Fear The Walking Dead S01E05 “Cobalt” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on AMC
Writer: David Wiener
Director: Kari Skogland
Essential Plot Points:
- In the containment facility, Doug is tormented by Strand, one of his cellmates. Strand offers to get Doug out in return for him selling his wife into prostitution and Doug loses it. He panics, and is taken away, leaving Strand alone with Nick. Which will obviously go well.
- The rest of the family are frantically trying to get Daniel’s wife and Nick back. Ofelia does this by screaming at the soldiers behind the containment fence, until Moyer sends word that she needs to be brought in. Daniel puts himself between the increasingly harried Castro and Ofelia, and talks her down.
- His reward for this is to be captured by Ofelia and Daniel. Daniel tells his daughter he’s only going to hold Andrew hostage and exchange him for his wife. He tells Madison the truth; that he’s going to torture Daniel for information. Madison is surprisingly okay with this.
- Travis absolutely would not be okay with this, but has done the most Travis thing possible of confronting Moyers directly. Moyers finally agrees to take him to the containment centre, and rides out with Castro’s unit and Travis. On the way, they stop and Moyers tries to force Travis to kill a walker. He can’t.
- Chris and Alicia, realising this episode doesn’t really need them, loot the house of a rich, long-gone neighbour. They share a moment of really uncomfortable sexual tension, then break their neighbours’ stuff and go home.
- At the containment facility, Lila works with Doctor Exner and realises just how few staff they have. She also discovers Griselda Salazar won’t recover from her injuries and is present when she dies. On Exner’s insistence, Liza kills her a second time using a bolt gun to make sure she doesn’t return.
- Strand, the mysterious suave stranger who has clearly seen Glengarry Glen Ross way too many times, saves Nick from being taken away and recruits him. He shows the not even a little recovering addict that he has a key to the cells and is getting ready to make his move…
- Moyers and Castro’s unit are called to assist another team under attack. Travis watches horrorstruck as they storm a building and emerge, pursued by Walkers a few moments later. Without Moyers.
- He arrives home, finds Ofelia and storms into the basement where Daniel has been torturing Andrew. Daniel reveals the word that they’ve been hearing constantly on the radio, “Cobalt”, is a codeword for the military to evacuate. Worse still, the plan also involves them “neutralising” the survivors. And it’s being initiated at 9am the following morning.
- The episode ends with Daniel standing outside the Los Angeles arena. The soldiers have contained around 2,000 zombies in there, as Andrew confessed, and Daniels looks set to let them out…
If this were a Friends episode it would be called ‘The One Where Nearly Everyone Is Very Stupid And Deserves Everything That’s Coming To Them”.
Let’s deal with the people who come out of this episode looking good, shall we? Won’t take long. Kari Skogland turns in yet more really smart work here. She constantly frames characters in slightly off-centre shots that emphasise open doors behind them or how exposed they are. Better still, she’s really good at using focus and shot to communicate emotion. The scene with Travis and the sniper rifle is a case in point. We’re almost up his nose as he tries to line the shot up, Skogland focusing on every line of Cliff Curtis’ deeply uncomfortable posture and frightened face. It’s a clever shot and it’s not alone. The Humvee tearing off away from the library, and running over a pile of books in doing so, is another. Society’s done, and these soldiers are the first ones to figure it out.
Next up, Travis. I, and very nearly every other reviewer who writes about this show, have been on him for weeks now to wake up. And he has, sort of. His refusal to shoot the Walker should have been annoying but instead reinforced what a fundamentally good man he is. Travis has become what Moyers made him; a civilian leader, a man who will do the right thing for everyone regardless of consequence. It’s a tough line to run, especially given Rick Grimes’s trajectory over on the main show, but I hope they stick with it. Travis isn’t that likeable a lot of the time but he’s a moral north that holds steady even as every other ethical compass on the show does the Macarena.
You’re humming it now, aren’t you?
