"Don't look back." That's the phrase that kept echoing through my mind while watching the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead, aptly titled "Pillar of Salt." Throughout the episode, all the characters faced the possibility of moving forward, building a new society in the post-apocalypse. But time and again, just like Lot's wife, they decided to look backward on the dangerous fire that consumed their previous lives, causing it all to come crashing down.
Which raises the question that's dogged the show for most of the season: is it possible to create something new in the post-apocalypse? Or will those pesky humans keep getting in the way?
Spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead past this point.
Since there were three thematically connected, but distinct plotlines going on in the episode (though they'll start connecting very, very soon), let's break them down by how everyone broke their own lives down.
First off, Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) fans, this is the episode you've been waiting for! Through a series of scenes, we discovered that Ofelia got engaged in Mexico, but couldn't tell her mother about it because she was too scared. And now that she's back in Mexico, it turns out she stole Strand's (Colman Domingo) truck to find the place she was last happy.
By episode's end, she's made a decision you could either interpret as Lot-like, or Lot's wife-like: she drives off to the United States, presumably in search of her fiancé Will. Unlike Madison (Kim Dickens) or Nick's (Frank Dillane) stories, which basically amount to the zombie apocalypse version of the "Everything is Fine" meme, Ofelia's is a little more ambiguous. Either she's turning her back on the garbage fire that is the Clark/Manawa family, or she's looking back on her past, and dooming herself.
In reality, it's probably the latter. We've already learned it's nearly impossible to cross the Mexican border ("We'll build a wall of zombies, and the zombies will pay for it!"), and there's basically nothing left of the United States. We're all for following your heart, but unless a miracle happens Ofelia has doomed herself.
If you called "the happy town of Colonia will fall apart" on your Fear the Walking Dead bingo, then congrats. Basically, everything that can go wrong, does, as a family sneaks out only to be caught by the El Pelicano Boyz (the gang who runs the local supermarket), causing Alejandro (Paul Calderón) to lose it. Clearly, something is wrong with the pharmacist turned messiah, beyond a long-delayed zombie infection. He's sweating and twitching, and generally failing to inspire the troops.
Also clearly, Colonia wasn't built on the most solid base to begin with despite Alejandro's assurances that the hilltop town is 100% defendable. But it's still sad to see Nick's hope of a happy life giving snacks to kids and sitting in on pop-up football games go up in smoke. The big question is whether Luciana (Danay García) will escape with Nick when everything starts to burn; but given her fervent belief in Alejandro, and telling Nick "I'm the boss now," the answer is probably not.
With Colonia, it's not so much the looking back, as the refusal to look forward. Nick had found a kind of peace in the idea of embracing life in your own death. But Alejandro clearly can't see past the dying elderly, the lack of water and the encroaching El Pelicano Boyz to protect what he's built. Ultimately we'll see whether Nick is able to walk away from his own Utopian Sodom (probably), but how damaged will he be when he does?
...And then there's that big old dummy Madison. After a delightful sequence of Madison, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Strand sprucing up the Rosarito Beach Hotel, Strand gets stabbed — by Jennifer's grieving mom, no less. Like most of the rest of our thematic characters who have trouble moving forward, Jenny's mom can't see that Strand killed the zombified "memory" of her daughter, not her actual daughter last episode; and they all suffer for it.
Elena (Karen Bethzabe) takes Madison to the El Pelicano to get antibiotics for Strand, and that's where it all goes wrong. They bump into the family from Colonia, who mention a scraggly haired gringo dealing drugs. Ignoring that they're in Tijuana, so that description works for everyone, Madison instantly figures out Nick is in the area. So she goes back to the hotel and turns on the massive light at the top of the building.
Madison was easily the most Lot's wifey member of the cast this week. Before hearing about Nick, she's laying down the law: "If anyone raises a hand to another... They're out. That's the way it has to be. That's the only way this works," she tells the Hotelians after Jenny's mom goes all stabby.
After, she's a mess, screaming at drug dealers and doing the opposite of what she had planned, to fortify and protect the hotel, a bastion of safety in otherwise lawless Mexico. At least Alicia has turned into the voice of reason, shocking Madison out of her Nick-induced stupor by responding to the assertion that "Your child is always your child," with a simple, "I'm your child."
Alicia gets her to turn off the light with this, but it's already too late: they've attracted Travis (Cliff Curtis)!!! I mean, just kidding, I'm happy to have Travis back in the mix (whither his bad son, though?); but clearly Madison's doomed their safe haven by catching the attention of more than just the one guy who thinks we can turn around the zombie apocalypse.
And if anything, Travis' inclusion underscores the theme of the episode: every time he's tried to steer the ship (sometimes literally) back towards civilization, he's caused everything to fall apart like a pillar of salt. That's always been the issue with the humans in any zombie apocalypse movie (or show)... They're the real danger to restarting civilization, not the undead wandering the streets. The Grimes Gang and all of Alexandria better take note.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.