Fear the Walking Dead: “100” (S3, E4 review)

Always devolving? Daniel proves that it is possible to grow as a person in the apocalypse (photo courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND NO WATER FOR SOCIALISTS …

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
(from Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Never were truer poetic words committed to the written word.

And never were they more pertinent or desperately poignant that in the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead, “100”, which saw the unexpected return of Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), looking and moving like a singed zombie but very much alive.

Turns out the man that Victor (Colman Domingo) talked to last week from his prison cell – he was placed there by his old “friend” Dante Esquivel (Jason Manuel Olazabal) who knows a conniving survivor-at-all-costs when he sees one – who looked a lot like Daniel Salazar was in fact … Daniel Salazar!

Talk about a survival story and a half.

Last we saw the onetime CIA-trained paramilitary killer-turned-L.A. barber, he was not in his right mind and going up in flames at the estate of Victor’s dearly-departed husband Thomas Abigail (Dougray Scott) with most of the rest of the alive population of the once-safe sanctuary.

But he escaped, he says thanks to his daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) who has been M.I.A. since the start of season 3, emerging back out into the cold, cruel world of the apocalypse with one hell of a limp, a BBQ’d leg but nevertheless, gobsmackingly, surprisingly alive.

We find him at the start of “100” dragging himself through the streets of Tijuana, narrowing avoiding being chomped on by a zombie – here’s to strategically-placed and timed barking dogs – and saved by Efrain (Jesse Borego), a man who wanders the streets delivering mercy to stray walkers and saving near-dead souls like Daniel’s.

As a character study in the way humanity can actually thrive and grow in the apocalypse, rather than devolve to base, grasping survivalism, “100” was a masterclass, showing us a bleak, unremitting view of the end of the world as we know it, but also showing that along with the bad and the opportunistic (exhibit A is Dante himself, a close second Victor) come with the good and the caring, people who understand that now, more than ever, humanity is needed is all its merciful, selfless abundance.

 

One good turn eventually deserves another … but it’s a rocky road getting there (photo courtesy AMC)

 

In that respect, the episode played magnificently well to the strengths of Fear the Walking Dead, a show which has showed an admirable knack for examining the day to day privations of the apocalypse as well the big picture fight for survival (a particular focus of its parent show, The Walking Dead).

“100” examined how, in the face of deep, life-ending privation and hardship – Dante has taken over Tijuana’s dam and thus its drinking water, ruthlessly shutting down anyone who tries to take it without permission – that real poignant, touching moments of humanity can shine through.

More than that though it showed how one man, who by rights should have kicked into hard-arse survivalist mode – if anyone has the skills and the aptitude, it’s Daniel – can learn and grow and choose to listen to the better angels of his nature.

It was quite a journey though with Daniel moving from grateful to penitent in the face of Efrain’s selfless kindness and care to uneasily compliant with Dante’s regime – Dante guesses he was one a paramilitary figure and assigned an uncomfortable Daniel, all too aware his old life has temporarily cost him Ofelia’s affection – to an outright rebel who takes a stand over the warlord’s distinctly inhuman parceling out of water to those he deems worthy or useful.

And in choosing to take Daniel on that journey, a left field choice in light of the fact that many shows including The Walking Dead would have chosen to make him colder and meaner, we were given a refreshing antidote to the idea that the apocalypse can only means grasping opportunism and violent taking.

In “100” we were greeted instead by kind, selfless souls who knew what the stakes were, and how dangerous taking a stand might be, but took it anyway, a muscular force of mercy-laced rebellion that Daniel chose to side with rather than uphold Dante’s neo-liberalist agenda.

As character studies in the effects of deprivation and loss on the human spirit go, it was beautifully done, with nuance and care, a series of interconnected moments that showed us how powerful it can be when people choose to honour their humanity, no matter how dire the circumstances, than cast it aside.

 

Is neo-liberalism the only creed worth following in the apocalypse? Daniel says NO (photo courtesy AMC)

 

Don’t be fooled – this was no hallmark-framed fairytale, fringed with pink lace and soundtracked by “Kum Ba Yah” on a loop; rather it was people knowing full well what they were up against but choosing to do the right thing anyway.

Inspiring stuff and not what you’d normally associate with the apocalypse but entirely reflective of humanity who shows again and again that it is capable of being joyously generous and sacrificial even even there has been great catastrophic loss.

That is the great mark of difference with Fear the Walking Dead – not only does it show the apocalypse in raw, rough day-to-day terms, but it also acknowledges that the net effect of the end of civilisation doesn’t have to spell the cessation of all civility.

It matches a new mood in apocalyptic storytelling which acknowledges the loss and the destruction, and the propensity for the opportunists, the cruel and the morally-blighted to hold free rein, but also maintains that it is possible to hold fast to all the good things that make us human.

By telling Daniel’s transformative story in “100”, Fear the Walking Dead showed it is very much in that qualified optimism vein, all too painfully aware of what has been lost but keenly observant of the fact that, if people are willing to take a stand, and Daniel takes one hell of a stand atop the dam, how much can be gained too.

  • Next week in “Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame” we return to the ranch and the dubious safety of a sanctuary that may hide more peril within than lies without …

 

 

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