This review contains spoilers.
One of the things The Walking Dead does every season is scatter the survivors to the four winds for mid-season finales, then they bring them back together over the course of the next half of the season. Taking a page from Hershel’s farm once again, Fear The Walking Dead ends the episode with the cast scattered around the Mexican countryside. On one side, there are zombies. On the other side, angry workers looking to get revenge for their dead relatives. In the middle, as always, Victor Strand and his allies, who find themselves on the outs after wreaking a little havoc in the supposed safe zone.
The cracks appeared almost immediately. After all, Celia worked pretty hard at extracting Nick, the most vulnerable one of the group, from his mother’s orbit. And that was before the zombies in the basement came to light while Chris, Nick, and Salazar began to really start fraying under the pressure of this post-apocalyptic nightmare world (though you could argue that neither Nick nor Salazar had a good time in the pre-apocalyptic world, what with being a damaged junkie and a shell-shocked torturer, respectively).
It’s interesting that so much of the first season of Fear The Walking Dead dealt with Nick’s problems, and now he looks like he’s as close to stable as anyone else. Now it’s Salazar, who was the toughest guy in the room for the first season and most of the second, who is cracking up. The cold opening is him having a flashback to the bad old days of the El Salvador civil war and his first execution—apparently he was five years old when he took his first life, because this is a very young child forced to do a very tragic thing.
Salazar’s fragile mental state manifests in a couple of different ways during the episode. He sharpens a piece of metal to make a knife weapon, his paranoia and delusions of his late wife Griselda driving him to attempt to flee the compound, which he calls cursed ground. Knowing the dead come back and knowing that the dead are being stored nearby would be enough to make anyone nervous, but Salazar’s recurring flashbacks to his past as a killer only make him that much more difficult to control. The flashbacks in the beginning of the episode are bookended by more flashes of that scene at the end of the episode.
David Weiner’s script does a good job of developing the cracks, taking what’s already been established and just making it slightly worse as everyone seems to be struggling to adapt to this new world and the illusion of safety after spending so much time on the open water. Nick’s weird mental state makes sense; he’s been that way for a while. Chris’s sudden murdery urge seems to have come on almost overnight, but it’s to Travis’s credit that he’s able to hunt down his son and keep him from injuring the otherwise innocent man who gives Travis new shoes and a glass of water while pretending not to know English. I also have to admit that the interactions between Celia and Maddie are some of the better ones of the episode, particularly the way Celia accepts her fate when Maddie locks her in the cellar with the captured family zombies. If Celia truly is gone, it will be sad not to see Marlene Forte’s uniquely comforting menace on screen.
A lot of the beats feel expected, but there’s a lot of style to be had in Andrew Bernstein’s direction. There’s a cool overhead shot of Strand, separated from the compound by slowly closing mechanical doors. When Salazar takes justice into his own hands and sets the zombie containment basement on fire, it’s a really well-shot scene. He stands astride the flames, while the approaching zombies shift from undead to living faces, the zombie make-up kind of digitally disappearing off their faces. It’s a really fun effect, and a clever way of mixing Celia’s idea of the undead just being changed with Salazar’s guilt over everything he’s been doing with his life.
Fire in the compound, dangerous beings all around, and Strand shows up to be the hero, rather than just the opportunist. Travis wanders off into the desert with his murderous son. Nick wanders off to be one with the zombie hordes. And Maddie’s left to try to figure out how to bring everyone back together, assuming there’s anyone left by the time the fires burn out. It’s a familiar concept, but an interesting execution, as the group is splitting apart not because of external pressures, but internal problems.