Fear The Walking Dead season 3 episode 14 review: El Matadero

Questionable character motivations threaten to derail Fear The Walking Dead's mojo this week. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.14 El Matadero

In watching El Matadero, I couldn’t help but feel that this particular hour was a requiem for Fear The Walking Dead’s third season that might have been—had it ended with last week’s game-changing This Land Is Your Land. El Matadero is also a requiem for Nick’s sobriety, something that’s been so easy to take for granted ever since the first season. If he’s ever been tempted these last two seasons, we never knew it. So his pill-popping fall from grace was a bit sudden and unexpected. Most notably, though, El Matadero is a requiem for Ofelia Salazar—a character that might have been. But more on the barbarian-turned-barber’s daughter in a bit.

In the meantime, after headlining last week’s episode, it was a bit disappointing to see Alicia relegated to the sidelines. This doesn’t impede her from killing a zombie girl in a call pit; nor does it stop Alicia from crossing paths with a mysterious survivor (played by Edwina Findley). We discover in short turn that Findley’s salty, pickaxe-wielding stranger has seen her share of action. Through her we learn a bit more about post-apocalyptic capitalism (gold fillings and severed fingers are important commodities). Findley also gets one of the episode’s better lines: “Why the hell are your potatoes in my car?” Whether Findley survives into next season remains to be seen, but I hope her uneasy alliance with Alicia doesn’t get her killed. Seriously, you know by now how it is with these troublesome Clarks.

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And speaking of which, it’s one thing for Nick to go off the deep end—but why take Troy with him? Until they meet up with “the butcher,” Troy is at best an observer, and at worst a jumpy, fearful sidekick. It’s almost as if his outsized charisma went up in flames along with his family’s ranch. Whatever the case may be, I’m well past caring what happens to Troy, who, lest we forget, has expressed no remorse for murdering numerous innocents. Which makes the continued Nick/Troy bromance so troubling; how can we root for Nick if he’s willing to overlook the terrible things Troy has done?

Then again, Madison has turned a blind eye to Troy’s many misdeeds as well, going so far in El Matadero to cite strength in numbers. What better way to confront one murderous psychopath (in this case, Daniel) with another one at your back? This is the apocalypse, after all, where morality is seen as more of an inconvenience than as something to strive for. Hence the episode’s best line, uttered by Alicia: “Surviving is killing me.” But Fear’s writers would have you believe Madison’s shifting morality, and with it, her various loyalties, all boil down to keeping her word. This is flimsy motivation at best, and Strand is right to call her out for it. Indeed, he accuses her of squandering their dwindling resources just to keep her promise to Daniel. Strand has never been sentimental—at least not with the people he considers his friends. A doomed cosmonaut brings out his humanity, but not Madison Clark. Strand is right, though—now that Ofelia is dying, they’re all basically screwed. Madison’s plan, to rely on the kindness of strangers like a post-apocalyptic Blanche DuBois, is no plan at all.

And what is Madison’s plan, now that her children have all but abandoned her? This is especially curious, given how much of this season has revolved around Mama Clark protecting her kids at any cost—whether it meant seizing control of the ranch or desecrating Native-American relics, or covering up the murder of the Otto patriarch. Suddenly, this same person is putting up no fight as Alicia and Nick go their separate ways. Is she too tired to keep her family together, or is this more about inconsistent writing and subsequently inconsistent character motivations?

Which finally brings us to Ofelia, a character whose motivations never seem fully defined. Last season, we saw Ofelia’s sudden transformation into a gas-siphoning, zombie-killing machine in search of her stateside fiancé. We didn’t see much of her after that until she resurfaced earlier this season as part of Walker’s Black Hat tribe. From there, she poisoned some ranchers (including Nick) yet rallied to save many more of them by unblocking an air vent. All in all, it was a circuitous route to a quiet, inglorious death in a stadium parking lot. Which makes her line about looking forward to getting to know her father so ironic. Did we ever really get to know Ofelia herself? As likable as Mercedes Mason is, Fear‘s writers never quite knew what to do with her. I suppose what’s more egregious about her death is how impersonal it felt—much like Chris’s death last season. But whereas Chris had no last words, the last thing Ofelia ever does is thank Madison for ostensibly making her final moments about how she’s failed her own kids.

Here’s to hoping that Madison and Fear regain their mojo in next week’s two-hour season finale.

Read David’s review of the previous episode, This Land Is Your Land, here.

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