I have finally come to a realization that the show writers WANT us to hate the majority of the characters. If that truly is the case, then Fear the Walking Dead is a marginal success. If the plan is to write a bunch of unrelateable characters in the first season, showing them doing ridiculously stupid actions with poorly planned choices, only to have them slowly progress into killing machines with only a mind for survival, then...well....I guess that's a plan.
That's also a terrible plan. They've only succeeded in making me despise 90% of all the people who open their mouths or do stuff. The original The Walking Dead succeeded in giving us a variance of characters with different personalities, all with more than one character trope for them to latch on to. Most (if not ALL) of them also had some basic form of realistic survival skills straight off the bat: Two police officers with knowledge on how to handle people and accurately use a firearm; a woodsy redneck with hunting, trapping, and outdoor survival knowledge; a person with a knack for breaking-and-entering and escaping tight situations; a quiet samurai with a penchant for cleanly lopping off heads and limbs; etc. Fear the Walking Dead, on the other hand, has the misfortune of giving us characters from Day One, which means they may or may not have any of that knowledge that the other series' characters possess. That also means we need to like these people right away, and I find it strangely difficult to really like any of the major characters but two - Daniel Salazar and the Nick the drug-head.
But I call bullshit on this notion that the characters are going to grow and advance in this new world. The other show's characters and situations were easy to latch on to because we could place ourselves in the footsteps of these people and wonder how we'd react in that situation. We were along for genius film maker Frank Darabont's ride. With Fear the Walking Dead, I find myself cursing at the characters constantly, chastising them for continuously acting completely oblivious to everything around them, and for almost no character LISTENING, not just HEARING, what others are trying to tell them.
I can't begin to explain how much I hate how the writers have created and developed the character of Travis (Cliff Curtis, a fine actor). Each week he is given something new and stupid to either say or do (and they usually come in handfuls, not just in singular moments). In this fourth episode, his son gives him flat-out fucking obvious, recorded footage of a person trying to contact them from across town using Morse Code with reflected light. How does Travis respond to his son trying to show him? Oh, he just tells him he's seeing things, looks at the footage and denies EVERY FUCKING THING his son tries to say. This is the same person who later essentially complains that his son doesn't respond or listen to him well enough, which just reminds me of how bad of a parent AND a person he is. Even Madison looks at the footage and tells Travis that she saw what his son was saying, and Travis STILL disregards it and condemns her for not trusting that the soldiers have done their job perfectly and without fail. I don't blame his son for treating him like shit; when someone has evidence - hard evidence - that lays positive stake to a claim you are making, I would expect someone to acknowledge it and not disregard it, otherwise they would be deserving of their new title of "Dr. Dick A. S. Shole".
The other problem with Travis, other than his parental and communication skills, is that he's the kind of guy who assumes his safety, rather than ensures his own safety. He puts his and his family's lives in the hands of the soldiers, and is even seen jogging around town like life is just humpty-dumpty and normal, totally disregarding the hardships of life inside a quarantine zone in a state of complete Martial Law. He keeps telling his family not to worry because, "the military is here and they'll take care of everything." His son sees someone trying to communicate with them from outside the quarantine, so what does his father say? "The military cleared the houses and the streets. All you're seeing is the sun reflecting off of a window, or something." I know I'm repeating myself, but I give double-negative credit to Travis and his shittiness in life because he himself didn't listen on this situation twice, as well.
Actress Kim Dickens, who mostly played side character roles throughout her career, is not branching out here with her acting chops at all. Four episodes in, and her main acting skill is akin to the Acting School semester studying the "wide variance of open-mouthed confusion used effectively and creatively by Kristin Stewart". Even when her son Nick is taken by the military, she hardly reacts with any true anger, instead resorting to that same confounding shock of "what the hell is going on with all these...things...going on?" It's like after Nick ran over the zombie drug dealer in episode one, the moment shocked itself onto her face like a nuclear blast leaving the shadow a person's former self burned onto her complexion. It's annoying, lazy, and a complete detriment to any hope of developing her character's personality.
Here's the thing about this fourth episode, though. After all that I said, it was still an improvement upon the first three episodes. That also being said, the only reason it's an improvement is that hardly anything of significance really happened for me to judge it upon. I had no idea there were only six episodes in this first season, yet this episode felt drawn out and weak like it belonged as a filler episode in an 18-episode season, fraught with artificial drama and unrealistic actions to situations that could easily be resolved in a five-minute scene in the following episode; you know, those bullshit cliff hangers in The Walking Dead that you know weren't going to amount to anything.
And what the fuck was Madison doing cutting the fence and venturing outside the quarantine zone? Think about this for a second - she knows nothing of this "zombie plague", other than perhaps millions of lives have been lost without any real knowledge on how this thing spreads, yet she goes outside and walks among dead, rotting bodies that could potentially be festering with air-spread disease, yet...why again was she out there? She goes for a little stroll without any form of a weapon or defensive tool, walks around town and then hides under a car to avoid soldiers wearing protective GAS MASKS, and she doesn't once worry that she may be getting infected by wandering around these "dead zones". Also, she's so stupid that she cuts a part of the fence in a wide-open field to leave the quarantine, despite the fact that parts of the fence were hidden by trees which, as you may have guessed, would be good for covering yourself from the view of patrolling soldiers trying to prevent you from getting out into the streets and potentially bringing back some of that fucking zombie Syphilis to infect everyone. If she was headed to investigate the person who may have been left out in the town, she clearly didn't get very far.
And after all that investigating the wannabe Dora the Explorer made, what does she have to report? Oh, you know, somehow knowing that some of the bodies that she found dead "weren't infected". How. The. Fuck. Could. She. Tell. That?
God, these people are dumb. But I can't really blame the characters inside the show. I have to blame the writers for having the misfortune of picking the dumbest fucking character tropes to tag onto these people in a time when we are supposed to relate to them, as though we too were in this outbreak with them. We need to be able to put ourselves in their shoes. Instead, I find myself too distracted by their despicable life choices to really give a damn about them.
Here's that last piece of difference that sets this show SO below the bar set by The Walking Dead: There are characters I truly like in this show, and I would be upset if they died. There were characters in the first and second seasons of that show that I truly cared about and I was devastated to see them die. These were people I liked off the bat because the writers of that show wisely created characters for us to care about and grow to like right from the beginning. Fear the Walking Dead so far has none of that. Even the two characters I like haven't really been able to do much other than just say the obvious, but then sit back be able to do nothing about it other than tell a story or get high off of a dying older man's morphine drip.
Post script: The ads for the upcoming sixth season of The Walking Dead also do no justice for Fear, because when you've experienced three hours of weak, stupid people, only to see a fucking badass preview of characters who are superheroes by comparison in the post-apocalyptic world, it makes you pray for THAT season to start sooner than later to get the bad taste of cliched, shitty-sounding dialogue out of your mouth. Yes, Fear the Walking Dead's dialogue is often so bad you can taste the bullshit spewing from the page upon which it was written.
Post script, Part II: Both mother characters in this show had in their position either medicine/drugs or the abilities necessary to care for their OWN sons, yet both squander these benefits, with nary a hesitation, to go help strangers or other nameless people. That notion of helping others would indeed make them good people, but their willingness to fuck over their own family adds to the Walking Dead theme of having the most careless mothers in all of television.