MAJOR Spoiler warning for Season 3, Episode 14 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
I don’t know what “Fear the Walking Dead” is doing right now. Season 3 has been incredible, but the latest episode proves that it has a major problem; the series does not know what to do with its characters…and that may be its ultimate downfall. In an apocalypse, characters obviously have to die to progress the story, but the writers seem to be relying too heavily on sacrificing characters that are filled with potential. There’s also the recurring issue of the group being constantly split, only to reunite and split up again; it seems as though the writers have two options when they don’t know what to do with a character: send them away or kill them. This is the weakest episode of the season due to the unnecessary main character death, the ridiculous character decisions, awkward pacing, unbalanced storytelling and a handful of below average performances.
I typically look past some of “Fear’s” problems, but this episode is just riddled with them and most are too major to ignore. The opening scene immediately put a bad taste in my mouth as Madison and Co. drive to El Bazar for their meet with Daniel; Ofelia is shown to be weak and barely holding onto consciousness as she rides on the back of the truck with Crazy Dog. Unable to hold on, she falls from the tanker and slams into the middle of the road as Crazy Dog and the others rush to her aid. Ofelia stands up and claims that she is okay, but Madison spots something chilling and devastating; a small bite is present on Ofelia’s shoulder from her struggle with the Infected in the air vent last episode. The look on everyone’s faces is shock and sadness, but Ofelia demands that they snap out of it and get her to Daniel before she passes; Ofelia has become a ticking time bomb and there is nothing anyone can do about it. You would think that this episode would focus primarily on Ofelia’s final few hours as she clings to life to get the chance to say goodbye to her father; you would be wrong as this episode spends a limited amount of time with Ofelia and places much of the focus on Nick and Alicia, cutting between different locations and muddling Ofelia’s swansong.
Truth be told, Alicia’s material is actually the strongest as she forges a new life for herself after leaving her family behind. She’s only alone for a brief moment as she quickly realizes that Nick and Troy are following her, but she doesn’t lash out at them; instead they sit down and have dinner together as Nick tries to convince her that she cannot survive alone. Alicia makes some really strong points about how sticking with a group has caused nothing but death and destruction (just look at what happened to the Ranch). Nick and Troy decide to head back without Alicia and while driving, they discuss their bromance that has flourished since the two met and maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like there might be something building between the two that goes past a friendship; is “Tick” or “Nroy” a better ship name (I totally ship them by the way).
Alicia is left to her own devices as she embarks into the post-apocalyptic world, coming across a creepy fast food restaurant that holds a small amount of supplies. There are some Infected inside so she decides to hide in a ball pit until they pass, but she is attacked by a child Infected (that was clearly played by an adult). After putting the Infected down, Alicia is stunned by the arrival of an epic new character who slays the undead with a pickaxe. The character’s name is Diana (Edwina Findley) and she is intriguing right off the bat as she removes fingers and teeth from the dead Infected before stealing Alicia’s food and taking off. I have to commend the crew for crafting such a terrifying sequence in the ball pit, juxtaposing a cheery place for children with the graphic nature of the zombie apocalypse. Alicia manages to find Diana’s car and a standoff erupts as the two women argue about who the supplies belong to; they ultimately decide to share and a genuine friendship seems to form as they spend the night together, discussing their views on the world. Diana explains her reasoning for keeping the Infected fingers and teeth; she sells them to Mexican locals who believe that they are tokens that will protect them from the Infected. It remains to be seen if Diana will be a long-lasting character, but I really like what we’ve seen from her so far and I think she would be a welcome addition to the main cast.
A major problem that I have with this episode is the fact that Madison and the group decide to bring Ofelia to El Bazar to wait for their meeting with Daniel rather than just going straight to the Dam; they know exactly where it is, so wouldn’t that give Ofelia a better chance at reuniting with her father before she dies? My confusion continues as Madison trades several of their rifles at the gate for credit inside El Bazar; she states that it is to allow Ofelia to rest in a bed, but why not find a nearby house if they really couldn’t just go the the Dam. Once inside, Madison and Taqa make Ofelia comfortable in a bed before heading out to purchase supplies; there’s a dumb moment where Madison tells Taqa to stay awake while watching over Ofelia, but a few scenes later, Madison falls asleep while watching her (these odd moments of poor writing don’t work in Madison’s favor at all). Strand lambasts Madison for the fact that she is letting her emotions towards Ofelia get in the way of survival; I get where he’s coming from, but I would think that Strand would show some sadness considering he and Ofelia have been surviving together since the beginning. These are just a few of the many cases where the characters say or do things that make me scratch my head; we are meant to be saying goodbye to a main character, but ridiculous antics are getting in the way.
After parting ways with Alicia, Nick and Troy arrive at El Bazar and learn what is happening with Ofelia; Nick immediately goes to check on her and Madison, who is expressing extreme guilt and heartbreak over Ofelia’s impending death. Nick tries to comfort her and sends her away to get some rest before he slips back to his old habits by taking Ofelia’s painkillers for himself; I knew Nick was bound to relapse at some point, but I don’t know why the writer’s felt the need to force it into this already clustered episode. As night falls, Madison wakes up Ofelia to let her know that Daniel will be arriving soon; Taqa and Ofelia share a depressing farewell before Madison takes her out to the parking lot to wait. These two survivors share in a touching moment as Ofelia tells Madison to put her down if she turns, not wanting Daniel to have to face his daughter as an Infected; Ofelia passes along her final words to Madison as Daniel arrives…but of course he’s too late. Madison frantically tries to explain what happened, but Daniel spots a now dead Ofelia and repeatedly calls out to his daughter. He realizes that she is dead and raises his gun on Madison and threatens to shoot her; he then turns the gun on Ofelia and pulls the trigger, preventing his child from becoming a monster. It is clear from his dialogue that Daniel views this as his punishment, reinforcing his philosophy established in “100.”
