Spoiler Warning for Season 3, Episode 3 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
Following the devastating turn of events in last week’s episode, “Fear the Walking Dead” slows things down a bit to provide answers to both the characters and viewers about some of the newest survivors. With plenty of great character and story development, as well as some lighthearted moments and a surprising return, the third season is already off to an amazing start; this just might be the best season of the series yet. It’s the end of the world as we know it, so why not grab a bong and play 20 Questions with a decapitated infected head?
The two-part premiere introduced us to the mysterious Otto family, but this episode really starts to dive into their backstory and relationships with each other. The episode begins in a totally unique way as a 90s advertisement plays, featuring Jeremiah speaking about the doomsday prepper materials that he sells, including a bucket of survival supplies; using imagery from terrorist attacks and other epidemics, Jeremiah alludes to what he calls “TEOTWAWKI,” an acronym for “the end of the world as we know it.” In the video, Jeremiah appears with his wife Tracy (Emma Caulfield), as well as Troy and Jake. This opening scene is a refreshing way to provide backstory to the new characters and establishes the dynamic within the Otto family. In the present time, the residents of the ranch hold a funeral service for Charlene, but there is a clear sense of anger at the presence of the Clark family, who pay their respects, share their own loss and thank everyone for their hospitality. There is also a sense of uneasiness about the fact that the helicopter was shot down and a resident named Vernon (Hugo Armstrong) steps forward to demand answers from Jeremiah; it really seems as though Jeremiah doesn’t know what happened to the helicopter, but he tells everyone that they are looking into it and will retaliate if possible. This ranch is quite different from the locations we’ve seen previously in the series as there is real sense of community and freedom among the residents; they look out for each other and are working to build a future for themselves.
Life for the Clarks at the Broke Jaw Ranch isn’t all bad as they realize that while not everyone may like them, there are some friendly faces to mingle with. At the mess hall, Vernon’s daughter Gretchen (Rae Gray) serves Madison and Alicia food and expresses her sympathy for the death of Travis. She also invites Alicia to a Bible study later with some of the other teenagers; Alicia hilariously tries to get out of this by stating that her family is Jewish. Later, Madison returns to her room only to find Troy waiting for her; this is the start of an odd development between these two characters as Troy explains that he specifically picked Madison to bring her back to the ranch and that Nick was never meant to come with them. Madison assures him that Nick will work for his place and that he won’t cause problems. At the same time, we see Nick with Luciana in the infirmary and its possible that these two have alternative plans; Luciana is worried for their safety and states that Troy cannot be trusted after the chaos he caused at the border. The Clarks meet up in their room and discuss their current situation, but they aren’t on the same side at all as Nick flat out wants them to leave and find a new place to live. Madison on the other hand wants them to stay put as they really have no other place to go; she references the fact that they rescued Nick from the military base, with Travis dying in the process, as reason for them to stay at the ranch. Harsh…but she isn’t entirely wrong.
Madison really asserts herself as a leader who doesn’t put up with bullshit this episode as she makes her way to the Otto household to speak with Jeremiah and Jake. Without even knocking, she enters the house and pretty much demands that they keep Troy away from her family; Jeremiah knows his son has problems, but doesn’t really think that he will cause trouble at the ranch. To catch her up to speed on what the Ottos have been through, Jake takes Madison to a room where he shows her the “TEOTWAWKI” video tapes; she watches part of the video from the opening scene, but discovers something more interesting after snooping a bit. There is an additional tape with outtakes that show Jeremiah being verbally abusive to his wife and sons; Jeremiah appears and explains to her that the woman on the tape was his second wife (Troy’s mother) and that she was an alcoholic before she died, something that he also developed. Jeremiah wasn’t all that present as father and husband, therefore Troy was forced to tend to his mother’s needs; this is an important development that might help to explain why Troy is the way he is. At night, Jeremiah greets Madison as she stands at the perimeter of the ranch and the two discuss Nick and the fact that he is an addict, unifying their characters as they both have struggles with their sons; there is a bit of symbolism/foreshadowing here as Madison lights up a cigarette, similarly to Jeremiah’s wife in the video, hinting that she may become a maternal figure to Troy. In another reveal, Jeremiah shows Madison a massive bunker that is filled with food, weapons and other supplies that will last years; this flips a switch in Madison’s head as she realizes that staying at the ranch may just be the key to her family’s survival. Seriously, this bunker is insanely impressive, but may also put a target on the ranch and/or cause conflict among the residents in the future if problems start to arise.
