A hostage swap goes south

By Nick Romano
July 09, 2017 at 11:10 PM EDT
Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC
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No one wants to be on the wrong side of history, but the Clarks are on the wrong side of history.

In an effort to strike an accord between Broke Jaw Ranch and Black Hat Reservation, Alicia meets up with Jake, and they attempt a parlay with Walker. His story hasn’t changed: Jeremiah Otto and his family stole land from Walker’s tribe and used it to build a survivalist colony — and he fears Jeremiah killed members of his family to do so. Jake only incites more rage by reminding him that the police investigation found no evidence.

“Those days are dead,” Walker proclaims.

For Jake and his family, the outbreak meant an apocalypse in the Biblical sense — the end of the world, the end of civilization — and they’re doing what they can to maintain the old structures. But for Walker, it’s an “unveiling,” one that will cleanse the earth and return the land to “the first humans,” the Native Americans. It marks the end of a society in which minorities were forced to serve Jake and his friends food “with a smile” on their faces, a society in which they had to clean up the vomit of those who flung racial slurs their way, a society in which they had to thank customers for the scraps of change left for tips.

“The days of the white man’s courts are over,” and from their destruction comes the true unveiling.

“The Unveiling”

Through a parlay struck between Jake and Alicia on one side and Walker on the other, Alicia stays as a hostage at the reservation in an attempt to maintain what semblance of peace they can muster, while one of Walker’s own will go as a hostage to the ranch. That turns out to be… Ofelia! Yes, Daniel’s daughter survived the dried, cracking wasteland of the desert to find herself in the company of Walker, but he wasn’t the figure who first fired shots at her last season. That was Jeremiah.

More on Ofelia and Jeremiah’s first encounter is explained in the second half of this two-hour midseason finale, but the tension between them in the cellar of the ranch indicates it wasn’t amicable. Their meeting now is a PR move. Jeremiah throws around phrases like “ghosts… carry your sins” and says they shouldn’t muck up what’s happening now by focusing on their past grievances. He’s pushing for alternate facts, if you will.

While in Walker’s “custody” — though it’s more like accepting his hospitality — Alicia begins to realize Walker isn’t the monster the Ottos make him out to be. It’s another gift from the old racial structure: paint the “other” as the terrorist, the savage, the drug dealer, the rapist for some typically deplorable means. These people are former army brats (they’re rebuilding a fleet of choppers in their spare time), and they’re not killers (Walker’s forces did not slaughter the Trimbols, and he regrets killing Travis in the crossfire).

Off in the shadows, Madison manipulates Troy into forming an extraction team to get her daughter back safely. Though successful, the mission causes far more problems than it solves: The Ottos left more dead bodies on both sides, and Jake is furious that Madison is calling the shots. When he brings Ofelia back to Walker with their water reserves in the hopes of mending their relationship, it’s too little too late, and he’s nearly scalped to death.

Retribution comes later with Ofelia. She warns Alicia something bad is coming their way and returns later under the pretense that she’s been beaten and cast out by Walker. When no one is looking, she slips a powder into their coffee supply. Considering the suspicion that was already brewing among the Clarks since her surprising return and the Ottos’ straight racism, one would think more caution would have been taken with Ofelia. However, it leads to a moment that reminded me of the glory days of The Walking Dead, a time when spit-take twists incited gasps instead of groans.

The biological warfare begins.

All’s quiet on the western front until Troy’s men start vomiting. They are soon overcome by a surprise affliction and rise again as walkers. The ranch is thrown into chaos, with more bodies piling up. Nick, having joined Troy’s squadron, becomes another victim, and Madison chases down Ofelia when she sees their snake in the grass fleeing the scene.
(Recap continues on page 2)

“Children of Wrath”

If the first hour was about how unmovable hatred affects a society, the second explores how this misdirected rage affects the children of those who hold it.

Jeremiah is the cause of the colony’s current woes. A glimpse back at Ofelia’s time in the desert shows how he opened fire, believing her to be an illegal immigrant trying to hurdle across the American border. When he realizes she’s an American citizen, he lets her go but refuses to open his home to her because of her skin color. Walker finds Ofelia on the brink of death and brings her back to the reservation, where she’s bathed, clothed, and fed.

