The chief symbolic shot of “Not Fade Away,” the fourth episode of Fear the Walking Dead Season 1, is of something simple, maybe even rote: wind chimes. The episode returns to this shot of the chimes gently clanging against one another, responding to intermittent gusts of wind. Similarly, Madison and Travis begin to have some not-great inklings in response to brief encounters with a predictably dismissive National Guard, who have become a fixture, and the controlling force, of the Clarks’ community in the time between “The Dog” and “Not Fade Away.” Coupled with Nick’s escalating drug issues, which causes him to take morphine from a dying man, the narrative trajectory of the episode mirrors an incremental, almost unbearable sense of dread, which climaxes with impressive emotional complexity by the end of the episode.
Of course, the other pertinent symbol of the episode was the communicative glimmer from the hills that Travis’s son, Chris, eyes early in the morning, while his father attempts to get his morning run in and Madison attempts to keep up with household chores. It’s an early sign that these routines, the normal complacency of life, will be undermined, especially considering how Travis gets talked down to when he brings up what Chris saw to the National Guard’s higher-ups. The way the possibility of a distress signal is totally shrugged off by the Man in Charge reflects his dismissive attitude toward the enveloping paranoia that is being felt by the denizens of his safe-zone, where Madison and Travis are attempting to get their feet on the ground once again. When the glimmers turn into blasts of gunfire toward the end of the episode, its a visualization of what Daniel warns Madison about when he reminds her that the horrors of fearful men come quickly, and are hard to wave off as necessary or justifiable for any reason.
It was slightly disappointing to see the Fear the Walking Dead‘s writers depict the National Guard higher-ups as secretive, heartless, fearful, and control-obsessed from the get-go, but thankfully, the show focused more on the personal experiences of Madison, Travis, Daniel, and their broods. From the perspective of our central characters, the show depicted the ease with which good people can be suckered into corrupt, inhumane governmental plots without knowing the evil which they are engendering. This is particularly true of Liza, who went as far as to join up with the National Guard and its medics. Travis may have been donned “mayor” of the safe-zone by the Guard but when a panicked neighbor goes missing, his curiosity and outrage only go so far due to the sense of order that the Guard has instilled, as precarious as that order may be.
Even Madison, who takes a trip outside and witnesses the hard-to-digest terror of L.A. outside the safe-zone, littered with rotting bodies, doesn’t see the manipulative betrayal that caps the episode coming, and she ultimately plays right into their hand by blaming Liza for Nick being carted off along with Daniel’s wife. Much as The Walking Dead has focused on the recalibration one’s moral compass in the wake of unimaginable horror and societal destruction, Fear the Walking Dead seems to be charting how that compass was originally eliminated, and the inevitable chaos, distrust, and hurt that follows.
★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television