Typically, when a major character is killed off of a show, the episode wraps up soon after so as not to take away from the moment and to give the audience a break. For some reason, this episode continues for quite some time after Ofelia dies, focusing on other characters that don’t seem impacted by what just happened. Nick and Troy get high off of the painkillers and decide to take a trip to a bar/drug den where they take shots of adrenaline in the form of animal brain parts. Troy is the one to hang back a bit, clearly suffering from the psychological effects of his parents’ addictions. After getting higher than they should, Nick and Troy leave the safety of El Bazar and walk down a nearby street covered in Infected blood as a small herd approaches; Nick demonstrates the “guts” trick to Troy, who seems completely shell-shocked. This cinematography is horrible due to the cheap camera effects that overemphasize that the two are high (WE GET IT, you don’t need to randomly shake the camera and zoom in like a cheesy music video); that being said, there’s a beautiful moment where Nick whispers to the Infected that he doesn’t want to return to “her,” likely referring to Madison. Troy comforts Nick with a hug, showcasing that he is capable of compassion, flipping the script from his usual psychotic persona. While the timing is off, I do think Nick’s relapse is a smart move storywise that will allow the character to be tested with his addiction in the scope of the full blown apocalypse.
I have to touch on Strand’s story this episode, because it really rubs me the wrong way as it seems as though he is about the betray the group. Strand snoops through the brothel area of El Bazar before he is captured by guards; he demands to see Proctor John to present an offer, which may have to do with the Dam and its abundant supply of water. While Strand has always been a conniving and manipulative son of a bitch, would he really put Madison and the others in danger like this? And how would this even help him? Sure, he may get on good terms with Proctor John, but at what cost? His discussion with the Russian cosmonaut in “Children of Wrath” made it seem as though he was turning a new page in his life, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. Elsewhere, Daniel speaks with Madison and tells her that he buried Ofelia under an olive tree (why this wasn’t shown, I have no idea; talk about a missed opportunity); Madison shares Ofelia’s final words to Daniel and he offers to take her and the rest of the group to the Dam, showcasing that he doesn’t blame anyone for her dying. In the parking lot, Nick tells Madison that he and Troy are going to stay at El Bazar to get more supplies for the Dam…and Madison is oddly okay with this. Once again, they are splitting up, because I guess that’s just what they do on this show.
— The Walking Dead World (@TWalkingDWorld) October 9, 2017
The time has come to pay tribute to our fallen hero, Ofelia Salazar. As one of the original characters, Ofelia was introduced in the second episode of the series along with her father and mother in their family barbershop in Los Angeles. Ofelia was immediately shown to be a sheltered young woman with little experience out in the real world, so the fact that she was thrust into the chaos of the apocalypse made her journey so compelling to watch; just looking at still images of her character in Season 1 and 3 shows the rapid change she underwent. Ofelia was haunted by Griselda’s death, as well as her father’s decision to shield his dark past from her. She is someone that truly wanted to be part of a group, but she could also be independent when need be; she was caught in a middle ground of sorts, wanting to break free from her parents’ clutches while also remaining in their protection. After being saved by Taqa in the desert, Ofelia really started to become a leader and her role in connecting the Nation with the Ranchers showed that there was immense potential to further develop her. From start to finish, Mercedes Mason played the character with a level of grace and poise, totally evolving Ofelia while also maintaining her key qualities. I am disappointed to see the character be killed off in such an unceremonious way and I feel as though her death could have been handled in a more respectful and fitting way; I also don’t fully understand the point in Ofelia dying at this point in the story, but I truly hope that it resonates moving forward, specifically with Daniel.
“El Matadero” falls so far below the standard set for Season 3 of “Fear the Walking Dead” for a variety of reasons. The most glaring issue is the untimely death of Ofelia and its handling; there’s just not enough characters on the show to go killing them haphazardly like this. Fans entrust these characters into the hands of the writers and when they place more value on shock factor than natural storytelling, it feels like a slap in the face; characters absolutely need to die in this series, but they need to die when their arc comes to a natural end, not randomly when they’re still being developed. The direction and cinematography, along with some of the performances, really fall flat here and don’t help to make up for the shortfalls of the episode. Overall, this episode just feels like a rushed clusterfuck that was thrown together to force conflict for the finale; it almost feels as though the season should have ended with the destruction of the Ranch. Hopefully, this is just a small dip in quality of an otherwise fantastic stretch of episodes, but I’m beginning to wonder if AMC is trying to wrap up “Fear” earlier than expected. At New York Comic Con this past weekend, Robert Kirkman announced that one character from either “TWD” or “Fear” will be crossing over into the other series next year; maybe I have my tin foil hat on too tight, but could this be a way of preserving a “Fear” character after the series ends by transporting them over to “TWD”? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Be sure to tune into the 2-episode Season Finale next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.