This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 11
Cable’s second-biggest drama bounces back from its shaky midseason premiere with a solid episode that makes us care again about Madison. “La Serpiente” doesn’t do this by doubling down on her stubbornness or short-sightedness. She’s still just as determined and as prickly as ever, and she’s still fiercely protective of her family. But it’s Victor who manages to draw Madison out of her shell. With Travis gone, he is perhaps the one person left in the world who not only understands her, but cares about her, too. This isn’t to say that Alicia and Nick don’t love their mother, but with Strand, there’s no attendant family baggage to contend with.
There are many sides to Madison, as there are to most people, and to most characters on Fear the Walking Dead. But the Madison you get is likely the Madison you deserve. If you’re weak-willed or fearful, she fills the void with outsized bravery. If you’re out to get her family, she’s out to get you. If you have her back, she has yours. Strand falls into the latter category, and in doing so, he has earned Madison’s trust. And with trust, comes honesty.
Given her druthers, if Madison could want one thing for herself in this terrible new world, it would be to live out her days on the ranch. Given his druthers, Victor wouldn’t fail his friends. Kim Dickens and Colman Domingo have an easy, winning chemistry. When they’re together, the walls come down and their characters’ crusty yet tender hearts become unguarded.
So, again, one of this episode’s strengths is allowing Madison time to breathe, to be weary, to question her own motives. “La Serpiente” is also right in allowing Walker to question those same motives, to doubt Madison’s loyalty, to call out her continued selfishness. Because up to this point, Fear‘s writers have allowed Madison to run roughshod over both common sense and common decency. Walker is so alarmed by her lack of honor that he’s willing to wrest control of the ranch from her, just as she was willing to wrest control away from the Ottos. Walker’s people come first; her family’s survival is not his problem. In other words, what goes around comes around.
But Walker is not alone in his criticism of the Clark matriarch. Madison is still thinking small, putting the needs of her two children before everyone else. She gets called out on this by Lola, who is trying to save a city on the brink of revolt. But Lola isn’t a monster—she offers Madison a chance to bring her family to the dam, where they can earn their keep by working. This deal isn’t good enough for Madison, though. Plus, she seems to have a hard time processing Daniel’s loyalty to the woman who saved his life. Indeed, the idea of other people’s loyalty in general seems to be a foreign concept to her.
There’s more to this apocalypse than just the Clarks or the ranch, obviously. “La Serpiente” also succeeds in leaving the ranch behind entirely in favor of the Gonzalez Dam. With the dam we get a different set of characters and woes that have nothing to do with racism. As much as I appreciate a show like Fear exploring current social issues, its treatment of such is at times heavy-handed and ham-fisted. With the dam, the show has the chance to explore notions of the haves versus the have-nots—in this case, the great many in need of water, and the select few controlling it. While there are shades of Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Immorten Joe to be had from this setup, I never once thought Lola was wrong to protect the water they have. But I do wonder if the dam will remain standing by season’s end. I hope so, if for no other reason than it’s tiresome to see the Clarks leave death and destruction in their wake. Returning to the ranch with water is a great step in the right direction, but I suspect this will be a short-lived victory for everyone on both sides of the deal.
Some closing thoughts:
It’s good to see zombies pose such an immediate threat to our survivors—enough so to drive Madison, Strand, and Walker into the sewers. You know things have gotten truly bad when wading through a river of crap is the lesser of two evils. (It’s like Shawshank without the redemption.) As for what’s the greater of two evils, is it encountering zombies underground, or getting lost in the sewer’s claustrophobic, labyrinthine tunnels? In the end, whatever dread is generated by either scenario is dealt with a little too quickly. But at least Fear delivers its requisite gore by having Madison hack away at a bloated zombie blocking the drain. Fear excels at gruesome violence, and this scene is no exception. Plus, it demonstrates that Madison Clark lets nothing stand in her way.
Fear is smart to keep tensions simmering between Walker and Victor. Whether you like or loathe Victor, it’s hard to root against a character we’ve gotten to know since season one. He’s done plenty of unsavory things since the end of the world, but then who on this show hasn’t? Walker certainly isn’t a saint, a point driven home by Ofelia’s fall from grace under his influence. But he’s right to question a man that inspires Madison to act impulsively and live dangerously.
Lola is tough and uncompromising, like Madison. But to paraphrase The Avengers‘ Black Widow, Lola’s ledger is clean. She’s managed to preserve an essential piece of her morality that Madison traded away a long time ago. True, she has Daniel to do her dirty work, to be the grim realist to her grim idealist. Like Travis, Lola believes people are inherently good. That being said, though, if that kind of postapocalyptic morality doesn’t put a target on your back in the Walking Dead universe, I don’t know what does. I hope I’m wrong—I like Lola (and I liked Travis, too)!