Fear The Walking Dead’s “cowboys vs. Indians” plotline has been fraught since it was introduced, because this isn’t a show that does nuance well. Unlike its predecessor, this spin-off is at its best when homing in on the Clark family and ignoring the larger “we’re the walking dead” human-on-human warring. The tighter the focus on Madison, Alicia, and Nick, and the relationships they build and things they do to survive, the stronger the plot tends to be. Fear The Walking Dead has had a tough time bringing in new characters, and even the ones who seem like they’ll be sticking around to form the sort of post-apocalyptic family-by-choice that thrives on The Walking Dead (Ofelia, Daniel, Victor, Lucia) are separated before they have a chance to really gel.
Pitting the Clarks against the world isn’t necessarily a bad way to tell this particular zombie story, but it only works if there’s follow-through. Like my early complaints about out-of-character motivations at the beginning of season three, my main fault with the mid-season finale is that what Madison does makes no sense with what we know about her. The writers go out of their way to show us that Madison will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of her kids, only to throw that overarching trait away when it gets inconvenient.
That’s where Walker comes in. The Clarks have been drawn into the ongoing feud between the Ottos and the nearby Native American tribe. Walker threatens the ranch, and by extension the Clarks. So far, so good. But that logic is overturned in the first of the two-part season finale, “The Unveiling,” when Troy murders the Trimbol family so the rest of the ranch will think it was Walker’s people, thereby inflating tensions and letting Troy do his Troy thing. That makes sense for what we know about Troy. But it doesn’t make sense for what we know about Madison. She knows it was Troy, but she goes along with it. Why would she do that? Why would she escalate the situation and increase the likelihood of bloodshed? Everything we know about Madison tells us that she only cares about her kids, and yet, she does something that jeopardizes their futures at the ranch. It’s all for the sake of raising the stakes, and it’s sloppy.
And that’s before Alicia is taken “hostage.” At the Native American’s camp we learn that Ofelia is alive when she brings out Alicia’s lunch, and in the following episode, “Children Of Wrath,” we learn that Otto Sr. found her in the desert and left her for dead. She was eventually saved by Qaletaqa Walker. It explains her allegiance to him—she even tells Alicia that the Nation is her family now—and it further shows how awful Otto is.
It stretches believability that the Ottos would let Ofelia wander around the ranch unaccompanied, much less help in the preparation of food, when she’s supposedly thrown out after the whole hostage thing goes away. But still, she puts anthrax in the coffee, crippling the militia. This is really the one shitty thing that Walker does—gives Ofelia powder to sabotage the Ottos with, not telling her it’s anthrax—but even with that, the mid-season finale’s over-arching theme is how much white people suck. The Ottos steal ancestral land. Otto kills Walker’s father, uncle, and two more tribesmen. He’s a racist alcoholic. Troy murders his own friends and blames it on Walker. Madison, for some reason, would rather throw her lot in with the horrible racist than go over to the safer side. Alicia, sympathetic even before she knows the whole truth, steals the tribe’s ancestors’ bones and artifacts. Jake seems to get it, but that’s not really explored. This is the Clarks’ show, and the small family unit reaches its boiling point when Alicia discovers the truth about how the Trimbol family died.
Alicia has been one of the more interesting characters this season. As Nick wanders around with his slicked-back hair, shooting the shit with Otto and not doing anything except be annoying, Alicia has transformed into a harder version of herself—a version that’s looking more and more like Madison. But where Madison is perfectly content to side with the Ottos, even though she knows exactly what they are, Alicia is not content to be on the wrong side. It was a missed opportunity on the part of the writers not to make Alicia a bigger factor in the concluding moments of “Children Of Wrath”—after the confrontation with her mother, the logical thing to do would be for her to leave the ranch and go over to Walker’s side. In the end, though, it’s the other child who pulls the trigger, literally and figuratively, by shooting Otto.
The whole scenario defies logic: The safest thing for Madison to do would be to take her kids over to Walker’s side. She tells Walker that “sometimes you can’t choose your people,” which is the biggest bullshit line in the season so far, and goes directly counter to the ethos of the show. In this post-apocalyptic world, choosing your people is the only thing that matters, and the Clarks did not choose the Ottos. The Clarks did choose Ofelia, and she gave them the ability to side with Walker and take over the ranch with him. That’s the obvious solution here, and a win-win for Madison. She gets the resources of the ranch and the protection of Walker. Why wouldn’t she do that?
Under-baked plot points and sloppy writing aside, the “war” between the Ottos and Walker seems to be over, or at least paused, with Otto dead. It’s unclear whether or not Madison has come around to the truth that she was on the wrong side. Fear The Walking Dead got this close to saying something interesting and relevant about tribal land rights and this country’s history of colonialism and racism, but it just couldn’t quite make the leap past just using these tensions as plot device.
- Victor makes an appearance, his story briefly cutting away from the Clarks’ as he finds the Abigail, talks to a Russian astronaut on the radio, and burns the boat. We don’t see Daniel at all. Fear The Walking Dead should really figure out how to tell multiple stories at once or do away with them altogether.
- Speaking of: Can we get a miniseries of what happens to the Russian stuck in space when the zombie apocalypse breaks out? How does he kill himself?
- Madison’s back-story of murdering her abusive father is pretty cool.
- Did Nick wash his hair this week? It’s more like he’s going for a new look, one that’s still greasy but more in a hair-product-applied way than a not-washing-his-hair-ever way.