And just like that, Fear the Walking Dead hits a ditch in the road filled with sludge and begins the slow slog to getting back on track. It happens every so often, though the first three episodes of the back half of season 3 have been uneven. The first had a lot of action but was fueled by dumb decisions; the second was more clear in its mission and execution; and this week’s third has less momentum, allowing time to reflect on the lack of tension and creativity in getting Madison, Victor, and Walker from point A to point B.
The trio needs water, and the dam has plenty of water. That much is clear. So, we begin with the trio riding their water tanker toward Tijuana, where they’ll find Daniel and Lola, both of whom don’t care too much for Victor. First, they hit a line of bumper-to-bumper cars on the highway and the herd of walkers that were once their human drivers. Spying a sign with the words “Jesus saves” spray-painted on it, Victor takes out his beeping keychain and flings it off the road to lure the walkers, but that seems too easy and raises a lot of questions.
The beeper can’t possibly be loud enough to lure a whole group of walkers off the highway, especially when there’s a giant, revving truck with the stench of three humans in it idling in front of them. Even if it were, wouldn’t the sound of the truck scraping by the abandoned cars drown out the beeper and lure the walkers back? It seems like too much of a magical fix.
Alas, it works and they’re able to slip into a car lot and shut the gate to the walkers. Though they’re trying to bust through, Victor leads them to a red car, under which is an entrance to the sewers. Walker is still wary of this man he doesn’t know, but Victor promises this is the fastest route and the walkers will have cleared out by the time they get back. Madison’s loyalty to her friend leaves little room for debate, so they all descend into the darkness below.
We linger in the tunnels with them as Walker becomes increasingly more impatient over Victor’s aimless leadership. He’s trying to look for the symbol of an open eye, the mark workers at the dam use to find their way through this maze. But he gets them all lost. Madison reminds Walker that Victor saved her family, but when they encounter walkers trapped in the tunnels, Victor still has nothing, and Walker ducks away to find his own path.
Alone, Victor finally confesses to Madison that Daniel is alive and at the dam, “saltier” than ever. She’s not worried, though, because she can make good on his promise to deliver Ofelia. Victor then spies the mark, but Walker hurries towards them, warning that the walkers are in pursuit. The sound of their snarling echoes through the tunnels, and the camera creates tension by cutting between the group crawling in the muck on their hands and knees to the darkness behind them. It slowly dissipates, however, when they reach an engorged walker clogging up the pipe.
Perhaps I’m becoming numb to these predictable jump scares, but this one didn’t pack a punch. Meanwhile, the sound of walkers behind them stops – and with it the urgency to save themselves – and all that’s left is for us to watch Madison hack away at this gnarly corpse, spewing blood and puss, until the water trapped behind it bursts forth. It made me pine for those moments when these characters are frantically trying to save themselves from a seemingly impossible situation with their backs against a wall, not knowing who’s going to make it out and who won’t. This wasn’t one of those times.
When they arrive at the dam, Daniel is fleeing a situation that’s boiling over. Their latest attempt to deliver water to the people ended in a shootout when Daniel opened fire on a group of rambunctious rioters. With a wounded friend in the passenger seat and a crowd of pistol-wielding villagers at their backs, Daniel and Efrain bicker over how the situation went down and how Lola should handle things moving forward.
As they’re re-chaining the gates to the dam, Daniel notices something moving in the bushes. He fires his gun and finds Victor cowering on the ground. Daniel raises his weapon to shoot again, but Madison steps out with Walker. She tells him how Ofelia is safe at the ranch, how Walker saved her from the desert, and how they are now desperately in need of water.
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Daniel takes them to see Lola, but they’re asked to wait outside while he and Efrain speak with her first. Madison assures her friends that Daniel will come through, but Walker warns he might have changed since they last saw him seemingly die in the fire. It turns out his hands are tied. Lola doesn’t tell them this up front, but she can’t risk giving water to white people when the people of her own city think she’s conspiring to keep control of the water supply. She does, however, allow them to leave in the morning.
Lola approaches Daniel in his bedroom, piecing together that these newcomers know Ofelia’s location. He assures her, however, that he’ll stick around and fight against the dangers encroaching on the dam. Victor, meanwhile, gets a contentious roommate, Walker, who vents about Madison hijacking their chance to get water to save Victor. He further warns that if she can’t mend this new trade, his people will force the ranchers off the land – regardless of his relationship with the Clarks.
Madison attempts a final plea. She finds Lola looking out at the dam from a balcony and discusses the reality of the situation, with those in the city revolting against the dam. Lola still doesn’t agree to the trade, but she offers Madison, her family, and Ofelia a place there. Lola is trying to appease everyone, not realizing it’s an impossible feat.
What ends up changing her mind is Daniel and “la serpiente” (“the snake”), which is what he calls Victor.
First of all, Victor is becoming a master of D-list wisdom, reciting such rudimentary philosophy and idioms as, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” and, “We have a saying where I come from: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” (Oh really, Victor? Never heard that one before.) But he sees the dissent already growing within Lola’s ranks. Helping to mend the injured worker, he listens to Efrain preach about how Lola should return the water to the people and how God will return the rains once they do, so he tries to poke holes in it.
Daniel becomes more driven to do something when he learns from Walker that Ofelia is walking in his footsteps as a soldier and a killer, while he remains unable to convince Lola that her nonviolent means are not sustainable. Defending oneself is not the same thing as maintaining a tyrannical hold over the city, but at least Madison admires Lola for her unwillingness to sacrifice that part of herself. Lola warns Daniel that if he chooses to stay, he’d better follow her judgments.
Victor doesn’t want to fail his friends — again — and after Madison confesses that the ranch is the closest thing to home she’s found in a very long time, he starts crafting a plan to get her what she wants. It’s an intimate and compelling moment between these two characters, one that I hope is further explored down the line. Victor asks his friend what she wants out of life, and when she says all she thinks about is what’s best for her children, he asks what pre-motherhood Madison wanted. Balancing a mother’s responsibility to her own happiness with her responsibility to her children — in the face of the zombie apocalypse, no less — isn’t something that’s been explored in this Walking Dead universe. Can Madison find happiness for herself? Is that even possible?
Daniel finds Victor surveying one of the dam’s water tankers, and the two conspire to win something for both of them. Just when Walker storms off the dam with promises to force the ranchers off the land, Victor causes the tanker to explode, and Daniel blames it on the rebels. This act of violence convinces Lola that action must now be taken. She agrees to provide Madison with 10,000 gallons of water a week and a tanker for good faith in exchange for the weapons they need to defend the dam. Madison suggests the stadium trading post as a meeting point for their first drop in five days’ time – but why would she suggest such a hostile location to exchange such precious materials? That’s a setup for potential catastrophe, but this is the accord they strike, and Madison additionally agrees to bring Ofelia on the trade.
The episode finishes with a rare happy ending – they find Walker hiking along the highway, and the three are all smiles as they head back to the ranch. However, it felt unsatisfying given the unevenness of the episode. The beginning was mostly action that lacked that heart-pounding tension that used to characterize these stories, and the second was all talk. Also, what about that truck they were supposed to retrieve by the sewer entrance?
Conflict doesn’t seem too far behind, evidenced through a few foreboding lines. Daniel warns Madison before she leaves that Victor will stab her in the back if given the chance and tells Victor he expects his return in a few days with his daughter, begging the question: What will happen if Ofelia doesn’t show?