‘Hereditary’ Smothers Its Best Self

Deservedly or not, Hereditary has claimed its place among other well-received horror films of the last year or so that can be classified as genre-bending horror. Get Out functioned as social thriller. A Quiet Place worked as minimalist family drama. The first half of Hereditary wants to sit beside The Babadook as an exploration of grief and trauma, and for a while there it has the whiff of success. The overbearing matriarch of the Graham family dies, but the remaining family isn’t reeling from the loss more than it’s trying to reconfigure itself in her absence. What does “family” mean when all family’s ever done is damage?

There are so many images of home in this film that beg to be interpreted as something other than set dressing. Toni Collette’s Annie is an artist that creates dollhouses of her own life, which play on the idea of removing yourself from your narrative, and recreating it as a form of therapy or catharsis. There’s a sculpture of three houses, one on top of the other, which seem to be carved out of a mountain. The houses are crooked, but bound together by the rock they can’t escape from. There’s another house sculpture where light is coming through all of the windows except one that’s boarded up on the second story.

I mean, come ON. You really think Hereditary‘s bounty of symbolism will amount to something profound, until the third act when you realize it’s abandoned all of its commentary for typical horror fare. That fare is fun, to be sure, if not derivative (I’d call the references to The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist homages if this one weren’t so frustrating). There are a few images that will be difficult to burn out of your brain, but the twist falls incredibly flat. Not only is it confusing, but apparently it’s completely arbitrary.

The writer and director, Ari Aster, has the makings of a career that is, per Vulture, “at least in part a response to a culture of studio horror films that tend toward either neat resolutions or adhere to standard patterns of narrative progression.” It seems that his choices are only made for the sake of doing something different than what is expected. Which is fine, when those choices work. But if you’re doing something strictly for the sake of subverting the genre, aren’t you forsaking your movie as a whole (or at least its coherence) out of spite? Or pride?

Ultimately, the ending feels like a jumbled mess of superfluous myth, and the best parts of the movie end up feeling like misdirects for their own sake. And after writing this, I’m even more annoyed.

‘Disobedience’ Betrays Its Characters

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Disobedience follows Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weiss) from New York back to her home town in England after learning that her father, a renowned and beloved rabbi in an orthodox Jewish community, has died. She has not been present in the community for an indeterminate amount of time, and it’s unclear whether she left of her own volition or if she was kicked out. Her presence is accepted, but not welcomed, and soon we learn that she was once romantically involved with Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams). Esti still lives and works within the religious community, and has since married their mutual childhood friend, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Ronit and Esti rekindle their love in short order. They want to be together, but Esti is reluctant to take the leap.

While the elevator pitch and posters of the face-to-face pair of Rachels might make you believe their film is this year’s Call Me by Your Name or Carol, Disobedience falls far short. The former two films were both empathic portrayals of gay couples navigating a world that was unaccepting of their love. They captured a feeling of remote danger; their respective leads knew what was expected of them, and knew the consequences if they deviated those expectations. A deep, stirring force within them made them choose love over propriety.

Making a conscious choice is something Disobedience wants you to believe its characters have the ability to do. In fact, it bookends itself with monologues on the biblical idea that humans were given free will, a trait is both a blessing and a curse. But time and again it’s unclear whether the characters in Disobedience are making a choice, or merely succumbing to the pressure of others.

Ronit and Esti’s given action is to rise above a suppressive community and religion in order to live their most authentic lives. For as monumental a task as this should be, Disobedience is frustratingly undeserving of its title. The word itself connotes that one is willful or defiant; that one is disobedient when they’re acting under conscious rebellion of a status quo. However, any strength that these characters possess either doesn’t exist, or is too implicit to be felt. Of course, we get the idea that it’s difficult to leave one’s orthodox community, but Disobedience doesn’t try very hard to present us with what consequences look like. Ronit appears to have a happy and fulfilling life after leaving her community and her father. We feel some moments of her isolation, others her pride. But for a film that wants free will to hold a mirror up to orthodoxy, Disobedience never gets close to exploring how hard won freedom is. It requests us to understand the toll that their communal pressures take, while presenting characters whose decisions seem rather easy.

