Spoilers ahead for Fear the Walking Dead's “El Matadero,” because hey … it's a TV Recap.
With the Ranch in our rearview mirror, we're into a new chapter, with the characters once again separated. As Alicia heads out to the low desert to be on her own, Madison and her gang head to the Trading Post to wait for Daniel Salazar. Meanwhile, Nick and Troy begin their own journey while we say goodbye to one character forever.
The good news is we finally get bloodsoaked Nick again, along with one new kick-butt character who might have rivaled Michonne in her early Walking Dead days.
“El Matadero,” which roughly translates to The Slaughterhouse, opens with Madison, Strand, and Taqa driving in the water truck's front seat, with Crazy Dog and Ofelia sitting on the back of the truck. But something's wrong with Ofelia and she falls off the truck. Taqa stops the truck and they find that she's okay from the fall, but there's a bite mark on her chest. She's been bitten and is feeling the effects.
“I want you to take me to my father,” Ofelia demands. And Madison promises she will.
The group manages to buy their way into the Trading Post without anyone knowing about Ofelia's condition, and they find a place to hold up where she can rest until Daniel arrives. But Ofelia is in rough shape. Madison finds some drugs to ease the pain, and they keep an eye on her in case she turns.
Strand is angry that Madison gave away half their supplies to get into the Trading Post and thinks that Daniel will probably kill them when he finds out Ofelia is dying. It's not easy to figure out why Strand is fussed, since he's one of the reasons they have so few resources, considering Monroe saved him from being walker chow the last time they were at the Trading Post. They'd already agreed to meet Salazar at the Trading Post. Strand doesn't have to face him when he sees Ofelia, and he does vanish at that point. So what's he so angry about?
Alicia meets Fear's own Michonne
After Nick and Troy catch up with Alicia, she quickly sends them packing, telling Nick that “surviving is killing me.” But hey, she's fine.
The next day Alicia finds an On-The-Go Burger joint (aka a McDonald's, complete with an inside kids' playground). She finds a tub of potatoes in the kitchen and is about to open it when she has to kill a walker. She hears others, and she heads to the playground area and slides into a ball pit. But of course, like a shark in the water, the balls behind her begin to move and she ends up in a fight for her life with another walker. She kills it, but other walkers hear the noise and enter the building. I never understood why walkers have such poor vision but great hearing.
Alicia dips down into the balls and watches through the glass. Then an African-American woman enters with a pickaxe and whacks them all. Then she cuts off some of their fingers and pulls out some teeth. She finds Alicia's potatoes and grabs the tub and leaves. Alicia is about to go after those potatoes, but the woman drives away.
Later Alicia drives up to some buildings and sees the potato thief's car. She also sees her tub of potatoes in the passenger side front seat. As she tries to get them out, the woman comes out of a building and they face off. “Bitch, you touch my shit I will crack you open like a coconut,” says the woman. After a few tense words about the ownership of the potatoes, Alicia lowers her gun and tells her, “We can share 'em. I'm tired and hungry and really prefer not to kill you.”
So Troy is the voice of reason? Really?
After their visit with Alicia, Nick and Troy catch up with Madison and the gang at the Trading Post. Madison gets emotional when she hears that Alicia really does want to be on her own. Nick tells her to get some fresh air while he watches over a dying Ofelia. When Madison leaves, Nick sees the drugs they got for her. In a moment the drug addict is back, and he swallows one of the pills.
Later, Nick's obviously stoned when he meets up with Troy. Oddly, Troy tells Nick that he doesn't drink and isn't interested in the pills, but he ends up taking one anyway. Nick's fall off the wagon isn't surprising. It's been a long time since he had drugs available to him. What is surprising is that Troy, who is crazy, makes a brief attempt to be the voice of reason here.
Nick quickly finds out that he needs to visit El Matadero, where he finds the guy who has every drug Nick could ever imagine wanting. The drug dealer offers them something harvested from a human brain that will feel like “pure adrenaline.” They both take their “free” hit and end up outside the gates facing a bunch of walkers. Nick finally pulls out his old trick of killing a walker and smearing walker blood on himself and Troy.
Troy is surprised by this for some reason. We're supposed to believe that the entire time Nick was at the Ranch that he never told Troy (or I guess anyone else) about the walker blood trick? Is Nick really keeping life-saving info from the people he cares about? All he had to say was “Hey, I found this trick where I smear myself with walker blood and then I'm invisible to them if I walk slowly and don't make any noise.” Does no one in this world share how-to-kill-walker notes? Why is this not in the Walker 101 Handbook? Seriously? Why would anyone be surprised by this at this point?
