The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The good: We finally got a real riot scene. Last week the “riot” was two dozen extras standing around pointing fingers at cops in not-very-convincing faux rage. Last night you got what felt like an entire city block on fire with zombies munching cops, morons with bandanas over their mouths smashing store windows, and a real-seeming vibe of authentic anarchic revelry amid the plague of cannibal corpses descending on downtown L.A. The rioters are an omen of what’s to come: You wince when they push their way into the barber shop and start looting, but that’ll soon be S.O.P. for suburban parents Travis and Madison once civilization has melted away. The hospital scene was another nice touch. Scott Meslow of The Week grumbled that an entire season could and should be set inside a hospital during a zombie outbreak, if only this were an anthology series instead of an episodic drama — where I have heard that complaint before? — but what they did here with it was creepy and efficient. The sight of cops set up with rifles outside the hospital lobby, picking off zombified patients as they emerge from the building, is an economical way to suggest the horror within without having to show it. Imagine what’s going on in that ER if the cops won’t even go inside.
The bad: I like Ruben Blades but the humble-barber-turned-man-of-few-words-badass thing is wearing on me before it’s even begun. Also, how many times are they going to do the heartstring-tugging “zombies devour innocent animals” stunt? They did it early on in season one of “The Walking Dead” when Rick rode into Atlanta and the walkers tore his horse apart. They did it again last season when he was forced to sacrifice his pigs as zombie bait. Now we’ve got the zombie neighbor going full Obama by making a meal of his dog. New ideas, please. Also bad was the general reaction to the newly zombified neighbor, Susan. At one point Travis assures the family that Susan’s just sick; nope, says junkie stepson Nick, she’s dead. This is, unless I missed it, the first time anyone on the show has explicitly raised the possibility that dead people are walking around, but the entire family’s pretty chill about it. Their neighbor might be very ill … or she might be a living, growling corpse. No biggie. Also, why is Travis still unpersuaded that the zombies are functionally dead? He was right there when Nick repeatedly drove over Calvin the drug dealer with a pick-up truck, only to find Calvin still growling and moving (barely). You would think, at a minimum, this scene would call for some serious angst by Travis at the likelihood that humanity’s now dealing with something that defies basic biological reality. But that would require some recognizable emotion, and Travis and Madison don’t do emotion. (The emotion is left to teen daughter Alicia, who’s forced to shriek repeatedly that her sick boyfriend can’t, just can’t, be as bad off as Susan is.) The whole scene is dreck.
The ugly: We’re halfway through the season now and neither Travis nor Madison has displayed one redeeming quality. You don’t identify with them; you don’t sympathize with them; neither one has yet expressed convincing depth of feeling. They’re placeholders for middle-class America, nothing more. And yet I fear we’re on another Rick and Lori path with these two, where the zombie apocalypse gradually shrinks week by week until it’s little more than backstory for their personal soap opera and tribulations. The whole point of this spin-off, I thought, was to go bigger picture on the outbreak and not get too bogged down by individual characters’ narratives. Instead it looks like not only are we going to get stuck with another couple and their farking kids, but a couple that’s actually far more boring and less charismatic than Rick and Lori were even at their worst. For the love of George Romero, kill off these two losers, Travis and Madison, immediately and let’s see what Sheriff Ruben and the junkie can do with an episode or two as main characters. They’re hard-wired for survival. Ozzie and Harriet would have, and should have, been toast on day one.