Monday, August 31, 2015

Preparedness Review of Fear the Walking Dead Episode 102: So Close, Yet So Far

Spoiler Alert!!!

Madison (to Artie the zombie): Artie, can you hear me?
Tobias (my brother from another mother, in his head): Have you been listening to anything I've been saying?

Synopsis:  People in Los Angeles are gradually getting the idea that something is not right, as officer-involved shootings escalate and people begin staying indoors. The schools are closed, and the streets are starting to empty.  Alicia, being a teenager, does not do anything her mom says, but goes to her boyfriend's house to check on him, only to find him bitten and infected, but not dead yet.  Madison and Travis meet her there and manage to convince her to come home, while Nick begins experiencing serious withdrawal from heroin.  Travis goes to find his son and ex-wife, but gets caught up in a riot and are forced to hide out in a barber shop with the owner's family.  Electricity and cell service become spotty, and the police move in with riot gear to keep the peace. Madison finds some medicine - the powerful opioid drug Oxycontin - to help her son at the high schools law enforcement office, and runs into Tobias, who is there to steal food from the cafeteria.   The two run into Artie, the principal, who has turned.   Madison kills Artie before he can harm Tobias, and makes it back home where Alicia has been helping Nick.  A final scene shows their neighborhood starting to come under siege as a turned neighbor attacks another neighbor.

The second episode of Fear the Walking Dead picks up where the first ended, with Travis, Madison and Nick in the truck trying to process what has just happened.  Madison and Travis decide to get way from the city with their extended families; Nick is flipping radio stations and remarks that no one is talking about what is happening, although there is a short news story regarding an escalation in officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles.

Alicia, meanwhile, heads over to her boyfriend Matt's house and finds the door open and him inside with a high fever and a bite on his shoulder.  She begins taking care of him, but Travis and Madison track her down and convince her to leave, with Matt's help. He knows what might happen, apparently, and doesn't want to hurt Alicia if he dies and turns.  His parents are supposed to be home from Las Vegas later that evening.

Chris has replaced Carl Grimes as the biggest douche.
They arrive at home, and the neighbors invite them to their daughter's ninth birthday party because everyone else has canceled due to the flu going around.   They notice another neighbor packing his car with food and supplies but he coughs and looks feverish when he waves.  Nick is entering full withdrawal from the heroin, and begins chills and vomiting as his body adjusts. I have to say this part is being played wonderfully by Frank Dillane, who at this point is the breakout actor of the show.  Madison tries to call their doctor, but cannot get through.  Likewise, Travis can't get through to his son Chris, but that's because he refuses to answer the phone.   He decides go try to find his son and ex-wife, Liza.  Travis tells his new family if they don't here from him soon to leave without him and he will catch up when he can.

Downtown traffic has come to a standstill.   Chris gets involved in a protest against the police, who seemingly have just killed a homeless man for no reason. The crowd begins threatening the police.    Travis gets in touch with Liza, who thinks his need to pick up his son has more to do with their custody agreement.  She doesn't know what's really happening and won't listen to reason.   Travis cuts through a gas station parking lot to get around a red light and takes notice of a police officer loading the back of his trunk with water.

Tobias is the man! I hope he lives past this episode.
Madison decides to search the school's police office evidence locker for a drug that could help Nick.  Alicia tries to leave to help her boyfriend again, but has to stop when Nick suffers a grand mal seizure and begins choking on his own vomit.  Madison runs into Tobias, whose nickname should be Basil Exposition, and as they explore the school he begins explaining how civilization is starting to unravel.  She finds a bunch of seized drugs and puts them in her bag, while Tobias, with her help, loads a cart of cafeteria food.    They run into Principal Artie on the way out, who has turned into a walker and attacks Tobias. Madison smashes his head with a fire extinguisher.   She drops off Tobias at his house, but for some reason they leave the food at the school.  Madison gets home and breaks down crying after giving Nick an oxycontin to help lessen his withdrawal.

In the meantime, Liza and Travis have found Chris downtown at the police protest.   Just as they arrive, an ambulance with a hazmat crew begins loading the body of the homeless man.  Liza, studying to be a nurse, realizes something bad is happening when she sees this and tells Chris to listen to his father.  As they try to leave, riot police move in to quell the protest, and a female officer is forced to shoot another walker in the head. Chaos ensues as people begin to destroy cars and set fires. They seek refuge in a barber shop, and we are introduced to some new characters:  Daniel Salazar, his wife Griselda and their daughter Ofelia.  Daniel does not want to let them in, but his wife insists.  

As the episode closes, power begins to flicker, cell phone services begin to become disrupted, and the violence downtown escalates.   Alica looks outside with a flashlight and sees someone attacking the female neighbor who invited them to the birthday party earlier.  Madison refuses to let her leave.   In the final shot, we see Alicia's boyfriend's house again.  There is a car in the driveway and luggage strewn around the back of the car near the open trunk.