Yeah, me too.
That being said, given that the season finale is called “The Good Man” I’d currently put Big Trav’s chances of seeing season two at 50%. Optimistically.
Then there’s Castro and Richards. Two of Moyers’s increasingly harried soldiers and, according to IMDB, no longer in the show after this episode. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case because they’re a vital part of the military plot and are everything Moyers and Andrew haven’t been. Castro, played by Bobby Naderi, seethes with barely contained rage but he’s consistently one of the most decent people in any scene he’s in. He constantly puts himself between Moyers and the people who he’ll harm and it’d be a shame if this was the last we saw of this reliable, troubled soldier.
Richards, played by Shane Dean, has less to do but just as much impact. Castro’s right hand, he’s a largely stoical presence who has the most poignant moment of the episode. When Travis can’t fire on the Walker, and is clearly distraught, Richards puts a hand on his shoulder and guides him back to the Humvee. It’s a silent, tiny moment but it speaks volumes about where the soldiers stand; with Moyers or Travis. Great work from both men and as I say I hope we see them again.
Everyone else has a very, very bad week. Let’s start with the second most troubling part of the episode; the torture sequence. Ruben Blades and Shawn Hatosy have previously been among the best elements of this show and they do what they can here but it’s nowhere close to enough. A lot of that’s because Daniel being a torturer comes completely out of left field. For three episodes now the show’s played keepaway with just what the dark secret in the Salazars’ past is. And, for a brief shining moment, it looked like they were refugees and nothing more. That made them human and real, something this show has desperately needed more of.
As a result, this drastic left turn into exiled, guilt-ridden war criminal feels both random and unearned. It’s not helped by the fact the show’s torture sequence is gratuitous, entirely tension-free, overlong and – in the end – pointless. Andrew admits he’ll tell Daniel everything before the first cut is made and Daniel agrees. Then tortures him anyway because… honestly, I’ve got nothing. I have no idea why this sequence is even in there other than to fill time until the season finale. And if you’re padding episodes of a six-episode season out then something’s gone very badly wrong.
Speaking of padding, this week Chris and Alicia try on rich people’s clothes at a house down the road and destroy their stuff in a nod to The Destructors. Then they share a horrifically uncomfortable, chemistry-free moment of, “But… my bitchy step-sister! With a dress on you look… beautiful!”
I don’t have the words for how desperately I want the show to not do this. But hey, at least the scene’s soundtrack is “Classic Girl” by Jane’s Addiction.
Then there’s Liza and Madison. Neither does anything egregiously stupid but neither really does… anything this episode. In Liza’s case it’s understandable; she needs to be our eyes and ears at the containment facility as we see just how bad it is. Plus the moment with Griselda is the single horrific note that works this episode. But Madison has gone from being an interesting, dynamic lead to putting up token objections to Daniel’s idiotic plan and then sitting around the house being sad for the third episode running. But at least she’s not going for any walks outside the fence. This week.
And that brings us to Strand. Strand is the first person we see, and hear, this episode. Played by Colman Domingo, he’s a velvet-voiced shark dressed in a manner that seems designed to evoke ’70s pimps. We see him talking to Doug from last week, verbally dismantling the terrified other man. Then, he sees a photo of Doug’s wife and this happens:
“Did Maria keep herself up? Her FIGURE, Douglas, her SHAPE. Does the current Mrs Doug still resemble the woman in this picture? See there now? I’d say your luck is changing… ABSOLUTELY… Body like that?… It’s just the ticket to help her latch on to the kind of man who’s going to help her through all this.”
In other words, the first black main character we meet this season who does not instantly become a zombie or is left behind, is a malicious, ruthlessly cruel figure apparently intended to evoke an immensely negative stereotype. It’s amazing he doesn’t talk in jive. Even if he’s just messing with Doug then that’s actually worse. Because that means the first black main character this show’s had that it hasn’t instantly killed is a bad guy and one who’s defined the objectification of women.
