TV REVIEW: ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ – ‘La Serpiente’

"Uneasy is the head that lies the crown."

| September 18, 2017

Spoiler Warning for Season 3, Episode 11 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.

Rubén Blades as Daniel Salazar. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Damn…I am impressed. I say that, because in my review of the midseason premiere, I stated the series was beginning to feel a bit rushed and the breakneck pacing was making things somewhat hard to follow. Going into this episode, I wasn’t as hyped up as I normally am and my excitement level was the lowest it has been all season. While I still believe those two returning episodes are pretty weak, my faith in the season has been resuscitated with this kick-ass episode that delivers on nearly every level. The pacing issues are absent here in what may be one of the strongest episodes of the season. With a refreshing feel, thrilling action, genuine horror and more stellar performances, “Fear the Walking Dead” is officially back on track.

The captivating trio of Madison, Strand and Walker take center stage this episode as they traverse the Mexican landscape en-route to the Gonzalez Dam. I just have to point out the group seems to be driving on the same highway that we’ve seen multiple times in the series, most notably in “Grotesque,” wherein Nick walks to Tijuana. While driving for a while, Walker panics after seeing a fairly large pack of Infected gathered in the road. His dialogue in this scene and in other parts of this episode isn’t great and feels quite forced for the sake of manufacturing extra drama. Strand calmly tosses a beeping device to the side of the road, which causes the Infected to clear a path for Walker to drive through. This may sound like nitpicking, but I feel like this should not have worked and this is just one case of inconsistencies with the Infected/Walkers that drives me crazy. Strand brings Walker and Madison to a large salvage lot, where he reveals a secret underground route to the dam. It’s the sewers and Walker is not happy about it, but Madison makes it clear that she will follow Strand anywhere. Go Team Strand!

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark and Colman Domingo as Victor Strand. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

“Fear,” like its sister series, is a horror drama, but sometimes the element of genuine horror is lacking. This episode steps it up and delivers one of its most terrifying sequences to date as Strand leads Madison and Walker through the sewer tunnels. I have to commend the cast and writing staff for making this scenario far more realistic than it is normally portrayed. Rather than walking through the sewer tunnels unaffected, the trio are visibly disgusted by their surroundings and by the putrid stench. With the maze-like layout, Strand becomes lost and a few Infected present themselves, prompting Walker to propose they head back. Madison gives Strand the benefit of the doubt and continues to follow him, but even he states he has no clue where he is going. There’s an interesting tie-in to El Bazar and Proctor… and I’m not completely sure I understood it, but apparently Strand paid money and gained information about the tunnels.

In a moment of calm, Strand tells Madison that Daniel is alive and at the dam, giving her the opportunity to reveal that Ofelia is alive and at the ranch. Walker rejoins Madison and Strand as the Infected begin closing in on them, forcing them into an even smaller tunnel. Unfortunately, a bloated Infected is blocking their exit, but Madison steps up to the plate to take care of the problem. She hacks and slashes pieces of the Infected away to allow them to pass. It’s still insane to me that just 31 episodes ago, we were watching Madison providing guidance to students at her school and now we are watching her cut up a rotting corpse in a sewage tunnel (that is some grade-A character development). The scenes in the tunnels are a definite highlight and really help to remind the viewer this is still a horror-drama and gore is part of that, even if the writing staff may forget that from time-to-time. This particular sequence reminds me of “The Walking Dead’s” Season 6 episode titled “Now” which Maggie and Aaron find themselves in the sewers under Alexandria.

Infected. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

Tensions are running high at the dam as Daniel and Efrain return from a distribution. There’s a huge collection of desperate people running behind their truck, some even shooting, prompting Daniel to shoot back. This causes a rift between him and Efrain, who believes the people should be given all the water they need and should not be viewed as a threat. Their conversation is interrupted as Daniel spots Strand coming out of a nearby sewage pipe; he sees Madison, allowing for the long-awaited reunion between the two. Just for a point of reference, Madison and Daniel haven’t seen each other since Season 2, Episode 7 (“Shiva“); that’s 19 full episodes that they have been separated. Things get emotional when Madison tells Daniel that Ofelia is alive, but because of Strand’s lies earlier in the season, there is some clear mistrust. Madison explains what happened to Ofelia and how she came to be at the Ranch, while also slyly making him aware of their water crisis. Daniel brings Madison and the others to Lola to negotiate trade terms, but all deals are off the table. Lola downright refuses to trade with Madison’s group and the look on their faces is nothing but disappointment.

This is a huge episode for Daniel in terms of his emotional arc and I’m glad to see they’re utilizing the character more after he only appeared in a few episodes in the first half of the season. Lola questions Daniel as to whether he will remain at the dam or leave to be with Ofelia; an impossible choice, but Daniel’s answer really surprised me. He tearfully explains he made a promise to Lola and he intends to keep it. Ofelia is safe at the ranch and is probably better off believing he is dead. This is just heartbreaking and really reveals a lot about Daniel’s character. He doesn’t want Ofelia to see what kind of a man he has become. While at the same time, he doesn’t want to see how hardened and brutal the apocalypse has made her. Later, Daniel meets with Walker and the two have a powerful conversation about what Ofelia did to help save the Nation; hearing Ofelia poisoned an entire group of people makes Daniel angry and worried. These scenes help demonstrate just how talented Rubén Blades is and this episode provides more proof he is one of the best actors on the series. His standalone episode “100” may be his strongest hour, but this is definitely close behind.

