The only things that Fear the Walking Dead has consistently delivered is the presentation of white people as saviours, and the depiction of pain for people of colour.
Season 3 of Fear the Walking Dead finally started to deliver on engaging viewing. Season 2 had been a huge bust. The first half started strongly only for the series to gradually whither. The show returned guns blazing for season 3 however, and while it managed to create something that was watchable, it was more problematic than ever. Season 4 has to deliver better.
The biggest problem with Fear is that the audience is very much left with the impression that outside of the Clarks, it just doesn’t know what to do with its vast playground. Every story centres around the Clarks. It’s even risked diminishing the impact of Strand, who is one of the best bisexual characters on TV.
Consistently, the story is about the Clarks. Their humanity, their need to stay as a family – and yet, every other family has experienced huge losses – and all of those families were made up of people of colour. There was even the awful ‘bury your gays’ trope, as Strand’s partner was introduced just to have Strand kill him to spare Thomas from becoming another zombie.
The Clarks get to stay together, while everyone else must experience grief. Ophelia believed her father had been burned alive, just weeks after losing her mother. However, she found out he had survived but minutes before they were reunited, she died of the infection. Ophelia was barely given any narrative. She wandered Mexico, trying to find a lost love but that story was barely explored, despite the hundreds of miles Ophelia seemed to travel. The writers didn’t seem to have any clue what to do with her – except make another character of colour a prop. Ophelia was kept alive only so her death could be exploited for maximum pain.
“Ophelia was kept alive only so her death could be exploited for maximum pain”
The sloppy writing made the whole concept of season 3 flounder. At first, it seemed the show was getting into a much needed exploration of the oppression of Native Americans, particularly regarding the theft of land. But, as soon as Walker secured the land, any plot was dropped. It was clear that the tensions between Native Americans and white supremacists was just used to drive the show until the mid-season finale. Jake and Alicia too, were constantly framed as the liberal white saviours, despite the fact that they themselves upheld white supremacy, and gave into racist preconceptions.
Alicia too has never been allowed much of a plot, beyond pining for whichever boyfriend is next to die (oh, and her first boyfriend was yet another person of colour who died on the show). When she finally went it alone, and found a companion who even made Alicia seem interesting, they were sacrificed for the plot straight away. Yet, another woman of colour was cast aside to focus on Alicia, and the rest of the Clarks.
Fear somehow, at every turn, manages to focus upon masculinity and frame the narrative around white saviours, despite the fact that it tries to show how progressive it is by focusing upon the Mexican-American border. People of colour are largely treated as fodder to the plot. The cliffhanger of season 3 was well done, but Nick (despite his amazing portrayals of the struggle of addiction) should die – and/or Alicia or Madison as a result of Nick’s attempts to sacrifice himself. The focus should shift to Walker, Daniel and Strand. Fear is probably beating the main show, if only because its making the franchise feel somewhat fresh again. But it’s not the great show it could be yet. If Fear wants to step up this year, it has to stop centering only the white characters. In this zombie apocalypse, all order has fallen except the old ideas of which characters deserve representation. The show has all of the characters it needs to reach its potential. In season 4, there should be no excuses if the story can’t move beyond using the pain of people of colour for views, while protecting its only white family.
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