Fear the Walking Dead: Red Dirt
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m still processing last week’s trippy episode of Twin Peaks. Okay, I get the impression most of you aren’t watching David Lynch’s revival on Showtime. Fair enough. It’s not for everyone. But trust me when I say it is unlike anything else on television. Since Twin Peaks is taking the holiday weekend off, I figured I’d take the opportunity to check in on this season of Fear the Walking Dead.
Before I dig into this week’s episode, Red Dirt, I want to comment on the season to date. When Fear the Walking Dead started, it was billed as a family drama about the internal struggles of a blended family. After exploring that concept for two seasons, the writers abandoned it this year. Last season ended with Chris getting himself killed and season three opened with Travis’ making a noble sacrifice. With all the Manawa clan deceased, the Clarks are no longer a blended family.
The departure of Cliff Curtis left room in the cast for the return of Rubén Blades. It’s great to have him back. His “death” in season two was so vague I figured we’d see Daniel Salazar again. Pairing him with Strand sounds good in theory, but has lacked something in execution. In order for Daniel’s story to work, every other character around him (including Strand) has had to be outrageously stupid.
Making matters worse, their isolation makes the Salazar-Strand story line feel entirely extraneous to the main plot. Any time you have parallel stories, one plot line is likely to be more compelling than the other. In this case, I find myself disappointed any time we leave the Otto compound which is surprising considering I prefer Salazar and Strand to any of the Clarks.
This episode focused on the Clark clan and their integration into the Broke Jaw Ranch. There’s some potentially interesting stuff going on here – mostly between Madison and her weird relationship with the Otto family’s black sheep, Troy. When we were introduced to Troy, it was clear that he was a monster. He was conducting sadistic experiments on the men he encountered while keeping the women alive as potential mates and/or mother figures.
Troy’s still a monster as Red Dirt reminds us. But the show has made him slightly sympathetic by showing us how he was raised by an abusive alcoholic father who constantly favored his righteous older brother. That plus the loss of his mother has left Troy with a Madison-shaped hole in his heart. And Madison, ever the pragmatist, is using this twisted little monster to take control of the compound. She hasn’t been subtle about offering to be Troy’s surrogate mommy (and possible more) as long as she gets her way.
Less interesting is the relationship between Nick and Jeremiah. Nick has proven to be a real follower. Every time the Clarks enter a new environment, Nick gravitates to the leader no matter how unhinged they may be. Nick is always ready to drink the Kool Aid. Jeremiah clearly has regrets about some of his past bad behavior. But he’s still an abusive drunk who turns a blind eye to the fact he’s raised a murderer. When he gets drunk and shoots up the place, Nick should be packing his bags rather than tucking the old man in for the night.
Meanwhile, Alicia has been having a casual sexual relationship with golden boy, Jake. She tells her mother that while she genuinely likes the older Otto brother, she also realizes that their relationship can be beneficial to her. Apparently Alicia has learned a thing or two from Madison. After receiving a pep talk from Alicia, Jake runs off to broker a deal with Walker, the leader of the Native Americans who claim the Otto family stole their land.
The legitimacy of this claim is never fully addressed. But let’s be real. The Ottos totally stole that land. Jake battled Walker in court prior to the apocalypse and even though he always won, Jake admits that Walker and his people always got a raw deal. No kidding.
Although Jeremiah refuses to admit it, Walker is a legitimate threat to the ranch. He’s killed several people and forced Madison, Troy and the others to walk home with no shoes. As a result, they returned to the compound with severely bloodied feet. But Jeremiah writes him off as a drunk despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Not everyone in the community shares Jeremiah’s confidence. Vernon, the final living cofounder of the Broke Jaw Ranch, decides to take his family and leave town before the whole place burns down. Given what we know (1. Walker really is a threat – he shot down a chopper for crying out loud! 2. Troy and Jeremiah are ticking time bombs ready to explode), retreat sounds like a good idea. But for some reason, Madison ain’t having it.
Madison tells the other members of the community that she has been outside and there is nothing out there. But that’s not even remotely true. We have watched the Clarks move with relative ease from one sanctuary to another. Based on what we have seen, there are lots of other safe places out there. They may not have boxes of “fancy rice” in their pantry, but they aren’t lead by a family of psychopaths either.
Naturally, Vernon’s family needs to turn up dead in order to prove Madison right. Madison tells the ranchers that they were killed by Walker’s people. But as Nick points out, the crime scene doesn’t match Walker’s M.O. Although he offers up a weak denial, it’s obvious that Troy killed the family rather than allow them to leave.
All of this should have Madison running for the hills. But instead, she’s doubling down. To her way of thinking, Travis died to bring them to this place but that’s not really the case at all. Travis died to keep them alive. I don’t think it dishonors his memory at all to flee the sinking ship. But if the Clarks did the smart thing, we wouldn’t get to see the showdown between cowboys and Indians that the show has been building to.