Fear the Walking Dead: "The Dog" (Season 1, Episode 3)

Flabbergasted

The engine's still sputtering a bit, but I think it turned over on this show's third try, an uneven episode that at least has enough going for it to rise above the mundane. Rising above the mundane is a good thing. Keep it up.

We open with Travis, his ex-wife Liza and their son Chris still holed up in that barber shop during a downtown riot. The barber is Daniel Salazar, replete with his own wife Griselda and daughter Ofelia. That's a lot of names to remember for a show that hasn't made any of them seem special so far. The first genuinely cool moment in the series finally arrives, however, when Chris looks out through a peep hole in the metal grate pulled down over the shop's entrance. He finds himself staring at a creepy, blue-eyed face in a hood. One freshly turned zombie.

Outside, all hell is breaking loose. The police response to nascent zombies has triggered a riot. Fires have been set and our intrepid band in the barber shop notices the wall on one side getting hot. When the paint starts to blister, it's time to run for it. Out they go into an incomprehensible orgy of frantic activity and general property smashing, with one rather unique backdrop. We can see a cop starting to chow down on another cop. Zombies in action. Although you do kind of think that might get a little more attention even in a riot.

Flash to the opening theme music. It suck and barely qualifies as music. They need to work on that.

Madison is waiting for Travis in her house, along with daughter Alicia and addict son Nick, who is trying to stay useful with rations of vicodin. At some point, they start to play Monopoly. The less said about that the better.

The six fleeing from the barbershop make it to Travis' truck, but not without collateral damage. Some scaffolding falls on Griselda. She gets rescued. She's also unfortunately sporting a broken foot and lacerations. An attempt to get her treated finds the nearest hospital in chaos, doctors and nurses in flight as police officers establish a perimeter against dead patients emerging from inside. No joy there. They head for Madison's place. That leads to the next genuinely cool moment. As they drive up a hillside, they see the lights of Los Angeles slowly going out. Now we're cooking, at least visually.

The next sequence would work better if it wasn't staged in such a confusing manner. It starts with Nick letting in the family dog thought he sliding glass door in back. A neighbor out front is wandering the streets creepily. The family decides they need to check the house next door for a gun, so it's over the fence they go. Except the neighbors have an open air greenhouse, or a vineyard, or a corn maze in their back yard. It's something intended to make it hard to navigate for dramatic purposes. In the dark, though, it's just a muddle. After getting into the house, they find a shotgun and some shells. Through a window, they also see the creepy neighbor shambling through their sliding glass door as the dog barks. Said barking ends with meaningful abruptness.

What to do? They decide to hunker down in this new house. So of course Travis drives up that instant.

Travis finds the guy, their dead neighbor Peter, eating the dog. He's too stunned to act. When the zombie turns on him he keeps trying to push it away. The dog-eating reveal works. The pushing doesn't. I don't think anyone would just assume a blank-eyed, blood smeared freak who's been chowing down on the family pooch simply has the flu and needs to be reasoned with. Fortunately, Daniel grabs the shotgun that arrives with Madison and takes care of business. Travis sputters ineffectually. His portrayal is especially idiotic since he actually saw a zombie rise in the pilot episode.

Before the shotgun arrived, however, Nick noticed that they'd loaded two shells into it, then run back without the box of ammunition. So he sent Alicia back to the neighbor's house. There's another bewildering dash through the maze thing followed by a brilliantly creepy shot. As Alicia picks up the box of shells, she notices two feet behind a swinging gate door. Two blotched, pale feet. Not a word is spoken. It's worthy of Stephen King at his best. Then it's back into the confusing maze thing. Chris pulls the panicked Alicia back over the fence right before she'd have been bitten by zombie neighbor Susan; his reward is a broken nose courtesy of her elbow. C'est la vie.

That's the high point tonight. The rest of the episode is kind of a drag. Travis buries the dead zombie neighbor Peter. Zombie neighbor Susan keeps reaching through the gaps in a comically crappy looking yet impregnable fence. Ofelia argues with her father Daniel that they should leave with Travis and Madison, who intend to camp out in the desert. Daniel observes Travis' continued cluelessness. When Daniel shows Chris how to load the shotgun, Travis is horrified: "You know how I feel about guns." Have you been paying attention, Travis? This is a stale rehash of the survival skills versus civilization skills debate from the parent show.

Nobody actually makes it out of town. Travis and Madison do get loaded up in two cars and start to go. Then Madison notices Patrick, Susan's wife coming home. She wheels about to warn him. It turns out she didn't need to bother as the military shows up like the cavalry to plug zombie Susan. The military is taking over this operation. Travis says "things will get better now."

Sure they will, Travis.

Start. Paying. Attention.           

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