“Pablo & Jessica” feels loose in ways that few Fear the Walking Dead episodes do. Reconciliation is tonight’s thematic hook, a conceit driven home by a cold opening that shows us the end of last episode from Victor and Madison’s point of view. Once Madison’s group meets up with Alicia, the episode presents a weirdly pragmatic, sometimes utilitarian notion of romance, friendship, and love. It’s not enough for characters to say that they care for each other; they prove the strength of their love by helping the people whom they care about. There is, in other words, a transactional value placed on relationships.
Take, for example, Nick’s story line: He problem-solves his way into Alejandro’s good graces by cutting Oxycontin pills with powdered milk, thereby increasing the supply of drugs they can barter for water. Alejandro looks at Nick hesitantly, but with respect. He jokes that he doesn’t pay for overtime, but I suspect he would have lost some respect for Nick if he weren’t able to keep up. By working side-by-side with Alejandro, Nick earns the Colonia leader’s trust.
Then again, what really pushes Nick over the top is his knack for, in his own words, “eating shit.” Nick toes the line, and even addresses a bunch of drug lords with deference (“I even called him ’señor!’”). For Alejandro, this is “surviving,” a vital skill that is nevertheless not worth celebrating. I don’t know if Alejandro would have given Nick his own place if it weren’t for the leeway that he earns tonight. He takes a shine to him, though he doesn’t show it. Note the way that Alejandro presents Nick’s trailer: He says that he’s kicking Nick out of the infirmary because he needs the bed. But if he had an empty trailer, why would he need to kick Nick out? Their interactions may not be substantial, but each one is leagues more interesting than the staunch speeches and vague mysticism that previously defined their relationship.
Nick’s friendship with Lucia is a little harder to believe, especially since we don’t see him earning her trust. We see Nick eat crow and show deference to a bunch of gangsters, and that omission detracts from the episode. Think about it: If people earn trust in a post-outbreak world by helping each other cope with their problems then the scene that should really earn Nick’s place in Lucia’s heart is one we don’t see, the one where he shows her that he’s willing to swallow his pride and get to work for the Colonia.
But that’s not the kind of relationship Nick and Lucia have. They are defined by an emotional bond. He proves his usefulness by helping her get over the loss of Pablo, her brother, and by not taking advantage of her grief. (At least, I think that’s the logic here?) That said, it’s hard to know what she sees in the guy. Lucia kisses Nick when he asks her if she has, as Alejandro suggested, been testing him. Their kiss is awkward, and not just intentionally so: I believe that he’s supposed to be relatively inexperienced, but she seems invested in reaching out to him in ways that he isn’t. He’s cold even after they lock lips, making it difficult to see how these two characters developed an instant attraction.
Madison’s relationship with Alicia is similarly strained, but it magically repairs itself. The two fought last time they were together, and Alicia told Madison that she essentially was her own parent. But tonight, a post-binge Madison sincerely apologizes: “What you said was true: You raised yourself. Especially after daddy died, exactly when you shouldn’t have had to. That’s on me.” Alicia seems to appreciate this admission, and reassures Madison, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a stretch, but not because it’s hard to believe that Madison would forgive her mom after the events of last week’s episode. What stinks here is that Alicia doesn’t seem to make the connection between her relief and the fact that she recently dispatched a blonde zombie that looked just like Madison.
However, the otherwise tense zombie boardwalk scene is effective as Madison’s way of making up for lost time with Alicia. It’s interesting that she shoos Alicia away twice: On some level, Alicia must feel guilty that she’s allowing her mom to take a hit for the team, luring a hotel full of zombies into the sea. Still, I’m surprised that Alicia doesn’t fight harder to either take Madison’s place, or work with her. These two seem to have a tacit agreement: Alicia respects Madison’s need to take charge, and Madison gets to prove that she’s a responsible parent. It’s refreshing to see Madison be assertive in this way, but it sometimes feels like she’s struggling to be dominant in a society that doesn’t completely respect female leaders (see also: Lucia). This has been a concern since the pilot episode: Society has changed, leaving patriarchs behind in favor of matriarchs, beta males, antiheroes, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t a pushy white alpha dude. It’s an interesting shift in power, but trading one kind of martyr for another is only so interesting.
Madison is believable when she tells Victor that she’s tired of running. But why doesn’t Victor or Alicia challenge her more vigorously when she insists on being the one to lure the zombies? Or at least offer to help her by creating more noise? As presented, it makes about as much sense as Alicia and Madison’s plan to walk zombies off a pier. (Is the beach completely blocked off from the hotel? Can’t zombies swim?) In a way, it’s a fitting misstep: There are good ideas in “Pablo & Jessica,” even if they aren’t articulated well enough to be truly thoughtful.
- What does Alejandro mean when he tells Nick that his survival post–zombie bite wasn’t a “miracle” but “a leap of faith?” Is this just a cute, bombastic reply, or will he elaborate later? I hope it’s the latter, but suspect it’s the former.
- Nick’s junkie skills have got to stop getting him out of fixes. It’s a monotonous catch-all trait, and one that should, if constantly applied, eventually get Nick in trouble.
- Strand tells Madison that Alicia is “self-reliant,” and Madison says, “I made her that.” Anybody else pedantically yell at their TVs that self-reliant people are, by definition, responsible for their actions? No? Just me? Okay then.
- Oscar’s story about Jessica didn’t do much for me. Anybody actually like it?
- Who else expected more zombies in that hotel? Seems like there shoulda been more.