Last week, I criticized Fear the Walking Dead for continuing to rely on the missing-character trope -- the idea of concealing the fate of a person who we know will be back eventually. It's a device that's gotten old in the Walking Dead universe, raising unnecessary red herrings that rarely add anything to the narrative.
But that doesn't mean that mystery in and of itself is inherently bad on the show, especially when it comes to new people and places like Otto Ranch. From its opening scene, "Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame" continues to explore the strangeness at the compound and its surrounding areas without ever resolving it. In the pre-credits sequence, an elderly man lets his zombified wife come into his arms. She constantly bites his neck, but because she's has dentures and not real teeth, she's never able to break his skin. He then begins to slow dance with her, putting their heads together, raising a revolver to his temple, and blowing both of their brains out. As their bodies fall, they knock down a lantern, which burns down their cabin and alerts the rest of the ranch.
Even though this opens up a whole slew of new questions -- How exactly did the woman become a zombie? Why is their house somewhat separated from everyone else's? What was Jeremiah's actual relationship with these people? -- the accompanying images are fresh and raw enough to add real intrigue to the show. Fear the Walking Dead tends to have more memorable visuals than its parent show, and it's unsettling to hear a toothless walker trying to gum their loved one to death. Add to that some ponderous conversations between Nick and Jeremiah about the couple at the ruins of their home, and we're suddenly interested in secrecy on a show where the secrets don't always work. Alicia's newfound romance with Jake doesn't pack quite as much dramatic weight as the Nick and Jeremiah exchanges, but it's also refreshing to see them just get to be young people having fun, if only for a day.
"Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame" also expands the world of the ranch by sending Madison, Troy, and his soldiers to search for whoever attacked their helicopter in part two of the season premiere. They end up encountering a group of Native Americans in the desert who appear to be rivals of the Ottos. The circumstances aren't entirely clear, but like the elderly couple, the horror elements of the showdown are enough to keep me invested. When Troy and Madison first meet the Native Americans, they find one of their prisoners scalped, but still alive, spouting gibberish as a crow pecks out his brains. The show once again relies on a macabre visual as a hook, reeling us in to explain the rest of the story later. Although the Strand and Daniel storyline continues to flatline (mostly because it involves the search for a character who is probably alive), all of these newer threads are promising. Now, it's just a matter of what Fear the Walking Dead decides to do with them.