Major spoilers below for the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead, so be warned!
With the episode "Handle with Care," Fear the Walking Dead dropped an unexpected doozy on Rubén Blades' Daniel Salazar, revealing the resident badass to be suffering from legitimate mental issues after having faked memory loss throughout the anthologized first half of Season 6. In true fashion for the AMC zombie drama, Salazar's reveal didn't come quietly and clandestinely, but in a way where he unwittingly seemed to do everything possible to put literally everyone around him in dire jeopardy. And you better believe the actor is just as curious and intrigued by his character's twist as fans no doubt are.
CinemaBlend spoke with Fear the Walking Dead star Rubén Blades ahead of the time-jumping "Handle with Care" debuting on AMC, and he spoke at length about taking the usually confident and cocksure Salazar to such a vulnerable place. As well, Blades shared just how suspicious he is about the episode-ending offer made by Colman Domingo's Victor Strand. Let's dive into that mind-shifting mayhem below.
How Rubén Blades Feels About Salazar's Memory Twist
In no ranked order of fucked-upped-ness, Rubén Blades' Salazar sabotaged Grace and Charlie's escape, stole the community's entire armory, and allowed walkers to breach the outer walls. While his intentions in each case were on the level in one sense, there was clearly a breakdown at some point in Salazar's mental circuitry, flipping him from being an essential soldier to a potential powder keg. For the actor, it was important to first understand why this was even happening to Salazar at this point. According to Blades:
First of all, I had to understand where that was coming from, so then I can place it in the context of what I'm going to do and why. Especially when you know that you've done that before - you're pretending that you didn't know what was going on, as part of your own strategy as an intelligence officer to gather as much information as you could, so that I could give it to Morgan so that Morgan can then be successful in what he did. Which is something that was sort of clarified at the beginning of the episode when I said none of this would have existed if I hadn't done what I did, what I had to do. Well, that's one thing, and now you have a situation where I had to understand why, all of a sudden, I'm doing the same thing again: I'm saying one thing but doing another. What helped me was that the background is similar to what happened to Daniel when he lost a grip with reality when Ophelia died, and with Griselda as well. It's like, I failed. I am the strong guy, I'm the guy who does this, I'm the badass and I couldn't protect my wife, and I couldn't protect my daughter. And that thing is in the back of his head always, no matter what he does.
More than most Fear the Walking Dead characters, Daniel Salazar has experienced an abundance of violent, traumatic and life-changing moments that are depressingly front-loaded by the deaths of his wife Griselda and daughter Ophelia (portrayed respectively by Patricia Reyes Spindola and Mercedes Mason). Salazar's story took a mysterious turn after he learned of Ophelia's death in Season 3, when he went AWOL following the dam's explosion, but returned in Season 5 as a somewhat more chilled-out, cat-loving dude, though it was clear he went through a particularly rough patch during his time away from the other protagonists. But now, it wasn't renewed agony causing Salazar to retreat mentally, but rather a well-earned sense of peace and calm after John's brutal death (and Virginia's) that sent him askew.
Rubén Blades further explained how parts of Salazar's past laid the groundwork for his current situation, while also acknowledging other characters being seeded with doubt.
When the situation with Morgan and this town came to be, he saw in Morgan's idea sort of a recreation of the place he would have loved to have Los Angeles be for Ophelia and for Griselda. I think the fact that he saw this kind of happening, that he could help this happen now, at the same time that it exhilarated him, I think it sort of opened the door to look back at his own failure in the past. And I think that sort of flipped them up. Because Salazar will close himself in, which he did when he was a child and forced to kill people by his father. So he can close the door up to that, and be a barber and try to be normal, but now the door just opens whenever it wants, because of, I think, the trauma that this new reality sort of brought back. It's been quite challenging because I still think there are many, many who probably don't believe him. You know, they still going like, 'Uh, I don't know.'
As suspect as it is for anyone to posit genuine memory problems after publicly faking them for an extended stint, surely Fear the Walking Dead's survivors know that Daniel Salazar is smart enough to know how dumb it would be to fake that. He's definitely aware of how ridiculous it would look to double-up on the faux amnesia, and I seriously doubt his pride would accept others seeing him as an intentional self-saboteur. To that end, Rubén Blades talked about how Salazar's exit was also partially fueled by not wanting to be seen in a lesser-than light by Morgan and the other survivors.