Guilt seems to be the only force keeping Esti where she is. There’s no fire and brimstone in Judaism like in the Chrsitian faiths, but the consequences of being gay in this world are hardly examined. The film makes it seem like the off-handed remarks and furrowed brows of their elders at Shabbos is the worst that could happen if Ronit and Esti were found out. There is a moment when the security of Esti’s job comes into question, which could create some stakes, but she never fully commits to preserving the things that are keeping her in that community. Instead, she goes off to a hotel with Ronit directly after leaving her boss’s office.

There’s a kind of certainty that Ronit and Esti have in each other that lessens the drama. It’s unclear how long Ronit’s been away, but the two women disclose to each other that they haven’t really been with any other women. Their love for each other is to be taken as a given. Their childhood affairs weren’t a simply dalliance, but the stuff of soulmates. The definitiveness of their love doesn’t leave room for Esti to have much in the way of a struggle of faith. She’s accepted the life she’s leading, but she’s passionate for Ronit, and yet she’s reluctant to fully commit to either.

Disobedience tries to present two irreconcilable sides to life: the unrestrained and the structured. Ronit’s hair is free and flowing, while Esti’s is kept under a wig. Ronit and Esti’s sex is free and impulsive, even a little nasty, contrasted with the under-the-covers scheduled missionary that Esti has with Dovid earlier in the film. As Ronit takes Esti’s picture, you understand the sensation of someone seeing you the way you want to be seen, versus how you think you should appear. There are times when you feel the sensation of feeling suffocated where others feel at home. But these moments are too fleeting to have much impact on a film that seems to have trouble determining who to empathize most with: its world or its characters.

Disobedience implores its characters to choose, but it never chooses for itself, so any conflict ultimately rings hollow. Perhaps what it’s missing is a grand, impassioned speech. Something that would lead us to believe that these characters have any faith in their decision-making. But there’s no scene that acts as a middle finger against an institution that shames and shuns people; no act of defiance at all. Perhaps most annoying is for all its outer trappings of feminism, Disobedience leans too heavy on orthodox minutia to become anything resembling feminist.

It’s certainly not the responsibility for films featuring marginalized characters to speak directly to our fraught times, but films should have a responsibility to their characters to represent their struggles in a way that does those struggles justice. Intellectually we understand the difficulty of breaking from deeply ingrained expectations, but Disobedience never explores how difficult that can be. Instead, characters are too dutiful to tradition to make their choices feel revolutionary. They’re not disobedient. They’re submissive.

Slowing the Clock and Losing Track: ‘Orange is the New Black’ Season Five

Season five tries too hard to do too little, and the result is frustratingly dull.

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Orange is the New Black‘s fifth season is going to take place over three days, they said.

It’s going to pick up where season four left off, they said.

It’ll be exciting, they said.

Okay, they may not have actually said that last one, but how could I not be excited?! Season four was one of the most affecting season-long arcs I’ve ever seen! The myriad of main characters were laden with anguish and fury! The prison was so seething with torment it practically grew legs and trampled the town in its rage!

But instead of launching from season four’s catapult into something extraordinary, season five squandered all of that beautifully built dramatic tension. And quickly. But how? How could an established show dismantle everything it built for itself? The answer is glaringly easy: three days in thirteen episodes just didn’t work.

I imagine there were at least couple of motivating factors for condensing time the way they did. We already know OITNB has been renewed up to seven seasons, and if television history has taught us anything, your garden variety narrative drama can’t really sustain itself past a seventh season. If the showrunners are eyeing the end of the series in another two seasons, they don’t have much physical time left.

Let’s use Piper’s sentence as a timekeeper. Even though the show has successfully moved beyond her as the singular lead character, she’s still the reason we were introduced to this world, so it would make sense to conclude the show as she leaves Litchfield. And if that’s the case, they’ve only got about another seven months to cover, since the show has taken place over the course of about eleven months. (Keep in mind that Piper started her 18 month sentence in a September, and using context clues it’s reasonable to believe the show is taking place in summer now.) Ergo, a three-day-long season slows down time a bit to leave room for the last two seasons to take up the remaining months of Piper’s sentence.

