From the onset of its creation, Fear the Walking Dead has had its back against the proverbial wall. Standing in the massive shadow of its sister series and namesake The Walking Dead, the West Coast-based spinoff carries with it the baggage of its predecessor’s success. After watching seven seasons of Rick Grimes and co. on the small screen, fans have an obsessive loyalty towards the primary series and the experiences of its protagonists. Fear doesn’t have that luxury—yet.
The only way that a post-apocalyptic series like TWD or Fear can work is for viewers to care about what happens to the characters as they face constant life and death situations. Despite two full seasons of Fear, the characters haven’t developed a place in the hearts of the audience just yet. While Nick, Strand, and Salazar are interesting Fear personalities, I don’t see any of them reaching “If Daryl dies we riot” levels of fandom. As the show’s setting jumps back and forth across the US/Mexican border like Trump’s worst nightmare come true, we get a better sense of the world the characters live in rather than who the blended family is that is fighting to live in it.
The two-hour season 3 premier of Fear is split into two episodes, “Eye of the Beholder” and “The New Frontier.” The former finds Travis, Madison and Alicia dragged onto a military base after being captured at the Mexican border If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching this franchise is that soldiers are generally assholes with big guns and bigger attitudes and such is the case here. Led by pretty boy army brat Troy, the soldiers are slaughtering people in a dank men’s room to analyze how the dead resurrect. Of course the next test subjects are Travis along with Nick and Luciana, who were already being held in the bathroom of terror.
Travis manages to outsmart the soldiers only to get recaptured and tossed into a gladiator pit where he takes out a gauntlet of “infected” with his bare hands and a cinder block. Meanwhile, Madison and Alicia jump soldier bae, who gets stabbed in the face with a spoon (ouch!). Threatening to dig his eye out, Madison demands her family be set free despite being surrounded by armed soldiers. Enter Troy’s older brother Jake, who plays peacemaker and talks the spoon-wielding Madison down.
After a touching family reunion, Jake tries to convince them to join him back at his father’s ranch, which he calls a “sanctuary.” That word never means anything good in the TWD universe so the family says, thanks, but no thanks. Moments later a sea of “infected” swarm the base. In all the chaos the family is separated once more, with Madison and Nick hopping in a convoy with soldier bae, while Travis, Alicia and an injured Luciana make it out with Jake and two other soldiers via helicopter.
“Eye of the Beholder” doesn’t offer much more than that. We meet a bunch of new people and learn of a new locale, but that’s not enough to make episode 1 an earth-shattering TV event. Perhaps that’s why the season 3 premiere includes a second hour, “The New Frontier,” to extend the story.
SPOILER ALERT: Within the first four minutes of episode 2, the helicopter gets hit with a series of rounds from unseen shooters below. Travis is mortally wounded bullets pierce his neck and torso. Dazed and shocked—but still lucid enough to instinctively protect those he cares about—Travis unhooks his seatbelt, opens the chopper door, and dramatically plummets to his death rather than risk “turning” in close quarters of Alicia and the other passengers.
Needless to say, the death was definitely unexpected, but it wasn’t the same tear-jerker we experienced watching any of the leads on TWD go. Yeah, I was just starting to like Travis as a character—thanks in part to last night’s gladiator scene—but now that he’s gone, I’m okay with it emotionally.
Despite being the patriarch of the show, it’s clear that Travis is no Rick Grimes (truthfully, he’s more of a Dale), and as the episode progresses you begin to realize that that might actually be Madison. In very Grimes-like fashion she threatens to kill as needed to protect her family and “take this place” if she has to when speaking about the ranch. It’s just too bad I don’t care for her character as much as Nick, who has the potential of becoming the Daryl Dixon of this series in terms of people caring about what happens to him. But throughout the two-hour premiere night he’s relegated to a background player.
The same goes for Strand, who was completely absent from episode 1. He does however return in episode 2 and is back to his old tricks of always working the room to his advantage. But his screen time is limited as the first two episodes of premier night continue to focus on the new environment and new characters. Therein lies the problem; Fear continues to expand its world before it has truly built its foundation.
The show is supposed to be about this Brady Bunch-type family, but over the course of the past two seasons they’ve whittled away at that premise. Travis lost his ex-wife in season 1, then his son in season 2, and now in season 3 we lose him. A similar domino effect happened with the Salazar clan. Following the death of matriarch Griselda, we’re still unclear about the fate of Daniel after the big fire or his daughter, Ofelia, who we last saw confronted by an armed gunman at the border last season. Fear started off as one the most diversely casted series out, but at this pace it won’t be long before it’s not.
As it stands now, the remaining core cast is primarily white with a bulk of the new faces introduced last night being equally vanilla. There’s been a long-running conspiracy theory about TWD having a no-more-than-two-at-a-time rule when it comes to people of color on the show, but Fear seemed different. The show featured characters representing New Zealand, Mexico, and El Salvador, among other countries, but as more of them end up killed off or missing in action it looks like the (revisionist) history is repeating itself. Now that’s my biggest fear.