Fear The Walking Dead, Season 1, Episode 5, “Cobalt”
Written by David Wiener
Directed by Kari Skogland
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
Good things come to those who wait. After four somewhat sluggish weeks for Fear The Walking Dead, things finally get interesting in “Cobalt”. Characters took action this week, and we got a look at what is happening inside that military base that has been discussed so frequently. Moral complications and true horrors dominate the hour, and make it one worth watching.
Daniel and Ophelia take initiative, capturing Ophelia’s corporal boyfriend and learning some valuable information from him. Travis attempts to take a trip to the central base where Nick, Griselda, and Liza are, but get sidetracked by the unit he is travelling with. And, in the best use of either character all season long, Alicia and Chris have fun destroying a rich house.
God bless Rubén Blades. His Daniel Salazar is simply superb, a character that understands the complex morality of the world he’s living in. We discover that Daniel was in the military, and that this is not the first time that he has tortured someone. His gray view of the world around him continues to surpass that of the other characters on the show, which works enormously in the show’s favor.
Maddie finally comes around to Daniel’s way of thinking. In a way, she remains passive. She doesn’t stop Daniel from lying to his daughter and torturing her boyfriend for the information she needs. The difference between her inactivity this week and her inactivity in prior episodes is that this week it feels like a choice. Maddie understands that Daniel’s actions are in the best interest of her family.
Travis, on the other hand, remains firmly on the wimpy side. Wimpy may be harsh, but he definitely does not tackle the severity of his circumstances with the same gravitas as those around him. This week, though, it becomes clear that Travis works as a foil for characters like Daniel. He still believes in a world that can be saved, and that’s much more interesting when the characters around him start to accept that it can’t.
Direction remains a key element of the show, really helping to establish its tone. Travis’ storyline in particular benefits from the episode’s direction. The use of quick cuts and close-ups as he considers taking down a walker make the scene feel much tenser and help us to understand Travis’ position better. The choice to stay with him in the truck elevates the horror of that scene as we hear the situation develop on the radio. The show’s score is also top-notch this week, especially as Chris and Alicia completely destroy that house. It could be a fun scene even without the music, which gives it an overwhelming sense of foreboding, as if this kind of wanton destruction is an indicator of the anarchy to come.
There are two more things that make this episode great. One is the introduction of Strand (Colman Domingo). We open on Strand’s conversation with Doug (remember Doug?), and we are able to understand very quickly just what kind of man he is. He’s penned up at the military base with Nick and like Daniel, he seems to truly appreciate the situation he’s in and how it will develop from here. He knows how to bargain with the soldiers and gives up his now meaningless personal items so that he can take what he will ultimately need to survive. Strand is an asset.
Strand attempts to plan ahead because of this episode’s last ace in the hole: Cobalt. This code word, we come to understand, is one which discusses a plan for the evacuation of the military forces in LA, and the subsequent extermination of every civilian that they would leave behind. These are the kind of outcomes that the show has been promising. Murder on a massive scale in order to prevent the eventual spread of the disease.
In a single move, Fear The Walking Dead creates legitimate stakes. Cobalt will take effect on 9am tomorrow, so immediate action must be taken. Now that all of our characters know this, the stage is set for a truly spectacular season finale. Hopefully, “Cobalt” represents a turnaround for a show that was in desperate need of one. It manages to create interesting moral dilemmas which also work to differentiate the characters from one another. Suddenly, we know where everyone stands.
Fear The Walking Dead has one episode left to make its entire first season worthwhile. If they pull it off, it will be an impressive feat for storytelling that initially seemed pathless and drawn out. The world’s not the same as it used to be, and it looks like the show and its characters are finally realizing that. Thank God.