The Clark family's long-overdue reunion is marred by a militia group at the Mexican-American border
In the past year alone, we’ve seen entertainment working fiercely (and at times scrambling) to address a more hostile and outlandish political climate: The Handmaid’s Tale reemerged as a forceful warning for the state of women’s rights, the cast and crew behind Veep and House of Cards constantly remark how they keep getting trumped by Trump, and American Gods is taking on pretty much everything from immigration to racism to gun control to homophobia. Now, the third season of Fear the Walking Dead — the last from showrunner Dave Erickson — promises to be its most politically charged yet.
Erickson has said the story progression predates Trump’s chants of “Build the wall!”; season 2 did take on the immigration debate as Mexican citizens cried out to enter the locked-down hotel. But now we find Madison, Travis, Alicia, Nick, and Luciana on the Mexican-American border, detained by a group of militia men. The topicality of it all was going to be amped up no matter what. And on top of everything, Erickson’s words come to pass as a major character death in the second part of this two-hour premiere casts a shadow on the rest of season 3.
“Eye of the Beholder”
That militia group we saw attacking Nick and Luciana’s group at the end of season 2 turns out to be running the show at the border. While Madison and Alicia are confined to an office room, they might as well be getting the star treatment compared to Travis, who gets the Abu Ghraib treatment. He’s hauled off to another part of the encampment, where he’s cuffed, weighed, measured, tagged with a number, and thrown into a room filled with other people, mostly people of color and the sick. Nick’s already there, cradling Luciana as she bears the pain of her bullet wound, but they’re plagued by sounds of soldiers laughing as they execute people in another room and gamble on how long it takes them to turn. Actor Noel Fisher is a sight for sore eyes amid pure discrimination.
The guy in charge is Troy Otto, the son of a survivalist we’ll meet later on, and he’s happy to show two white women — one of whom seems to remind him of his mother — his Midwestern charm. Instantly he assumes them to be American and everyone else to be scavengers after their fuel. “We’ve had attacks,” he says; he casts that wide net of American exceptionalism over anyone coming toward the border from Mexico. As far as he’s concerned, Travis is Mexican; he even guesses as much to his face. His racism becomes more apparent when Travis clarifies he’s Māori, which Troy calls “warrior stock,” and even questions whether his people are affected by the disease, suggesting Travis isn’t the same as white Americans. As Troy tells Madison, “there’s different criteria for him” to pass the border inspection process, while she and Alicia, of course, pass with “flying colors.”
Troy’s cruelty extends beyond racism. He states death is the only thing he can offer the sick and the maimed, a philosophy that echoes some of the Republicans currently in power: “Why should Americans have to pay for someone else’s health care?” And they believe what they’re doing has importance. Even as Travis points out their demented and vile “scientific” practices, they still see the act of executing and documenting the walker transformation to be for the greater good.
Teaming up with another captive, Travis gets the drop on the soldiers, allowing Nick and Luciana to escape down a sewer drain, while Travis is carted off and thrown in a Hunger Games-style pit of walkers. The militia are entertained as they gather to watch a brown-skinned man forced to fight desperately against walkers, remnants of the disenfranchised executed at the compound.
It doesn’t take much for Madison to break Troy’s fragile facade when she jabs a spoon in his eye and threatens to pluck it out, while Nick carries an ailing Luciana through the sewers, doubling back from a surprise herd of walkers waiting for them on the other end.
The situation is quelled when Troy’s brother, Jake, swoops in. It turns out Troy wasn’t even supposed to detain anyone or conduct any sort of sick experiments. Jake allows the family to reunite, offers them a sanctuary back at his father’s ranch, and even admits Troy brought on his own unfortunate situation. The problem, as Travis points out, is not that Troy is the only one back at their base who thinks the way he does, but that everyone else allows him to act that way. How can the Clarks go along with someone who perpetuates that behavior?