Additionally, the events of last season, particularly the last three episodes, carried a lot of that aforementioned dramatic weight and circumstance; most notably Poussey’s death, but also the mistreatment at the hands of incompetent (at times sadistic) guards, deplorable living conditions, and general prison industrial complex woes. So in order to properly address everything, the showrunners may have assumed that pumping the breaks on the passage of time would allow for a thorough examination of all of the characters’ motivations and reactions to the events of season four. And let’s be real, there are more than enough characters to follow with enough kindling from previous seasons to fuel season five’s narrative arcs.

But the self-imposed time constraint forced Orange is the New Black to write itself into a corner, and thus confront the very mechanics of television storytelling. Newsflash: in an hour of TV, something has to happen. Characters have to learn something. Plot lines have to progress. Ideas need to develop and grow. But all of these concepts need to occur organically in order to preserve the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

The problem with season five of OITNB is that little of substance can happen organically when time is forced to move so slowly. The tension of the beginning of the riot can’t sustain itself for thirteen episodes, which is ultimately what the season wants to do. Had the show shoved in constant epiphanies or crises to give the characters something to do, it would have felt unnatural for so much to be happening so frequently. So we were left with the alternative: adhering to the strict timetable, and biding time until a handful of major plot developments unfolded. Season five tries too hard to do too little, and the result is frustratingly dull.

The main reason Orange is the New Black was so engaging from season one was its deftness in juggling multiple lead characters from a variety of backgrounds. It’s an enviable trait that’s done in such a compelling way that it’s hard to find a point of comparison. (There’s a reason we’re reminded of this annually come award season speeches.) I really thought that would be this season’s saving grace. That rich tapestry of characterization woven into the very framework of the show could have been what the writers relied on if the restrictive timetable became overwhelming. But when given more room than ever before to explore these characters, season five’s time stretch made them less empathetic, less sincere, and more irritating than they’ve ever been.

Overt and frequent fan servicing was certainly the most annoying tendency of this season. I imagine it’s a tempting realm to explore; when in doubt, make a character do something you know the audience will luxuriate in. But lean too far into fan servicing and you get something like the empty pool. I guess it’s fun to see Freida using survivalist skills we never new she had. And the bunker was one thing. But it is actually impossible to believe she would create a whole underground world without ever being caught, no matter how long she was in Litchfield. Oh, and there’s a working computer and weed and beer? Even if the plot found a way to legitimize the forgotten underground pool, I was too tired from all the mental gymnastics trying to justify its existence to come around.

The self indulgence only got more ridiculous from there. Why, when given all of the existential grief of season four, did Orange is the New Black double down on silliness? Particularly when silly has never been its strong suit? Red and Flores, once a leader and a strong supporting figure, respectively, were on speed for half a season for minimal payoff. Gloria’s Gotta Get the Hostages to the Poo montage was eye-rollingly nonsensical. And it’s one thing for Leann and Angie (always OITNB‘s goofiest degenerate duo) to find themselves in a heroin-fueled lark, or worshiping a piece of toast. It’s quite another to make them centerpieces of a power trip.

Case in point: Litchfield Idol. An immense and almost insulting waste of time, culminating in a striptease that lasts so long and amounts to so little that I have to wonder if the writers thought that it was something the straight female fanbase was just dying to see.  Were we supposed to be titillated? Think it was funny? Think it was grim? (And remind me why they made that CO finger Leann until orgasm?) None of the above. I was bored and confused.

The “talent show” was not only the lamest thing to ever happen to OITNB, but it also proved how the season’s attempts at trying to make the prisoners into the bad guys was too obvious and messy to be effective. The flip of the prison power dynamic could have been worthwhile if it had the show committed to it. No, it’s not cool for Maria to almost (maybe actually?) probe Dixon’s naked butt on a lit stage in front of several hundred prisoners. Yes, it is unpleasant and problematic for people we’ve grown to care about to do bad things. But the closest the show got to Stanford Prison Experiment levels of control was blowing an air bubble into Humphrey’s IV, causing him to have a stroke. And even that’s unsatisfying, considering Humps’ track record of torment. Season four set up a litany of opportunities for the prisoners to lash out against the guards, but this season didn’t follow through with any of it.

