NOTE: Full spoilers for this week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead, including a character death, are present in this review.
Yikes. Fear the Walking Dead really hit a low point this week with “Cobalt”, an episode that is awkwardly trying to crowbar a setup for next week’s season finale into place, regardless of how little sense it makes for the time being.
One of the major problems this week is that, outside of the Salazar family, it didn’t really feel like much of anything was truly accomplished in this week’s plot. Madison was completely wasted this episode, simply sitting around and moping in her house, while Nick simply sits in a prison cell with an interesting, but rather awkwardly introduced new character. Alicia also continues to be a useless character for now, even if the sequence of her hanging out in and trashing an upper class house with Chris did have a couple of sweet moments, perhaps suggesting that these two have a repressed romantic affection for each other on some level. Given that Alicia and Chris are such boring characters for now however, audiences probably won’t care very much about this at this point.
As bad as the Clark family was wasted this week though, Travis, who actually did do a couple of things this episode, was somehow utilized in an even worse way. Travis is starting to move above Nick as Fear the Walking Dead’s most irritating character, and that’s not a good sign, when he’s supposed to be the moral center of the show. Travis is spending far too much time failing to take action, even when it clearly doesn’t make sense for him to be such a doormat. He’s a wuss and a pushover, and every time he’s on screen, this already slow series gets even slower.
This week, Travis talked the military’s supervising lieutenant into letting him ride along to the medical facility, where Liza and Griselda were apparently taken. This leads to one of the episode’s most annoying Travis moments, where the group encounters a Walker, and the soldiers order Travis to put it out of its misery. As Travis aims down the sniper scope however, which is set up so that even a chimp could make a clear shot, he suddenly decides that he can’t shoot the Walker, despite admitting aloud that he knows the person is already dead, and keeping them alive is cruel! God, Travis, you are infuriatingly useless! Given what Walking Dead fans know is coming for the world soon, it will be no small wonder if Travis manages to survive for any reasonable length of time. Rather than being level-headed, Travis is coming off far too much as weak, which makes his unofficial appointing as ‘mayor’ of the community feel inexplicable. The series really needs to toughen this character up, or kill him off. He’s dragging down the show pretty badly at this point.
It’s all moot as well, since Travis and the military unit never even reach the medical facility, and the lieutenant just seems to disappear for the remainder of the episode after the soldiers are forced to shoot up some Walkers. What was the point of this storyline? To prove that Travis is a waste of a character? Oh, don’t worry, Fear the Walking Dead. You’ve already done that, considerably!
Moreover, the show doesn’t seem to know how to frame this mysterious military medical facility either. When the show is focusing on Nick, it’s a horrible prison where people are dragged off to be shot, and the military seems to eager to kill as many people as possible. When the show is focusing on Liza and Dr. Exner however, the place is supposed to be a place of comfort and healing, and one that’s making an honest effort to help humanity push on. So, which is it? Both? Maybe, but that’s nonetheless clumsy writing and presentation. Either the place is a safe haven, or a hellhole. You can’t try to portray it both ways, or it’s just going to look like the show has no idea what it’s doing!
Speaking of Nick, he spends the entire episode imprisoned, locked up with the shell-shocked neighbour, Doug from last week (who is presumably taken off to be shot after he disappears in the intro), and this is where the series sees fit to introduce a fast-talking salesman-like figure called Strand. Strand is another heavy-handed character that seems all too aware of the coming Walker apocalypse, though he’s at least a little more clever than Tobias from the earliest episodes of this spin-off. The character has promise, and is at least fun to listen to, but having him be randomly locked up with Nick is a very awkward way to introduce him. It’s all the more awkward when Strand saves Nick from the soldiers with a bribe, despite barely saying two words to the kid beforehand, which just feels like a lazy plot turn for later. Why exactly does Nick need to be, “Indebted” to Strand?
