There’s a lot going on in the competent if slow “Red Dirt.” A little more than a third through this season, Madison and company have settled into the new location to face off against threats internal and external, none of them zombies. Madison once more shows off her ruthlessness, with her and Troy’s fully blossomed relationship the most compelling one in the season. Together, it seems, they can rule the ranch, adapting a “we know what’s best” parental mentality shown through tough love. The Native American tribe introduced last episode encroaches on the ranch and families start to leave, including one of the “founders,” the original four of the preppers who made the ranch the compound it is.
Between the preppers, founders, libertarians, and Native Americans, there’s a lot to suggest a weirdly right-wing mindset emerging. It’s strange that, in a show taking place after the zombie apocalypse, these very contemporary issues are written in, even on the margins. Is Fear The Walking Dead really the best place to explore European colonialism? Does a zombie apocalypse story have to include an idealization of preppers? Of libertarians? Indeed, some of the most powerful themes of The Walking Dead are the recurring ones of the power of community and coming together—it’s a world where race and gender practically don’t exist, where people are boiled down to their essence of good, bad, or zombie.
In my opinion, Fear The Walking Dead is biting off more than it can chew with the current plotlines. Madison moves quickly from raising her eyebrows at Otto’s racism—“Is this their land?”—to moving on to dealing with the threat Walker and his people represent. Similarly, Jake’s previous battles in court with Walker seem to have given him a better understanding of their situation, as he tells Alicia that they’ve “always gotten a raw deal.” The long history of white people stealing from Native people is certainly a topic worth talking about, but Fear The Walking Dead seems more interested in it pure plot device, the Native Americans a convenient threat. Maybe I’ll be surprised as this fight heats up in the coming episodes, but it sure feels like this is a clumsy and disrespectful way to treat an oppressed group.
What’s less interesting is Otto’s alcoholism: The old man with a drinking problem has been done to death in popular culture. It’s paint-by-numbers for cheap characterization. I don’t know why Otto hangs around Nick so much, but I prepare myself for a boring scene when the camera’s pointed at Nick’s little house. For the love of god, give me Madison and Troy. Their relationship has turned out to be the most interesting in the show, and it’s the one aspect of the writing that feels crucial to the plot. Together they can manipulate and lead the ranch, and it looks like their partnership is only getting stronger. “Just don’t forget what he is” Nick tells Madison. But Madison knows exactly what he is. She knew what he would do, and though the end of the episode is ambiguous, it seems clear to me that Troy did murder the family who left the ranch. He tells Madison he didn’t, but doesn’t correct her when she speaks on his motivation. They can save the ranch, and they can save this show.
- There’s birth control in the pantry? A bunch of libertarian preppers have birth control? Yeah fucking right.
- Did Nick wash his hair this week? No.
- There’s fancy rice in the pantry. Oo la la. The preppers really did the thing right, didn’t they?
- No Daniel and Victor this episode. That probably means next episode will focus on them, which sucks, because what’s going on at the ranch right now is way more interesting than their dumb departure at the hotel.