They don’t have much of a choice in the end, as walkers swarm the site and they’re forced to split off back towards the Ottos’ base: Alicia, Luciana, and Travis with Jake in a helicopter, and Madison and Nick with Troy in a car. (Side note: R.I.P. Noel Fisher’s character. I don’t remember him even uttering his name, but he met his gruesome end through a walker in the wall before we got to know him.)
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“The New Frontier”
The segue into the second episode is a cruel one for Travis. The tone abruptly changes pace as bullets from an unknown source blast through the glass of the chopper, one of which nicks Travis in the throat as the craft begins its crash landing. Unwilling to let himself change into a walker in front of a frantic Alicia, he opens the door and lets himself fall to his demise. There’s always the question of whether someone is actually gone for good, but there’s no way he could’ve survived that plunge. Plus, Cliff Curtis landed a cushy, longterm role in the next four Avatar movies, so Travis’ fate seems sealed.
Jake is forced to press on with the remaining group on foot toward his home, Broke Jaw Ranch. His father, Jeremiah, has been preparing for the end of the world — not specifically the zombie apocalypse — for some time, so the site is fortified, solar-powered, packed with home-grown food, and filled with militia men. He’s trying to build a new nation out of the muck of the breakout, and though he’s willing to offer this to Madison and her family, Travis’ death affects them in different ways.
For Alicia, it brings her closer together with Jake. They’re able to meet each other on the same emotional plane after his longtime friend, also traveling with them, is killed by walkers. Alicia, coming to terms with her own loss, steps in and saves him from meeting the same fate. Madison is already wary of her new companions as she drives up to the ranch, and Nick is impulsive as ever. She wrangles him to prevent further chaos, but she has a plan to reunite the family, take what they need, and stop anyone in their way. When Alicia returns with a failing Luciana and no Travis, the game changes.
Troy goes to kill Luciana — it’s colony policy to put down anyone on their death bed — so Nick tricks his way into getting a gun. Despite her own grief, Madison talks him down and Jeremiah is swayed by the predicament to let Luciana inside. The question has been asked whether Fear the Walking Dead would ever get its own version of Rick Grimes, but that’s been Madison for some time. Now, she’s entering her own dark phase because her family’s mortality has been laid bare. It goes back to something Travis remarked during the first part to a fellow captive: “She’s family, you’re not.” Now, it’s becoming a matter of what won’t Madison do, and what won’t she become to protect her own?
The problem is that everyone is at different speeds. Madison is patient and calculating, and she plans to take Broke Jaw Ranch from Jeremiah, someone who may seem like a noble man — but leaders of self-proclaimed sanctuaries always have more rotten layers underneath. Nick can’t keep his emotions in check, but it’s his instincts, cojones, and a lot of luck that have kept him alive so far. Alicia is much more calm and may not be entirely on board with the plan.
Victor, lest we forget, is still back at the hotel with his own issues. He passes himself off as a doctor when a desperate group comes banging at the gates, but he nearly shatters the illusion when a woman goes into labor. He manages to deliver the baby, but the possible exposure of his lie and the threat that it would mean for everyone else forces Elena to evict Victor.
But first, he’s tasked with helping one more patient, Ilene, the mother of the zombie bride who’s tormented by the loss of her family. Victor is supposed to get her to eat something, having been isolated for so long in her room, but thinks he’s giving her new hope for the future. It’s hope for the new generation — the infant a sign of future families — he helped deliver into the world. He found a new direction, a new sense of freedom because of it. Ilene finds her own freedom from Victor and thanks him by giving him a car, the wedding present she was supposed to give her daughter. His thanks turn to stunned silence when he realizes the freedom he gave her was the means to kill herself. Without any family of her own, she sprints through the balcony door he opened for her and jumps to her death.
Madison, Alicia, and Nick are in the similar space of “can’t stay here, but there’s nowhere to go and nothing to get me there,” as Victor says. Travis is gone. The reunion they were hoping for won’t happen. They have no direction and no safe passage through which to leave the ranch. So Madison is making a move to get her own sense of freedom, though it may mean more deaths to come.