Fear the Walking Dead is finally coming into its own as must see television. Episode five of season three, Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, continues the trend of solid storytelling and character development. The Clark family, who I've mocked for being boring as hell, is cranking up their presence at Broke Jaw Ranch. A new threat is revealed as we finally learn who shot down the chopper that supposedly killed Travis. In Mexico, Victor Strand (Coleman Domingo) and Daniel Salazar (Ruben Blades) head back to the hotel. The plot is indeed thickening.
The episode begins with the old couple Nick (Frank Dillane) saw dancing last week. The old man awakens to find his beloved wife has died and turned. She tries to bite him, but isn't wearing her dentures. He embraces her in their last waltz. He grabs an ornate pistol, puts his head beside hers, and kills them both. Their small cabin set ablaze as the falling bodies knock over an oil lamp.
The following day, Nick looks at the burnt wreckage sadly. He and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) try to talk Madison (Kim Dickens) out of leaving with psycho Troy (Daniel Sharman). He's taking a team to find the patrol that went missing. Madison says they must participate here. She slightly chides Alicia for partying too hard, then tells Nick to make Luciana (Danay Garcia) feel at home on the ranch. One of Troy's men insults Madison by questioning if she can handle herself. She shuts him down with a sharp response. She's survived the wasteland without their guns or equipment.
Troy's convoy leaves on the mission. Nick takes Luciana breakfast. She has been nursed back to health. She asks him when they are going to leave. He hedges on a response, then says they will leave soon. At the mess tent, a hungover Alicia spills coffee on her shirt. Jake (Sam Underwood) gives her his cup. Reciting words from Ezekiel, it is another jab about the real activities of her bible study group.
In Mexico, Strand and Salazar are en route to the hotel to find Ofelia. They are stuck behind a group of walkers in the road. Salazar orders Strand to plow through them. Strand has had enough of Salazar's threats. The have a tense moment before Strand proceeds to drive through the undead crowd.
At the ranch, Nick is cleaning up the ruins of the house. Jeremiah (Dayton Callie) joins him to help. The pair begins to bond as Jeremiah tells Nick about the old couple. He picks up the blackened revolver, a gift to the couple. Nick disagrees that a gun should be admired. Jeremiah tells him that he must make a choice soon. Ofelia wants to leave. His mother wants him to stay. He asks him if Ofelia is unwelcome because she is brown. He says no, she wants to leave because of the murders committed by Troy. He admits to Nick that he was an alcoholic.
On the road, Troy and Madison have an uneasy ride. They come across an overturned prison transport. They stop to clear the walkers. The men now see that Madison can handle herself. At the ranch, Alicia visits Jake at his house. She thanks him for the coffee and proceeds to seduce him. After sex, Jake offers her a book of poems by Charles Bukowski. Jake had hoped to be a writer before the apocalypse. She turns him down, saying there's no more need for art or poetry in the world.
Troy and Madison's team reach the chopper crash site, but it has been dragged away. They find the bullet shells of their men. They follow the trail to some houses on a hilltop. Troy notices a strange smell. The bodies of their men are burning. As they reach the back of the house, they discover one of the men sitting down, his head scalped, a crow eating his brain. Madison dispatches him with her knife. An armed man with long braids walks towards them from the brush.
At the ranch, Jake visits Alicia at the Clark cabin. He tells her that there is still beauty in the world. He takes her to a lake reservoir, then starts skipping rocks. What's the point of living life if you can't appreciate it? Nick has almost cleared the burnt debris. Jeremiah returns to help him again. He gives him back the revolver that was found, all cleaned up. Nick asks how he stopped drinking. Jeremiah says that he got drunk and almost shot his d*ck off.
The armed man is an Indian, Walker (Michael Greeyes). He tells Troy that the ranch and its land belong to his people. Troy states he has declared war on the Otto's. Madison tells the men to drop their weapons. Walker has them surrounded by snipers. He takes their weapons, supplies, and shoes. Go back to the ranch, tell Jeremiah its leave or die. Madison asks for water to make sure they survive the hike back.
Nick takes a blindfolded Luciana to the old house. He made a candlelight dinner on the floor. They lie together and look at the stars. Luciana realizes that Nick will not leave the ranch. Meanwhile in Mexico, Strand and Salazar arrive at the hotel. The gates are open. There are no guards. Strand is concerned. He wants to wait until daylight. Salazar grabs the car's key and goes into the lobby. He starts ringing the bell, much to Strand's alarm. Strand finally admits that Ofelia left the hotel before he hid. Salazar tells him to "survive this". He gets in the car and drives away. Strand kills a walker before running into the darkness.
Troy and Madison's team are near collapse, but Troy refuses to stop. Madison coldly challenges his authority. She tells him she understands why he is so jealous of Nick. His mother despised him, even though he took care of her. That night as they sleep, Troy puts a knife to her neck. She doesn't flinch, telling him he's better than that. The men see what occurred but remain silent.
Nick wakes up to find that Luciana has gone. She left him a note on a table napkin. He looks out wistfully, but makes no effort to find her. We then see Luciana, walking by herself along the border wall. Alicia jumps of a cliff into the lake water. She smiles for the first time in ages. The last shot of the episode has Troy and Madison's team, with bloody feet, trudging back to the ranch.
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame establishes the Clark roots at the ranch. Alicia has made Jake her lover. Nick has chosen to stay and bonded with Jeremiah. Madison has earned the respect of Troy's men, but a conflict with the Indians is imminent. I have a distinct feeling that Travis is still alive and with them. We'll have to see where Salazar, Luciana, and the hapless Strand end up, next week on Fear the Walking Dead, with the latest new episode premiering on AMC.