No still-living character has been worse served by Fear the Walking Dead‘s makeover than Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades). Since Salazar returned in Season 5 after sitting out Season 4, he is unrecognizable as the character he was in the first three seasons — just like the show is unrecognizable. The Salazar-heavy “Today and Tomorrow” was a stark reminder of how much this show has changed, and what a problem its lack of character consistency is.
Original showrunner Dave Erickson‘s version of Salazar was a frightening, deadly serious antihero. He had been a death squad leader during the Salvadoran civil war, and had personally tortured and killed 96 people before the zombie apocalypse even broke out. He loved his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spinolda) and his daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and didn’t use his military training unless he had to, but he had ice water in his veins. In Season 1, he flayed the skin off an American soldier’s arm to extract information from him.
By contrast, Season 5 Salazar is a friendly guy who just wants to help people. He has a cat he takes care of and loves very much. The cat’s name is “Skidmark,” which is a poop joke. We’ve seen sides of Salazar’s personality we didn’t know he had and make no sense. He loves music. He has a beautiful singing voice, collects vinyl records, and in “Today and Tomorrow” we learned he loves the Traveling Wilburys. Keep in mind that when the Traveling Wilburys were active in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Salazar would have been in the United States for a couple of years, raising Ofelia and building his business as a barber, and trying to put his past — as someone who would slowly cut bound men and women’s body parts off with razors before shooting them in the back of the head — behind him. Does that seem like a guy who would have any interest in American pop culture? Think about the most serious person you know. Maybe they were in the military or do security work. Does that person love music? Do they love late ’80s soft rock? Would they make a joke about how zombies don’t respect vinyl, like Salazar did in this episode? Salazar had never made a joke before, and in this episode, he made a quip. And then he sang a duet with Grace (Karen David), harmonizing on the sixth, an advanced musical move.
What’s happening is that the writers are turning Salazar into the actor who plays him, Rubén Blades. Blades is one of salsa music’s most celebrated singers and an all-around cool guy. So in this episode, the writers decided that it was a waste of Rubén Blades to not have him sing, whether or not it made sense for his character.
Upon returning to the show, Salazar didn’t grow and change as a character, he was assigned a new personality. It’s unclear what even was the purpose of bringing him back. If he had died in the dam explosion at the end of Season 3, the show wouldn’t have to avoid explaining how he survived the dam explosion at the end of Season 3.
There’s not really much else to talk about in this episode. It wasn’t good. Al (Maggie Grace) thought the very lackluster new cowboy villains might be connected to the helicopter people, but they weren’t. Morgan (Lennie James) talked about his wife and son. Grace went from feeling good enough to sing a song to being nearly dead from cancer in the span of a commercial break. There are only two episodes left of Season 5, and there’s not really any story to resolve.
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.