The military has rolled into town with the promise of freedom, but do they really have good intentions?

By Jonathon Dornbush
September 21, 2015 at 12:24 AM EDT
Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

Life as it was known on Fear the Walking Dead has irrevocably changed, even if so much of “Not Fade Away” is about the foolish task of maintaining a normal life in the face of collapse. “Not Fade Away” (which, for Angel fans, is a hell of a title to live up to), makes another important distinction from The Walking Dead for the series — the episode isn’t interested in showing the threat of walkers like “The Dog” was.

Instead, it’s focusing on the danger of a society trying to hold itself together with used duct tape, a few faulty staples, and sheer will. The military has instituted a locked-down safe zone, in which Travis and Madison’s family resides. There’s a curfew, cars aren’t allowed to be driven, and no one can walk outside the perimeter fence that has been built.

It’s all intended to keep the people safe, the soldiers explain, as they deliver rations but offer little in the way of answers. They’re trying to keep the peace, but at the same time they’re dealing with a community that doesn’t want to be blindly corralled to its death. The phones still don’t work, they still have to boil water, and they have no idea what the outside world looks like other than the scant details of other safe zones the soldiers let slip.

The insular nature of this new community allows a host of emotions to kick in — fear (obviously or the name wouldn’t be much good now would it), paranoia, anger — as the little stretch of suburbia goes stir crazy. And more than anything, there’s the ever-present worry about what the next day holds, if this is all just a temporary adjustment or a new normal for everyone to accept.

The cracks of this type of society begin to show during “Not Fade Away,” as Chris, documenting the military occupation with all the overindulgent voiceover you’d expect from a teenager, realizes all may not be as it seems. While sitting atop his roof and scanning the area, he spots a few flashes in the window of a building settled squarely in the zone meant to be devoid of life. At first it seems like just a reflection, something shiny catching the light at the right angle. But then it continues. Chris begins to recognize a pattern, and it dawns on him: Someone’s out there.

Nine days into the occupation, however, it’s difficult for him to convince anyone of what he saw, particularly Travis, who, above everyone else on the show, has shown an at-times-annoying steadfast belief that things are going to work out. Since the military rolled into town Travis has been acting like an emissary between the community and their new guard, hoping they are in fact the salvation he so champions.

Chris forces his father to look at the footage of the flashing, and whether he understands what those flashes mean, he doesn’t want to accept what it might mean. He wants to take their protectors at their word — why cause more strife when society is teetering on the edge of collapse?

So he blows Chris off, while Madison also deals with problems concerning her own son. Nick has taken to lounging in the pool, and he isn’t taking his medicine. She wants to wean him off his addiction slowly so that he doesn’t relapse, but he isn’t interested in following her directive. He promises he’ll be fine, and for now, she plays along, hoping to keep the peace in her own family just as Travis wants to keep the peace with their community.

And how does he go about doing that? Well, he attends an announcement by Lt. Moyers, the new sheriff in town. He’s the closest thing to, if not a villain just yet then at least an antagonistic force the show has seen. He’s trying to keep the peace, sure, but he does so by making offhand jokes about having to shoot the civilians if they disobey his rules. For someone suggesting the tide of the battle has changed, he sure doesn’t seem willing to let those in his care have any firsthand evidence supporting or disputing what he says.

NEXT: Has Travis’ naivete been a ruse this whole time?

Travis, ever the do-gooder, however, wants to do whatever he can to work with Moyers and the soldiers to save their people. So when he’s asked to speak to a neighbor refusing to do the health test the soldiers have been performing on everyone in the zone, he agrees despite not really knowing the guy.

He goes over to the man’s home, where his wife and two kids, both in hazmat suits, wait patiently as Doug hides out in the bedroom. Travis makes his way in to find a quivering, frightened man teetering back and forth in his bathroom. His anxiety levels are through the roof — as his family asks him questions about whether things will improve, he doesn’t have the slightest clue about what to tell them.

Travis’ solution? Tell them it’s going to be fine. They’re going to get through this. Is it a lie? Maybe, but that’s what his job as a father and husband is in Travis’ mind, to keep his family as calm and secure as possible. It’s the one moment of clarity I feel like we’ve seen of Travis since the show began. There’s no hiding that the way the character is written, his constant patter about things improving, about the family not doing anything too drastic, have felt frustratingly naive. Partially that’s because we, the audience know that the walkers can’t be saved. We have some idea of what’s ahead. But even disregarding this, his refusal to see common sense can be tough to handle. At least in this moment, it seems like, to some extent, he’s acknowledging that part of it is an act. Hopefully, it’s a sign of growth and not just a fluke of a moment.

Travis’ pep talk convinces Doug to leave the bedroom and take the test, be the man his family needs him to be. Travis’ mission outside the family seems accomplished, even if things at home aren’t great. The Salazars are still taking care of Griselda’s wound, Liza is hopping around town helping the sick and injured, and Madison is having to do the heavy lifting in the meantime.

