Fear the Walking Dead: 'Cobalt' is the best episode yet, but is it too late?
Five weeks into the first season of Fear the Walking Dead, the spinoff series' slow burn finally seems to be catching fire — but is it too little, too late for the fledgling show?
Not-so-shocking confession: I'm a huge fan of The Walking Dead. Who isn't, right? But, as a friend put it during a conversation earlier today, I'm trying too hard to be a fan of Fear the Walking Dead. I want to like it. I feel it has its redeeming moments. But, ultimately, I just haven't felt that invested.
For a moment tonight, I thought perhaps this was the episode that could convert me into a die-hard FTWD fan, as opposed to a girl who's biding her time until TWD returns on Oct. 11. (Yes, I'm counting down the days minutes seconds.) Then, as the episode ended, there it was: a preview for next week's finale.
The penultimate episode of the series certainly upped the ante, telling a much darker story and exposing much rawer nerves (both metaphorically and otherwise... more on that in a bit), but did the effort come too late in the season? Is it possible the finale will be good enough to make the kind of impression viewers need to carry us into the next season? I'm dubious, and I'm not the only one.
For starters, there's Travis. On one hand, I respect that he still wants to see the humanity in people, even if those people are now walkers. After all, it hasn't been that long — it's almost more disconcerting that so many people are willing to go ahead and write off the lives of their friends and neighbors because of an illness they've never seen with a prognosis they have yet to understand.
Unfortunately, his character just feels cumbersome in this role. When he heads off to talk to Lieutenant Moyers, we all know that conversation is going to go nowhere fast. Everyone but Travis, that is. To be honest, fans are fed up with the way he keeps Pollyanna-ing out.
Then there are the kids: Nick, Alicia and Chris. Thus far, the only thing we really know about Nick is that he's a heroin addict who has apparently never met a shower he liked.
His sister, Alicia, finally starts to get more of a personality this episode, but only insomuch as she breaks into some rich people's abandoned house, dresses up in a ball gown and trashes stuff during an ill-timed flirtation with her almost step-brother Chris.
As for Chris, well, I had to look up his name just now, largely because his character has gotten so little of the depth he deserves.
All of the kids seem entitled and petulant. Is this some commentary on Millennials? On modern parenting? Meh. All I know is that I wouldn't cry myself to sleep at this point if any of those characters fell prey to a set of zombie chompers. Again, not alone in this sentiment.
The jury is still out on Madison. She's kind of shaping up to be a badass. In "Cobalt," she escapes the perimeter to explore the state of things — and manages not to lose her mind when she realizes just how bad they are.
Rather, she returns to find Ofelia and Daniel holding Ofelia's National Guard boyfriend hostage and makes the decision to turn a blind eye in order to get the information they need to get Nick and Griselda back. This leads us to the show's true saving grace: Daniel.
"Chilling" doesn't begin to describe the scene in which he tells Ofelia's National Guard boyfriend, Andrew, about a choice he was faced with as a young child; one in which he was asked if he wanted to be the man in the chair or the man with the knife because, really, they're no different — both are searching for something, and both will be changed forever by the experience.
He then goes Sweeney Todd on Andrew's arm with his barber kit, all the while pressing him for information about the meaning of Cobalt. After (quite literally) bleeding Andrew for answers, he gets what he wants: Cobalt is the code name for the military's initiative to bail on the L.A. basin and "humanely" terminate the remaining population.
Also in this episode, we see the repeated themes of government corruption and relative morality, both underscoring the central question: What would you do to survive?
Ultimately, though, there are two big takeaways from this episode. No. 1, we now know these freshman characters will be in a fight for their lives in less than 24 hours. Thus, "Cobalt" has set us up for an incredibly dramatic and potentially gory finale.
No. 2, Daniel is bringing so much complexity to the characters. His narrative is dark and troubled, yet he still shows tenderness as a father and husband. But he's clearly capable of horrible things, which is hauntingly implied in the last words of his wife Griselda as she lay dying. (Which, for the record, aligns with our predictions for FTWD's first-season fatalities.)
"I came to you when I was young, before I knew your nature," she says in a feverish trance. "I saw the devil's face; it's the same as yours... take my flesh, piece by piece, if that's my penance. I loved who I loved. Now you know my nature, and I know yours."
I don't know about you, but that might actually interfere with my REM cycle tonight. It also makes me wonder if there is even more to Daniel than we could imagine. It seems the dark recesses of his soul may, in fact, be pitch black. And that, my friends, is enough to keep me tuning in for now.