Elsewhere, Alicia’s Bible study takes a rather unexpected and incredibly grim turn as Gretchen and her friends take her to a underground bunker where they bust out some booze, weed and music. Plot twist…it isn’t actually Bible study, but rather a teenage hangout session; this is all quite normal until Gretchen pulls out Geoff, the head of a decapitated infected, which the teens keep in a bird cage. Plot twist…this isn’t actually a normal teenage hangout session, but rather a cult-like gathering of some weird sheltered kids. Using Geoff as a means of communication, the teenagers ask Alicia about life outside of the ranch; most of the ranch residents have been there since the start of the apocalypse and therefore haven’t been exposed to all of the death and destruction. Alicia’s explains that she killed a man (Andrés), but that it wasn’t a hard thing for her to do; she is obviously dealing with this in her own way, but I’m beginning to sense that Alicia is headed down a dark path. Still, it’s gripping to watch Alicia essentially leading a small group of peers that clearly wish to learn more from her about the outside world. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m sensing a bit of a romance blooming between Alicia and Jake. Similarly, we also see the other Clark and Otto siblings beginning to form a bond.
Nick really seems to be at a crossroads this episode as he struggles to figure out if he wants to stay at the ranch or leave. This decision is complicated further when Troy invites him to go boar hunting at night with some of the other ranch residents; who thought it was a good idea to leave the ranch at night when the people that shot down the helicopter are still out there? The group of hunters use German Shepherds to track the prey; this seems like another terrible idea as the dogs’ barking could attract infected to the area. Troy and Nick become separated from the rest of the group and an altercation arises; Nick stands above Troy with his gun pointed down at him. Troy taunts Nick and urges him to count how long it takes for him to turn after dying. Nick fires his gun, purposefully missing Troy’s head, only to grab his research journal and rip out the pages, laughing in the process. Troy doesn’t seem to be too upset about this, stating that they could possibly be friends. Just like his sister, I am beginning to think that Nick is moving down a dark path; without being able satiate his addiction with pills or heroin, Nick has become addicted to the dead and infected, a quality that he shares with Troy. Will Nick really get along with Troy or is this some type of move he is making to gain the upper hand? Madison also starts to fit in as she volunteers to join a search mission for the team that left to explore the helicopter crash site; rather than sitting on the sidelines, Madison takes a proactive approach, proving herself to be a valuable member of the community.
Much of this episode also revolves around Strand after leaving the hotel in his swanky new car. He makes his way to a dam in Tijuana where countless survivors are lined up to collect water; Strand drives his car past the line and puts on his “I want to speak to the manager” attitude as he asks the people distributing the water about a man named Dante (Jason Manuel Olazabal), who appears and calls him out for looking like “shit.” We already knew that Strand had plenty of connections prior to the apocalypse and Dante is one of them; they reminisce about old times and Strand opens up about the death of Thomas Abigail, who was also an acquaintance of Dante. Things seem to be going well until Dante brings Strand out to the side of the dam where two of his men are waiting with a captive, whom Dante explains is a cartel member that took advantage of other people. The man is thrown off the dam, plummeting hundreds of feet into a pile of infected, presumably others that have wronged Dante; what a horrific way to go, falling and breaking all of your bones before being eaten alive. Dante then threatens to throw Strand off the dam, accusing him of scamming others, including Thomas; Strand manages to talk himself out of the situation by offering to help him distribute water to the survivors. It seems as though Dante has a plan for Strand and decides to throw him in a cell where he is visited by a surprising guest who delivers him water; it’s none other than Daniel Salazar, alive and well after disappearing in a blaze of fire, smoke and infected eleven episodes ago in “Shiva.” While his return wasn’t the best kept secret, seeing Rubén Blades back on the screen was the perfect way to end the episode. Will Daniel help Strand get out of this situation or is he aligned with Dante?
“TEOTWAWKI” is a slower, yet still jam-packed episode that takes the time to answer many questions and provide necessary backstory for the Ottos and their ranch; Jeremiah, Troy and Jake are all welcome additions to the cast of characters and their roles have all strengthened the story thus far. Although I have to point out the striking similarity between the Ottos and the Greene Family from the original series; it still isn’t completely clear to me if this, like the other similarities, is a homage or not. Both Alicia and Nick seem to be making their way into darker territory as the world becomes far less simple than before; this opens up a world of new material to explore with these characters and serves as excellent development for them both, especially considering where they started out at the beginning of the series. The situation with Strand also sets up some thrilling conflicts to be explored this season and the return of Daniel makes it all the more exciting; the countdown has begun as we eagerly anticipate a reunion between Daniel and Ofelia, who is still missing in action. Madison is most definitely the standout character of the week as she realizes that in order to stay alive, she must play the great game of survival. The question is, will this proactive approach actually help keep her children safe?
Be sure to tune in to “Fear the Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.