But even done well, subverting the prison’s power structure is mostly a lesson in futility, because we already know these people are kinda bad people. They’re in prison for fuck’s sake. The whole series up until now has been about how to adjust the lens to see how kinda bad people are troubled but misunderstood, or victims of influence, or succumbed to matters of circumstance. You can’t create and establish a show about redeeming antiheroes and expect to land a moral backflip.

A general sense of missed opportunities is season five’s greatest failure, particularly when it comes to addressing the political and societal commentary the show introduced in recent seasons. I hesitate to say that a TV show has a responsibility to make such commentary; in general I don’t think that’s art’s job. However, if a show has taken active steps to comment, as OITNB has done, there needs to be some follow-through.

Some issues were dealt with worse than others, but none of it was done well. The first episode of this season mentions just about every mass shooting in this country’s history, and then went exactly nowhere in examining gun control. There’s various examples of how ubiquitous internet and social media culture is, particularly trolls, but to no certain end. The best it could do with season four’s commentary (and at times even pretty sharp satire) on privatized prisons was to attempt to give Linda from Purchasing a heart. But why lock her in and spend time with her if only to show her backstory, cementing to us that indeed, she is a manipulative sociopath?

Elements of Black Lives Matter coursed throughout last season, culminating in Poussey’s death that was directly reminiscent of both Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. It’s not that that wasn’t dealt with this season, it’s just that nothing came of it. Taystee has been working towards becoming OITNB‘s solid core since season two, so it’s important that she was the one prisoner in power actually trying to make a difference. It’s also important that she was pointedly working to hold Bailey accountable for killing Poussey, however unintentional the death may have been, as is often the real-life struggle to hold police officers accountable for their actions.

But the show took her hard-earned victory away from her. Taystee successfully negotiated all of the conditions, but everything fell apart because she held out for justice for Poussey. That’s not to say that the narrative solution would have been to convict Bailey of murder in three days, but it certainly wasn’t to let him get on a bus to live out his guilt-ridden days in New Orleans. And to have Cindy reduce Taystee’s determination for pride as a way of absolving the breakdown of negotiations was a shitty excuse for allowing it to fall apart. Taystee may have been obstinate to a fault, but I don’t see any way you can view her determination as self serving.

The entire season built up to the last twenty minutes of the last episode, and turned Taystee’s resolve into failure for the sake of tragedy. It’s an unfair and cheap ending for the best character on the show.

The most baffling misfire came in not utilizing the goddamn kismet OITNB happened upon by introducing white supremacists in season four. I’m not sure anyone could have guessed that white supremacists (nationalists, Nazis, the like) would become a common news headline in the year between seasons. It seemed like the tumult of the current American social climate was the perfect breeding ground for further examining Sankey, Brandy, and Skinhead Helen. After all, the white power inmates had nary a line in season four that wasn’t a direct (at times almost too overt) commentary on their hatred, or how a lack of knowledge begets ignorance. I was almost excited to see where the show would take these characters after the year we’ve had.

Instead, OITNB treated them like any other inmates. It asked us to laugh with them, to scheme with them, even to root for them. Any commentary the show may have built around white supremacy was entirely forgotten. And for what? So we can play Fuck Marry Kill? More than any other inmates in a prison, these are ones we do not have an obligation to humanize, particularly with the events of this last year in the rearview mirror. Not only is it tone-deaf for a show that is almost wholly about compassion, it’s actually irresponsible storytelling.

I have other minor gripes:
– The flashbacks were tired and unnecessary. Every single one of them.
– Did they really think breaking Red’s bunkmate’s nose was going to be funny the seventh time it happened? And at what point does she sustain permanent damage?
– What’s with the oddly off-brand homophobia aimed at Piscatella? He can be a bad guy and also be gay, but we do not have to use his gayness as a punchline to undermine him.
– I’m sure that Laverne Cox has a lot going on to justify her near absence from the last two seasons, but it sucks she couldn’t have something heftier to do.
– Why in fucking hell was Coates in the goddamn ceiling the entire season?!

Also, does Orange is the New Black not have a show bible? Taystee’s flashback has her obsessed with Toddlers and Tiaras, when back in season one she had this gem:

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Lack of continuity is so frustrating.

