“Pillar of Salt” has a lot of moving parts, and only a few of them thoughtfully complement each other. Many of the episode’s subplots concern characters who choose to abandon their old lives in order to seek out new opportunities. The episode’s title is never explicitly referenced, but one can only assume that everyone dreads what might happen if they turn around, if they try to regain whatever they associate with their pre-outbreak lives. Some characters, like Eileen, can’t cope: She lives in the past and therefore strikes out at Victor for the sake of avenging her family. Some, like Elena, want to act but fear the repercussions: She wants to take her nephew Antonio away from his drug-lord friends, but he doesn’t want to go. Others, like Alicia, will do anything to protect their current lives, even if it means cutting ties with the past completely.
Alicia’s story line is especially troublesome. Her objections are understandable, given the resentment she harbors against Madison. Her motives are some of the easiest to understand in “Pillar of Salt.” But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch her throw a one-woman pity party when she feels threatened by Madison’s attempt to reunite with Nick.
Alicia is furious when she first hears that Madison nearly endangered the hotel for the sake of learning more about Nick’s current location. She can barely contain her anger when Madison turns on the power to the hotel’s lights. Alicia doesn’t want to attract anybody’s attention, especially not for Nick. Or, at least, that’s her superficial reasoning. She initially wants to protect the hotel from Marco’s men, then switches gears to reveal her true motive: She still has mommy issues.
Just look at the way Alicia argues with Madison. Madison impatiently tells her, “You don’t understand. Your child is always your child.” To which Alicia responds, “I am your child,” twisting the argument to make it about her instead of Nick. Alicia later manipulates Madison in the exact same way when Madison suggests that Nick might have changed his mind about what he wants: “I never changed my mind. I’m here. Why isn’t that enough?”
On the one hand, Alicia’s pouting necessarily foregrounds the selfish nature of present-tense thinkers. Why try to incorporate lessons from the past into your perfectly acceptable present? On the other hand, how can you listen to Alicia and not think she’s borderline narcissistic? She’s done nothing but complain that Madison doesn’t pay enough attention to her, though we rarely see her trying to form the kind of bond she wants. By putting the burden of a stronger relationship squarely on her mom’s shoulders, Alicia dumps all of her problems at her mom’s feet. Never mind the danger that might be attracted to the hotel: If this is a fight between a willful mother and daughter, I’m with Madison all the way.
Along those lines, I was unconvinced by the characters who were either fleeing their pasts or trying to take refuge from problems that threaten their present circumstances. This is mostly a matter of poor characterizations and argumentation. Take, for example, Alejandro’s public speeches, as well his private admonitions to Nick. He responds to the sudden flight of Francisco and his family by telling Colonia members that they should rally around each other. “Some lost souls are departing,” he says. “I despair for them. Because what lies beyond the wall is worse than death. What lies beyond is a wasteland … it is the end.” Nick sees this speech for what it is, and tells Luciana (during an otherwise lame, exposition-heavy exchange) that he’s “holding on too tight.” Nick’s fears are soon confirmed when Alejandro complains, “You [and Luciana] have no faith in me.” Like Alicia, Alejandro is inherently selfish. His burden as a community leader may be great, but the way he acknowledges that burden makes him seem unsympathetic. “I never asked to be the one to make these decisions … but I am.” What can one say to a complaint like that other than “Suck it up, old man”?
I want to stress that the episode’s biggest problems are a matter of characterization. I’m just not convinced that Fear the Walking Dead is patient enough to make us care about characters who are trying to escape their past lives. Look at Francisco’s tense escape from the Colonia compound: The emphasis is entirely on Francisco’s problems, right down to the way they make his daughter’s crying one more problem to contend with.
If dealing with a fearful child is a problem, why doesn’t “Pillar of Salt” address the hardest part of sneaking out of the Colonia: when Francisco has to put corpse blood on his child to camouflage her? We see Francisco capture and gut a corpse. But then the episode cuts to him and his child covered in blood. This is an extraordinary omission, one that emphasizes the scene’s pacing over its internal logic. Wouldn’t you want to see (or at least understand) the pain that a parent must suffer when he has to cover his terrified child in zombie blood? The stench alone must have traumatized the poor child. It’s a tough scene, but “Pillar of Salt” made it too easy to swallow by cutting some crucial stuff.
Generally speaking, Fear the Walking Dead encourages viewers to dislike any character who isn’t adaptable enough to learn from their mistakes. The past is about to catch up with the show’s main protagonists, as we see when Marco’s men scope out the Colonia, and when Travis spots Madison’s signal. But aren’t all of these characters stubborn or inflexible on some level? Fear the Walking Dead is, like so many horror stories, a morality play, so one has to wonder if forthcoming episodes will judge characters like Alicia and Alejandro fairly. I suspect Alejandro’s time in the spotlight is limited, but I am very curious to see where Alicia’s story will go, given her recent actions. Maybe she’ll turn out like Eileen and wind up stabbing Nick in the gut. That’d be something, wouldn’t it?
- Alejandro to Nick: “I want you to trust me like I trust you — like a son.” Wait … you’re his son? Everybody’s … each other’s son? This metaphor just got too complicated! I call a do-over!
- Once again, Luciana and Nick’s kiss is tepid. It should be the sexiest moment in the episode, but these two simply don’t have any chemistry.
- Renaldo to Nick: “Americans, you love to fix others’ problems.” Okay, this is pretty true.
- Elena to Antonio: “They’re not blood.” So what? You trust Madison, so why … you know what? Never mind. If the arbitrary line between good and bad is ultimately a matter of whom you accept into your tribe, then by all means, draw your lines based on “blood.” Yeesh.
- Alicia: “I miss who he was. I don’t know if I miss who he is.” I feel like this is a well-articulated but essentially unfair judgment. How can Alicia know who he is now? Again, she comes off as selfish, the kind of person who makes generalizations that suit her pity-me self-image. She must be fun at parties.