In what’s an all too rare occurrence in its storytelling, Fear The Walking Dead immediately reveals the consequences of the survivors’ mistakes rather than jumping laterally to touch on something that’s only tangentially related. Last week, Madison foolishly lit up the Rosarito’s sign in the hopes of drawing Nick home, even though said hopes were ill founded. It’s not just that she seized upon only a vague description of someone who might be Nick; but he had some unkind words for her and the rest of the family when they parted ways the last time. She took a big risk—with other people’s lives—for someone who’s made it awfully clear he wants nothing to do with her. Rather than shift gears and document Ofelia’s road trip, “Date Of Death” picks up the morning after Madison’s latest lapse in judgment. And it’s all hands on deck as the group meets the refugees straining at the gate, begging to be let in.
Madison previously acknowledged that they’d have to protect the resort from other survivors, but she didn’t elaborate that it would mean turning away decent people. She’s already had to make those tough decisions, back when the Angelenos were steering the Abigail away from wounded people in lifeboats, including Alex and Jake. It’s possible that was an intentional omission—she might not have thought Oscar, Andrés, and the rest would go along with it. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Oscar wanted a pound of Elena’s flesh because he blamed her for his wife’s death, even though Elena was just trying to contain the situation. Practicality and morality are weighed against each other once again as the Rosarito group tries to justify why they can’t let in anymore survivors. That is, until Madison spies Travis in the crowd.
It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch—the people asking to come in are mostly Mexicans, though it looks like there might also be some Americans in the mix. And the people who are turning them away in their native land are a mix of Mexicans, white Americans, and possibly Mexican-Americans (Andrés and Oscar). There might very well be a consensus among the Rosarito group that they cannot accommodate more “guests,” but, as de facto leader, Madison’s the one who’s primarily enforcing that mandate. The decision to protect their self-interests has been made before, but it’s especially fraught here because it smacks of a kind of new colonialism. Madison and Alicia are as much victims of these perilous circumstances as anyone else, but while they certainly seem pained by their own actions here, it’s impossible to ignore who’s guarding this fence and who’s pleading to be allowed to pass. And when they do let someone through, it’s an American who Madison’s barely spared a thought for in recent weeks.
This ugly tableau reveals the danger of setting the show in Mexico. Dave Erickson’s desire to tell a “border story”—whatever that means—has seen him focus on Nick, presumably in an effort to avoid harmful stereotypes. But there’s also been a continuous distortion of Mexican culture, not to mention the fact drugs have been front and center for much of this second half of the season. First, there’s no basis for depicting Mexicans as people who would welcome or even tolerate having the dead around. These are not people inured to death, which the writers occasionally acknowledge even as they find new ways to twist their traditions. And if it’s just a coincidence that the long-running arc set in Mexico features a recurring storyline about a drug trade, then that is beyond unfortunate. It betrays a shameful lack of knowledge of the country, and plays into the very stereotypes that were trying to be avoided. The negative portrayals could be ameliorated by the presence of more compelling and capable Mexican characters. Instead, the good guys like Oscar and Andrés aren’t given much to do while the Pelicano gang is, well, a gang. And the jury still seems to be out on what Elena did, even though Madison just endangered everyone at the hotel on a goddamn whim.
And what’s more, these decisions haven’t even served the story well. Most of the characters remain underdeveloped or inconsistently written, and the plot still stumbles along at a slower pace than the recently turned. If I seem especially frustrated this week, it’s because the inertia’s caught up with me. So very little happens in the present in “Date Of Death” that isn’t just a retread of earlier episodes. Most of the action occurs in flashbacks, and is related by someone who might not be that reliable a narrator, a possibility that at least roused me from my otherwise bored state. Season 2B’s added a host of new characters who have done more than bemoan their state, but the focus always swings back to the Angelenos (which again raises the question of why the show bothered to head to Mexico).
After being reunited with Madison this week, Travis must be coaxed into spilling his guts about what happened with Chris. He’s ashamed because he failed his son (and Liza), but we’ve heard this record before. We’ve also seen Travis watch Chris get involved in cold-blooded murder and grow ever more disillusioned with his son. But ultimately, Travis is abandoned by Chris before he can give up on him. The teen is reveling in this new lawless world. There’s an unintentionally amusing moment where Chris tells Travis that if he can just keep his cool, the San Diego-bound gang will totally let him join because he just earned some serious cred by stitching up Baby James, of whom Travis has become very protective. It could be that he’s trying to save a young man, any young man, even if he can’t save his son. But that sudden vested interest in Baby James’ future is just the setup for revealing just how far gone Chris is—he won’t let his father get in the way of Brandon of executing or euthanizing their wounded “friend.” The killing happens in the barn again, and Travis has to dig another grave. But he seems to be leaving something out when he shares the story with Madison, and since Chris is missing from the final scene again, I wonder if he didn’t meet up with his son one last time.
Travis and Chris’ story in “Date Of Death” isn’t so much a sequel to the events of “Do Not Disturb” as it is a remake. Same setting, same dilemma, and the same ending, even though this time, Chris walks right out of Travis’ life. It wasn’t the most riveting stuff the first time around, which might be why the writers forgot they’d already touched on it. This feeling of déjà vu carries over to the scenes at the hotel, where Madison and Alicia have yet another conversation about the former’s abandonment and the latter’s preoccupation with her eldest child. By the end, the Rosarito group’s expanded to include dozens more survivors, in an unsurprising developmen. Leave it to the erstwhile English teacher to put it best: “Same story, different people.”
- As off-putting as I find Nick’s recent actions, his presence was sorely lacking here.
- Ditto Strand, who I know isn’t dead, but whom I missed just the same.
- I wondered if burying Elias, a man who had no family left, was symbolic of Travis’ own considerable loss. He was the good man, he was a family man, and now he’s nothing. But it turns out it was just a way of saying goodbye to Chris.
- Chris shares a birthday with the man he killed, but this was no This Is Us.
- There are now enough characters for the penultimate episode of this season to reach Game Of Thrones’-levels of bloodshed.
- Patrick Clark was a voracious reader, but “a man of few words,” which explains why his suicide note was so succinct. I don’t know if Madison’s half-shrug after revealing this to Alicia is Kim Dickens’ doing or the writers, but pick a tone and stick with it, guys.