And now for a compliment: season five did Piper well. I was worried that after four seasons and a branding Piper still wouldn’t learn her lesson about minding her business. They addressed her compulsive need to be involved, worked through the reasons why. And even when Piper did participate in the goings-on, she was never in the position to become haughty or cocky. She proved herself useful and sympathetic in a newly understated way.

That, at least, was a relief. A welcome, if not thin, ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary season. Because more than anything, it was just such a bummer to sit through this season. It was a bummer to wait a year only to be disappointed; to not get better moments out of great characters; to not resolve the beautiful intricacies of the issues raised in season four. Here’s to hoping season six gets back on track now that the show is unencumbered from this season’s unconventional but ineffective constraints. Hey, Orange is the New Black writers! Please remember: you’ve got time.

 

The Key of Failure: ‘Nina’ Film Review

The fury of negative press surrounding the tone-deaf casting would have overshadowed even a good movie, but first-time director Cynthia Mort’s take on the life and career of the prolific Simone is uninspired, misguided, and tedious.

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There was no hope for Nina being a successful movie. The biopic of musician and activist Nina Simone was already a failure by reputation due to the tone-deaf casting choice of its leading female. Zoe Saldana plays Simone, a 37-year-old actress whose light complexion and delicate features needed to be darkened and filled out in order to resemble the 62-year-old musician. The fury of negative press would have overshadowed even a good movie, but first-time director Cynthia Mort’s take on the life and career of the prolific Simone is uninspired, misguided, and tedious.

Also the writer of the film, Mort chose to set Nina in 1995, towards the end of Simone’s storied career when she’s broke, drunk, and generally maligned by music industry professionals. Her temper and erratic behavior precede her so much that playing music, the one thing that can help give her life meaning, becomes impossible. The course of this unfortunate plot is determined entirely by the ill-considered notion that Simone’s washed-up-ness was narratively more compelling than the parts of her life that made her that way.

The real-life Nina Simone was a classical pianist prodigy that was subjected to such an astounding array of bigotry (including an infamous denial into the Curtis Institute because of her race) that in order to make money she played jazz and sang in Atlantic City night clubs. She was also a victim of domestic violence and mental illness, and a militant follower of Malcolm X (a fact that happens to be directly contradicted by this film.) She was so despondent about how she was treated by her country based on her race and gender that she fled to France in protest.

Simone’s disillusionment was real, and there’s much evidence to suggest that her difficult behavior was as well. But Nina fails its subject by glossing over the crucial touchstones that gave that behavior context. It portrays a demanding and impatient diva, drunk on more than just adoration, and bothers little to explain why except through a hackneyed montage and snippets of exposition-heavy interviews. There’s also little to be said for her creative influence other than through a couple of insignificant, minute-long scenes with Lorraine Hansberry (Ella Thomas) and a young Richard Pryor (Mike Epps).

Nina is so disjointed that often it feels like it’s telling the story of David Oyelowo’s Clifton Henderson, a nurse who met Simone while she was receiving psychological treatment then followed her to France for seemingly no reason other than minimal financial gain. As an outsider to the music world and someone unfamiliar with her brand of mania, Clifton becomes the logic to Simone’s neuroticism. The audience is then forced to empathize with Clifton, even though the lack of direction for his character gives him little room to act beyond the realm of sullen, inconvenienced, and confused.

There are brief glimpses of the kind of movie that Mort was trying to make. In a scene towards the end of the movie, Simone listens to a cassette recording of young girl’s version of “Four Women,” and is so moved by the tribute she plays piano and sings along. In this moment, it seems that the film could be about identity, and how to foster a sense of self while the forces of the world pass their own judgments. But Nina neglects to sustain any sense of purpose for its protagonist, and by the film’s final scene, what is meant to be an uplifting transformation holds little redemption. Instead of a tortured woman validated by her own perseverance, Nina shows what it so wrongly showed all along: a miserable alcoholic longing for admiration.

 

 

‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ Recap for ‘Chutes and Ladders’: A Perfectly Designed Torture Chamber

This anecdote is brought to you by the experience that American Horror Story does not fare well when it features a grand gesture of exposition, particularly so early in the season.

