This Fear the Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 4
In “100,” we get a quieter, more measured post-apocalypse, which is heavier on mood and setting than it is on zombie action. We also get some quality time with Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), who as we know somehow escaped the vineyard. He’s more or less intact, save for nasty burns on his leg. More importantly, FTWD delivers what is arguably its strongest, most effective hour to date. While I liked Nick’s long and treacherous trek to Tijuana in last season’s “Grotesque,” there’s something different about Daniel’s journey. It somehow seems more intimate and personal. The best part of “100” is that it functions as a standalone episode with a self-contained story arc. As intriguing as the Ottos’ ranch may be with its strange dynamics and black-and-white beliefs, what we get in “100” is a murky, morally gray area in which a new set of survivors resides.
While I generally bristle at the introduction of too many new characters, this fresh set of faces works. Daniel is a stranger in a strange land, in search of redemption. Parched and delirious, he’s taken in by a group of mysterious strangers living in the remains of a battered town overrun by the dead. These locals don’t seem to have much except for each other, eking out a difficult existence in the shadow of a water treatment facility that hoards its precious water. We got a glimpse of this facility in “Teotwawki,” and, as we know, a shrewd businessman named Dante controls it. We also know Daniel will eventually be drawn here, where he’ll be reunited with Strand. But more on that encounter in a bit.
In the meantime, Daniel gets to know Efrain (played by Jesse Borrego), who has a unique way of dispatching zombies. He grants them absolution before driving a nail through their heads with a mallet. One gets the sense Efrain’s done this many, many times before, perhaps more from a sense of duty than survival. He lives humbly, in the remains of a shuttered indoor marketplace, surrounded by salvaged junk that may or may not hold special meaning for him. He’s a collector of sorts, and he adds Daniel to the cluttered hodgepodge of his abode. Here, Daniel’s healed physically and emotionally, though his heart remains burdened by difficult truths. Efrain senses Daniel’s inner turmoil and does his best to draw the truth out of him. They’re already friends, drawn together by unique circumstances and what seems like a mutual will to live.
Like Daniel, one gets the sense that Efrain is grappling with his own demons. It’s easy to imagine that life for him before and after the apocalypse are pretty much the same. Whatever or whomever he might have been before, now he finds his true calling at the bottom of the bottle. Overall, he’s a very interesting addition to the Walking Dead universe, the sort of person we haven’t seen much of before on either show. The closest I can think of is John Carroll Lynch’s Eastman, a dystopian philosopher we meet in TWD’s “Here’s Not Here,” who had his own dark side.
We also meet Lola (Lisandra Tena), the group’s de facto medic and moral compass. She works at the dam. She doesn’t approve of Dante himself, but she believes her presence at the facility guarantees the water will remain untainted. This is a moral compromise for her, a necessary evil. Beyond that, we don’t know too much about her yet, but Tena is nonetheless quite effective in the role; it’s obvious Lola can stand toe to toe with the Dantes and Daniels of this world.
As for moral compromise, the real strength of this episode is Daniel’s loyalty to Efrain and Lola. He wants to protect them, even if it means getting his hands dirty. It’s a mixed blessing that Dante knows of Daniel’s past, immediately putting his skills to work in service of the dam. This is all well and good until Daniel is forced to bring his knack for torture to bear on Efrain, who Dante believes is smuggling water from the facility. Being forced to beat the very person who saved him presents a true moral dilemma for Daniel. How much more is he willing to sacrifice of himself in the name of the greater good? Is it any wonder that he so desperately wants to die, to escape his sins?
At the end of the world, when survival is paramount on most people’s minds, to seek death is, I suppose, quite liberating. Especially in a reality where the monsters roaming the ruined countryside pale in comparison to the monsters of one’s own making. That’s powerful stuff. But try as he might, Daniel can’t seem to end it all. So, when faced with yet another moral quandary, this time as Dante’s executioner, Daniel takes it upon himself to do right by Efrain and Lola. Maybe, for once, Daniel can finally keep tabs on those he’s saved, rather than those he’s killed.
As for Strand, Daniel sees in him what Dante also saw: a self-serving conniver speaking out of both sides of his mouth who’d do anything to save his own skin. Which casts doubt anew on whether or not Strand ever truly loved Thomas—or just saw him as a means to an end. Either way, Strand suffers. Either way, his story continues. But what is there left to learn about a man consumed by his own self-interest? Daniel, on the other hand…well, I could watch a whole season that focuses on his post-apocalyptic misadventures, a man in a dog-eat-dog world chasing his own tale.
Some closing thoughts:
– Did Efrain remind anyone else of Bruce Spence’s Gyro Captain from 1981’s The Road Warrior? He’s slightly unhinged without being incompetent.
– You have to hand it to this show—they find creative ways to kill a zombie. This time, it’s death by lightning strike, though I would have loved this moment even more if the lightning destroyed the zombie.
– Never, ever mess with another person’s Spam loaf. Not unless you want to be stabbed in the face with a fork. (What is it with this show and weaponized eating utensils?)
– Kudos to AMC for delivering an episode that was almost entirely in Spanish. This is definitely something we haven’t seen—or heard—before on TWD.
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