“Fear” the Walking Dead

I’m not huge into zombie media. The classic monster type is at the top of ‘things that freak me out.’ Give me vampires or demons or any of horror’s other plethora of creatures, but please please please, not the zombies! Which is why The Walking Dead was such a surprise for me. I started watching it because so many people were talking about it and since I can never seem to get into sports, I need a conversation starter of some kind. So I downed the first episode and the second and then seasons. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s something I love about The Walking Dead that brings me back most weeks. So when AMC announced that they were doing a spin-off called Fear the Walking Dead, I–like so many other fans–was completely psyched. More stories in this world? And it’d fill those empty months between TWD episodes? Awesome!

Unfortunately, like so many other spin-offs and recent creations, Fear the Walking Dead isn’t living up to the hopes and dreams. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for a whole season. Zombies aren’t the reason I’m into these shows, so I didn’t care that we barely saw them during the first season (though one of my friend’s consistent complaints was that we weren’t seeing enough of the undead). The show built up and built up these characters, some I cared about, some I didn’t, but hey, they’d have to spend some time doing that, right? Unlike TWD, there’s no precedent for the Fear cast. No comics to fall back on and bring out loads of information, just brand new people for the writers to explore. The show fell a little flat, but that’s not uncommon, especially in such a short season of a brand new show.

But then, at the beginning of the second episode of season 2, Fear gave us the perfect analogy of what’s really wrong with their show. If you haven’t seen it (and don’t mind being spoiled), that episode starts with two children playing in the sand. They’re happy and content playing in the perfect day sunshine. Zombies lumber up the beach towards them. Oh no! The children are in danger! Except, hold on, the zombies are blocked off by a well constructed fence. The element of danger we as the audience feels completely dissipates. As the episode drags on, the main cast encounters this little family and we get more exposition about how the world is now. We get treated to the same argument we’ll be seeing the rest of the season it seems–Strand does not want anyone else on his boat and while the others grumble about it, they don’t seem quite willing to do anything (I say this not having seen the episode on 5/1).

So the problem is that we have a complete lack of tension. The characters manage to have all of these perfect save moments–when Strand and Nick were escaping from the facility and everyone happened to come together at the same door, one of them even having the needed key card! Ofelia has an infection and oh look, Nick managed to find the right drugs! The sources of conflict should be many with the world setting alone, but the families were protected first by the military and then by the boat they have now (and oh man, when it broke down, Travis managed to fix it in a day!) Instead of giving these characters experiences which they’ll draw on in the future, that will harden them into the necessary group of survivors that it takes to make it in this world, the group is little better than the Hilltop or Alexandria from TWD. They’ve got a slight ability in this world, but really, this seems much more like a group that would get torn down to about half before running into Rick’s group and eking out a life, maybe only one or two of them surviving until season 6. Of course they shouldn’t be perfect badasses from the get-go, but it seems like they’re being treated with kid gloves by the writers. We never worry about this core group because on the rare chance they encounter something, they dodge it almost perfectly.

The other should-be source of tension would be the interpersonal relationships of the main group. Strand has his secrets and keeps reminding everyone that the boat is his so his say is final, but the other characters only seem to have minor frustrations with this. Sure, Travis, Maddie, and Daniel have a couple of conversations, but I’m almost surprised that episode from 5/1 had previews saying that conflict was going to come to a head. Daniel spends a lot of time telling Ofelia that Maddie and her family are only going to look out for themselves, but he seems to be saber rattling. In fact, Maddie and the other members of her family only ever seem to try and bring more people into their survivors unit, so I don’t understand Daniel’s continued paranoia about them. They’re eight people and the yacht isn’t that large, why haven’t they gotten on each other’s nerves more? Alicia and Nick are getting along fine, Nick has wormed his way into ‘acceptable’ with everyone on board (except maybe Daniel who trusts only his daughter), Chris roams however he wants with no one caring. Strand isn’t quite Shane from TWD and Maddie isn’t quite Dale. It feels like the creators spent a lot of time making an ideal zombie survival group without giving them the personalities that would butt heads.

