Fear the Walking Dead: “Red Dirt” (S3, E6 review)

 "Hello, my name is Madison. I'll be your Machiavellian schemer tonight."  (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)
“Hello, my name is Madison. I’ll be your Machiavellian schemer tonight.”  (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A WHOLE LOT OF ILL-ADVISED SCHEMING WITH A SIDE ORDER OF RAW HORSE …

Oh the lies we tell ourselves huh?

Let’s face it, the apocalypse makes hanging onto all that Mother Theresa/boy scout/George Washington morality and honesty more than a little hard to pull off.

It’s not anyone has the luxury of being a Chardonnay Socialist anymore, opining on what it good and virtuous over a comfy and unhurried brunch somewhere; more likely than not you are the brunch with the undead chewing on you less than inclined to converse on the ethics of lying to ensure you’re own survival.

So you can kind of understand why Madison (Kim Dickens) lied her little cotton socks off – well once she had them on again; after last week’s mugging which included their foot-protecting foots, she and Troy (Daniel Sharman) and the rest of the expeditionary were a little light on footwear-wise – to keep a roof above her, Nick’s (Frank Dillane) and Alicia’s (Alycia Debnam-Carey) heads.

But as situational lies go, this was a freakin’ doozy.

After the ranch’s inhabitants start to get a little worried – haha massive understatement; they were scared out of their absolute zombie-unloving brains – one of the founders, in fact the last living one besides Jeremiah (Dayton Callie), decided to hightail out of Dodge with his wife Kathy (Ericka Kreutz) and kids Gretchen (Rae Gray), and son Chris (Justin Deeley) who had the misfortune to be among the barefoot survivors last week.

Jeremiah did little to stop him, weighed down by the crumbling of his dream of self-sufficiency and sticking it to the man – granted there is no man anymore, or rule of law, or courts, but more on that later – and so off went Vernon, with food from the pantry, a couple of horses and his camper van, ready to see what the big wide apocalyptic has to offer.

 

“Hey Madison! It’s me zombie Gretchen! Not so scared now am I huh? HUH?!” (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

 

Well, not much actually.

Not because the world was necessarily inimical to life – although as Madison made clear in an inspiring speech towards the end of the episode (the one Jeremiah should have made but didn’t) – but because Troy, who’s more than few sacks of colours away from a sustainable apocalyptic pantry, went out and ambushed them and killed them all.

Yep he’s returned to his coldblooded serial killer ways, freaked out that the only place he’s ever known as home and ever felt safe – remember he had a fairly nasty childhood courtesy of a mother who hated him and his then alcoholic father; Jake (Sam Underwood) his only protector which explains their close bond – was possibly about to go the way of lazy brunches, iPads and the nightly news.

Making someone like that even remotely sympathetic is a big ask, BIG ASK, but somehow the writers managed it giving us some insight into the very frightened little boy that lies behind Troy’s emotionally-volatile, erratic actions.

It’s not like you wanted to cuddle him afterwards – although Madison seems to be increasingly treating him as some sort of twisted mother/fake son project which can only end in tears, and yeah LOTS of death – but it take him from being some sort of cartoonish villain (et tu Negan?) and gave him nuance and substance.

Even so, he killed four people including his childhood friend Mike, and you could tell as Madison was talking to him that she was dealing with fire and that this whole throwing everything in with Jeremiah and the survivalist nutjobs may not end all that well.

Even so, she persisted with trying to win Troy over, and keep the ranch intact, going to far as to blame the death and zombiefication of Vernon’s family – bar Mike who was shot through the head, a weirdly sentimental act by Troy; yep, that’s how you show love in the zombie apocalypse – on last week’s “villain” Qaletqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes).

Yes he wants his peoples’ land back, and yes with the courts and legal system gone, baby, gone, winning that fight with the ranchers falls to brawn over law, but is he really the bad guy of the piece? Is anyone anymore? Are we not essentially dealing with shades of muddy grey?

 

I think we can safely say this bromance is dead … and unlikely to be reanimated anytime soon (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

 

In large part we are, and while as noted at the start of the review, that’s to be expected, Madison is playing a dangerous game.

“Red Dirt”, another fine, taut, slow-burning episode that drew much of its drama from the characters than outside machinations, displayed how dangerous a game survival now is.

In many ways, this is where the more grounded, measured approach of Fear the Walking Dead is paying off bigtime over its longer-running, far more violent parent.

In small, measured but no less impacting ways, Fear the Walking Dead shows that the quest for survival is not simply down to violence or strategic game plays but a neverending stream of small lies we tell ourselves and others, which can corrode the soul yes but also backfire badly and leave you very dead.

Once again, the show’s willingness to take the time to slowly and agonisingly build up to the explosive moments of reckoning is gifting us with apocalyptic drama that is rich, nuanced, a searing portrayal of how you might save the body but leave the soul languishing far behind.

You could argue that Madison et al don’t have much choice and you’d be partly right but the central issue remains – just how far do you go down a particular path when all the signs are there that the hoped-for solution may actually be worse than the scourge you are seeking to vanquish?

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead … “The Unveiling/Children of Wrath” (a double episode mid-season finale if ever there was one!) sees humanity prove once again that when push comes to shove, an alive person is way more scary than a zombie on the prowl …

 

 

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