beat, they have told 5 seasons worth of TWD story in two less seasons. In fact, it is mind-boggling - given what we're used to - to think about how much ground FEAR has covered in only 3 seasons.
From the dragged out season 1 in Los Angeles at the breakout of the zombie plague, to the high seas for season 2's first half, then the resort hotel for the second half, the to ranch and the dam in season 3. That's 5 major tent pole moments compared to TWD's Altanta, to Farm, to prison in 4 seasons.
The pacing of FEAR is fiercer, and the tensions are higher than they have been on TWD for some time. It is more satisfying too.
At first I hated the cast of FEAR. They just didn't seem to click with me. Nick was awful in season 1. In season 2 he was amazing. Daniel was as much a loathsome pain in the ass as Hershel, when he first joined the show. Now he's one of my favorites. (I loved Hershel after the farm was ripped from him too). Madison is every bit as badass as Rick or Daryl. Alicia is one of my favorite characters because her character was 17 years old at the outset, and is further along her journey than Carl, who was only 10 at the start, and had some awkward growing pains to become the cool character he has become. Strand is one of my favorite characters on all of TV. The smooth con man, who fails forward at all turns.
How did this cast become so much better than TWD?
Well, TWD was at its best, some say, when they were still in the early stages of the outbreak, and still learning and a bit shell shocked by the experience. That's great tension and serves up great storytelling. Now TWD are perhaps too seasoned and too comfortable in the uncomfortable world they inhabit. And we the audience are too used to it. Rick is great, but we can predict how he will react to every situation. Daryl has ceased any and all character growth since Beth died, and he is pretty much an invulnerable super hero redneck now. Carol is still a badass, but her recent flip to being anti-violence and back again, was just pointless and exhausting. How many times can every single character have a 180 change of heart for half a season, then back again? Feels like that's happening a lot.
Keep in mind, I still love TWD. It is still better than most shows. And I hold it much higher than the more beloved darling GAME OF THRONES, which I find to be watchable though tedious and gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. TWD still tries to keep the human condition front and center.
FEAR has the luxury of still being within the first 6 months of the outbreak, and even though that was the major thing that held it back in season 1, the journeys of seasons 2 and 3 felt fresh and exciting. The writing is edgier and unencumbered from having to follow (though slightly) the comic book series that gave it rise.
I know that some folks only watched season 1, then dropped it, but I implore them to go and binge watch seasons 2 and 3. If you are used to TWD pacing, binging FEAR will melt your minds. You may have to take some breaks to catch your breath.
As I finally finished season 3, it was episodes 12 and 13 that grabbed me in a way I haven't been grabbed by TWD in some time. Consequences and stakes felt more urgent than I expected. Spite, revenge, anger, trust, fear and paranoia propel the characters as they react to and step up to the challenges before them.
FEAR also isn't afraid to maim or kill characters you don't expect. And they do it sometimes as casually as one would expect of an un-named Stormtrooper in STAR WARS.
Maybe because they really didn't kill anyone we liked for a long time. And when they did kill some major characters it was ones you either didn't really like, or actually wanted to see dead.
Season 3 ended with an epic run of deaths that were almost dizzying. In fact, there's only one character that we can say for certain even survived the massive finale, where the human drama and tension still out did the special effects extravaganza final moments.
In fact, the show looks like it costs more than TWD does. But, watching behind the scenes bits, shows that the team behind the show are just smart and clever with how they are doing it. Genius film making at every turn. And excellent writing, acting and direction.
Also, if you were a fan of DEADWOOD back in the day, Kim Dickens (Madison) is giving a star turn here that amazes. Also several DEADWOOD alum have made their way onto the show.
Frank Dillane as Nick is a frustratingly appealing character, struggling with drug addiction in the world of zombies, and finding that he can feel more alive covered in zombie guts and walking among them than with people. Alycia Debnam Carey's Alicia is excellent, as I stated before. Reuben Blades was an unexpected addition to the cast as a former death squad killer turned barber, who is pulled back into his previous vocation's skill set. Blades is great, and his character, Daniel, is one badass killing machine when it is called for. He smolders on screen. Mercedes Mason's Ofelia, Daniel Sharman's Troy, Sam Underwood's Jake and Michael Greyeyes Chacka all added to the great tapestry of the show. But the MVP standout is the perplexing Strand, as played by Colman Domingo.
