Fear The Walking Dead: Taking a look back at the first season, finale

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Jan 25, 2016, 4:21 PM EST (Updated)

Spoiler Alert: The following openly discusses plot points from last night's FTWD finale.

In the final moments of last night's Fear the Walking Dead finale, the characters look to a massive yacht on the ocean and discuss it as a means of escape from a walker-infested Los Angeles. The visual is an apt one, because, after six episodes of The Walking Dead spinoff, we were left wondering whether FTWD ended up sinking or swimming, or just staying afloat, in its first season.

To answer that question, we once again gathered Editor at Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett. Two months ago, the pair screened the first two episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, and dished about their hopes and concerns for the show. They now return for a post-mortem on Season 1 of the zombie drama spinoff.

Aaron: So that was Season 1 of Fear the Walking Dead. And I personally thought it shambled at an unsteady pace across the finish line.

Tara: Sadly, I agree, Aaron. With six hours under its belt, Fear the Walking Dead failed in providing a compelling enough reason for it to exist as a unique entity outside of The Walking Dead. The show didn't create enough of an distinctive origin story to make the early days of the apocalypse feel fresh or provide insight into how the dissolution of society felt different on the opposite coast. Listen, for just about every new series out there, it takes at least seven episodes for the showrunner and their writing team to find their narrative groove, and that makes a six-episode order for Fear the Walking Dead problematic from the start. There is definitely an overwhelming feeling like moving along the plot was a priority at the expense of character and a more evenly paced apocalypse. 

Aaron: In our season premiere reactions, I said I enjoyed the promise of FTWD but wanted the apocalypse to take its time. I was looking forward to miscommunication and people gradually discovering that the dead are rising. As they discovered the nature of the plague, there would be missteps and bad calls. And all the while, Los Angeles would not crumble quickly, but slowly disintegrate.

By the second episode, I already thought things were moving too fast. Instead of relishing this pre-Rick Grimes world, Fear the Walking Dead appeared over-eager to catch up to the flagship show’s timeline. In six episodes (in what I estimate to be less than two weeks' time in the universe), the plague has been discovered; the city rioted and fell; the military moved in and established quarantine zones; the entire L.A.-based military became corrupt, abused their power, and went full-on 28 Days Later-level evil. Then the militarized compound fell and the survivors hit the road (and then, presumably, the sea).

And yet, with so much happening, this season has managed to be anticlimactic. While last night’s finale wasn’t bad, per se, it was not particularly good. For a show not known for action, we had a lot of it last night. Still, most of the character beats didn’t feel earned. I began the season enjoying Cliff Curtis’ Travis, but I’ve grown weary of him. He lacks motivation, and his beating of the soldier (nearly) to death – his Rick Grimes moment -- just didn’t ring true.

Tara: I also don't understand the timeline of events. "Not Fade Away" started in a very confusing manner, with it seeming like the military occupation had been in position for weeks. The acceptance of that dynamic essentially reset the core characters of Travis and Madison's families back to bored suburbanites, weirdly acting like they hadn't experienced what they had in previous episodes in regard to reanimated corpses and the violence they witnessed and questioned. It got very Body Snatchers for no reason, and in turn that's the point where I stopped believing in the characters and started nitpicking their poor choices. 

I was really disappointed that Los Angeles as a location never evolved into a primary character as promised in the pilot, which felt like a waste of new geography. Outside of the pilot, the breaking down of society never took advantage of the unique landscape of SoCal to create different situations we've never experienced with Rick Grimes and his gang of survivors in Georgia.  They tried to infer the arena was Forum-esque-looking (a stadium venue in Irvine) but that came across very generically, as did their suburban lock-down and even the Downtown riot. Yes, the show can't afford to take over, say, Hollywood and Highland, or Griffith Park Obervatory, but there could have been more clever, creative choices to create situations that utilized its location for new scares and thriller sequences. 

Aaron: Let's talk characters. First up, I like the cool cucumber character of Strand (Colman Domingo). He is smart, calculating and ruthless without being unnecessarily cruel. But he belongs in a different zombie franchise. He is inconsistent to the tone of the show.

But the tone of this entire show, itself, is inconsistent.

Meanwhile, Frank Dillane’s Nick lost much of the appeal for me. We were introduced to a believable addict, but that thread has apparently been abandoned – except for his sentiments that he’s been living in a broken world for a long time.