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While I’m very free about expressing my loathing of American Horror Story: Freak Show, I can admit that at least the show started off strong. The first four episodes introduced Twisty the Clown as the major villain of the show, and though he was horrific just to look at, the primary draw of his terror was that he couldn’t talk. His lack of a lower jaw, covered up by that ghastly smile mask, thrust a mute character to the top of the Best Characters list because his motives for maiming and killing people were kept entirely secret, and there is little scarier (or more compelling) than a villain who is that unpredictable. That is, until Wes Bently’s Edward Mordrake showed up and robbed us of any intrigue by magically granting Twisty a voice with which to tell his sad story. And so, we were spoon fed a voice-overed backstory that satiated a non-existent thirst for explanation. Then, Twisty was gone. Freak Show grew progressively worse after that episode, but had the show shifted its focus and kept Twisty silent for the entirety of the season, I’m positive it could have developed into something worthwhile. This anecdote is brought to you by the experience that American Horror Story does not fare well when it features a grand gesture of exposition, particularly so early in the season. And that’s exactly what Hotel just did, two episodes sooner than Freak Show.

In this episode, the Countess found a new boytoy in the angsty model Tristan, played by the incomparably beautiful Finn Wittrock, whom she “turned” shortly after he sliced his face with a pair of scissors and proclaimed he was done with modelling. (But let’s be serious. No scratch is going to damage that man’s perfect bone structure and facial symmetry.) After they christen Tristan’s newly acquired immortality by doing it in the tub, the Countess regails him with her life’s story, including the glory of the non-judgemental excesses of the late 1970s and an allusion to the rise of AIDS that shortly followed. Not only do we now know all about the Countess’ century-long exploits, but we also know all about this “virus” that they have that gives them vampiric qualities without actually making them vampires. Even if I had already assumed that was the case, the overt explanations are annoyingly unnecessary.

Then, in a scene that made the episode run for a frustrating hour and forty two minutes, Iris explains the hotel’s origins to John. While it’s refreshing to see Evan Peters playing something other than the tormented dreamboat on this show, I would’ve been satisfied to find his sadistic creep, James March, lurking in the shadows of random rooms in the hotel and reminding me of Lloyd from The Shining. (When Tristan stumbled into that room, March could’ve said, “Good evening, Mr. Torrence.” and it wouldn’t have been out of place.) His creepiness only escalated when he removed his ascot to reveal a nasty throat wound, reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood tales from “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” His character had real promise for a minute there. But then Hotel proceeds to feature a long, chiaroscuro-ed flashback that reveals March to be the original Hotel Cortez owner, who only built the hotel to be a murder playground of false passages and garbage chutes of death. We learn the weirdly fastidious laundress, Miss Evers, isn’t just another ominous hotel fixture, but was actually a lackey of March’s with a passion for removing blood stains. And are we not supposed to assume that March’s wife, of whom we only saw a tuft of blonde hair, is the Countess herself? (She said that she was born in 1904, and March’s exposition took place in 1925, which makes her the ripe marital age of 21 at that time.) Iris also explains that room 64, the lodging for cursed Swedish tourists, heroin junkies, and John alike, was once March’s office.

March’s story did serve an additional, if not premature, function in the episode when John realizes through the telling of March’s bible massacre that the serial killer he’s chasing has an M.O. in the Ten Commandments. In what I thought would be a convenient through-line of the season that could create lasting dramatic business, the unsolved murders just became another piece of the puzzle that Hotel put in place for us.

This is not to say that Hotel is doomed to fail in a worse way than Freak Show, since there are plenty of other characters about which we know little, and it’s definitely too early to say where the season is going. We don’t know Liz Taylor’s origin story, or what will happen to Donovan since the Countess dumped him for being suburban enough to want to binge watch House of Cards rather than go out “hunting.” I want to see Iris agonize over her son, which is wonderfully tragic when filtered through Kathy Bates. I’m psyched to see what Sally has in store for Gabriel now that he’s sewn into a mattress. (Though Sarah Paulson is so magnetic that I’d watch her read a dictionary. I love watching her play with cigarettes in this show, as if they’re an extension of her hands rather than a prop.) But still, it’s hard to see the benefit in revealing almost everything about important characters like the Countess and March so early on in the season. We now know most of what the hotel has to offer any occupants unfortunate enough to enter, and, like Twisty’s past, so much of the mystery is already gone.

