This review contains spoilers.
2.9 Los Muertos
“Out of the frying pan, and into the fire” is a pretty trite expression, isn’t it? Things don’t always go from bad to worse, right? Well, if you’re living in the world of The Walking Dead, well… that’s usually how things progress. You might get a few minutes to catch your breath, or tie one on in an abandoned hotel lobby bar, but eventually, zombies are going to start throwing themselves off balconies in an attempt to surround and eat you, and eventually, you’re going to find out that the kind-hearted pharmacist who healed your dog bite infection is actually some kind of deranged death cult leader.
To their credit, Fear The Walking Dead doesn’t delay the reveal as long as they did with the Abigail compound. No, Nick wakes up in the clinic, walks outside, and finds the town empty. From an overpass, he watches as one of the town’s people climbs onto a bus crashed through a fence, hops out the back of the bus, and offers himself up as food for zombies. That’s the wall, Luciana explains later, a wall of zombies that keep the town safe from both hordes and from the gang that controls Tijuana’s precious big box store and all the wonderful supplies inside.
The one thing that the pharmacy colony has that the gang leaders don’t is Oxycontin. That’s a valuable trading tool in this world, where powerful opiates aren’t exactly growing on trees (at least not outside of Afghanistan, and I guess technically that’s more like a flower than a tree). One of the things Strand has said throughout this is that Nick’s skills were going to be useful, and it’s not just about his willingness to get his hands dirty (literally) or his skill at breaking and entering. Nick is used to dealing with dangerous people, so when the Tijuana gang that deals in water throw him to the ground and threaten to cut his arm off for stealing, he doesn’t panic. After all, he saw that one of the head gang members has a sister, and that sister is obviously a junkie—it takes one to know one—and he uses that to negotiate more favorable terms for the colony and to save his own skin.
Of course, since it’s Nick, he does it in a very dangerous way that might backfire on him—he’s warned in no certain terms by the pharmacist, who then allows Nick to join in on the community… chant session once he’s pretty much on board with the way the community is going to run and who is actually in charge. Nick knows enough to follow along and blend in, which is more than can be said for Maddie and, surprisingly, Strand.
We catch up with Nick’s family and benefactor as they travel around, basically failing in their tasks. No Nick, no Travis, and worse still, no Abigail, as the ship has been boat-napped by, presumably, the people who were shooting at them when they jumped the border. So they do the next best thing and find a hotel to shack up in for awhile. Ofelia and Alicia go searching for food, and Maddie decides to tie one on and smash glasses while Strand bangs atonally on a piano.
Unlike Alicia, who seems to be the eternal optimist, Maddie is finally losing her silver lining—kind of swapping places with her daughter, who was the forlorn one. I mean, it does make sense, and writer Alan Page does a good job of allowing the character to detail her frustrations without actually making a turn to camera and delivering a soliloquy. I do have my doubts that Strand would be relaxed enough to just… smack on a piano, but at the same time, it’s been a while since any of these people have had any booze, let alone a whole bottle of tequila. This is the second time she’s lost her husband, the infinite time that she’s lost her son, and Strand is dealing with both the death of his love and the loss of, well… his entire bug-out plan.
Of course, now that they’ve backed themselves into a corner (quite literally once the zombies arrive), that lack of a secondary plan is going to bite them. We’ve seen zombies falling off cliffs and bridges and the like before, so director Deborah Chow isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, but I enjoyed the execution. The first plunger falls in the background as Alicia is looking for Ofelia. It’s almost subtle enough to be missed, but when Alicia walks out to the balcony and sees it happen over and over again, it’s an impressive sight (though I’d doubt most zombies falling that far would be ambulatory after they land).
It’s still early in the year, and the show is building things for later while still putting characters in peril. The inter-cutting between Maddie and Strand and Nick’s adventure in the Tijuana death cult was pretty clever; they’re both in a lot of trouble, just in very different ways. I’m not as impressed with how Alicia has been handled, as her last moment on the episode—looking confused into middle distance—doesn’t grab very well, but I’m a sucker for any scene in which people hide behind a bar while surrounded by zombies. It’s an effective enough cliffhanger, though I’m sure they’re going to find some way out of it as they can’t just kill Maddie and Strand both (Alicia, however…)