Okay, that’s more like it. I could spend this review trying to re-edit “Pilot” and “So Close, Yet So Far” into one great episode, but let’s just give the pilot a mulligan and move on to episode two, which corrects—almost over-corrects, even—last week’s molasses-like introduction. (That episode, despite its faults, was the most-watched cable debut ever, beating AMC’s own Better Call Saul, so let’s assume more spinoffs are coming. Better Call The Walking Dead. Laverne And Shirley And The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead: TNG.)
The single most chilling scene for me didn’t actually have anything to do with the various zombie attacks, though I’ll get to those. For me, it was the cop stocking up his cruiser with water as Travis tries to navigate traffic. It tells us a lot of things, most importantly that the authorities know more than the average person does—and that they’re going to be looking out for themselves when the real shit goes down. Sure, we’re bound to see stories about heroes, but it’s the stories about the selfish and cowardly that are going to help create the meat of the conflict in FTWD. Just like its parent show, the uninfected fighting the uninfected will be scarier than brainless hordes, especially during panic time. At least with the walkers, you pretty much know what you’re up against.
What makes this show potentially more frightening than The Walking Dead is that we actually get to see that panicked loss from the start. The resignation and hardness hasn’t set in yet. What used to be these characters’ streets or businesses or homes—where they felt safe—will now be populated by violent, man-eating walkers and/or violent people scared to death and out to do anything to protect themselves and their families. We’re going to learn about what nice, normal people are willing to do to survive, and whether it will drive them completely insane. The second-most chilling scene, and it was a close second, was when Alicia looked out the window to see her zombified neighbor murdering his family, shot from an extra-scary wide angle, so we can’t quite tell what’s going on.
To the story: Poor Randy Wagstaff from The Wire wasn’t long for this world, which means the FTWD showrunners have learned nothing from the criticism that this universe loves to introduce and then kill its black characters. (Next up, Principal Artie!) His death wasn’t in vain, though, since it gave us a slightly new perspective on the outbreak: Matt had debilitating flu-like symptoms for at least a day, and he hadn’t died or turned. Is the walker virus actually causing the sickness that kills people, before it turns them? Is this how we know if someone has gotten infected? Or is everybody on the planet somehow already infected?
Principal Artie, on the other hand, clearly suffered a nasty bite on his upper back, and he transformed fast: At the beginning of the episode, we saw him walking the halls, and by the middle, he was on the receiving end of a vicious fire extinguisher attack. Kim Dickens played this slightly cheesy scene well: Her first reaction was to try and help her friend, giving poor old Tobias a chance to be a hero. But when it became clear that Artie was no longer in there—and that one Hulk smash wasn’t going to do it—she was more than prepared to crush his skull. It’s pretty clear that that’s going to be a recurring concept on FTWD: Who’s got the killer instinct? When it comes to kill or be killed, only those that can make a snap decision and find their inner rage—or can find somebody like that to protect them—will be alive in a few weeks or months. Madison even takes a minute to comfort Nick with regards to his violent acts in the first episode. (She also takes time to comfort him during his heroin withdrawal, but the less said about that part of the episode the better. If we have to watch have a supply run for Oxy or smack in every episode, I’m going to kill him myself.)
Travis, Liza, and Chris’ storyline wasn’t nearly as compelling, but it accomplished a few things: It better established Travis’ ex-wife (Orange Is The New Black’s Elizabeth Rodriguez), it introduced Daniel and Ofelia, and it gave the city itself a little more play in the background. I’m curious how much the idea of police brutality and corruption will factor into the show; it seems like just a little sideways mention before the shit really hits the fan and people are begging the cops to shoot the walkers. In any case, “So Close, Yet So Far” did a solid job of building up the tension and getting us to the fireworks factory. The terror is in the uncertainty (and then, later, in the certainty), and it’s on full display here. I’m sucked in.
Before I go for this week, though: Are people really going to not say the word zombie, as they don’t on The Walking Dead? In all other ways, these shows are happening in our universe. It’s our Los Angeles, roughly present day. Their cops wear the same uniforms. People have the same day-to-day problems. Is the only difference between their world and ours that nobody ever coined the term? God, I hope they just start saying it, at least on occasion.
- Will we see Tobias again? (SPOILER ALERT: IMDb only has him listed for two episodes, but that’s not necessarily 100 percent accurate.)
- “Massive spike in officer-related shootings.” So yeah, the cops know that something’s up.
- The stain on the front of Travis’ truck was a nice touch.
- “I’m about to step into a world of shit, you know that right?” (Ugh.)
- Presumably we’ll spend a few episodes—maybe the rest of this mini-season—trying to reunite Madison and Travis, right?
- At least Nick knows this: “Matt will hurt you, he will kill you!”
- Oh, the kids with the scary surgical masks! Maybe that was actually tonight’s MVS (most valuable scare).
- And we finish on a TWD-style musical montage, set to Moby’s “Wait For Me.”
- “This doesn’t end”—Tobias. “Hopefully not!”—the producers of both The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead