Fear the Walking Dead: Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame

Jeremiah: "This is a beautiful gun."
Nick: "Isn't that a contradiction?"

This episode was complicated and interesting, and fed right into my tendency to overanalyze everything.

Like, how gorgeous and romantic (and only a tiny bit gruesome) was that opening scene? Russell and Martha Brown fell in love during the Korean War and spent their lives together. When Martha died during the night and started to chow down on Russell's neck (ineffectively, since her teeth were still in a glass), Russell danced with her one last time before shooting them both through the head with the same bullet.

One of the things I find appealing about the character of Nick Clark is the way he is constantly finding new and interesting things to obsess about, like his old man clothes, or walking among the dead. This time, he has decided to re-imagine himself and Luciana as Russell and Martha, dancing on their porch at night and looking up at the stars, content with simple things and with each other. Nick is using the renovation skills his late father taught him in order to remake the Browns' burned adobe house into this new dream, and Jeremiah is encouraging it by gifting him with stories of the past, the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous and the newly cleaned gun that Russell used to kill himself and his wife.

But we still don't know what's really going on at the Broke Jaw Ranch. Luciana still wasn't comfortable interacting with anyone: Nick brought her breakfast from the mess tent, and created a romantic gesture of a picnic in the Brown house, but she left him anyway. The thing is, if it were before "T.E.," Nick could take off with Luciana and they could explore Mexico together and see if their relationship might possibly have the longevity that the Browns had. But these days, if Nick goes, he might never see his mother and sister again in this life. It's just not the same thing.

Speaking of possible relationships, Alicia's sexual interlude with Jake Otto wasn't romantic at all, because Alicia doesn't think there's any point to poetry and art these days. But Jake does. An aspiring writer, Jake has a number of books by misogynistic poet Charles Bukowski, including Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame (the title of this episode), a highly annotated paperback that Jake offered to Alicia during their awkward afterglow.

Later, Jake took Alicia to a nearby lake, and talked about noticing shards of light in the current darkness. The way she jumped into the water and laughed made me think that he might have convinced her, just a tiny bit. Honestly, I really do want to like Jake Otto. But there's something about his father's constant stories about alcoholism and child abuse, plus Troy's inclination toward murder and their reluctance to deal with it, that makes me wonder what Jake is hiding.

Does the underlying wrongness of the ranch have something to do with racism? There were a couple of mentions that the ranch used to belong to Spain, to Mexico, to the Native Americans. And we just learned that a certain Native American named Walker wants the ranch back, and is killing to get it.

In one of the more spectacularly disturbing scenes I've ever seen on this show, Walker actually sat a scalped, still living Phil McCarthy in a chair at the edge of a cliff while a raven pecked at his exposed brain as he mangled the verses of "The Little Man Who Wasn't There." I was doubly disturbed when Madison, without even hesitating, thrust a knife into Phil's brain.


Apparently, this guy Walker will let all of Otto's people live if they just leave the Broke Jaw Ranch forever. But that's not an actual choice, is it? If they do, most of them will die, just like the people at Luciana's colonia. The fact that the first building that ever existed on the ranch just burned down isn't exactly a good omen. Neither is the fact that Walker, the scary guy who was responsible for Travis's death as well as the deaths of a pile of Broke Jaw militia, has the same name that the parent show calls the undead.

Interesting that Walker, and Troy's guys, showed respect for Madison, who is a much better potential leader than Troy is, although trying to give him lessons in leadership nearly got her stabbed while she was sleeping. We also got more glimpses into Troy's disturbing childhood with Jeremiah's story about Troy's mother locking him in the basement when he was five, and a drunk Jeremiah not even noticing or caring until the next day.

How much of Troy's dysfunction is nature and how much is nurture? And why is Troy so fascinated with Madison? Is he simply working through issues with his mother, whom we now know looked a lot like Madison? This is probably the case, since Madison easily freaked Troy out by saying that his mother hadn't loved him. (Since Troy's mother was played in the video by Emma Caulfield, I keep thinking of Troy as the son of Anya the vengeance demon.)

But is Troy fixable or in any way controllable? Before the encounter with Walker, while taking out the undead at the prison bus, Troy enjoyed dismembering them first. He said it was a beautiful thing, like art. Again with our art and poetry versus survival and violence theme.