Absolutely. He doesn't want to be the old little old man. He doesn't want to be the old guy, the senior citizen there that people go to to take care of their daughter or to make some soup and then take care of the cat. He doesn't want that life. And that's a very astute point of yours that he feels as a man, and as an intelligence officer, he doesn't want to be subjected to pity. And as much as he doesn't want to hurt anyone, he doesn't want people to go like, 'Oh, the poor Salazar. Look at the old man.' That's another reason why he says, 'Yeah, I better get the fuck out of here.'
Of course, getting the fuck out of there at this point means tagging along with Strand, Sherry and that merry band of marauders. And even though Salazar may be going through some thangs, that doesn't mean he's automatically 100% on Strand's side.
Why Ruben Blades Is Super Suspicious Of Strand's Offer To Salazar
When Daniel Salazar attempted to make an exit to handle some self therapy, Colman Domingo's Victor Strand offered him the olive branch to travel with them to Lawton, which viewers haven't seen since before Virginia was gloriously capped by June. So while there's a more obvious and necessary reason for Salazar to accept the offer, Rubén Blades confirmed that his character is going into this with only the vaguest amount of trust in Strand, considering the events that coincided with Salazar's mental lapses. In his words:
I have to say this also. He's intrigued by Strand's request. Why would Strand tell him like that? 'Oh, come with us.' Know what I mean? Why? This guy, he's not doing it... 'I'm doing it for Ophelia.' Bullshit! Yeah, doing it for Ophelia, you're doing it for you. There's something there that you want, and I wonder what that is. I may be foggy and whatnot, but right now, I'm not foggy. Now, it's like, 'Why would you want that?' So I think he's leaving the place and making sure he won't burn it down like he did the other ranch, and fuck Morgan's idea and mess it up. At the same time, he's going like, 'I wonder what this guy wants, and what is he up to?' And yeah, it's better if I go with him than if I go by myself. But it's an interesting thing, because the audience is gonna go like, 'Hmm, I don't know. What is he up to? Is this real? Is he really forgetting things?' Because I mean, I think in his mind, as an intelligence officer, he knows the other shoe hasn't fallen. The other shoe has not fallen in that community. Something is going on. You know, that explosion was not really explained away. He sort of said, well, the rock fell and hit the dynamite. Yeah, maybe. He wants to believe that. Maybe? I don't know.
I can't imagine that many viewers were quick to take Strand at his word during the episode. Even though Salazar's trust issues with Strand over the weapons appeared to be misguided - and I still have some glued-down doubts about all that - he was still too quick to make excuses for the explosion. It's very easy to believe that Strand wants Salazar in Lawton to keep a close eye on him as much as he wants Salazar to get better, as it were. (And Strand is fully aware that the post-apocalypse has a way of making sick characters better.)
In the same vein, Rubén Blades hints that Salazar was probably agreeable about Strand's offer largely so that he could scope out what the situation is in Lawton with all those ex-Rangers and formerly masked quasi-villains.
I'm sure he's curious. Like I said, when he's not in fog land, he's an intelligence officer. He's Salazar. He's like, 'What does this guy really have?' Who knows what he has now? He's got the Rangers that stayed with him? How many? What else do they have? Do they have any weapons that we don't know about? What is his power? What is he up to, and what does this place look like now? What is he thinking? What is he doing? And he's inviting me in because he thinks I'm off, or he's inviting me in because he wants to mess me up and take one possible ally of Morgan's out of the picture. There's a lot of ifs going around.
I hadn't really considered Strand having ulterior motives specifically against Morgan, but it's certainly possible. As much as fans love Colman Domingo's performance as the ego-driven leader, he has rarely (if ever) put someone else's needs completely above his own. And even in those cases, there's always some kind of advantage for him to reap. So what's it going to be this time?
Find out when Fear the Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET, and stay tuned for more inside info from my chat with Rubén Blades.