We’ve mentioned before the clear problems Fear The Walking Dead has with its casting. Strand shows it’s so much worse than it first looked. For all the show’s attempts to portray a blended family, every single man of colour we’ve seen aside from Travis is either dead, a minor character or a bad guy. That would be inexcusable in any other episode of any other show. In this meandering checklist of misjudged character beats it’s a catastrophe.
“Cobalt” is one of the most misjudged penultimate episodes ever, surely? It’s outright offensive in places, fumbles almost every character beat and shambles when it should be running. The season finale has a lot of work to do and, right now, it’s difficult to know if it, or the increasingly idiotic main characters, will be up to the task.
- Castro and Richards. Honestly, they’re amazingly good with almost no material. I’d watch a season of them trying to get to San Diego in a Humvee over another season of Fear The Increasingly Inept Characters at this point.
- Cliff Curtis. Always good, here always much better than what he has to work with.
- Ruben Blades – he does what he can but there’s one moment that’s genuinely brilliant. As Madison watches him wash up after torturing Andrew he tells her that he explained to his daughter about the torturer and his victim. With his voice breaking, he says, “I told her everything. Except which man was me.” And it’s heartbreaking. If only there was more like it.
- Sandrine Holt as Exner also has a good line: “One slip-up, one what if? And we all start finding out how the neighbours taste.”
- Jamie McShane gets two more zingers as Moyers this week: “Dark thoughts, Travis. That’s my enemy here.” Which is entirely too close to the truth. The overly jovial: “I can do whatever I want. I got guns.”
- The most chilling moment in the episode goes to one of Castro’s team, though. Travis notices the man has a black eye and asks what happened. He replies: “Nothing sir! Momentary lack of patriotism.”
- That, and the way Castro and Richards are around their CO, tells us everything we need to know about Moyers and how the army is coming apart. Subtle little beats like that are where the episode works. It’s just a shame it falls apart every time plot happens.
- The torture sequence. Somehow it manages to be uncomfortable, unnecessary, boring and waste two of the show’s best actors all at the same time.
- Please, for the love of all that’s holy, do not go for a Chris/Alicia romance. Please. Travis and Moyers had more chemistry.
- So, Moyers is dead. Off screen. Apparently. It plays like he may have been fragged by his own men but it’s done in such an offhand way there’s no emotional payoff. Instead a fun character is shoved offstage for the sake of more torture sequences and Chris and Alicia breaking things. Hooray?
- Daniel’s plan is just this perfectly fashioned gem of idiocy. Having got the evacuation code from Andrew and the news that the army have 2000 walkers corralled in a stadium nearby, he goes there. WHY? Firstly, is that in the safe area? If so, surely the army can be done for false advertising not to mention being unbelievably stupid. If not, why in the blue hell did Daniel walk through the walker-infested streets to get there? And did he take the hole in the fence that Madison made last week? Is he planning on releasing the zombies? If so, how? If he opens the gate he is going to be eaten to death immediately. Even if he gets away, what possible help are 2,000 active Walkers going to be in getting his wife back? Surely it’s 2,000 more obstacles all of which, again, want to eat everyone to death.
- Strand. Don’t get me wrong, Colman Domingo is brilliant and has a voice like melted honey being poured over gold. But the character is broken a half dozen ways. Even aside from the immensely troubling first impression he makes there’s the fact that a major character is being introduced in episode five of a six episode season to say nothing of the fact he’s written like he’s wandered in from an entirely different show.
- Shot of the episode is the final one. Firstly because it’s a lovely image and secondly because it’s thematically appropriate. Daniel, a tiny insignificant figure standing next to a tidal wave of horror and really, really bad ideas. Here’s hoping it doesn’t break over him and the show.
- The music over the world’s least well-advised crush scene is “Classic Girl” by Jane’s Addiction.
Review by: Alasdair Stuart