This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 12
Disappointment is too strong a word to describe my feelings toward “Pillar of Salt,” especially because the episode had some inspired moments. But “Pillar” also had some exceptionally wrongheaded moments in which certain characters abandon common sense merely to drive the plot forward. Yes, I’ve said that the horror genre relies on bad decision-making, but this episode is long on drama and short on horror. This isn’t a shortcoming, but bad writing choices and questionable character motivations are less forgivable when the stakes are more of the everyday variety. And to be honest, I do like when Fear The Walking Dead serves up the more human drama, since we need to know and understand these characters more if we’re meant to root for them and not the zombies. Nick is normally pretty solid in this regard, though not so much in “Pillar.” Here, he stumbles a bit, much like the episode itself does, but more on him in a bit.
In the meantime, let’s talk about Madison, on whose shoulders so much of this hour rests. Here, she’s presented as the leader of the hotel’s survivors, a position I don’t think she’s really earned up to this point. If anyone has earned it thus far, it’s Alicia. After all, she made first contact with Elena. And it was Alicia’s plan that emptied the dead from the hotel. But somehow this is being marginalized—because she’s younger? We know that Madison second-guesses her daughter’s survival instincts (even as she acknowledges Alicia’s self-sufficiency). It makes sense that Alicia might be willing to fall in line with her mother’s version of diplomacy, but Madison has never really been much of a diplomat, bumping heads with the likes of Daniel and Strand and Celia. Being strong-willed isn’t a character flaw, but much about what didn’t work in this episode falls squarely on Madison’s many bad choices as both leader and parent.
First up, Madison decrees that Oscar’s mother-in-law Eileen be confined indefinitely after stabbing Strand. Basically it’s one strike and you’re out. Madison puts this to the group and they all readily agree. Again, her quick rise to power (such as it is) seems disingenuous because it feels rushed. Madison also comes across as selfish, since her decision is motivated mainly by what’s happened to Strand. In other words, she’s putting her people’s needs before those of Oscar’s or Elena’s people. The episode doubles down on this by having Madison give short shrift to Elena wanting to rescue her nephew from the gang that runs the supermarket. But no, Madison makes it very clear this run is about saving Strand and nothing else. Never mind that the hotel was Elena’s turf, or that she has the idea of trading with the gang in the first place. Bottom line, Elena shouldn’t need Madison’s stamp of approval to rescue Antonio.
Luciana, on the other hand, is not so easily shunted aside. Like Madison, Nick is a new arrival who thinks he understands the lay of the land. Luciana is quick to remind him that Alejandro saved his life. Indeed, most of the colonists owe a lot to Alejandro even if the colony itself is struggling to survive. Which is why Luciana makes it clear to Nick that his entitlement is an ugly thing that needs to be checked. Nick may have good negotiating skills but Alejandro is the one who calls the shots. Nick is a meddler, though—he takes after his mother in this regard. Rather than let sleeping dogs lie, he presses Alejandro to let him go to the planned rendezvous with the gang. But Alejandro has bigger problems. The idea that members of his inner circle like Francisco would desert him fills him with a manic dread. If anything, this demonstrates the fragile hold he has over everyone in the colony. Even if Nick is right, it’s still not his decision to make. Even Reynaldo, one of the scouts, calls him out on this, saying, “Americans. You love to fix others’ problems.”
In other words, mind your own business, gringo. Or in this case, a “gringo with ratty hair.” Who would have thought four words could cause Madison to make so many poor decisions in the latter part of this episode? Interrupting Marco’s interrogation of his prisoners—something that has nothing to do whatsoever with Madison or Elena—is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen all season. She has no intention of rescuing Francisco or his wife—she only wants to know what these two unfortunate captives can tell her about her son. She knows nothing about Marco or who these people are, nor does she care. I understand she’s frantic to find Nick, but this scene just does not play well at all, making Madison seem more self-involved than ever. Alicia calls her out on this, for putting everyone in their group at risk for someone who abandoned them. That Madison needs to be reminded that Alicia’s loyalty has never wavered is heartbreaking. What’s more heartbreaking is that Alicia’s plea to shut off the generator falls on deaf ears.
To be completely honest, I don’t want Madison to find Nick—but all signs point to this happening anyway. Though now that the cartel has found the colony, it’s very possible Nick will be on the move again.
Some closing thoughts:
It’s good to see Ofelia again. The flashback to the proposal is the most likable and personable she’s been all season, if not both seasons. This is the Ofelia we need to know, so we can be more fully invested in her character arc—especially if she suddenly goes missing as she did a few episodes back. Her disappearance would have been more powerful, more frustrating, if she’d been a more dimensional presence in what has become a gigantic ensemble cast. She’s barely in the episode, though, which is a bit disappointing. And in the end, she’s not sticking around anyway as she makes a run for the U.S. border in Strand’s truck.
As for Strand, I really wondered if we’d lose him in this episode. He’s had some interesting moments of his own this season, especially in these last few episodes, but I can’t blame Eileen for stabbing him. After all, in her eyes he’s the one who killed her daughter, not the infection. Oscar may have been okay with Strand’s offer to put Jessica down, but did no one think to ask her mother first? I’m not saying he deserved to be attacked, just that I understand the why of it. He still manages to dispense some sage advice to Alicia, despite some major blood loss—which is admirable in and of itself—and says a lot about Colman Domingo’s likability in the role.
“Pillar” delivers a nice surprise in its closing seconds by revealing Travis on a hill overlooking the hotel. It’s great to see him again in one piece, but where’s Chris?
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