Much of this week's midseason finale focused on the looming conflict between the Broke Jaw Ranch and Black Hat Reservation. We did however spend a little bit of time with Strand. Part of my ongoing issue with Fear the Walking Dead is its absolute refusal to bring its characters together for any length of time. Because Strand is seperated from the Clarke family, the sections of the finale that did focus on him felt like a distraction from the real story. It's further troubling that in the time that we did spend with him, we didn't learn anything earth shattering. Sure, Strand did find his boat The Abigail again and have a conversation with a cosmonaut, confirming that the apocalypse is worldwide but was any of that even necessary? Strand is too important of a character to be reduced to filler and that is what he became in the mid season finale.
The action begins with Jake's big plan to meet with Qaletqa Walker and form some kind of truce. Walker of course is not necessarily amenable to coming to terms with people he believes stole his land and murdered members of his family to acquire it. At this point, it's hard to be on the side Broke Jaw Ranch, particularly when we know that Jeremiah is as racist as it gets. Driven to defend his family, Jake points out that those charges were investigated and the survivalists were cleared. Cleared in whose court Jake? Whose justice system adjudicated this? A zombie apocalypse is a disaster to the survivalists whereas for Walkers tribe, it's a chance to cleanse the earth of invaders of who have oppressed the "first humans".
Though Walker does not feel any resolution can be made, he agrees to having Alicia stay behind while Jake returns to the ranch with Ofelia as his hostage. Yes, at long last the writers have decided to have Ofelia leave the plot box. But how exactly did Ofelia end up with Walkers people? Ofelia was making her way to San Diego when she had a run in with none other that Jeremiah, and though he could see that she was in a bad way, he refused to take her back to the ranch because he didn't deem the ranch a suitable place for her kind (read: brown people) Jeremiah left Ofelia for dead but fortunately for Ofelia, she was found by Walker, who brought her to the reservation and in the process, saving her life. Of course, when Jeremiah finally does meet with Ofelia again, he's keen to pretend that leaving her to die wan't such a horrible sin and that he's glad that she's survived.
At the reservation, Alisha is getting a chance to learn about Walkers people for the first time without the filter of the Ottos distorting the truth. Alisha learns that the tribe is filled with hard workers, many of whom are former military, who spend their time rebuilding military equipment. Alisha pauses when she sees the helicopter that Travis was killed in and Walker offers his condolences because he sees the Clarks as getting caught in the crossfire between the tribe and the survivalists.
Madison is freaked right out that Alisha is at the reservation and though Jake tries to assure her that he wouldn't have left if he thought that Alisha was in danger, Madison decides to take matters into her own hands. This involves manipulating Troy into doing her bidding by goading Troy about who is actually in charge and when that fails, reminding Troy that he owes her for not revealing that he's the one responsible for the death of the Trimbols. Sure enough, Madison organises a raid to retrieve a stunned Alisha, in the process killing several people on the reserve and leaving behind several dead survivalists. It looks like Madison's silent leadership is going to prove deadly for both sides. Jake is pissed but all he can do at this point is deliver the agreed upon water to the reservation and return Ofelia. To say that Walker is pissed when Jake arrives is an understatement. Were it not for Ofelia speaking up, Walker would have scalped Jake on the spot.
Later, Ofelia arrives at the ranch battered and bruised. Ofelia claims that she was beaten by the tribe and cast out. Because of the underlying racism of the survivalists and Madison's failure to understand that Ofelia is not the same young woman that she promised Daniel that she would protect, Ofelia is welcomed in. This proves to be a costly mistake because Ofelia slips poison into the coffee, effectively killing quite a few of Troy's men, causing a panic when they begin to turn. Ofelia tries to make her escape but she is captured by Madison before she can drive off in a truck. Madison then beats Ofelia to find out what happened.
With Nick's life now in peril, Madison drives Ofelia back to the reservation at gun point. Madison is pissed because she feels betrayed by Ofelia points out that she was helping her people. This further incenses Madison and she actually questions why the Clarks aren't her people given how much the Clarks had helped Ofelia and her family. Clearly Madison doesn't see the inherent racism in her response, especially because when placed next to Otto, she comes off as liberal. Madison isn't for a moment thinking about the ways in which race have affected Ofelia's decisions about who to side with because she's actively chosen to ignore race and the history of colonialism in this conflict.
Madison is immediately taken to see Walker and she claims not to care about the feud between the Broke Jaw Ranch and Black Hat Reservation, and only about the survival of her son. This admission earns Madison some grudging respect from Walker. It convinces Walker to reveal that the powder used to poison the survivalists is anthrax, for which there is no cure. Walker however does say that if Nick is strong, he'll survive. Later, when Ofelia balks at being the one to deliver the anthrax, Walker is quick to remind her that she volunteered for this duty.