The problem with characters knowing this and not using it to get out of bad situations is that every time it is used it reminds us that they don't use it when they should. Like at the Ranch. Alicia could have killed a walker and used the blood to get out of the Pantry. Nick and Troy could have used the trick to get to the gas they wanted to blow up to distract the walkers and get the Pantry people out. Nick and Troy could have avoided being trapped in the helicopter. There's about a hundred ways this could have been used over the course of the show.
While Madison is dealing with unhelpful rants from Strand telling her all the things that could go wrong, Ofelia is getting worse. Strand takes off looking for something and gets caught by some less-than-friendly guys. Considering Strand is all paid off from his previous debt thanks to Madison stealing Taqa's gold to buy him out of trouble, it's hard to know why these bad guys are threatening him. But Strand tells them that he's got something that the big man at the Trading Post will want to hear. What that is we don't know, but it does seem to get Strand out of trouble. Could it be the location of the dam? It doesn't seem like he'd have a lot of other valuable knowledge.
Meanwhile, Ofelia says goodbye to Taqa, whose character has practically disappeared during this run of episodes. Madison and Ofelia wait on a bench for Daniel. With little time left, Ofelia asks Madison to “Tell him I was really looking forward to getting to know him.” Madison tells her that she already knows him, and then Ofelia dies. Moments later Daniel drives up and sees them. He goes to Ofelia, but she's gone. Angry, he states, “This is the price.” Then he points a gun at Madison and tells her to get away from him.
It's pure Walking Dead that characters separated for a long time are denied a moment to say goodbye. Remember when Beth dies minutes before she was to be reunited with Maggie in The Walking Dead? Daniel's raw emotion at finding Ofelia dead and then having to shoot her to keep her from turning is powerful and horrible.
After getting a good sendoff, Walking Dead style, it's hard to say that Ofelia was well treated by the writers. Her character vanished for far too long and then seemed to get gobbled up by the Ranchers vs. Native Americans storyline, and who cares about that now? Goodbye, Ofelia. I can't say we'll miss you, since we really didn't know you very well. But at least your death will give Daniel some angst to deal with.
There's a similar problem with the Taqa character, who started off strong but has become weaker with every episode. He's literally lost everything, and besides a couple lines of dialogue about that he's been treated more like a glorified extra than a character of importance. Can it be long before he's walker food too?
Alicia's new temporary BFF
Alicia and her new walker-mutilating friend chow down on the potatoes, and Alicia learns the woman is cutting off the fingers with rings and pulling the teeth for the gold because she can use it at the Trading Post and because some Mexicans use them to make charms to ward off walkers. When offered one of these charms Alicia isn't quite ready to go there, and they agree that they both prefer to be on their own. At least until the next morning when faced with a bunch of walkers. Then suddenly Alicia and her new BFF decide they might want to be temporary partners after all.
As for the potato thief, who doesn't seem to have a name yet, it's hard not to compare her to Michonne. She's a powerful black woman who wields an impressive walker-killing weapon (a pickaxe) and then chops up the remains of the walkers. And she finds a weaker woman to pair up with. While she surely will head into her own character territory as we get to know her better, it is good to have another strong female on the show, Michonne-esque or not.
Madison's sad goodbye
Daniel finds Madison in the Trading Post. He's calmed down and tells her he buried Ofelia. “Get your things together, Madison Clark. This is no place for you,” says Daniel. She asks if the others can come and he agrees.
As Madison gets ready to leave, Nick and Troy arrive. Troy stays back while Nick tells her they are going to stay for a couple of days to get a foothold so they can get supplies for the dam later on. But Madison knows something's up. “You do what you need to do. You know where to find us.” And just like that, Madison's lost her children in the worst way possible. They left her because they chose to.
The new locations for Fear the Walking Dead appear to be the dam, the Trading Post, and on the road with Alicia and her new bestie. What we don't know is what Strand gave up to save his butt, what Madison and her gang will find at the dam, how the Trading Post will fare with dope fiend Nick and crazy Troy making trouble, and whether Alicia's new friend is really a friend. One thing's for sure, in next week's two-episode Season 3 finale, people are going to die.