"Red Dirt" was written by Wes Brown and directed by Courtney Hunt.
Spoilers ahead for Fear the Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 6: "Red Dirt," because hey ... it's a TV Recap.
The Short Version: As Troy, Madison and the search party stumble back to the ranch, the community learns that Walker and his people have killed the people at the outpost and are demanding that Jeremiah and his people leave the ranch. Walker's people then set several fires around the ranch, and the community gets spooked. Vernon Trimbol, one of the founders of the ranch, decides to leave with his family. Troy begins to freak out, but Jeremiah stops him and tells Vernon to go if he wants to go. The Trimbols leave. Madison tries to convince Troy he needs to lead his militia so the community feels safe and people won't want to leave, while Jeremiah falls off the wagon. When one of the horses Vernon took with him returns to the ranch, Jeremiah, Madison and Nick head out and find the Trimbols murdered and turned into walkers. But who killed them? Walker and his people or Troy?
It's all about the Broke Jaw Ranch
This week we get another talky, if a little more lively, episode focused on the ranch and the Indian threat, with no Luciana, Ofelia, Strand or Salazar in sight. And while Nick and Alicia are around, the episode primarily focuses on Madison's manipulations of Troy. She knows war is coming, and she's ready to do whatever it takes to make sure her kids are safe, even if it means figuring out how to control a psychopath like Troy.
"Red Dirt" opens with Nick and Alicia fussing about why Madison and the search party aren't back, Nick with his new BFF Jeremiah and Alicia with her new lover, Jake. It hasn't taken long for the Clarks to make an impression on the Ottos. When the shoeless search party stumbles back, the community learns that Walker and his people have killed the outpost people, and now they want the land back that was taken away from Native Americans long ago, aka the Broke Jaw Ranch.
Jeremiah is upset about the situation and tells Jake to handle it. But before the Ottos can calm people down, the ranch folk suddenly find themselves surrounded by 20 or so small fires, which everyone knows is Walker's doing.
Vernon Trimbol decides it's time to leave the ranch with his family, including Alicia's Bible Study friend Gretchen and Troy's childhood friend, Mike. Vernon was one of the founders of the ranch, and Jeremiah has known him for decades. Troy is livid that they would abandon the ranch, and he confronts them about leaving. Madison tries to calm Troy down and reminds him that he needs to protect the people on the ranch with his militia so no one else leaves, because the more of them there are the stronger they'll be. Troy appears to man up and gives a convincing speech to his militia troops about protecting the people at the ranch, and they fall in line.
The Ottos freak
Vernon heads out with his family in an RV with horses and supplies. Troy is angry that Mike's leaving, and he threatens them in a confrontation at the gate. While Jake tries to stop Troy from escalating things, it takes Jeremiah stepping in to get the situation under control. Vernon and his family leave.
It sure hasn't taken long for the ranch's cracks to show, which is to be expected. But why would Vernon cut and run at the first sign of trouble after planning for the apocalypse for 30 years? Walker and his people haven been after the land for a long time, and his reactions shouldn't be a surprise.
But Vernon's defection sets the Ottos on edge. Rather than lead the ranch folk, Jake decides to go off and meet with Walker to work out the issues. Alicia tries to talk him out of going, but he leaves anyway. Meanwhile, devastated that Vernon would leave, Jeremiah falls off the wagon and shoots up Nick's cabin.
The next morning, Jeremiah and Nick see one of Vernon's horses has returned to the ranch. For Jeremiah that can only mean one thing. He tells Nick to get Madison, and they head out. They quickly find the RV with the Trimbols dead and turned. They put down the Trimbols, but they know who did this. Walker and his crew would have taken the RV with its supplies and the horses. Plus, why would Walker kill off people who are leaving the ranch, since they want everyone to leave the land so they can have it without a fight? Jeremiah, Nick and Madison know it could only have been Troy.
As Madison, Nick and Jeremiah return to the ranch, the ranch folk learn that the Trimbols are dead. Then Madison goes beyond her manipulation of Troy and Jeremiah and manipulates the entire community with a raw speech blaming Walker and the Indians for killing the Trimbols. "If we stay here together, we live," she tells them.
