Madison discovers who shot down Travis' helicopter.
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is a collection of poems written by Charles Bukowski from 1955 to 1973. The assemblage tackles a range of topics, especially gambling, drinking, and women. It’s also the book Jake Otto gives to Alicia as an admittedly unconventional post-sex gift. The title itself is a contradiction: water doesn’t burn, it drowns; flames don’t drown, they burn. It’s this quandary that makes it appropriate for Jake’s discussion about the importance of art in the apocalypse, set in an episode that tries to make sense of its own dualities within Broke Jaw Ranch.
Luciana remarks to Nick that there’s beauty in the death of an elderly couple that opens the hour. The colony awakens in the dead of night to try to douse a fire set by Russ Brown, who finds that his wife, Martha, died in her sleep and turned into a walker. Embracing her for one last dance, he fires a gun into both of their brains, and their fall causes a lamp to shatter and spread its flames to the rest of the house. “Save the water. Let it burn,” Jeremiah says, echoing the episode’s title. To Luciana, it’s “sad but beautiful” because they were “together ’til the end.”
The next morning, Madison tries to quell her children’s fears and argues that there’s safety in putting herself in danger. She’s about to embark on a mission with Troy (the same guy whose eye she nearly plucked out) and his militiamen to find out what happened to their missing envoy. Given Troy’s unpredictably volatile actions, Nick and Alicia urge her to consider another way to prove their dedication to the ranch. Yet, she says, “The more we understand this family, the safer we are.”
Daniel and Victor are another fun pairing. After the kerfuffle at the dam, Daniel left Lola to go back to the hotel in search of Ofelia. We already know she’s not there, nor is anyone else from his original group. So it’s only a matter of time before the already hostile father realizes Victor’s verbal trickery and retaliates. Nevertheless, Victor tries to keep up the ruse while managing his frenemy’s expectations.
Back at the ranch, Alicia finds Jake in his room after having earlier been oblivious to his pain. The elderly couple who died were among the “founding fathers” of the community, and Alicia only found out through her Bible study buddy: another contradiction, as the party posse masquerades as a religious study group. She’s tormented by the thought that she and her family will never be the same as they were before the outbreak, and either because of an influx of emotion or just for the heck of it (Jake is the hottest thing to come around the apocalypse in a while), she hooks up with the nice Otto brother.
Jake gives Alicia the Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame collection as she’s getting dressed. You can see some of the annotations he made on the pages: “We are strangers in an empty place, we are kings in our little empire. All this, it happens inside and outside of us,” reads one of them. She rebuffs the gesture, saying she once liked art, but now she doesn’t see the point.
While on the road, Madison and Troy come across a flipped bus from a correctional facility in California. The rest of the group wants to move on, but Troy is itching to massacre some walkers, who are congregating around the collapsed vehicle. Madison sides with him and ends up proving herself as a physical force. The soldier who questioned her skills back at the ranch now apologizes, though he did have to fire an arrow into a walker’s skull when she was caught off guard.
Jeremiah finds Nick at the Browns’ burned house, trying to fix it up by scrubbing the ash off the walls. The Otto patriarch once lived in the house, noting that Jake was born in one of the rooms, but he gave it to the Browns when it proved “too humble” for his second wife. Nick points out the next contradiction when Jeremiah finds a pistol he gifted the Browns and calls it “a beautiful gun.” He finds beauty in the tool, even though it’s an instrument of death. Nick questions whether that’s the same dogma he instilled in Troy; Jeremiah finds the beauty in his sociopathic son, too. Jeremiah failed Troy during his alcoholic binges, and he doesn’t intend to leave him behind again. (Recap continues on page 2)
Madison’s group find the remains of their missing envoy, led by a man named Bill. The earth is scarred with their vehicle’s tracks, and she notes it was hauled away. They soon arrive at an abandoned home, but in the back, they find a stack of burned bodies and Bill sitting on a chair atop a lone rock. While a crow sits on his shoulder and feasts on the tissue from his exposed brain, Bill recites in broken speech an old William Hughes Mearns poem from the late 1800s called “Antigonish.” The words — “As I was going up the stair/ I met a man who wasn’t there/ He wasn’t there again today/ Oh how I wish he’d go away” — were written about stories of hauntings in the town of Antigonish in Nova Scotia. Soon, Madison realizes they stand in a graveyard haunted by their own demons: men hiding themselves in brush as they surround the group.
They turn and find a man named Walker (of all names), a Native American man who wants the Ottos to vacate Broke Jaw Ranch because the plot of land belongs to his people. If they don’t, he threatens to feed them to the crows. At Madison’s insistence, headstrong Troy is convinced that the group should lay down their weapons. They leave with their lives, but not with their guns, supplies, vehicles, or shoes. Walker informs Madison that she made a bad purchase when she bought into the Otto family’s sense of safety, but she remarks that this is a personal battle since they shot down the helicopter and killed Travis.
Showrunner Dave Erickson promised a darker season and lasting impact from Travis’ death, which calls every one of Madison’s actions into question. She likely volunteered for this mission not only as a means of winning the favor of the community, but as a way to take revenge on Travis’ killers — or, at the very least, put a face to the bullets. On their trudge back home, Troy nearly kills her while the rest are asleep; she undermined his authority in front of his own men, who were trying to rest instead of following his commands to carry on. More than that, she poked the bear by bringing up his mother and watched his reaction in claiming she never loved him. As Troy decides to spare Madison’s life, she turns to see one of Troy’s men witnessing the threat, which could bring more people to her side as she plots whatever coup may or may not be in the works. All of this seems orchestrated.
Both Nick and Alicia are dealing with their own trials. Jake takes Alicia to a pond, where he makes his case for the purpose of art and literature in this new world. Life can’t just be guns and the desperate search for more supplies. Art, he argues, compiles the “shards of light” they should seek. We later see her leaping off a cliff into water. She laughs, exhilarated, as her body is bathed in sunlight — though she is soon soured by the reality of her situation.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah poses a seemingly impossible question to Nick: His “mama wants to stay” at the ranch, but his “lady wants to leave.” Luciana has been acting this entire time like she’s not a part of Nick’s family and asking him to make a soul-crushing decision by choosing her over his mother and sister, the last remaining members of his family. Yes, she only met Madison, Alicia, and Travis when they were taken by Troy and his men, but since that time, they’ve fought for her, and one even died for her. Yet she still feels like the outsider, and it’s a feeling that forces her to leave in the night after Nick sets up a romantic moonlight picnic in their new home, in the remains of the Browns’ place. Jeremiah offers him a polished gun, which looks to be the same one he gifted the Browns when he first welcomed them to the house.
Finally, as expected, Victor must face the consequences of his lies. He and Daniel arrive at the hotel to find an unguarded gate wide open. From inside, they hear the snarls of walkers in the distance. Daniel points his gun at Victor upon realizing Ofelia, Madison, and Alicia aren’t there, and Victor’s attempt to defuse the situation can’t stop the wrath of Daniel, who rings the hotel bell to attract walkers. He leaves Victor without a weapon or a car, and his words echo as Victor watches him speed away: “Let’s see how you get out of this one.”