Like I said, only the Salazar family got decent material this week, and even then, it had some problems. Griselda’s story was probably the best of the bunch, particularly in how it played off of Liza. Griselda has gone into septic shock from her foot injury that occurred in the third episode (the one genuinely great episode that Fear the Walking Dead has had at this point), and after raving a bit about seeing the devil, she passes away. Liza is then told by Dr. Exner that she must destroy Griselda’s brain, to prevent her from coming back as a Walker, illustrating that Dr. Exner knows far more than the public does about the Walker Virus at this point. Liza obeys, and the show nicely lingers on Griselda’s corpse, and how Liza must carry out a sad duty that she’ll probably have to get very used to, going forward. It was actually a well-executed moment.
Daniel also mostly had a good storyline this week, though there was one major hole. Ofelia leads her soldier boyfriend back to her house, where she helps Daniel capture him and tie him up. Daniel then tortures the soldier for information about a keyword called, “Cobalt” that is being spoken continually on the radio. We finally learn this episode that Daniel, back when he was younger, worked as an interrogator and torture expert for one of the warring factions of El Salvador, and that Ofelia had no idea (even though she was painfully aware of the war her family fled from, even when she was nine), but Griselda was aware of Daniel’s past. This makes Griselda’s final words make an eerie sense, as if saying that she deserves to be punished for pledging herself to Daniel, and never stopping him. This also nicely explains how Daniel seemingly cut off all human emotion so easily with the onset of the Walker Virus, and it was a pretty solid twist…
… With one big issue, like I said. Daniel is clearly an intelligent man, so, why exactly did he immediately feel the need to assume the worst about Cobalt? Yes, it did turn out to be a military evacuation order, but what if it was a benign military play in a separate region that had nothing to do with the community? What if it was simply an operation to bring in more relief efforts to the community? Daniel could not have proven that beforehand, hence why he tortured the soldier, and if that did turn out to be the case, Daniel would have not only had considerable egg on his face, but would have probably ensured that the military came to his house and put a bullet in his head before the day was done! You can’t exactly capture and torture a U.S. Army soldier, and expect that there will be no consequences, and that’s more true than ever under martial law! Hell, Daniel probably would have ensured that Ofelia was executed in this process as well, since she was clearly an accessory. For someone that thinks his daughter is the one beautiful thing in the world, he sure doesn’t really seem to consider her safety when he’s going off and pulling stunts like this!
Lastly, if Daniel admits that he can see the soldier caring deeply for Ofelia, why did he immediately assume that the soldier wasn’t on his side, especially when the guy says he’ll tell Daniel everything right away?! Why torture him then?! Just to prove that Daniel is violent?! If the soldiers are leaving tomorrow anyway, wouldn’t Ofelia’s soldier boyfriend tip her off, thus rendering this entire torture moment unnecessary?! Ugh, this entire sequence could have been so good if it took place in a better scenario, but the way it was executed here, it came off as pointless and careless on the part of both Daniel’s character, and the writers! At worst, it’s exploitative, and it amounts to Fear the Walking Dead trying way too hard to be dramatic.
This moment is sadly made worse too, as Daniel learns of a stadium that’s locked up, containing around 2,000 Walkers, and the episode ends with him staring at the chained doors, as if to deliberate letting them out. Yes, that would probably put a wrench in the military’s evacuation order, but, again, wouldn’t that also endanger Ofelia?! Bear in mind as well, Daniel is unaware that Griselda died for now too, so, if he does let the Walkers out, he’s also agreeing to put his injured wife in danger. Yes, Daniel is supposed to be a harsh, uncompromising survivor, but he’s starting to toe the line between being uncompromising, and just being reckless!
Fear the Walking Dead is starting to come off as poorly thought-out and lazy as its first season winds down, and while its premiere drew strong ratings, it’s currently bleeding viewers with each new episode. I can’t say that surprises me. “Cobalt” is sadly the worst episode of the series to date, wasting the better part of the lead cast, and even undermining its better moments with poor character writing. AMC has only one episode left to try and cap off Season One on a good note, but the odds are definitely against them now, especially with the season’s penultimate episode leaving the show in worse shape than it’s been yet.
- Daniel's past is laid bare
- Griselda's death was emotional and well-done
- The Clark family is entirely wasted this week
- Travis continues to be infuriatingly useless
- Daniel clearly didn't think his torture plan through