NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Fear the Walking Dead”, including a major character death, are present in this review
We’ve come to the end of Fear the Walking Dead’s surprisingly strong third season this week, and as has become common for this season, we’re getting two back-to-back episodes for this final bookend period. The first episode of this week’s two-part season finale, “Things Bad Begun”, has news of the coming Proctor attack arrive at the dam, as Lola and Daniel enlist the aid of Madison, Nick, Troy and Strand to begin preparing the dam’s defenses.
Of course, as viewers know, Strand has sold out his friends, and is a traitor secretly working against Daniel and the rest of the dam’s citizens. When you consider last week’s especially excellent Fear the Walking Dead episode especially, this has Season Three’s climax in a prime position to deliver a dramatic and exciting two-part season finale. How does the first season finale episode stack up then? Well, it’s pretty good, even if definitely not the season’s best.
It’s unsurprising that yet another two-episode offering is being featured by Fear the Walking Dead for the end of the season, since this episode mostly exists entirely to lead into the season’s proper final episode immediately after it. A lot of scenes simply involve the characters taking stock and airing final grievances before the coming Proctor attack, with an Alicia subplot added in for good measure. Alicia is still hanging out with her survivor friend, but after being attacked by raiders, whom Alicia successfully scares off with an assault rifle, the other woman’s leg becomes badly broken, forcing Alicia to drag her to a safe haven. Where does that safe haven lie? With the Proctors, of course!
Alicia falling in with the imminent threat to the dam is certainly very interesting, especially when she quickly ends up indebted to them as a price for using their medical services to fix her friend. Starting things off, Alicia has to work as a surgical assistant to Proctor John, the leader of this deadly band of thugs, who is being gradually paralyzed by a tumour on his spine. The group physician has to try and remove the tumour rather crudely, with Alicia serving as an assistant, under threat of execution.
This is a pretty great setup for a thrilling sequence, though honestly, the payoff is pretty weak. There are inevitably no issues with the surgery, despite the lack of reliable medical equipment and anesthesia, and Proctor John pretty much just walks it off like nothing happened immediately after it’s done. Uh, I’m pretty sure spinal surgery is a hell of a lot more complicated than this, and I seriously doubt that Proctor John would shake off having his spine operated on without anesthesia, which somehow results in no complications whatsoever. This was just a very far-fetched scenario in the end, and it makes you wonder why the show couldn’t have found a more realistic excuse to get Alicia under the thumb of the Proctors.
Fortunately, the scenes at the dam were generally better, even if there were a couple of sour notes here too. The sequence that really didn’t work in this case was Daniel trying to pressure Nick into admitting that Troy led the herd that destroyed Broke Jaw Ranch, which in turn led to Ofelia’s death. This might have been interesting if it happened earlier in the season, but seriously, is this the best use of Daniel’s or Nick’s time? There’s an imminent attack coming, and Daniel wasting time trying to pursue a question that he acts like he already knows the answer to, complete with stupidly threatening to torture Nick if he doesn’t get that answer that he already knows, just comes off as stupid. What exactly is Daniel’s endgame here? Nick does at least manage to convince Daniel that Jake was responsible for the herd, since Jake is dead and conveniently can’t plead his case, but this whole sequence felt like an idiotic waste of time, as if the writers just didn’t know what to do with Nick or Daniel during the defense preparations.
This is especially surprising in Nick’s case, since Nick bounces around quite a lot in this episode. Not only does Nick quickly make his way back to the dam with Troy, but he also presses Strand into admitting his betrayal of Daniel, and also stands present as Madison learns of Troy being the one behind the herd. There’s a sequence where Madison and Troy place C4 on the dam together shortly beforehand, which is actually pretty endearing in a twisted way, as they both admit that they’ve missed their interactions with each other, namely before a big battle. This also nicely let viewers’ guard down for when Madison learns of what Troy did. When Troy seems unrepentant about his actions with the herd and the destruction of the ranch, Madison abruptly bashes Troy’s skull in with a hammer and kills him! This tied back nicely to Madison telling Strand never to become a killer earlier in the episode, since it gets easier every time, and seeing the disturbing ease with which Madison murders Troy really does highlight that in a chilling way. Sure, Troy deserved it, no question, but Madison is definitely falling pretty deep into the dark side now, making one wonder if she’ll have any remorse at all by next season.
“Things Bad Begun” didn’t totally know what to do with every character in Fear the Walking Dead’s ensemble cast, but as the episode ends with the attack on the dam beginning, we’re at least in a good position for an exciting final hour to the show’s third season. It’s too bad that some weird story contrivances had to be cooked up for Daniel and Alicia, but the strong character focus for personalities like Nick, Madison, Troy and Strand is nonetheless rewarding. Troy’s abrupt death at Madison’s hands also conveniently tied up the last remaining thread to Broke Jaw, particularly since Walker and Crazy Dog opt to leave before the Proctor attack, so they can try and find more of their own people, presumably in case the show wants to bring them back next season. Things are indeed looking pretty bad, as Strand ends up injuring Daniel with a gunshot wound to the face, while Madison and Nick are hiding and hoping that the Proctors don’t find them. Alicia may provide a means of sparing her family from the coming attack, but that probably just marks the latest instance of the Clark family trading one oppressive post-apocalyptic hell for another.