Basically, what we’ve got so far is just a great and long lesson in what a project looks like without that tension to keep a viewer on the edge of their seat. This is what happens when it’s too much exposition and not enough action. (They even managed to drive to Strand’s house without incident at the end of last season, come on!) At this point, my interest in the show has waned. Maybe I’ll pick it back up when the whole season’s available for a quick watch, you know, if I need some low-key background noise.

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I’d like to stop dying.

People who talk to me on a regular basis would probably tell you that I get angry, a lot. That I get angry at media more often than anything. And that I’m ready to unleash my opinions on a trigger notice. I’ll go off about story-telling flaws–I’ve got long lists of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if?’ or ‘I would have done it this way if I was in charge.’ My other major aggravation is lack of representation. It’s been so cool this last year to see How to Get Away with Murder and Star Wars: Force Awakens and Mad MaxFury Road do well. The fact that women-led movies have dominated the box office the last couple of years is great. We’ve got more in a lot of ways.

And yet, somehow, a lot of the shows I watch decided that now was a great time to start killing off LGBT characters–specifically LGBT women. In the last week and a half alone, two different shows have killed same-sex inclined women. This trend isn’t anything new either. Autostraddle’s ever growing list goes back decades.

The trend is outright frustrating, especially in most cases the deaths aren’t necessary to continue the plot. Even more so because there are so few queer characters in the first place that killing them often means not seeing or finding another queer character for seasons–if the show gets to continue that long in the first place. The Walking Dead is now six seasons done with hundreds of characters, yet only five have ever been openly declared LGBT characters. Three of those have been women and two of those three are dead. The Vampire Diaries is in its seventh season and has had few queer characters to begin with, but they just decided to blow up Nora and Mary-Louise (the only f/f couple I can recall) in one move.

My largest source of anger comes from the fact that these characters are often killed for the sake of a main man’s plot. Supernatural producers defend their Charlie-killing (one of like only 5 LGBT identified characters in the show’s 200+ episode history) as ‘where the story took them.’ In this case, that was to get Dean to the point where he’d be willing to go kill a bunch of men. And it had to be death because, you know, torturing or kidnapping a character he saw like a little sister wouldn’t have been enough to set off the already everyone-kept-commenting-on-anger-levels Dean. Right. Never mind that Charlie had been out surviving on her own for practically a year, somehow she lost a fight when she literally should have climbed out the window. ‘For the story.’

Denise’s death on The Walking Dead isn’t any better. For one, she’s one where they decided to change comic book cannon. Instead of hooking up with Heath, she was with Tara. On top of that, Denise survived longer than her comic-counterpart. I’d assumed it’d be so we could have a lot longer with her–Carol’s still alive seasons after. But no, Denise uttered that she was scared about love and then bammo, less than a minute later she has an arrow through the eye. And what have the only effects been so far? Daryl getting pissed off and going out on a revenge spree (that was quickly cut off) and Rosita joining him on that. (You could attempt to argue that was why Maggie needed to go to Hilltop–without their doctor, she needed care. However, I will remind you that Denise was a novice doctor with limited resources while the Hilltop’s doctor was an obgyn with an ultrasound and Maggie’s pain has been abdominal. They would have needed to go to Hilltop anyway.)

On Arrow, Sarah Lance died because Malcolm wanted Oliver to deal with the League of Assassins for him. Oh, and the source of extra angst for most of that season was not telling her father because of his ‘weakened’ condition (a condition that seems to come and go as needed…) I don’t even know why Toshiko Sato of Torchwood had to die except those producers were getting rid of like everyone but Gwen and Jack (no, really, it’s inside of four episodes of the show that you lose 60% of the cast). But considering her death was part of Gray’s plan (worst plan and villain ever, btw) of revenge on Jack, that means that Tosh didn’t die as part of her own plot, but his.

