The second season finale of Fear the Walking Dead saw Nick and Luciana leading a large group of Mexican villagers across the border into the United States heading toward a refugee camp. They were trailed by Madison, Travis, and Alicia. At the border, however, a militia group began firing at them, killing several of the villagers, wounding Luciana, and taking Nick, Madison, et. al hostage. Meanwhile, during the off-season, a Fear the Walking Dead web series, “Passage,” was shot at the military refugee camp where presumably Nick and Luciana were trying to take the Mexican villagers.
Sometime between the second-season finale and the third-season premiere, however, the writers of Fear the Walking Dead decided against the refugee camp setting, opting instead to lean into the show’s The Walking Dead roots and establish its own Hershel Greene Farm storyline at Broken Jaw Ranch. The decision to abandon the military camp was a smart one, but it meant the series would have to take a tortuous path to get where it needed to go this season. In last week’s premiere, the military base was used to dispatch with the red shirts, kill off Travis, and establish Troy Otto as a crazed loon before the remaining characters flew a helicopter into a completely different, but arguably better show.
In this week’s “Teotwawki,” there’s nothing left of the storyline the second season finale set up. It’s moved to The Broken Jaw Ranch, a survivalist colony in the truest sense: Jeremiah Otto had established the ranch long before the the zombie outbreak. Jeremiah was basically a conspiracy theorist, selling the tools and knowledge necessary to survive an end-of-the-world event in what appears to have been a late-night infomercial that would have felt right at home on Alex Jones’ Infowars. When the zombies arrived, however, the people of the surrounding area flocked to The Broken Jaw Ranch, which had originally been established to protect against an America “overrun with foreign nationals” (it’s why I suspect that the ranch is populated by only white people).
It’s a better storyline, even if Fear the Walking Dead had to bend over backwards to get there. Here, Madison, Nick, and Alicia are pitted against the Ottos — Jeremiah, Jake, and Troy — with almost perfect symmetry. Madison and Jeremiah are the wizened leaders, doing whatever is necessary to protect their families; Jake and Alicia are the “good” kids (and potential romantic interests) ; and Troy and Nick are the troubled screw ups. In this week’s episode, Nick — after pinning Troy down and nearly killing him — seemed to forge a perverse bond with Troy as the two united as the black sheep of their respective families.
Meanwhile, Madison and Jeremiah also seemed to come to an uneasy truce. They don’t trust each other, but they understand each other, and both are trying to use the opportunities provided in this new world to make up for the fact they screwed up their kids in the old one. Elsewhere, in one of the show’s most enjoyable storylines, Alicia has bonded with Broken Jaw Ranch’s “Bible group,” which it turns out is just a group of teenagers who meet in an underground bunker to smoke pot, drink moonshine, and converse with Jeff, the decapitated head of a zombie they keep in a bird cage.
While Madison, who has firmly established herself as the Rick Grimes of Fear the Walking Dead, has her sights set taking over Broken Jaw Ranch, the relationships that are being built seems to point toward assimilation rather than conflict. Jeremiah is establishing himself as the series’ possibly racist Hershel Greene; Jake and Alicia may be the Maggie and Glenn of the series; and Nick and Troy may just end up being the Daryl and Merle Dixon of Fear, loners and outsiders more valuable to the new world than the old. The two families may continue to bond in the upcoming episodes as they unite to deal with an unknown threat beyond Broken Jaw Ranch.
Less successful is the Victor Strand storyline. While the second season finale left Victor behind in the hotel, the third season premiere also quickly scrapped that storyline and has instead pushed Victor into what almost feels like a completely different show. He’s still in Mexico, where he’s been imprisoned by a business adversary turned Water Warlord. He has imprisoned Strand and demanded that he Victor work off a debt from the old world. Victor, however, may soon be saved by his “guardian angel,” Daniel Salazar, who appears in the window of Victor’s jail cell at the end of the episode. Did Daniel escape death, or his Daniel merely a vision of Strand’s? Either way, it makes little sense to pair these two characters — who strongly dislike each other — in a subplot in a completely different country than the main storyline.
How will Victor and Daniel make their way back to the main story? Are we even interested in seeing them return? It likely would not make sense unless and until Broken Jaw Ranch is overrun with zombies and the Ottos and the Clarks are forced to flee, as Rick and the Greenes once had to flee the Farm in The Walking Dead.
— Where the hell is Daniel’s daughter, Ofelia, who was kidnapped at gunpoint by Jeremiah Otter in the second season finale? Her character has not been seen or mentioned yet this season. Does Jeremiah have a prison or a slave colony outside of the ranch made up of Mexicans trying to cross the border?
— Or is Ofelia with the group that shot down the chopper? And if so, how did she escape Jeremiah?
— One aspect of this season that has made me uneasy are the Otto’s fear of “foreign nationals.” Last year, we learned that the Donald Trump campaign specifically targeted The Walking Dead viewers in swing states with anti-immigration ads in an effort to exploit their fears of being overrun by outside elements. This season of Fear the Walking Dead seems to be leaning into that fear and erasing the metaphor.
— The Nick and Troy bromance is super weird. Nick pinned Troy down, shot a bullet into the ground six inches from Troy’s head, stole his diary, ripped out the pages, and laughed maniacally as they wrestled on the ground. Troy’s response: “I think we can be friends now.” What?
— Madison and Jeremiah’s bond is a strange one, too. She sees old footage of Jeremiah being abusive to his wife and Troy, and the thing that Madison seems to pick up on is the fact that Jeremiah’s ex wife, like her ex-husband, was a drunk.
— I hope we see more of Jeff. In fact, the pot-smoking kids and their decapitated zombie head would make a great sitcom spin-off.
— Next week’s episode looks as though it will fill in the details between the time Daniel was left for dead and his return.