Airing in the UK on AMC, exclusive to BT, Mondays at 2am and 9pm
Writer: Mark Richard
Director: Stefan Schwartz
Essential Plot Points:
- En route to the Ranch, Jake takes the chopper up a little. Which seems…odd.
- Then they start taking fire. Shots ripping through the Huey.
- And Travis’ neck.
- The hydraulics are hit. Travis mouths ‘help me’ and opens the door. He unbuckles and as Alicia tries to get him to sit down we see the MASSIVE bite on his chest. Travis didn’t make it out of the pit intact at all.
- They look at each other one more time and, bleeding out, Travis falls backwards out of the helicopter to his death.
- Roll credits.
- Meanwhile back at the hotel! Remember the hotel?
- Refugees press up against the gates and beg for a Doctor. Elena pleads with them that there isn’t enough room and a fight breaks out.
Until Strand arrives, tells them he’s a Doctor and that he can’t let them suffer. He tells them they can all come in and, in return he wants an upgrade to his own room.
- At the downed helicopter, Jake, Luciana, Alicia and suspiciously unnamed lady pilot are prepping to head out. Jake tries to get them moving but Alicia, her hands still covered with Travis’ blood, is in shock. Jake, not unkindly at all, makes it clear to her that he’s dead but she’s still fixated.
- In the convoy, Troy is listening to death metal. Maddy goes full mom and turns it off as they roll around a corner into an oddly well landscaped and fortified looking ranch. At the gate, they find out that Jake’s helicopter never made it to the ranch. Troy throws them out of the truck and rolls out to look for him. Nick wants to backtrack and find them. Maddy wants to wait. Nick isn’t happy and she tells him to hug her. And in doing so, shows him the pistol she stole.
- At the hotel, Strand removes glass from a young boy’s wound and helps deliver a baby. Which is the exact point where Victor’s medical knowledge basically runs out. Victor isn’t having it but when the husband of the pregnant woman pulls a knife on him he has no choice.
At the ranch, Maddy is scouting the place and notes the unusual amount of civilians. Nick is not happy. An amicable older gentleman gives Maddy some coffee and asks about Travis on the chopper. He asks her if Travis hijacked the Huey and she tells him no. Maddy is furious and asks why he wanted to know. He replies that his son and his goddaughter were on the chopper. His name, although this isn’t apparent in the episode, is Jeremiah Otto.
- The rancher orders the gate opened and welcomes them both to Brokejaw Ranch.
- Brokejaw, it turns out, is a Prepper ranch. They were all planning for the fall of democracy not the rise of the dead. They call him on what Troy was doing and the old man shows his teeth. Neither of these families are happy to be this close to one another.
The rancher, Jeremiah Otto, shows them to their quarters and Nick admits he blames himself. He led Lucy and her people there, Maddy came looking for him so he’s the reason they’re all there. Maddy reassures him, but makes it clear she needs to trust him.
- Out in the countryside, and at night, Jake takes first watch. Alicia asks about Jake and he explains Troy was given the run of the Ranch and that led to his ‘excesses’. Alicia talks about how making allowances like that led to Chris, and Nick.
- Then the alarm is sounded. Jake stamps the fire out, arms Alicia and heads out to where the alarm came from.
- Jake hears something, stumbles and falls down a hillside. He hears the sounds of feeding and is jumped by two Walkers. His rifle jams, he’s seconds from death and.. Alicia drops every single one of the Walkers.
- Then Jake finds what they were feeding on. His co-pilot. He sends Alicia back to the camp and, choking back sobs, kills the woman he’s grown up with.
- Strand, his hands covered in blood, is in shock. Elena hands him a bottle of booze and says the mother wants to name the baby after him. She points out his lie is now her own and when he’s discovered, they’ll turn on everyone. She throws him out. Now. No vehicle.
Hector tells him he has one more patient and Strand tells him not to push his luck. Hector threatens him and explains there’s a woman who refuses to eat and has stayed locked in her room. He sends Strand in with a sandwich. The room is full of a rotting meal and the leftover clothes from the wedding.
