Following two mildly interesting episodes, Fear the Walking Dead finally finds its footing with its third episode, “The Dog,” which charts Travis’s (Cliff Curtis) voyage to, and ultimate reunion with, Madison (Kim Dickens) after leaving home to secure his ex-wife and son. Adam Davidson, who directed the first two episodes as well, makes Travis’s escape from an anarchic main street, where he’s held up in a barbershop owned by Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades), a thrillingly paced tour of a world dissolving into the madness of disease and unthinkable horrors. And when the show finally does land back at home, the series unfurls a tense sequence that matches some of the best suspense scenes of The Walking Dead, intertwining both moral societal concerns and immediate physical danger.
Travis’s hopes of keeping Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) and Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) safe at the Salazars’ shop are dashed when a raging fire in a neighboring shop threatens to engulf the barbershop. This turn of events reflects one of the key thematic considerations of Fear the Walking Dead, that being the danger of ignoring your neighbors’ issues in the hopes of maintaining your safety or mere comfort. It’s a temperament that comes to consume Daniel in this episode, and the show’s writers and creators begin to tease how this behavior will come to cripple him emotionally, if not destroy him outright. His relationship with his family is clearly built on and around his own self-interest, and it’s clearly becoming an issue for his daughter, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), who fights against his distrust of Madison and Travis’s family.
Of course, the more blatant example of this was found in Madison’s experiences at home, where the rise of the biters took on a far more intimate and unsettling tone. Though the suspense doesn’t really kick into full gear until Travis returns home, the quiet game of Monopoly, a game that turns a key part of modern society into a matter of paper money and tiny plastic houses, proved a subtle, almost eloquent symbol of society’s deteriorating facade. In “The Dog,” Fear the Walking Dead reaches for a similar timbre of visual and narrative thoughtfulness that’s become a key part of The Walking Dead‘s success, but it also begins to suggest the same sort of harrowing, if perhaps more sentimental, human drama as Rick Grimes’ world. And it’s not just Madison’s interactions with a now-dead Susan, or the not-great outlook given by Ofelia’s mother’s broken foot, but in the discussion Madison and Liza have about the worst case scenarios for what the world is now faced with. Three episodes in, Fear the Walking Dead has honed in on a forceful, lacerating strain of humane horror, without outright plagiarizing the tone and character interactions that denote its predecessor.
★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television