“100” just may be the best episode Fear the Walking Dead has done to date. Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) was always one of the more interesting characters – that isn’t saying much though – in the show, up until the point where the writers made the terrible decision to randomly send him into “crazy” mode and throw a did-he-or-didn’t-he death mystery at us when we last him engulfed in flames. Appearing as the twist to cap of last week’s so-so “TEOTWAWKI”, Salazar brings a lot of promise with his return and so it feels just right giving him a bottle-episode, which Blades carries with aplomb.
The episode’s Tijuana wasteland has never been used so effectively, which could be in part because we only have one character stumbling around in a withered state. We start with Salazar, badly burnt and on the verge of collapse, barely managing to escape from a lone walker before he is saved by Efrain (Jesse Borrego), a very likable and affable survivor who is a member of a ravaged encampment nearby Dante’s (introduced last episode) dam. Using water supposedly stolen from the dam without Dante’s knowledge, he and medically trained Lola (Lisandra Tena) save Daniel’s life and nurse him back to health, giving way to all this meaty and poignant material that further highlights Salazar’s demons.
The show has touched on Daniel’s past as a militant member of a death squad in El Salvador, and now it seems the writers want to use that background a bit more to distinguish this character and his constant struggle for personal redemption, as well as his self-sabotaging thoughts. It’s a hell of a lot better than having him go “crazy”, a wrong-turn which was smartly swept under the rug now that the show has an opportunity to re-position Daniel as their resident badass.
Blades’ really sells Daniel’s grief, especially over the thought that he may have burnt his own daughter alive. This makes it even more involving when Lola – playing an “undercover” role of sorts – takes Daniel to Dante and gets him a clandestine job as a lowly janitor, a facade which doesn’t stay hidden for long as Dante soon discovers who he is dealing with and becomes more curious than outraged. Although this does mean that Dante wants Daniel to start working for him and proving himself to the dam, and his first point of order of course includes tracking down a sneaky encampment that has been “stealing” water.
Having Daniel, a man desperately seeking redemption, thrown into a situation where he has to almost immediately betray those who saved his life is the type of complexity we’d expect from Carol or Morgan on The Walking Dead, finally earning Fear’s sisterhood to the superior show with an arc that is dripping with nuance, carried out by a capable actor. Though this isn’t reason enough to get too excited; we saw the same thing with Travis last year and then he was killed off just a few episodes later.
Blades’ sells Daniel’s conflict when forced to torture and almost kill Efrain in front of Dante before Lola sacrifices her cover to stop the beating. This leads us to a very satisfying conclusion, watching Dante heap these “traitors” off of the dam and into the zombie pit below before Daniel, at the very last minute, decides that he values redemption more than anything else and disposes of Dante and his goons in order to save Efrain, Lola and Strand.
Now to see if the writers continue making the best use of Daniel, or trip up like they did with Travis.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
You can catch Fear the Walking Dead in Australia express from the U.S on FX, Foxtel, Mondays at 7:30pm AEST.
Feature Image: Michael Desmond/AMC.