Wiping Away Tears: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Recap for ‘Not Fade Away’

Regardless of the roles the characters of Fear the Walking Dead are playing, it’s clear that something is rotten in the state of California.

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The juxtaposition of the pleasant, ironic song playing over people’s attempt at normalcy. The cavalcade of military personnel descend upon a new dystopia inside a freshly mounted fence. The cold open for “Not Fade Away” felt the most like The Walking Dead yet. In a fallen Los Angeles, no one knows what to do any more than the next person, so the only thing to do is take a jog or sit on a roof filming shit or repaint a living room to cover up blood stains and obey the orders of the camp’s “commanding officer.” They are feeding them, after all.

They’re also keeping the people under curfew, forbidding them to go outside the fence, and fostering an us-or-them mentality. This camp is the original Woodbury, complete with C.O. Moyer as the acting Governor (albeit substantially less charismatic), putting green and all. If we’re going to continue with this analogy, Travis is Andrea, giving the system and Moyers the benefit of the doubt and playing peace-keeper while ignoring any trace of his better judgment. Madison’s skepticism and rebellious streak would entitle her to the role of Michonne, or maybe that’s Chris and his curiosity. I’m sure I could keep going, but regardless of the roles the characters of Fear the Walking Dead are playing, it’s clear that something is rotten in the state of California. The ruthless nature of this new system leaves no room for humanity, and even the desperate will eventually come to their senses.

In the meantime, the overarching lack of suspicion in regard to this military state isn’t entirely unreasonable, but there’s not quite as much panic or worry as one might expect for such a situation. A lot of shit has gone down in the nine or so days since the power went out and the fence went up, but C.O. Moyers provides these people with precious little details on what’s happening beyond the fence. When are the phones going to be back up? Where is the medicine? Where are you taking the quarantined? The disenchanted mob seen in episode two would have demanded answers to these questions with gusto and fervor, but the broken residents of this government-enforced encampment fall silent when confronted with a “shut up so I don’t have to shoot you” response from Moyers. His message is ominous, but the state of things remains composed, if not teetering on suspicion.

Poor Doug seems to be the only person handling things with a level of justifiable anxiety. He’s buckling under the pressure of providing answers to the unanswerable questions of his wife and children and can’t handle the presence of the army in his front yard. “It is going to be okay. That’s all you have to say,” Travis says to try to calm him down, to which Doug replies: “Will they know that I’m lying?” If no one else, Doug understands the severity of the situation that everyone else is rationalizing as a first step to the path of normalcy. He’s assuming the worst while everyone else follows orders, but the worst just happens to be right.

The addition of Doug’s character introduces a human variable not often discussed in the world of The Walking Dead. Physical maladies are easy to spot, but psychological disorders tend to stay hidden or ignored until they’ve reached a fever pitch, like psycho Lizzie in season four of TWD. Was Doug’s compromised mental state already in place before the fall? Is the collapse of civilization just exacerbating an already fragile psyche, or is his despondency just legitimate stresses of what’s happening around him? Is he suffering an imbalance because the medicine he requires is unavailable? Whatever the case, it’s likely people like Doug don’t make it far into the zombie apocalypse, and he was inevitably shipped off to “headquarters” simply due to his inconsolable grief. (Moyers’ use of the word “headquarters” reminds me of parents explaining the absence of a pet as being taken to stay at a “farm.”) If the powers that be are threatened this much by Doug, a very small crack in the system’s foundation, their reaction to a more potent threat is going to be doubly severe.

If we learned anything from Woodbury, the delicate balance of order in a fabricated society is constantly in jeopardy because any semblance of harmony can’t be sustained for very long. The removal of Nick (in a different car than the medical unit. Is he going to headquarters? The FARM?) and the military’s refusal to allow Daniel to be with Griselda are creaking the larger cracks in the foundation. And with Travis, the system’s most enthusiastic cheerleader, witnessing the shooting in the distant house on the hill, the sustainability of this original Woodbury can’t last for much longer. The two references to Revelation 21:4 prove that with this episode, the old order of things has passed away, indeed.