Sure enough, Nick does indeed survive and after convincing Jake to uncuff him, he heads to the adobe and lifts up the floorboards. Nick is driven to do so after remembering Jeremiah's drunken ramblings. Beneath the floorboards, Nick finds a skull with a single gunshot wound. Nick decides that it's time to confront Jeremiah, who of course decides to justify murder by claiming that it belonged to a "young blood", who caused trouble for the survivalists after they had taken possession of the land. The founding survivalists actually killed three indigenous men, one of whom was Qaletqa's uncle and then killed Qaletqa's father when he came to check on the missing men. Even though Jeremiah's actions have endangered his community and his children, he's still unwilling to see what he did as wrong. This shows the strength of racism and white privilege. To men like Jeremiah, only certain lives matter.
You'd think that after the poison and Nick nearly dying that Madison would have had enough of war but apparently the opposite is true. Having discovered how much the relics of Walkers family means to him, Madison once again manipulates Troy into raiding the reservation to steal the trailer that Walker houses them in. It's extremely low and shows that once again, Madison is proving that there might not be that much difference between her and the Ottos after all. Madison's action leads to a stand off because the ranch is quickly surrounded by Walkers tribe.
With things getting tense, it's time for the Clarks to gather and figure out their next move. Nick shows his mother the skull that he dug up and Alisha finally learns that it wasn't Walkers tribe that killed the Trimbols but Troy. This is enough to have Alisha and Nick convinced that they are actually fighting for the wrong side. For Nick and Alisha, how they live is just as important as their individual survival. Madison's perspective is different because her drive is to protect the people she loves, no matter the cost. Madison reveals that as a child, she killed her father to stop him from beating her mother when he was drunk. Madison will do whatever she has to do for her family to survive no matter what it costs her.
Madison meets with Walker one last time before paying a visit to Jeremiah. At this point, Jeremiah is well on his way to being drunk. Madison makes it clear that Jeremiah is risking his children and his legacy at the ranch but she's found a way around it. Madison pulls out a gun, leading Otto believe that she's going to kill him. It turns out that Madison actually expects Otto to commit suicide. When Otto refuses to do so, Nick actually pulls the trigger. Madison quickly rushes Nick out of the room, instructing him to do exactly what she tells him to do.
Shortly after arriving at the ranch, Madison made it clear to Nick that they would take it over if they had to and it's clear that with Jeremiah's death, Madison has done just that. Madison takes Jeremiah's head to Walker, clearly signaling the beginning of their peace treaty, as Troy and Jake cart away what remains of their father's dead body.
Even though Madison is effectively in charge of the ranch for now, this doesn't mean that the Clark's are out of danger. At this point, no one knows that it was Nick who pulled the trigger and not Jeremiah. Should the truth of Jeremiah's death come out, this could mean big trouble for the Clarks. Jake, unlike Troy, is very much aware of the ways in which Madison has inserted herself into the running of the ranch and clearly resents it. Jake did say that the people would choose the leader going forward but that doesn't mean that he will simply roll over for Madison.
Walker wanted Jeremiah dead but will that really be enough to satisfy him long term knowing that there are settlers on his ancestral land? I cannot believe that this will be enough to bring long lasting peace. I like that while the writers left no doubt that Walker is a violent man that they focused on the fact that he was acting in the defensive. There can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy is what drove Jeremiah to do the things that he did. By no stretch of the imagination is Jeremiah a good man. It does however give rise to the question of whether there is a place for good men in an apocalypse, or even if there is such a thing as the right side when so much is at stake.
Before this mid season finale aired, I would have said that Madison has very much changed from the woman we met in season one. It's clear now that the writers have filled in Madison's backstory that her drive to protect her loved ones at all costs has always been a part of who she is and has coloured each of her decisions. Sure, Madison has had to adapt but her primary concern has always been her children and most certainly, not with the morality of her decisions. Madison thinks in black and white and she most certainly does not see any grey.
I was pleased to see Ofelia return because she has been in the plot box for so long. My worry is that once again she will be pushed to side to tell the story of the Clarks. We know that Ofelia is no longer the scared young woman from season one. We do however need to see more than Ofelia defending herself as proof. We need Ofelia to become a fully fleshed out character.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am disappointed with Strand's treatment in these last two episodes. I'm sure it could be argued that Strand deciding to burn down the Abigail, is a sign of him letting go of the past and getting ready to move on. It could also be a sign that his slick con man persona is going to have to change because it hasn't exactly done him a lot of favours in this post apocalyptic world. Rather than enjoying Strand's communication with the astronaut, I found it to be ridiculous. Yes, I suppose that Fear the Walking Dead needed to confirm to at least one of its characters in the way that The Walking Dead did with the CDC that this is a global phenomenon and that all of humanity is doomed but surely this could have been done in some other manner.
I really hope that the last half of the season, the writers will find a way to bring the characters back together because as it is now, the show feels so completely splintered. It's as though they don't know what to do with Daniel now that they have reintroduced him and have even less idea of what to do with Strand or Ofelia. I don't want to see the characters of colour just amble along so that the ever so White Clarks and the survivalists can be the centre of the story.