- It’s Ilene. The mother of the bride. The woman who stabbed Strand. He opens the door to her balcony, letting the fetid smell out and talking to her about how he’d given up. Grinning, and pleasantly surprised that he’s still alive, he explains that delivering the baby meant a new generation was arriving. And that gives him hope.
- She asks where he’d go. He replies ‘I have a place in mind.’ Tearfully, she hands him something that was intended as a wedding gift but she wants to give him in recompense for what she did. She thanks him for freeing her little girl, kisses his cheek and then says ‘But there are no more generations’ and kills herself.
- Back in the wilds, Jake is now as numb and grief-stricken as Alicia. Neither of them wants to be where they are, neither of them wants to go on, but they have to.
- A few hours later, the unconscious Luciana supported between them, they arrive at the Ranch. A Doctor rushes out to help them and Alicia breaks the news to her mom about Travis. Maddy collapses with grief.
- Nick tries to wake Luciana up and the Doctor tells him that may not work. Troy tells him she won’t make it, and that she has to be turned not taken to the infirmary. Troy stands over her, gun in hand and Nick insists that he’ll do it.
- After a long, tense moment, Troy hands him the gun. Nick stands over his girlfriend, glares at the Ranchers, and considers his options and…aims at Troy.
- Maddy tries to talk him down. Troy goads him. Jeremiah steps between them and assures Nick that if she has a pulse they’ll let her in, but he has to hand the gun over.
- He does so. Luciana is rushed to the infirmary. Maddy sends Alicia with him and stares down the road, weeping. Then, she turns, eyes dead and walks into the ranch.
- Maddy finds a nice quiet spot and absolutely loses it for a long, long time. As the sun sets, the rancher finds her. He explains that he’s checking in on her to make sure she doesn’t kill herself. As he explains, part of his job is to make sure no one is a danger to themselves or anyone else. Maddy cuts through his good ole boy routine and he calmly tells her that he knows she took a pistol and asks if she’d like to sign for it. She does so and he leaves her to grieve.
- In the infirmary, Luciana is handcuffed to a bed. Nick and Alicia stand watch over her bed and cautiously, carefully bond. Nick asks his sister if she’s okay and Alicia finally lets it out, sobbing uncontrollably.
- At the hotel, Strand gets his ‘present’. A brand new car. Smiling like the cat that bought the dairy he drives off.
- At the ranch, Alicia and Nick check on their mother. She reassures them she’s okay and tells them the plan; the Ranch is going to be their home. And they’ll kill if they have to in order to keep it.
In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly.
So the good news first; we actually really like that Travis is out. Not because we hated him, he was great, but because this is uncharted territory. This changes Madison completely, brings the surviving kids together and crucially, crunches the cast down. FTWD is at its weakest when it’s at its widest and we see that over and over this episode.
While the actual Alicia and Jake in the wilds plot is pretty good, the surroundings to it make no sense. A search party heads out and returns with no comment, an entire day seems to pass (Especially odd given they were 20 minutes away from the Ranch when they went down) and the cut backs to the hotel feel ludicrously arbitrary. This is an episode built on the house cleaning needed after season 2 and for every good moment, there’s a bad one.
Case in point; Strand as a doctor is a fun idea. Elena running him out of the hotel is completely ridiculous for any reason other than so he can meet the others. There’s a sense of the decks being cleaned, and that’s fine, but it means a lot of stuff moves too fast and the gears creak. You can hear it with Strand’s plot, with Luciana spending the entire episode unconscious and with the Ranch in general. There’s a sense of lots of scenery being moved, lots of set up and not all of it works. Witness Travis being able to hide a fatal wound from people who actually embrace him. And the weirdly arbitrary way the co-pilot is killed. And Troy’s disappearing search party. There could be good reasons for all of this and we do end up in an interesting spot but this is less a story and more a laundry list. Write Travis out, set up the Ranch, break the news, debut all new nihilistic Madison and…scene.
There are high spots though. Nick and Alicia stepping into the limelight is long overdue and the standoff at the end of the episode is fantastic. You can see every possible outcome go over Nick’s face before he raises that gun and he raises it knowing full well what it may cost. Much like Madison’s dead-eyed assurances that this is where they are now, it gives the show a bleaker, more existential tone than the mother series. It also sets up some major conflicts to come.