Nora and Mary-Louise’s deaths on The Vampire Diaries were completely unexpected as well. I’m not even sure why the story went that way, and honestly it’s been hard understanding where this season’s story arc wanders in any given episode. I’d say they died for their own cause, except there’s a hitch with that. See, they blow this relic so that they don’t get separated. Sure. Makes sense, makes it about them. Only this moment is entirely framed around the fact that Stephan is laying on the ground, soul in the damn relic. And I don’t know why Raina threw her sword at Nora and Mary-Louise when she spent a chunk of the episode getting the sword back. Just doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s done entirely to prevent easy re-ensouling of Stephan, therefore, they died ’cause of a guy.

These have just been the characters I’m most familiar with in recent years. The frustration stems from the fact that 1. It’s so hard to find LGBTQA characters to begin with, 2. That they get to be fully realized characters in the first place and not just stereotypes, and 3. You get to spend just enough time with them that you can find something relatable. So it’s devastating that over and over, I get to have hope that these characters exist in these often violent worlds. I get to see that, hey yeah, there’s all kinds of people! That the world is wide and full of possibilities. And just when I get used to the idea, those characters are ripped away. With Nora and Mary-Louise, I was like ‘yes, awesome! we get to go through the ‘my lover is dying and I’ll do anything to save her’ plot/trope, only to have that turn into a ‘if we can’t be together we’ll die on our own terms’ inside of an episode–meanwhile Damen gets to fucking lament about Elena and/or Stephan for like the millionth time.

So I’m going to propose that for the next 5 years tv doesn’t kill another LGBT woman. Hell, at the current rate, I will take the next 5 weeks. I want the chance to feel included, not to sit there wondering how long until the clock runs out on the queer women this week. Come on, it’s not that hard to let characters live in these fictional worlds.

After all, the lead guys are all still there.

Quick Impressions, TV Catch-Up 10/16

Another week gone by already? The Fall TV Line-Up has rolled out most of its shows (I’m still waiting for Constantine. Yeah, I’m a little excited for that one.) and the drama is ramping up. The pile of new shows keeps growing–this week saw the premiere of The Walking Dead and I caught up on the opener for Arrow’s season 3. So let’s run down some of the best and worst of the week.

Best: The Walking Dead. Any surprise there? ‘Bout the only people I’ve heard not liking this show are the ones who aren’t into horror or zombies. I’m not typically into the zombie genre, but this one’s infected me. Season opener took us right back to where we finished last time and we finally got what’s left of our crew back together–excepting Beth. The show gave just enough worry–were they or weren’t they going to bash Glen’s head in?, was Tyreese going to be able to handle the Walkers and that fucker in the shed?, would Carol get to stay with the group?–and yet gave us the full impression that the characters have developed into survivors. The characters proved to be clever, resourceful, and a cohesive team. We can easily reach the same conclusion Sgt. Ford did: this isn’t just a group anymore, it’s a unit, and these are the guys you want escorting you over a long distance. To top off the fantastic story, the camera work on TWD is amazing. They don’t stay tight on actor’s faces unless they’re gauging a reaction–and usually they stick to showing multiple character reactions to a situation at a time. They work at showing you all the details that the crews put into the sets, makeup, costuming. For horror, setting plays a huge role, and TWD not only acknowledges that, but puts their sets and shots to work at that angle. I can’t wait for Sunday’s next episode.

Worst: Once Upon a Time. Gah with this whole season already. Despite having a largely female cast, this show does not help out feminism in the least. The representation is poor with a side of shitty. White after white after white after white, and heteronormative so bad I feel like gagging. “Happily Ever After” on this show always boils down to “man and woman marry.” This season they bring in Elsa from Frozen who has to search for her sister Anna because apparently Anna fucked off on some quest and got lost. Looks like Elsa won’t be our Big Bad this season (or at least the front half of the season), but the antics going on in this season are annoying. Regina’s trying to do something about Marian (who conveniently is in a frozen state and Regina has gotten her heart?) so she can get Robin, but her way is to go to find the writer of Henry’s fairy tale book and make them rewrite the book. Never mind that we established at the end of last season that the book would only replicate events as they happened–that was like the point of the season 3 finale–she’s out to find who made her a villain and demand a rewrite. Maybe she’ll find the script writers and we’ll get a better show. (While Regina’s at it, could she do something about Hook? As neat as the pirate concept was for two seconds, his constant need to follow Emma around until she’s ready to love him makes me want to throttle him. Also, why the hell has Hook been able to shake the ‘bad guy’ persona, why has Gold been able to toss off most of it, and yet Regina’s still wallowing about on the point?)