Preparedness Discussion

This episode underscores the need for communications and back-up plans in case your family is split up or works in different areas of the region in which you live.   Keep in mind that zombies for the preparedness community are stand-ins for any number of major disruptions or disasters - natural disasters, terrorist events, pandemics, economic upheavals, civil unrest, etc. Travis, Madison, and their families are dealing with a spreading pandemic, disruptions of essential services, and civil unrest in the same episode.   Conditions are beginning to deteriorate rapidly.   When events like this happen - see Ferguson riots, Hurricane Katrina, the deadly influenza of 2010 that seems to strike down young people disproportionately, or the massive derecho that wiped out power lines for over one million people in the West Virginia area in 2012 - having a back-up plan is essential.

Cellular service is subject to disruption, but even when cell service is spotty, in many instances text messages will still work because it takes much less data bandwidth than voice calls.   Los Angeles has periodic blackouts, civil unrest, and natural events like earthquakes and wildfires.   Using text messages would have allowed for more communication and less frustration, most likely, and could have been reduced to one or two words.  A code word or phrase, which has been agreed upon by all parties, could have been a signal for everyone to get home and button up inside until things blow over.

Lastly, you have to tell everyone what is going on when it is safe.  I was throwing things the television because Travis and Madison were not telling family members what they saw with Cal.  Do you think Alicia and Chris might have been less pains in the butt had they had full knowledge of what is happening in the world?  Then again, they are teenagers ...

In contrast, Travis' use of alternate routes to get to his ex-wife's house was nice.   Once he realized the primary routes were jammed, he moved to the side streets.  If you have to drive a long distance to get to your place of work, you most likely have dealt with traffic jams caused by road maintenance or car crashes.  You most likely know of alternate routes you can take to get around the blockage.   The same principle applies here.  Know what alternate routes are available, and program into your GPS if you have one.   Google maps will provide alternate options when the type in the destination, but don't depend on technology that could lose signal or fail.  Grab a map of the area, highlight the routes, and practice driving them a few times.  Make sure your family does the same if they drive separately from you.  Have a central rally point and an alternate point planned for everyone to meet once they are out of danger.

Make sure you have enough gasoline as well.  I used to like to fill my tank up and a quarter full, but I now attempt to do so at half a tank. I also store gasoline with stabilized added in case service stations are closed.   If you are under a quarter tank and get stuck in extended traffic delays, you could run our of gas or be forced to conserve.   A massive storm in the northeast in 2009 crippled the West Virginia turnpike, stranding motorists in a miles long traffic jam for over 18 hours. The National Guard had to be activated to help clear roads and assist stranded cars.  Imagine being low on fuel and having to choose between keeping your family warm and retaining the ability to move the car when traffic starts flowing. With a little planning you can mitigate your chance of encountering difficulties by taking alternate routes and having sufficient fuel on hand.

Our characters decide on a strategy of social distancing to insulate themselves from the spreading disease.   Social distancing means you keep away from others to minimize your risk of infection, either by staying inside your house or apartment or relocating out of the outbreak zone. It is an effective strategy if you have sufficient leave to take off from work and supplies stockpiled so that you do not have to go outside.  Food, fuel, medications, and other supplies have to be on hand in sufficient quantities in order to support your household.   Your family has to be able to support itself for the time you estimate it is going to take for the event to pass.   This is dramatized in an excellent book, The Jakarta Pandemic, by Steven Konkoly.   Problems in this episode arose when Nick needed medication to ease his withdrawals and Tobias needed food.   Characters were forced to put themselves in harm's way.

Finally, Travis and Liza's decision to run once the police moved into the area in riot gear was a good one.  Just because you aren't doing anything wrong doesn't mean that you aren't going to get arrested.   The police I know don't relish arresting innocent people, but in a confused situation like that there is no way they can tell who is who.  Get off the street and away from the disturbance as quickly as possible.   The Preparedness Podcast has some information on riots and what to do in Episode 170.

Finally, two last random points:
  • Why did they leave the food at the school?  It is suggested Tobias comes from a broken home of modest means.   He and his uncle need that food to survive.
  •  Who carries a camcorder just waiting to film police brutality?

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 102:

  • Work on a communications plan for your family that concisely communicates the situation and sets into motion per-arranged actions designed to keep everyone safe and as far away from danger as possible.
  • Plan and practice alternate routes to your home or central rally point.  Familiarize your family with them.  Do not ride around with your car on empty.  Store extra gasoline if you can do so safely.
  • Social distancing works well during pandemics, but be prepared to "bug in" with adequate supplies.
  • If civil unrest is occurring, get out of the area as soon as possible.  That is your best method for avoiding violence.

 In two weeks:  Travis, Chris, Liza, and the Salazars have to abandon their refuge, while Madison and Alicia have to defend their home.   I imagine Nick is going to puke some more.


  1. Regarding your two random points: Some people do dumb things, and many get dumber under pressure.
    Also, we may find the food wasn't left at school, it might still be in her trunk to be found later.

  2. I was thinking maybe the same thing re: the food, but when I re-watched the episode for the review I noticed when Madison and Tobias left the school they walked to the car empty-handed. As tuned in to the situation as Tobias was, I would have expected him to go ahead and take it.

    Then again, his principal did try to eat him.