I read somewhere that while its sister-series, The Walking Dead, is about superheroes, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is about real people. If there was ever an episode that demonstrated this, “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame” is it.
Let’s face it. While the creators of The Walking Dead have gone to great lengths to make no character feel safe, we have just seen Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Carol, Morgan and the gang get out of too many tight jams to not feel like they are at least somewhat invincible. Rick walked around for much of the series after season one with the confidence of Batman. The group endures through such hardships but rarely is time spend showing the real pain their bodies endure (we do get a little more time seeing how their psyches are damaged, I’ll give them that–Rick Grimes seems to be a sputtering glob of snot and tears at least once every episode these days). But Fear moves at a much slower and more deliberate pace, and gives time to let the characters deal with the very real physical and mental trauma they’ve been through.
This episode may have felt like a story builder–one where most of the characters stay put and not much really happens. A bridge to that BIG episode where a character is killed off or there is a huge memorable sequence of fighting zombies (or other humans). But it was a crucial episode for many reasons. It began with an old couple we don’t recognize living in a small house on the Otto compound. When the old woman wakes the man up by shuffling around in the middle of the night, it’s revealed she has turned. He proceeds to blow his and her brains out simultaneously, but knocks over a candle and burns the place down in doing so. The group quickly tries to extinguish the fire but ultimately it’s decided that they shouldn’t waste the water. They let the fire burn out on its own.
The old couple died together in the end, and more than one character remarks what a beautiful thing that really is. How often do we go at the same time as the ones we consider our life partners? This brings to light some important things for our characters. For starters, Luciana and Nick; they clearly adore each other, and after what they’ve been through together it’s obvious that they feel incredibly bound to one another. Luciana understandably wants to head back south, to Mexicali, to find family or loved ones of her own. But Nick has been ordered by his mother Madison to stay with the Ottos and play the long game if they need to. And it seems he’s warming up to the place. We see him having amicable chats with old man Otto, and Otto even gives him a gun. When it becomes clear to Luciana that Nick has no intention of leaving with her, she goes on her own in the middle of the night, leaving nothing but a note behind. Will Nick go after her? He’s faced with a very tough choice.
Alicia also is making hard decisions, though admittedly not as life or death as her brother. She and the oldest son Otto, Jake, seem to be hitting it off. And why not? They are two of the most attractive people in the camp. We have yet to see Alicia in a romance since her boyfriend was one of the first victims of the zombie outbreak in Season One, and we know her heart was open to boys she could commiserate with as she pretty much fell in love with a voice on the radio when they were on the boat in Season Two. Alicia and Jake have sex, and in a post-coital discussion her gives her a book by Charles Bukowski (where the episode gets its name). She asks him “What’s the point?” Of poetry, art, music. What is the point of appreciating beauty any more? All that matters is guns and survival. She also seems to be asking “What’s the point of love?” If you’re going to end up like the old couple burning to death at the top of the episode, then why even do it?
And Madison of course is still seething over the loss of Travis. She didn’t get her chance to be with him when he died, not by a long shot. And that is why (or at least one of the reasons why) she volunteers to go outside the compound on a mission to find whoever shot down that helicopter, killing her husband. She is joined by Troy, the Otto brother whose eye she tried to spoon out. There is no love lost there still, but respect gradually grows when they take out a group of dead former inmate zombies in under a minute together.
Eventually, though, they come upon a small ranch after finding the remains of their envoy. There they are ambushed by a Native American man named Walker. He claims that the Ottos have no right to their land, and they want it back. We get the sense that this was a battle being fought even before the zombie apocalypse, only probably with lawyers instead of guns back then. Madison gets them out of there with all their lives, though she has to undermine Troy to do so. They also have to surrender all their guns, vehicles, and shoes. This makes their walk back to the Otto ranch incredibly painful, and we SEE Madison and the men struggling, walking the rocky desert terrain in nothing but socks. This is a scene you wouldn’t see in The Walking Dead and makes me appreciate the humanity of these characters.
One night on their way back, Troy tries to kill Madison for having usurped his authority in front of his men. He ultimately takes the blade away from her throat, but one of the men has seen this. Will Madison win any favor now with this group? It has been her plan all along, but we’ll have to wait and see.
And of course Strand and Daniel are road tripping together back to the beach resort. I could watch a show of just these two traveling through the zombie apocalypse, they are just so great playing off one another. They clearly despise one another, but they are all the other has. Strand tries to prepare Daniel for the possibility (which he knows to be true) that his daughter Ofelia may not be there when they get there. And of course they arrive and the entire hotel is overrun with zombies. Daniel tries to ditch Strand by leaving him in the middle of a large group of the undead, but Strand escapes and they live to see another day. But where will they go now?
Overall the episode was a continuation of the strong character stories that began earlier this season. Though it started out rushed and a bit scattered, and I wasn’t a fan of how they ended Travis, this season is shaping up to the best yet. Only three episodes left before the mid-season finale.
Season 3, Episode 5 (S03E05)
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday at 9PM on AMC
Paul Gulyas | Contributor