So, clunky, choppy and over stuffed this is but it’s at least going somewhere and right now it’s looking pretty interesting. Hopefully next episode they’ll find a smoother gear.
- Godspeed Cliff Curtis. This show never once seemed quite sure what to do with you but you were always great, even here. Have fun on Pandora, sir.
- Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam-Carey have always been strong elements of the show but they’ve never been stronger than they are right now.
- The cold reveal on Jeremiah is really nicely handled. We know he’s the one who stole/rescued Ofelia last season. The others don’t. Yet.
- The music this episode is GREAT, really bleak and jagged.
- The Ranch is a genuinely interesting setup. It’ll be on fire and overrun by the end of the season of course but it’s going to be a fun stuff to spend a few weeks.
- Did…Jake plan this? We may be reading too much into this but there are at least two moments where he tells the co-pilot to do something that surprises her. Did he have people in that valley who were supposed to down the chopper? Did it go wrong?
- Jake and Alicia instinctively working together was a nice touch.
- The scene between Maddie and Jeremiah at the end is great. The banal cruelty of wanting her to sign the ledger hours after her husband died, mixed how pragmatic it is should make him a fascinating antagonist.
- ‘You must reach inside her.’
‘Okay. That’s not going to happen.’-WE MISSED YOU SO MUCH, VICTOR
- ‘You’re thinking him?!’
‘Lower your voice.’
‘HIS SON’S A MURDERERRRR!’-And Asshole Nick too!
- ‘I’m allowed this.’-Three words, vast weight. Best line of the episode.
- The co-pilot’s name is mentioned, in passing, once. That’s especially annoying given how much we’re asked to care about her.
- There’s a weirdly obvious streak of awful stuff happening to female characters this week. The co-pilot is one, Luciana seems to very nearly be another and then there’s Ilene Stowe. Forgotten for weeks, locked in a room which should really be covered with mould instead of the politely wilting wedding food all around her and going full Ms Havisham. That’s a bad look for any show but in the same episode as the co-pilot and almost Luciana? It’s the worst.
- What on Earth is Elena thinking?! Strand lied about being a Doctor but it worked so he has to leave before they find out he isn’t?! So ‘Oh yes Doctor Strand left because reasons.’ Or ‘Doctor Strand wasn’t a Doctor’ isn’t going to enrage the newcomers at least as much?
- So Jake, military trained Jake, stumbles down a hillside and nearly dies. Okay.
- We know this is being picky but did Travis really successfully cover up that colossal sucking chest wound that was killing him? For hours?
- Also why in the BLUE HELL did none of the soldiers watching him fight object to him being taken out? A wound that size they had to have seen.
- The timing in this episode is all over the place. The chopper goes down at night, it’s early morning, then it’s night time again but only for the chopper.
- Where did Troy tear off to when he realised the helicopter was missing? Why didn’t he find anything? When did he come back?
And the Random:
- Stefan Schwartz has directed for Black Sails, The Americans, The Walking Dead and many more. However, his first directorial project is the one you want to seek out. Soft Top, Hard Shoulder is a gloriously weird little movie involving a very young Peter Capaldi as a Scottish/Italian artist trying to get to Glasgow in time to gain a family inheritance. It’s weird and tiny and brilliant and absolutely worth seeking out.
- Mark Richard co-wrote the excellent Stop-Loss with Kimberly Peirce. He’s also written for and produced Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour and Hell On Wheels.
- So we think both Clark/Manuwa family adults may be dead by the end of the season. There’s a pretty heavy hint of that in the closing moments here, as Madison tells the kids this is their home now whether they like it or not.
It may just be her version of the grief cycle Rick went through but, especially this episode, it doesn’t feel that way. FTWD is a show where things get worse and you die. That may change, much as it did for the mother show with Alexandria. Right now though it looks like Madison is running out of reasons to live and we’ve seen that here before.
Besides, if you wanted a way to distinguish between the two shows? Having one centre on a brother and sister is a hell of a way to do it.
Dayton Callie is best known for excellent turns in Sons of Anarchy as Wayne Unser and Deadwood as Charlie Utter