Lisandra Tena as Lola Guerrero. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC

There a several noteworthy interactions this episode and the conversation between Madison and Lola stands out. Madison isn’t dumb and has figured out why Lola refused her offer earlier. If the dam provides water to “gringos” over the citizens of Tijuana, there will likely be a revolt and Lola will be in danger. This scene serves to delve deeper into Lola’s philosophy. She maintains a pacifistic view of the world, meaning she isn’t willing to turn to violence to protect herself or the Dam. This doesn’t make sense to Madison, especially when Lola offers to allow the Clarks to reside at the dam permanently. Meanwhile, Strand helps Efrain treat an injured guard, poking fun at the fact he was a doctor in a previous life. This is likely a reference to the time he was “doctor for a day” at the Rosarito Beach Hotel back in “The New Frontier.” Efrain shares Lola’s world outlook and he lets everyone know he disagrees with Daniel’s use of violence to subdue the locals. I can definitely see where Lola and Efrain are coming from, but their attitudes toward the situation lead me to believe they are not long for the world. In this new world, sometimes you have to be brutal and ruthless and I don’t know if they have that in them.

As I mentioned in my review for the previous episode, the friendship between Madison and Strand is one of the best things about “Fear the Walking Dead’s” entire series run. Their reunion and conversation in that episode may be one of the best moments in the whole series. This episode, we see their relationship furthered as the two have a chat about what Madison wants from life and what she wanted long ago. These two have always had a great back-and-forth and this scene is no different. Strand is one of the few people who is able to make Madison let her guard down and smile; I also seriously love that she calls him “Victor” rather than “Strand” like everyone else, making it clear they have a deep connection that can be traced back to him saving Nick in Season 1. They trust each other and that is such a simple, yet beautiful thing. Kim Dickens and Colman Domingo have fantastic chemistry and I truly hope we get to see more of their conversations in the remainder of the season.

Colman Domingo as Victor Strand and Kim Dickens as Madison Clark. (Photo credit: Richard Foreman Jr./AMC)

The episode begins to wrap up as Daniel and Lola disagree on how the next water distribution should be handled; obviously Daniel is worried that things may turn dangerous again, but Lola seems completely unafraid. Daniel speaks with Strand and flat out calls him a snake (a reference to the episode’s title), but states that if he has a plan to fix their situation, he won’t intervene. Walker finds himself tired of the political red tape, if that isn’t some expert commentary on what Native Americans in this country have gone through I don’t know what is. He tells Madison he is returning to the ranch and those not belonging to the Nation will be forced off the land. Madison prepares to leave the dam with Strand when a massive explosion of a water truck causes chaos. A handful of flaming Infected breach the gate and the chants of a collection of pissed off locals can be heard in the distance. Lola feels personally threatened by this as they are chanting “Down with the Water Queen!” Just like that, a switch is flipped in Lola’s head, making her realize people are quite dangerous and she should be more cautious with the water distribution.

Strand’s plan appears to have worked and all it cost them was a water truck. Lola comes back to the negotiating table and agrees to trade 10,000 gallons of water a week to Madison’s group in exchange for weapons and ammunition. They all decide to meet in a week at El Bazar in Mexicali and Lola adds a last requirement, that Ofelia be present for the trade. Is an Ofelia/Daniel reunion imminent? Something tells me we aren’t that lucky. Before Madison and Strand leave in a truck filled with water for the ranch, they say their farewells to Daniel. There seems to be some forgiveness between Daniel and Strand, but I feel like their conflict isn’t over for good. While driving back, they come across Walker, who was just going to walk back to the ranch… I guess. Madison graciously allows him to rejoin them (I would have made his doubting ass walk all the way back) and they all drive back to the ranch in what I believe to be the most upbeat ending to an episode of “Fear” yet. I am very much excited to see how this trade goes, but I’m a bit worried the people of El Bazar may interfere. I’m also curious to see if Luciana shows up, seeing as how she mentioned she was heading to Mexicali before she left the ranch.

“La Serpiente” is a fantastic episode that helps to re-instill my faith in the series. The midseason premiere may have been a speedbump in the road, but it seems like we are back to smooth sailing now. The focus on Madison, Strand, Walker, Daniel and Lola really makes this episode stand out as all of the characters are given their moment in the spotlight, while having some fascinating interactions with one another. The progression of the story and the development of the characters this episode proves things are moving in the right direction. The focus on survival issues, such as the need for water adds another layer of realism to the series and allows for the stakes to be raised. I also have to commend the horror element of the episode and how it was so perfectly blended with the survival elements. Those sewer tunnels are going to give me nightmares for days. Will the trio make it back to the ranch before things descend into chaos, as teased in the promo for the next episode?

Be sure to tune into “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Television

Jeffrey Kopp is the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Niner Times. He is a junior double majoring in Communication and Political Science, with a minor in Criminal Justice. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead.”

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Jeffrey Kopp is the Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Niner Times. He is a junior double majoring in Communication and Political Science, with a minor in Criminal Justice. His interests include writing and keeping up with an excessive amount of television shows. He is also the go-to expert on all things “The Walking Dead.”

Twitter