But his task isn’t so easily completed. Doug’s wife comes to find Travis later on, informing him that he’s gone missing. Continuing to shoulder the town’s responsibility, he goes looking for Doug, only to find his precious car abandoned at the fence’s perimeter. In the morning, he checks in with Moyers about sending out a search team for Doug.

Moyers, shooting a few golfballs into the suburban wasteland outside the fence, isn’t too concerned. They found Doug blubbering by his car and picked him up to bring him to a government treatment facility. Give him the care he needs, Moyers assures Travis, but it’s not his job to tell the family about that. He let’s Travis handle the actual human aspect of the job while Moyers steamrolls in and out as he pleases. He also cuts Travis off when the concerned father brings up what Chris saw outside their community. The flashing lights must have been a reflection, Moyers suggests. No one is left out there, and whether Travis believes him, this doesn’t look like a battle he’s going to win.

Travis brings the flashes up to Moyers partly out of guilt. After he and Madison find some alone time in their car, she tells him to pay more attention to Chris, positive attention at that. He may think he’s doing good by acting as a man of the people, but he’s forgetting about the most important people in his life because of it.

And Madison is trying to do her best with those people, even if her attention is being pulled in so many different directions. Nick won’t take his medicine, Alicia is hurting with the reality of her boyfriend’s situation hitting her, and Chris is coming to her with his video while Travis ignores him.

Little does Madison know at first that Nick is in fact still chasing a high, he’s just, initially going about it with a sneaky focus. He watches from afar as Liza treats a neighbor with a morphine drip. Observing through the cracks in the fence, he checks as Liza and the man’s wife come and go from the house, until he finds an opening. He rushes in and injects the drip into his foot, stealing the medicines literally right from under the man, hiding beneath his bed as he finds his fix.

NEXT: Help comes, but not in the way Madison, Travis, or Daniel expects.

Alicia goes off with Ofelia to obtain the family’s rations, but when Ofelia stays with her new love, a soldier she may or may not be totally using to obtain extra medicine for her mother, and Alicia finds Madison at home painting with Chris, she decides to take some personal time. She returns to Susan’s house, walking through what was their hideout, what was Susan’s home, and is now a memoriam to Susan and her husband’s former life.

She finds a picture she drew as a child for Susan, but her thoughts are really with her boyfriend. She inks the drawing he made on her arm with a needle, puncturing the swirling image into her skin to serve as a permanent reminder of him.

It’s perhaps Chris, not even her own son, who Madison devotes the most attention to in “Fade.” After showing her the footage, she decides to sneak outside the border and see for herself what the world has come to. And what she finds is more troubling than she would have imagined. Debris lines the street, bodies peppered throughout, many of them as diseased as she’d expect. But not all of them. Some seem to have been shot and killed before they were sick, and it’s this alarming discovery that has Madison on edge after she returns (well that and almost being caught in the outside world).

She relays what she saw to Daniel, in a scene with some great work from Rubén Blades. He recalls a story from his childhood about discovering dead bodies in a river, bodies that belonged to people from his town who the military promised would be fine. It’s a chilling story and could be a prescient one for what’s about to come. The military is rounding up the sick members of the community, not just Doug, thanks to the reports of a new doctor who has arrived on the scene.

She comes across Liza’s work, asking Liza to pretend to be a nurse for a little while longer as they check on the townspeople. Among those they decide to take to a military facility are Griselda, who Daniel is told he’ll be allowed to accompany. When the doc and soldiers come knocking, they do indeed have two names on their list. But those names are Griselda’s… and Nick’s. With a surprising show of force, the soldiers knock Nick down as he tries to escape and force him into a jeep outside while forbidding Daniel to come along with his wife.

But another member of the makeshift three-family household takes a ride to this fabled facility — Liza. Encouraged by the doctor’s words that she could be useful in treating these patients, Liza mouths an “I love you” to Chris through the window and hops in the military escort out of town along with Nick and Griselda, leaving behind a few fractured families in her wake.

Madison blames Liza for Nick being taken, leaving her at odds with Travis as “Not Fade Away” comes to a close. And as the words of Alicia’s letter (similarly lofty in its prose as Chris’ initial voiceover is) to her boyfriend play above the troubled household, another chink in the military’s armor is revealed to Travis. He sits on the rooftop, watching in the distance for the building that Chris filmed.

He sees flashes yet again. The only problem is, these aren’t purposeful, patterned blips of light.They’re the muzzle flashes of gunfire ringing out in the night, the occupants of the building being put down by the military. The military that Travis told about life still existing outside their community.

And with that, Travis’ trust in the system may finally be faltering. But will it cause him to finally focus on his family and begin to find ways of circumventing their militarized leadership, or will it only make him double down in his attempts to keep the peace?

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