Through the first two seasons, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead seemed determined to separate itself from its parent series, The Walking Dead. It maintained a slower pace. The tone was completely different. It had a distinct look and feel. It took to the ocean. It crossed the American border. It tried a few stand-alone episodes. It began with a small cast, and insisted on mostly building all of its stories around the same eight characters. The show would introduce new characters, but then quickly abandon them. Fear didn’t quite understand what it wanted to be, except that it really didn’t want to be The Walking Dead.
That approach didn’t work for the series, which has seen its ratings shrink from 10 million to 3 million overnight viewers. With the season three premiere, however, showrunner Dave Erickson finally tried something different: It tried to be more like early season The Walking Dead, and the gambit paid off creatively in a big way, delivering two of the best episodes of the series run.
It succeeded largely by keeping the viewer off balance. Picking up in the aftermath of the shootout on the border last season, the episode threw us into a new environment. A wounded Luci and Nick are tossed into an underground bunker along with Travis, but it’s not the tearful reunion we might have expected. For reasons that do not become clear until much later in the episode, Troy Otto (Daniel Sharman, The Originals, Teen Wolf) and a group of men wearing military outfits are conducting science experiments on real people for what appears to be racist and sociopathic reasons. Troy and his men, including Willy (Noel Fisher, Shameless) weigh and measure each person, march them into a public restroom, and shoot them in the head in an attempt to determine how long it takes for a person to zombify based on age, weight, height and ethnicity. The science, however, is secondary. Mostly, Troy and his men get a kick out of killing innocent people of color.