Spoiler alert: Do not read on unless you’ve watched “Fear the Walking Dead” season one, episode three, titled “The Dog.”
Building on the momentum of the previous episode, Sunday’s third installment of “Fear the Walking Dead” featured some of the most frightening moments in the series so far, as well as some of the dumbest. This wildly uneven entry probably won’t sway viewers who’ve already grown tired of the bland main characters, but might please fans who value well-orchestrated shivers and expertly crafted gore effects.
The episode – titled “The Dog” – begins in the besieged barbershop, which Travis, Liza and Chris took shelter in following a riot in downtown L.A. Trapped with them are Daniel, his wife Griselda and daughter Ofelia.
Outside, rampaging looters fill the streets like something out of “The Purge.” Peering through the steel shutters, Chris attracts the attention of a rheumy-eyed walker in the first of several face-to-face encounters we’ll see this hour.
A fire in an adjacent shop forces everyone to flee, and within seconds they’re running for their lives through the chaos. Griselda gets injured along the way, but Travis carries her to his nearby truck, which conveniently hasn’t been torched by marauding crazies.
Shot with handheld urgency and edited at breakneck speed, these early scenes have a palpable “you-are-there” intensity. Adding to the drama, composer Paul Haslinger’s pounding score ratchets up the tension to impressive levels.
Fans looking for references to “The Walking Dead” might notice a similarity between the fire hose used here on a crowd of looters, and the one that Eugene used back in Season 5 to turn an army of walkers into zombie soup.
Seeking medical attention for Griselda, Travis races to a hospital, only to find it’s become a war zone. The sequence ends with a haunting vision of the shimmering L.A. skyline as, neighborhood by neighborhood, the electricity goes out. It’s a powerful image, made even stronger by Haslinger’s elegiac music. His work here deserves special recognition.
Meanwhile at the Clarks’ home, Maddie, Nick and Alicia do what anyone in a life-or-death crisis would do: They play a fun game of Monopoly!
This is by far the dopiest scene on the series so far. Considering all they’ve been through, these people should be suffering from extreme PTSD, not joking about who gets the thimble and who gets the hat. It’s an absurd, mood-shattering moment that almost derails the episode. Although we finally learn a little bit about Nick and Alicia’s absent father (“Dad was always the shoe”), someone should’ve stepped in and pulled the plug on this idea before the cameras rolled.
Thankfully, things improve when their undead neighbor, Peter, chases a terrified German shepherd into the house. The sight of Peter standing in the middle of an empty street is a chilling reveal, perfectly timed to deliver a maximum jolt.
What follows is a claustrophobic sequence that finds Maddie, Nick and Alicia breaking into a nearby home to recover a shotgun. Each creak and shadow adds to the tension, culminating in a gruesome moment when Alicia realizes that she’s not alone. The image of two mottled feet hidden behind a slowly opening door is the kind of deliciously macabre detail that Stephen King fans will appreciate.
The arrival of Travis and the others brings things to a violent confrontation. Entering the house, they interrupt Peter snacking on the dog’s entrails.
Unfortunately, here’s where the episode stumbles once again. While the show’s writers clearly want to establish their main characters as good people who don’t entirely understand what they’re dealing with, watching Travis treat a blood-dripping walker as though it’s just a guy with the flu is ludicrous. The frustration this causes immediately breaks whatever spell the show was trying to capture.
Acting quickly, Daniel grabs the shotgun, calmly aims it at Peter and fires. The first blast removes most of the walker’s face, while the second blows the top of its head off. This brutal gore effect recalls the stomach-churning films of Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci. Bravo to KNB EFX Group for continuing to raise the bar on televisual splatter!
Sadly, the remaining third of the episode is a bit of a snooze. Characters pair off in candlelit rooms and rehash things we already know. Travis remains far too wishy-washy, while Daniel’s stubborn insistence on going it alone does nothing to warm us to him or his family.
The only conversation that holds our interest is between Maddie and Liza. While staring out the window at her zombified neighbor Susan (who’s stuck behind a cartoonish wooden fence), Maddie asks Liza to put her out of her misery if she ends up like that. The look on Liza’s face reads more like “Why wait?”
The next morning, Travis puts his trash cans at the curb, because of course that’s what you’d do after a night of grueling horror.
The episode concludes with heavily-armed soldiers showing up to take command of the neighborhood. With twin-engine Chinook helicopters flying overhead and men in hazmat suits tossing bodies into garbage trucks, Travis hugs Maddie. “Cavalry’s arrived. It’s gonna get better now,” he says, oblivious to how well that worked out in films like “Day of the Dead,” “The Crazies” and “28 Days Later.”
When the army departs, hopefully they’ll take that Monopoly game with them.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Weigh in below.