If the record-breaking series premiere of Fear the Walking Dead did an admirable job of introducing the central characters, environs, and general tone of this spin-off series, the second episode, “So Close, Yet So Far,” goes about gently raising the tension and dramatic tempo of the narrative. This begins with the opening sequence, which sees Alycia facing one of her closest friends beginning to show the symptoms of becoming the undead. The encounter itself is written a bit too sentimentally, but the alluring opening shots are quietly expressive, especially the moment when the camera is directly behind Alycia, walking around a familiar neighborhood, when skateboarders suddenly appear passing by her. It’s an intimate nod to both the character and the audience not being able to see what’s coming up from behind.
From there, the episode presents a dichotomy of how people would experience such a catastrophic outbreak, with Travis experiencing public outcry and confusion over the initial cases and Madison finding herself facing a far more private, painful outcome of the imminent apocalypse. Travis encounters not only the frenzied traffic and near-breakdown of cellular communication while trying to wrangle his ex-wife, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and his son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), he also witnesses the rampant digital documenting of the events, a phenomenon which Chris quickly embraces. The killing of these walkers, at first, by police seems brazenly homicidal and careless, and the episode impressively portrays protestors as both admirably empathetic and just a bit foolish in their immediate demonizing of the police. Director Adam Davidson, who has a storied career as a TV director for Community, Treme, and Big Love, amongst other shows, gives both Chris and Travis’s experiences a clear visual sense of a still-hopeful world not yet prepared to face impending chaos and the total destruction of society at large.
It’s the vision of a city about to tip into total horror and madness that is most tantalizing about Fear the Walking Dead, and the show-runners seem to be teasing out that overwhelming sense of dread and helplessness. Davidson gives us a quick taste of that fear when Travis, Liza, and Chris bunker down with a barber, Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), and his family as Los Angeles becomes a widespread riot zone. Even more haunting, however, is Madison’s trip to her high school to grab some oxycodone for strung-out Nick, wherein she finds her former student, Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), and runs into her first honest-to-goodness walker. Davidson lets the walker’s attack play out with fright-amping patience, and Madison’s final decision to kill the unrelenting walker comes from a panic desperation rather than some random knowledge of how these creatures live and die. The writers, along with Davidson, do well by seeking out the survivalist, human reaction to such an inconsiderable attack from someone who was once trusted, and would regularly be considered a close friend.
This seemingly selfish and cold instinct to survive comes up again at the end of the episode, as Madison must block Alycia from running to the rescue of some neighbors being attacked by another stray walker. It’s a measured, if speedy, turnaround from the Madison we saw toward the end of the pilot episode, still holding onto the tenants of reason and looking for the most optimistic perspective on events that were simply inexplicable. “So Close, Yet So Far” suggests a firming up of both the world of Fear the Walking Dead and the outlook of the series’ central characters, who are steadily becoming aware of the need for isolationism and violence in a zombie-riddled L.A., but haven’t fully come in contact with the emotional devastation that comes with these essential doctrines.
★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism