Fear The Walking Dead: 103 “The Dog” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Before Fear the Walking Dead left screens for a week off last week, the show was beginning to show real promise with a significantly improved second instalment that blended decent character work with compelling action horror – but did it carry on that upward curve with episode three?
This week’s episode, The Dog saw Fear the Walking Dead take a great leap forward in some respects as it disappointingly flagged in others, leading to an uneven episode that never quite reconciled the increasingly disparate two sides of the show. What did work this week was the action and horror – after my complaint that episode two shied away from showing the huge LA riot in any detail, The Dog dived headfirst into the chaos before the title card even showed up. Though the limitations of a TV budget showed, the opening sequence was a legitimately scary and tense set piece that skilfully mixed walker horror with underlying social commentary. There was, however, a slight sense of missed opportunity in that the characters, aside from one ancillary character being tangentially threatened by a collapsing sign, were never truly threatened by any of the rioters, with the show instead opting for a more voyeuristic viewpoint that dulled some of the potential.
However, staying with that viewpoint soon paid dividends as we saw the horrors of the swiftly collapsing city from the direct viewpoint of Travis and co. This made for some of the strongest scenes of the episode, aptly reflecting the paranoia and uncertainty of the main characters by not showing everything that was going on; only showing the walkers’ attacks and surprisingly effective blackout that follows from a shaky perspective really allowed this reviewer to understand the baffled and terrified mental state of the characters. Though this didn’t continue throughout the whole episode, it’s the kind of direction that you would hope for from a spin-off of this kind, and it’s impressive to see a drastically different style to The Walking Dead’s straightforward, almost matter-of-fact display of walkers being deployed for this spin-off. The fact that the momentum simply kept going after this tense point-of-view sequence is a testament to the taut, thrilling nature of the opening half of the episode that really saw Fear make use of some of the vast potential it introduced in the opening couple of episodes.
Episode two used a solitary walker as a genuine object of fear in impressive style, and The Dog only built on that potential. It only takes one walker for the Clark family to run for their lives, almost clueless as they desperately load up a shotgun – but there’s a real sense here of how inexperienced these survivors are; their efforts to find and load a weapon are, aptly, portrayed as fumbling and amateur. Fear’s trick of deriving tension from the characters’ incompetency when faced with walkers hasn’t had flawless results (the ‘talking to a walker as if it were just an ill but very much alive person’ trick has grown stale after being used in every episode so far), but it’s certainly a fresh and unpredictable way to generate maximum levels of tension and fear from a minimum amount of actual walkers.
Unfortunately, after a brutally tense and… well, brutal sequence that flamboyantly displayed just how disgusting walkers can be, the pace soon slackened, and the episode never truly recovered. Crucially, it’s becoming apparent that Fear the Walking Dead is much better at the horror side of things than the actual character drama. The Dog, unfortunately, barely capitalised on some of the intriguing groundwork laid in episode two – Nick’s addiction is becoming a relatively peripheral plot that seems to be taking the ‘obnoxiously slow burning’ route, and the unseen past of Madison is scarcely mentioned. Not all of the character stuff is a bust – there’s room to build something intriguing on the uneasy relationship between Travis’ former and current partners – but it’s disappointing how uninteresting and bland it all is in comparison to the vibrant and innovative action-horror. It’s passable, but it’s little more – and considering how good some character development has been over on The Walking Dead, and how much the pilot was built around character drama, that’s a minor disappointment.
In addition to not really capitalising on last episode’s potential, Fear doubled down on some of the concerns I had last week. The Salazar family seemed to be one family too many when they were introduced… and that’s pretty much what they are here; another three characters tagging along and taking screen-time away from the people we’ve spent three episodes with by this point. The father of the family gets a neat moment as he blasts the walker with a shotgun, but that’s about it – their conflict about whether to leave or not is entirely banal and fails to incite any tension, and it just adds bloat to a series that’s already packed with central characters.
However, The Dog does conclude on a moment of hope – for both this reviewer, and for the characters themselves, as the National Guard step in. This is a great, intriguing idea to throw into the mix as we head into the second half of the season, providing the potential for a bit of conspiracy drama and civilian-vs-military conflict alongside the promise of a full-scale (losing) battle against the walkers presumably in the finale. Fear achieved a lot of success by focusing on the police and the effects of the public’s reaction to perceived oppressive behaviour, so to introduce another force of authority on a more long-term basis should help build upon that good work. However, while most characters finish the episode optimistic and hopeful that things may just clear up, it’s Daniel Salazar who makes the most accurate observation: the cavalry may have arrived, but it’s too late…
The Dog is an episode of two halves: the first pulsating with innovative, exciting and tense action and horror sequences, the second fairly leaden and far less interesting, packed with deeply mediocre and thinly spread character drama. The two halves don’t mesh together all that well, and it’s for that reason that The Dog is unfortunately an episode that’s uneven, and overall slightly lesser than the some of its parts…