As the community comes together once again, Nick sees Madison in a new light. "How do you tell a lie that big and sleep at night? How do you do that?" he asks. "You and Alicia are safe. I'll sleep like a baby," replies Madison. Still, Nick reminds her that she might not want to put too much faith in Troy. "Just don't forget what he is."
At the end of the episode Madison faces Troy, and he admits that he killed the Trimbols because Mike wouldn't look him in the eye, but he says he "didn't go out there to do that." She strokes his ego and tries to focus him again, telling him that she needs him to stay in control so he and his militia can save them.
Madison's had quite a week at the ranch. She originally told her kids that she'd take over if she had to, and she quickly summed up the situation at the ranch and has taken over to some point. Jeremiah already trusts her more than the others around him, she's got Troy under her thumb for the moment, and she's right. Jake's not ready to lead, as he'd rather be negotiating the Walker problem than taking action. By the way, the naming of Walker is unfortunate in a show that has walkers. Just saying.
I like Madison. She's a fascinating character. Where Rick on The Walking Dead is all muscle and action, Madison manipulates the people around her to get them to do what she wants. But that's part of the problem. When Rick attacked Negan's outpost without any idea of what he was getting into, without any surveillance or investigation of his enemy, we bought it because Rick is basically a blunt-force weapon.
Madison is smart and reads people like Strand does. However, she's getting into this fight without any idea of what the fight is really about or what kind of opposing force there is. It doesn't make any sense to take on an enemy without having a clue you can win. At least not for Madison.
I'm also having trouble with Nick and Alicia's characters. Nick let Luciana go and has basically lost the things that made him interesting. He's just hanging out at the cabin with Jeremiah so that we can get exposition about Jeremiah and the ranch. Yes, a spark of old Nick popped up when Madison blamed Walker's people for the Trimbols, but we're not seeing enough of the old Nick these days.
As for Alicia, well, she has a boyfriend now, so of course her brains fall out of her head. While she has birth control nailed, as she tells her mother, she readily runs off after Jake without telling anyone where she's going. So she's off to face the walkers and the killer Indians, I guess because young women who have sex are stupid. Rather than telling Jeremiah and Madison that Jake has left to talk to Walker, she runs after him to a) save him or b) become a pawn Walker can use against Jake? What do you think?
The real problem with "Red Dirt," besides the title, is that all the action happens off screen except for a little tussle between the Ottos and some walker-versus-bullet action with the Trimbols. The fires are set offscreen, and the Trimbols are killed by Troy offscreen. The zombies aren't even an issue this season. And except for killing Charlene the pilot, it's all been about psycho Troy, the failing Otto leadership at the ranch and Walker's plot to take over the ranch. Even Travis' death seems like a lesser event considering the way Madison is using it to manipulate people.
Lingering Questions: Action! Psycho Troy! Ofelia!
The biggest question is will we get some action? In next week's two-episode midseason finale it looks like a possibility, but after this season it appears there are no guarantees. Since this show is called Fear the Walking Dead, let's hope there's actually some "fear" of some "walking dead" so we'll have a reason to want to watch it when the second half of the season airs.
As for Psycho Troy, anyone want to place any bets that he'll be able to control himself? While I do believe Madison would try to use Troy, she and we already know that you can't control a psycho any more than you can control a raging bull. It's in his nature to kill people and go nuts. But I'm betting Madison's Plan B is to take out Troy if she has to as part of her taking-over-the-ranch plan. Remember her locking Ceila in with the walkers at the hacienda? She's all about protecting her kids, and it's likely the Ottos will regret taking the Clarks in eventually.
And of course there's Ofelia. The actress has even popped up on Talking Dead asking the same question. How many months has it been since we saw Jeremiah get the drop on Ofelia? Is there some point where we're not supposed to care about her? And will we see Luciana again, or is she just gone too?
Lines of the Night:
"Border's a violent place. Always has been." - Jake
"I'm sorry. Your home. Your gun." - A drunken Jeremiah apologizes for shooting up Nick's cabin
"Good people die as easy as bad." - Jake
Best Line of the Night:
"There's a fight coming and you have to save us. Can you?" - Madison asks Psycho Troy
Here's the trailer for next week's two-hour midseason final, "The Unveiling" and "Children of Wrath":