C’mon!: How to Get Away with Murder. Still an awesome show, hence the mention two weeks in a row. Once again, the characters are the real draw here. The part-“present”, part-“past” way of telling the plot is a bit aggravating, but the format quickly becomes the norm. However, this last week, the show decided to include a subplot (I’m guessing at this point that it will become multi-episode) that lowers my respect just a smidge. Apparently, one of the character’s fiancé had a thing with a member of the same sex back at boarding school. The argument between the character and fiancé turned into a heated “well, that was back in school. It was a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. These things happen. You know I love you.” –An easier solution would have been to have the fiancé say, “Hey honey, I’m bi. We’ve never talked about our ex’s. You’re who I’m with now. Don’t give a shit about what that asshole says. He’s just trying to rile you up. That’s what he’s always done.” I’m hoping I’m wrong, but something about how they skirted the word bisexual grates on my nerves. Either they avoided the word to avoid the word, or they want to wind up testing the relationship with having the ex teasing and pushing the characters. (And there I showed a bias. I acknowledge that… but I think I could count the amount of LGBTQA+ characters as less than 10 between the 15-ish shows I’m keeping up with, and intersectionality is running slimmer.)

Best?: Selfie. I don’t typically go for comedies and I was honestly going to pass on this one until I saw that John Cho was the one costarring with Karen Gillian. Selfie is an update of Pygmalion –only a little attention shows through the veneer. The update put in some interesting twists though. While Henry is still advising Eliza, they both work at the same company and they seem to be at least near equals in their work environment. Instead, the show focuses on how each character totally sucks at communication with practically everyone in their lives. Eliza is a stereotypical young adult obsessed with social media and Henry is a stick-in-the-mud “traditional” sort of guy. For the sake of comedy, their tropes are pushed to extremes. The first two episodes were only all right, but the show has begun to hit a stride by having minor character development. Both characters are sick of being lonely and both acknowledge that they can’t change without a little influence. The major downside of the show is the unlikelihood that they can maintain the premise. Internet culture is constantly changing. The characters are going to have to grow and change too, or the show will become too dull and flat. Where will the show go when the culture and characters change? I’m not entirely sure, but for now, I’ll keep up with this one. The leads play too fantastically together to pass.

Working on Best: Arrow. Anyone who started season 1 with show should give themselves a small pat on the back. In comparison, the first season of Arrow was leaps and bounds better than other CW shows–probably what helped make it such a big hit for the network. However, the early acting of the show could grate the nerves to an unbearable degree–and all those flashbacks to what happened on the island were a wandering drag for a while. By the end of season 1, the flashbacks had more obvious tie-ins with the present plot and the actors learned more of the craft. The Arrow production team has always strived to improve and their efforts show. Starting out in season 3, the entire acting troupe has stepped up their game and the writers continue to work on fleshing out characters–even though they don’t quite seem to know what to do with Diggle. (I wish they’d make a summer mini-series out of Suicide Squad. That would be cool.) All said, though, the best part of the show has always been the characters facing the consequences of actions. You aren’t likely to see a character repeat a mistake on this show (ten imaginative points to the show for having a distressed Laurel acknowledge her recovering alcoholism with a “All I know is a bar is the last place I should be right now.”) because the characters have been there, done that, and ready to move on. With two seasons under their belt, Arrow has a lot of decisions made and a lot more to make as the season continues. Can’t wait to see where this season goes.

I’m still hoping that Forever will flesh out it’s minor characters, Supernatural still fails to impress, and American Horror Story: Freak Show definitely delivers on its early promises (although what is with dragging songs from the future into the 1950’s?) That’s going to cover it for Quick Impressions this week. Here’s hoping that the exciting shows this fall continue to impress and that some of these others will get their act together.