‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Review: ‘Cobalt’ Walks Thin Line Between Cruelty, Necessity
Recap and review of Fear the Walking Dead – Episode 5 – Cobalt:
Fear the Walking Dead has used Alfred Hitchcock’s own techniques to varying degrees of success. It was that iconic British director who posited, with the release of Psycho in 1960, that the dread and fear of violence is far more potent than being exposed to violence onscreen. “Cobalt” takes that approach and magnifies it by showing us characters who walk a very thin line between cruelty and necessity.
The key struggle depicted this week is the ongoing efforts of people who feel they’re doing what needs to be done. For instance, Daniel (Rubén Blades) and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) capture the well-intentioned Cpl. Adams (Shawn Hatosy), with the plan being to trade him for their loved ones. However, when it becomes apparent that this tactic won’t work, Daniel instead decides to torture the young soldier until he tells him what plans the military has for their neighborhood. Naturally, Maddie (Kim Dickens) doesn’t like this approach, but Daniel tells her she can’t have it both ways. He can let Adams remain all neat and unhurt, and she can go on worrying about what the military is doing to Nick (Frank Dillane). Or, she can let him do his work, and maybe they’ll actually be able to bring their loved ones home. It’s a chilling arc as Maddie recognizes the necessity in what Daniel is doing. But, in perhaps the show’s most brilliant reveal so far, we learn why Daniel even knows how to do this. In explaining to Maddie the political and social upheaval in El Salvador, Daniel talks about telling a young Ofelia about what happened in their home country, and why they had to come to America; however, he never told her what side he was on, allowing her innocence to fill in the blanks. Ofelia naturally assumed her father was among the persecuted, but we learn here that Daniel was among those doing the persecuting. It’s a responsibility that weighs heavily on Daniel, who tearfully tells Maddie that they simply did what they had to do to survive back then, just as they’re doing now.
Obviously, Daniel is not proud of what happened in his past, but his experiences have rendered him unflinching in the face of grim necessity. Perhaps it comes across as cruelty to Cpl. Adams, but the fact of the matter is that Daniel managed to learn a whole hell of a lot more from torturing the guy than he did by playing along with the farce that these military men are there to protect them. Case in point, Adams reveals that the “Cobalt” protocol Daniel hears over the radio is an escape plan for the military that includes “the human extermination” of this neighborhood’s citizens. And it’s set to take place at 9:00 AM the following morning. Having Daniel learn this vital information in such a fashion seems to indicate that the show is arguing for the occasional necessity of torture, although that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Last week, I argued that the military men basically have no nuance as characters, but “Cobalt” manages to address this by depicting soldiers with different facets to their respective personalities. One soldier tells Adams he absolutely hates having to treat people like this, walking around “like some power-tripping 5-0.”
Another soldier, meanwhile, demonstrates that his services are for sale, as one detainee named Strand (Colman Domingo) forks over two of his rings in order to prevent Nick from being hauled off underground by the soldiers. And then there’s Lt. Moyers (Jamie McShane), the ringleader in all this, who takes Travis (Cliff Curtis) out into the field after reports surface that a walker is in the distance. Moyers wants Travis to take the shot, and bullies him into it with a ridiculous strawman argument that basically amounts to, “Well, if you don’t take the shot, then you must think that thing is human. And if you think that thing is still human, you must think we’re morons. Are we morons, Travis?” It’s a moment that further hammers home what an ass Moyers is, and it eliminates much of the nuance other soldiers in his retinue have shown. In an episode that illustrates the ways in which brutality can be necessary, Moyers crosses the line into open cruelty. Ultimately, Travis can’t bring himself to take the shot, and Moyers characterizes this as Travis’s failing. And maybe it is. But I don’t think he should necessarily be faulted for still having a hint of humanity to him, especially since information about just what the walkers are, and whether or not they can be cured, isn’t widely known.
But for every Travis, there’s a Daniel. And there’s also Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who manages to do what Travis couldn’t. Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt) is unable to save Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), and the woman goes into septic shock. Before long, she’s dead, leaving Liza with a choice: does she refuse the pistol or does she do Griselda the kindness of not allowing her to become a walker? Liza chooses the latter, and it makes sense that she would do this. Whereas Travis can’t pull the trigger on the walker because he spies her nametag and starts to think of the person she must have been, Liza pulls the trigger precisely because she knows the person Griselda is, and knows she wouldn’t want to become a walker. Travis thought he was doing his walker a favor, but that wasn’t really the case at all. Liza served Griselda far better than Travis did his target. She did what needed to be done, and necessity, in this case, was done to prevent cruelty — the cruelty of allowing Griselda to come back as a walker. I thought it was really powerful stuff, and basically redeemed the episode from the boredom of watching Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) play dress up and destroy a rich person’s house. Tales of angry teenagers aren’t the types of stories this show needs to be telling. Rather, the show should return its focus to the collapse of civilization, and the bare, grim necessities of survival. Those are stories worth telling, and themes worth exploring. Fear the Walking Dead can be a better show than many are giving it credit for, it just needs more episodes like “Cobalt” under its belt to show its potential. Of course, with next week serving as the season finale, that’s going to be hard to do. But it’ll be interesting to see the show try.
But what did you think of Fear the Walking Dead, “Cobalt”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Fear the Walking Dead, check out my review of last week’s solid episode, “Not Fade Away”!