Tara: Character-wise, there was no common sense bonding with the cast except for Ruben Blades' Daniel Salazar who was consistent, clear and focused about what needed to be done to survive. Of course, no one listened to the former Ecuadorian torturer. Why would they do that? In fact, everyone from Travis to Madison to Alicia on down the line seemed to forget what they experienced an episode before, except for Nick, who was at least consistent in his one pursuit -- drugs. At least, he had a purpose with his actions even if he never endeared himself to me. It was also weird that everyone in Travis and Madison's clan were making excuses for the clearly flippant and one-dimensional military protectors keeping them "safe," or they were just exhibited a flagrantly stupid lack of regard for their own mortal danger at all times. Who runs over a re-animated person and doesn't walk around without at least a steak knife 24/7? And how is it that not one military character came across as human? Every one of them was drawn with lazy tropes that were insulting to servicemen. And why were there no women serving? Every unit was a sausage fest. How did that pass through the eyes of an entire writer's room?

Strand was an interesting character, but he was definitely acting on a different show that was not the tone of FTWD. I'd much rather if Travis and his surviving family had met him in the last two acts trying to get onto his boat, or perhaps in another situation in which Strand may have owed them a berth on his escape yacht that didn't feel like it was just a convenient plot move to separate Nick from his mother. A more purposeful connection to Strand could have credibly teed up a new tone to Season 2, but the way it unfolded just felt like a character from another show who wandered into this narrative. Maybe the way it played out affords the writers more leeway to figure out how to draft Strand into the story without constraints, but it was at the mercy of us getting what part he plays in this story now. 

I also felt the huge moment for Travis in the last minutes fell flat considering I wasn't emotionally invested in that dynamic and the entire sequence felt like it was overly orchestrated to pay off a moment heavily foreshadowed episodes before with Madison and Liza. Therefore, it wasn't a surprise and it didn't feel organically earned. Poor Liza, was a red shirt the moment she got on that Jeep. 

Aaron: I don’t know if you’ll remember, but I was not a fan of Ruben Blades’ Salazar when we initially met him. Now, he’s the most interesting character on the show. He also had the best moment of the finale when he calmly led all the arena’s walkers right up to the military’s doorstep. It tells us a lot about his willingness to unleash death, and sacrifice a lot of people to the zombies, just to achieve his goal of saving a few individuals. But at least Salazar has a backstory, which makes his decisions feel earned. He can’t be the hero of FTWD, but he should be a stronger voice moving forward, and one the other survivors pay attention to.

And thank you for calling out the lazy writing with regards to the military. Seriously, they had the commanding officer practicing his golf swing, offering a handkerchief for his exhausted soldiers to cry into, and threatening the citizens. That was before other soldiers were shown taking bribes, abandoning posts, and potentially sexually assaulting a woman.

I could care less about the death of Liza. She has been marked for death for a while now, and didn’t seem like a character we should expect to stick around. I happen to like Madison (Kim Dickens), and think she has the fierce mama bear thing going for her. And I think she would have pulled the trigger on Liza pretty fast. That Travis showed up and did the deed had zero impact on me. In fact, the only moment of the finale that elicited a response from me was when Madison couldn’t help Nick on the other side of the hospital door. The looks exchanged between mother and son -- as her kid faced certain, gruesome death -- felt real.

So, where does this show go from here after a generally unsatisfying first season? I was hoping Fear The Walking Dead would jump from city to city each season, with a new group of people facing the early days of the zombie plague. But the final moments of last night’s episode instead suggests Travis and the gang are heading out to sea. Do you want to watch The Walking Dead Swims?

Tara: Honestly, I might watch that considering this season set in L.A. felt pretty flat. I'm not part of the audience that wanted answers about the virus, but I did want to feel like this was a story I needed to know and wanted to follow, and perhaps might even make me look at some of The Walking Dead, like the CDC arc, with new eyes. Instead, I still feel like I barely know these people because of their inconsistent actions over six episodes. I certainly didn't hate the first season either, but FTWD didn't deliver on providing an alternate look at the early days of the apocalypse that felt new, insightful or particularly creative about providing its own spin.

What did you think about last night's Fear the Walking Dead season finale, and the entire season, in general? Did Aaron and Tara get it right or make the wrong calls? Sound off below with your thoughts!

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