Fear the Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 12 - "Pillar of Salt"

M. King Adkins

Information about what happened to Ofelia is revealed; Strand is stabbed unexpectedly; and Madison learns she may be closer to Nick than she realized.

Fear the Walking Dead

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm
Cast: Frank Dillane, Kim Dickens, Colman Domingo, Alycia Debnam-Carey
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 12 - "Pillar of Salt"
Network: AMC
Air Date: 2016-09-18

A professor of mine once said that James Joyce's magnum opus, Ulysses, was one of those books that couldn't be read, only re-read. What he meant is that the novel comes at you with so much at once -- undoing and reinventing itself right before your eyes -- that it's simply impossible to appreciate it on the first read. What's happening to you on that first read doesn't make sense: moments occur, for instance, that won't be contextualized until the end, by which point you'll have forgotten them. The best you can do is hold on and try to enjoy the ride. Once you're done, once you can look back at it all and see it as a whole, oh, what a magnificent creation.

I suspect something like that may be at work in Fear the Walking Dead. I feel as though I spend a lot of time in this space defending the show from its critics. I've tried to point out that it’s not designed to offer the high-octane zombie-battling action that marks out The Walking Dead, that it should be judged on its own merits rather than as a mere extension of that show. I've tried to suggest that the focal point is our own behavior, driven by "fear" of the walkers, rather than the walkers themselves. I've argued that it has some deep thematic intentions more important than the plot itself.

Ultimately, these defenses may not be enough. I think the real challenge Fear the Walking Dead presents for the viewer is in the way it withholds the larger picture, forcing us to wait patiently for that picture to reveal itself. As TV viewers, we're not especially good at that kind of patience, and it remains to be seen whether Fear the Walking Dead can train us to accept it, teach us how to view it; however, that doesn’t mean there's not something seriously brilliant happening, whether or not we realize it.

Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) offers but one simple example of what I mean. The very first time we encounter Strand, he's locked in a cage, held like many by the military that controls Los Angeles. In the way Fear the Walking Dead always seems to work, we’re given no context for Strand, and no explanation of how he relates to the main characters the show’s already established. Instead, we must take him as we find him, try to sort out his character based purely on his words and behavior. And we do: we discover he's a business man of sorts, a wheeler and dealer convinced he can turn the whole "walker" situation to his advantage. He's high energy, high intensity. He scares us a little. He scares Nick (Frank Dillane), who eventually winds up in the same cell with him. As time goes on, however, his character shifts and changes in unexpected ways. We discover that beneath his bluster and his obvious sophistication lies a deep connection to a lost love, a man he'll do anything to reunite with.

It's tempting to label these shifts and changes -- not only in Strand but in all the other characters as well -- as inconsistencies in character development. So, for example, early in the series Strand seems drawn to Nick, but as things continue, that relationship disappears: there's no clear break; rather, it just sort of fades away. Yet, in this week's episode, "Pillar of Salt", where we find Victor flat on his back struggling to survive a knife wound, his words to Nick's sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), that she must make her mother see her, have in the back of them his deep understanding of Nick and of Madison's (Kim Dickens) relationship to both her children.

In many ways, that's the way the series progresses, in fits and starts, with episodes full of events that don't always make sense at the time they occur. This week, we discover Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) is still alive. We see her in the past, receiving a marriage proposal and probing her mother for information about her parents' past and especially their relationship. We see her in what's apparently the present, siphoning gas. Eventually, we see her driving in the direction of the United States. Yet here again, we’re offered no context for her actions, no description of how she escaped the hotel, no explanation for why she did so, where she's going, or whether or not she still matters to Fear the Walking Dead's universe.

These scenes aren’t exactly presented as tantalizing clues. In other parts of the episode, we come to realize that Madison’s new friends at the hotel share a coincidental connection with her: Elena’s (Karen Bethzabe) son works at the black market warehouse where Nick and Luciana (Danay Garcia) have been trading. Likewise, in the episode's last moments, we see Travis (Cliff Curtis), on a hillside, watching Madison briefly turn the hotel lights on. Such moments create dramatic irony and ultimately suspense. They drive us to watch the show, give us something to hang on to, to hope for from episode to episode.

Ofelia's scenes are of another sort entirely. They don’t hold out the possibility of a connection, or the hope of resolution. True, we’re surprised to discover she’s still alive, and that solves something of a mystery that’s been held in suspense for the past two episodes. But these scenes don't connect to that suspense in any direct way, nor do they hold out any sense of what might be to come. Indeed, they seem very much like an end to her character arc, and yet they're far too anti-climactic to serve that purpose.

What then do we do with this show? How do we make sense of it, or enjoy it if we can't? I think for many viewers what’s left is a feeling of frustration, a sense that nothing much really happened in this episode and many others, that those moments are simply wasted time; however, that underestimates the long view. Ofelia has a part to play, and what we learn about her in this episode will be significant. When it will become significant is anybody’s guess, and frankly she may make the episode boring; at least for the first go round. When it's all said and done, when we have the chance to go back and re-watch the series from beginning to end, suddenly it'll take on a brand new life.

Or, at least that's my hope. The thing with Ulysses was I had a professor telling me once a week that the novel was worth reading, even if it didn’t seem like it. I didn’t simply have to trust Joyce as I struggled blindly through. No one can tell me though, how all the pieces of the Fear the Walking Dead puzzle might eventually fit back together. Instead, I have to take it on faith, not something I'm used to when I watch television. Maybe it’s something I'll get better at.





Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.


Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.


Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.


100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.


What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.


Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.


Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.