Cutting back to the present, Madison beats information out of Ofelia but still can’t figure out what is ailing the ranch. She takes it upon herself to save her son by driving Ofelia to the reservation at gunpoint. Standing before Walker, Madison catches him off guard. She doesn’t care about the feud; perhaps she never has. She cares about her son, and if saving him means getting herself killed, she’ll happily embrace a bullet. Walker’s respect for Madison deepens, and he allows her to travel back with the information she seeks: The powder was anthrax cultivated from animal hides. There’s no cure, but if Nick is strong — and he’s proven time and again that he is — he’ll survive.

And he does! Remembering something the Otto patriarch mumbled while guzzling the drink, Nick pulls up the floorboards of the adobe and digs into the earth. He confronts Jeremiah with his finding: a skull marred by a single bullet hole. It’s the ghost Jeremiah has been trying to keep buried. After the Ottos won the land, “young bucks” from Walker’s tribe, as he calls them, still made trouble. So the founding fathers of the ranch waited for them to come back around, hidden among the cattle, and killed three of them — including Walker’s uncle. The skull, however, is from Walker’s father, who came to see what happened to his brother and was met with a bullet from Jeremiah’s gun.

The Ottos have been living in a bubble, one shaped around old societal pillars of racism and their version of patriotism. But the rest of the world no longer operates like that. Civilization is moving toward the future, rather than slinking back to a past that did not work for most people. Victor’s brief reunion with his yacht proves as much. Though he fights to reclaim the yacht from the dead and sits back to sip champagne in a white dinner jacket, a conversation he has with an astronaut over the radio provides the realization: The old world may be dead, but life keeps going. Victor sets fire to the boat — a marker of his old life — and sets forth to meet whatever future awaits.

Jeremiah is unwilling to leave his bubble. He’s so consumed by hate and pride that he’s unwilling to adapt to a changing world. Yet whenever he and his sons step outside their bubble, believing their rules apply to the rest of the world, they’re bulldozed by opposition. This makes Madison the ultimate survivalist. Her goal at all times is to ensure a future for her family, and the same goes for Walker. Jeremiah claims to be for family, but he’s really about personal survival; in the face of his sons’ impending deaths, he’s still unwilling to live in a community with people who are different from him.

Again enlisting Troy, whose eagerness to kill clouds his judgement, Alicia and Madison return from another mission to the reservation with Walker’s RV full of artifacts and the bones of his grandfather. The ranch is quickly surrounded by the tribe, and the Ottos are left scrambling to figure out the next move.

Nick reveals the skull to Madison and Alicia. His sister becomes more convinced they’re fighting on the wrong side when she learns how they covered up Troy’s assassination of the Trimbols, and she’s horrified that her mother doesn’t seem care. This confrontation uncovers a little bit more about Madison’s backstory: As a young girl, she grew tired of watching her father beat her mother under a liquored haze, so she put a bullet in his head. It’s an ugly moment, but it’s something she says she must carry, and it’s the most effective image we’ve been given so far to explain what’s driving Madison and how far she will go for her family.

At one point, surviving meant siding with the Ottos, but not anymore. Madison, in yet another negotiation attempt with Walker, told Jake they couldn’t make a deal. Now she slips into Jeremiah’s office and, watching the man begin his nightly whiskey ritual, informs him that was a lie. If she turns over Jeremiah’s head, there will be peace — but she wants him to pull the trigger himself as a way of making up in some way for his failings as a father. The end of Jeremiah’s legacy looms. But he’s unwilling to give up his seat, so he must be forcibly removed. And the final shot doesn’t go to Madison — it goes to her son, who walks in at the last moment. He performs a necessary act, an echo of Madison shooting her father. (Showrunner Dave Erickson gives EW his thoughts on that moment, as well as the rest of the midseason finale, here.)

Madison said in the premiere episode that her plan was to take the ranch. The three Clarks now gaze down from their porch as Jake and Troy move their father’s cold corpse. As the sun rises the next morning, Madison meets Walker past the colony’s border and delivers Jeremiah’s head, sealing their deal.

I convinced myself that Jake was going to be next on the chopping block, especially when Nick revealed him to be stricken with anthrax. But now the story is heading for a collision between the Clarks and the Otto boys as we’re left to ponder who will rule the ranch next.

Episode Recaps

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seasons
  • 5
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  • 08/23/15
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