In the season 3 midseason premiere, Madison and Troy’s unsettling relationship becomes the focal point of the story, as one of them is sent packing.
Fear the Walking Dead and its sister show The Walking Dead don’t have the best of lukc when it comes to presenting functional relationships. Sure, Alicia and Jake started spending time with one another behind closed doors, and the mother ship of AMC’s zombie universe recently saw a pair of survivors become more than a casual thing by putting Rick and Michonne together for a little end-of-the-world passion. There was also Glenn and Maggie as the series’ go-to romance before Negan killed that dream with a few swings of his bat. Otherwise, though, relationships have never really been the franchise’s forte. Perhaps that has something to do with the circumstances in which the world finds itself. In addition to all the dead people walking around and the living constantly trying to shoot, stab, or otherwise maim one another, the survivors have a lot on their plates without also having to deal with the drama inherent in maintaining a relationship – even one that’s built primarily on physical attraction.
There were hints of this changing with the start of the spinoff series, as Fear the Walking Dead began by putting a fairly average blended family in the thick of the zombie outbreak in Southern California. The conceit of the series seemed to be to explore the effects of a catastrophic event on a normal family and what that mean for those relationships – especially the one between Kim Dickens’ Madison Clark and Cliff Curtis’s Travis Manawa. Not long after the dead began walking the earth, however, the Manawa-Clark family was essentially torn apart, leaving the world with just a trio of Clarks to ride out the apocalypse. But now that Madison, Nick, and Alicia have found a temporary home at Broke Jaw Ranch, familiar hints of forgotten domesticity have begun to creep back in. While Nick was never an especially normal character, much less on interested in taking part in what might otherwise be thought of as a standard relationship, his sister and Jake have paired of into a situation that sort of resembles one. (At the very least they’re getting their physical needs met if not their emotional ones.)
But there’s another unspoken relationship that’s been brewing since the start of season 3 and it’s much less conventional than anything else on the series. That is the weird, vaguely sexual tension between Madison and resident Broke Jaw sociopath Troy Otto. The tension has been bubbling beneath the surface since Madison stuck a spoon in Troy’s eye and paraded him around an abandoned military base in front of his buddies. Since then the two have been a part of the ongoing power struggle at the Broke Jaw Ranch, with Troy working behind the scenes with Madison not knowing that she was playing both sides like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western.
Now, at the start of the second half of season 3, the Otto paterfamilias is dead and gone and the Nation has moved onto the land that was taken from them in a super shady (and murderous) land grab carried out by Jeremiah. Meanwhile, Madison finds herself back channeling again to maintain some sense of control in the safe haven. This time, though, it’s with Walker, meaning Troy has drifted further outside Madison’s circle of influence, relegating him to a familiar position: psychotic rabble-rouser with an itchy trigger finger.
The plot points of ‘Minotaur’ are essentially like throwing a flame on a tinderbox. It’s a typical premiere in that respect as it maintains a pace that’s unlikely to be matched by the episodes that follow. That much is evidenced by the most memorable moment wherein Madison must handle Troy, and the choice she makes that leaves a dangerous sociopath in play when she should have just done away with him altogether. After Troy makes one last stand against the Nation and engages in a short-lived standoff with Nick caught in the middle, Walker, Madison, and Jake all agree that banishment is the right course of action.
The decision to send Troy packing smacks of narrative necessity more than anything else, but it does allow for one more strange, tension-filled scene between him and Madison (until he inevitably comes back to make everyone’s life miserable again). In that moment, the unspoken nature of Madison and Troy’s connection heightens the violence in an uncomfortable way, so that when they’re fighting for control of the gun she’s holding it adds a strange subtext to the physicality of their struggle. The moment is gone as quickly as Troy is by the end of the episode, but the unspoken tension leaves things feeling even more unresolved as a result.
And with it Troy’s departure takes one of the more potentially unsettling Fear the Walking Dead relationships off the table for the time being. It’s too bad too, as this show (and The Walking Dead) could certainly use a jolt from making viewers uncomfortable for reasons that don’t have to do with rotting corpses or guys who fetishize a baseball bat while wearing a red ascot. There is something unseemly in the way Madison and Troy have interacted, and it presents an interesting avenue for the series in need of more interesting avenues to travel down. With any luck, Troy will make his way back to Broke Jaw Ranch (because of course he will), and he and Madison can continue making everyone uncomfortable by not talking about the elephant in the room.
Fear the Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Diviner’ @9pm on AMC.
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