Instantly he grabbed me. His twists and turns as a character were unexpected, baffling, and inspiring to watch at times.
Of course, the show has also had Cliff Curtis as the moral core of the family unit and Lorenzo Henry as his dipshit son Chris, who just frustrated everyone. And a great array of guest stars showing up from Dougray Scott to Jesse McCartney and Dayton Callie.
Top to bottom, the cast is exceptional. And unlike TWD, you feel a constant fear for the fates of these people. At any moment, any one of them may be next!
Of course, we know that season 4 will bring a TWD regular to FEAR in the form of Lennie James's Morgan. How? Well, I am interested to see how they thread this needle.
We saw Morgan in Episode 1 of TWD, then near the end of season 3 when he had lost it in the episode "Clear." About a year and a half (maybe) had passed.
Fear is currently up to maybe the end of season one of TWD in chronology, since FEAR went back to the beginning of the outbreak. We've been told that Rick wakes from his coma about a month into the outbreak, so I'm basing it on that. Then I'm using the birth of Judith in season 3 as a time stamp, since that was at least 9 months from TWD episode 1. Then "Clear" was maybe 6 months later. At the most. Maybe less.
So, for Morgan to be on FEAR, he would have to leave Atlanta, head West, hook up with FEAR, then make it back to Atlanta within a year, and go bonkers. Or does his son die before he leaves Atlanta, and he's bonkers in FEAR when he pops up? Of all characters to blend into FEAR, Morgan is perhaps the most problematic. Abraham, Eugene and Rosita make much more sense, since they started out in Houston to being with, and it looks like FEAR could end up making its way East soon. And for Morgan to appear in season 4 episode 1, makes it even harder to imagine, since we know where they are at the end of season 3, and it is still in Mexico.
Maybe a time jump or something. But again, Morgan's on a tight time schedule here, so they can't jump too far ahead.
Maybe we will find out if Madison's maiden name was Dixon or Grimes and that could help tied things together.
And, if you are following the comics, apparently Nick may be in #175, which just came out last week. At least that's a theory:
I trust the team behind FEAR, and know that they will make it work, and make it interesting.
Already, we've added another DEADWOOD alum with Garrett Dillahunt joining the cast next season. As well, Jena Elfman is a series regular in season 4. Interesting.
Of course, they pretty much killed everyone in the supporting cast by the end of season 3. Maybe more. So they need some new characters fast!
Well, unless you count this spoiler-rific photo from a table read featuring Lennie James and three cast members who are unaccounted for at the end of season 3:
And I hope that the audiences continue to support the show. It is something of a redheaded stepchild in the Walking Dead world. But it deserves better recognition. In fact, if fans are tired of TWD, they should switch over to FEAR. I think what they complain they are missing in TWD is there in abundance in FEAR.
And wouldn't it be interesting if TWD's end in a few years, gives way to FEAR taking over and keeping going. If Nick is indeed in TWD's comic plotline currently, that puts FEAR eventually crossing into TWD's world, and they could pick it up and run with it from there.
The weird dream sequence in FEAR's final season 3 episode gave us an unseen baby that growled at Madison like a walker, which could foreshadow a theory that I've had. Well sort of anyway:
I think that Judith is the key to a cure. Now, how they get that cure is a whole new problem, but I think that she is going to be the major plot turning point in the final season, maybe sooner.
My theory is that anyone born after the outbreak is immune. Only those alive when it happened are infected. Thus, the show would become about repopulating and the older generations fighting to give a new human race the chance to rise and survive.
I also think that the major "ah-ha!" moment could come if Maggie's baby is either still born or dies at birth. Everyone will be tense that it will turn, but then it doesn't, which is like a bombshell being dropped.
Maybe Negan even knows this already. That's why he has a harem of wives and we had that scene dealing with Dwight's wife thinking she might be pregnant with Negan's child. Negan could have already seen evidence that a baby born after the outbreak didn't turn, and one of his twisted notions is to father as many babies as he can to further his lineage. Or some such delusion.
The writer in me thinks about these things. So, if anyone on TWD or FEAR reads this, I will write for cheap! Hire me. I can help!
In the meantime, however, if you are a TWD fan and have avoided or abandoned FEAR, I'm here to tell you that its time to come back over and dive in. The show is amazing, and you're missing out if you aren't watching!