Meanwhile, on their way back to look for Ofelia, Victor Strand and Daniel Salazar struggled for the upper hand. Strand wanted to keep his beautiful new car pristine, while Daniel refused to wait and insisted that Strand ruin the finish by running down walkers. The two of them in conflict just made me smile, even though the way Daniel abandoned Strand in the hotel lobby did not. I guess Strand just paid for his lie about Ofelia with his no longer beautiful sports car.

What Strand and Daniel just found at the Rosarito Beach Hotel felt like a disturbing possible preview of the ranch's future: bodies and blood and walkers, "No gate, no guard, no good." Maybe it really is too soon to think about quality of life when survival is still the most important item on the menu. Although I wonder if things at the Rosarito would have been different if Madison and Strand, both so strong and smart, had stayed and continued to lead?

Bits:

-- "Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame": the episode began with Russell lighting a lantern before he died and the little house burned, and ended with Alicia jumping joyously into the lake.

-- Jeremiah said that he, Russell Brown, Phil McCarthy, and Gretchen's father were the "founding fathers" of the Broke Jaw Ranch. Two of the four died in this episode. Again, not the greatest of omens.

-- Strand pointed out that Lola was left alone in control of the Gonzalez Dam and could be in danger. I assume that's where Daniel was going in Strand's car.

-- Post apocalyptic problems. Do the ranch residents use their precious water to put out a fire, or let it burn out? The Brown house seemed to be far enough from the fences that drawing walkers wasn't a problem.

-- That stony hillside where the copter went down and Troy's guys had a standoff with Walker's was gorgeous. Also good for hiding guys during an ambush. I kept picturing Travis's body lying there somewhere.

Quotes:

Alicia: "I used to love all of this: poetry, art. But now, what's the point?"

Jeremiah: "This is a beautiful gun."
Nick: "Isn't that a contradiction?"

Jeremiah: "Every home needs a gun."

Jeremiah: "When we're in crisis, we regress to our own. The way it's always been."
Nick: "Luci should go 'cause she's brown?"

Jake: "There are shards of light. You just have to look for them."

Jake: "Something's gotta matter more than guns. We need something greater to live for. We used to look forward. That's the point."

They're doing some interesting things with Fear this season. Four out of four shards of light,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves science fiction but hates horror, and is confused about why she loves The Walking Dead so much.

2 comments:

paladinteacher said...

"This episode was complicated and interesting, and fed right into my tendency to overanalyze everything.":) Seconded.
After reading your review, I have a half-formed thought about leaders and leadership. Jeremiah, the four "founding fathers," Madison, Troy, Walker (he's the leader of the other faction, at least) - Who wants to lead? Who's good at leading? What makes a good leader? I'm not sure what the show is telling us, though.

Madison killing Phil. I thought it was merciful. Not exactly beautiful, but compassionate. Which is ironic.

Jeremiah: "When we're in crisis, we regress to our own. The way it's always been."
Nick: "Luci should go 'cause she's brown?"
But Jeremiah goes on to say that Luciana should go because she can't reconcile what happened to her colonia with the (supposed) protection of Broke Jaw Ranch. Though a massacre is a very large thing to expect someone to let go of - and it's not like anyone in the militia has even apologized to her.
Luciana can't let go of the fact that these people killed her people.
Walker can't let go of Jeremiah taking his people's land.
Madison can't let go of Travis's death.
Daniel won't let go of Strand lying to him.
A lot of revenge and holding grudges instead of banding together for survival. A lot of characters are losing sight of the fact that there is strength and safety in numbers, that a community can share the workload.
A lot of parallels with current political situations (and even past historical ones).

Water is mentioned as a commodity on this show much more than on the parent show. Is this also a reflection of current political realities? And you mentioned Alicia jumping into the lake. There has been more water imagery with the fountain and the water from the dam (in the previous episode) and in the second season, the Abigail being on the ocean.

Patryk said...

For a moment there I thought Alicia commited suicide, that's how Travis' death threw me off about the safety of cast members.

I wonder what happened at the hotel? Someone raided it and killed everyone?