Wow. I have to give the creative team behind Fear The Walking Dead credit, they keep you guessing. At this point, it’s no surprise that many of the issues fans have with this show stem from zombies, or more specifically, the lack thereof and I can see their point. This is a world that features zombies, shouldn’t this be a highlight of the show? It seems like a pretty simple formula but instead we’re treated to a show about the fall of civilization. It’s no less engaging, but it takes time to adjust. For those who have stuck around Episode 5, “Cobalt” was a huge payoff for the slow burn we’ve been building all season. With the pressure cooker about to explode, it’s time to dive into the worst case scenario.
I think it’s fair to say at this point, that Fear The Walking Dead‘s biggest drawback is the lack of zombies. While the producers have always maintained this show was going to be about the fall of mankind and focus on the survivors more than the zombies, I think every fan expected to have at least three or four zombies per episode. To date, we’re averaging one zombie per episode. While it’s not the end of the world (so to speak) it feels like a wasted opportunity and from the show’s perspective, I get it. Our point of view has been from that of the survivors, namely Madison, Travis, Daniel and their respective families. Their experience has been one of a mixed blessing at this point as they happened to be inside one of the “safe zones” so they missed out on the zombie hordes roaming the streets.
The drawback to taking this narrative though, is a sense that we’re missing all the good stuff. Our narrative window doesn’t stick around to show us the gnarly riots that led to thousands of zombies walking the streets of downtown Los Angeles. We’re not privy to the ongoing setbacks the military has suffered trying to hold the dead at bay. Instead we experience the private moments between these epic set pieces, and while it’s perfectly justifiable from a “mission statement” point of view, it makes the tone of the show uneven. I’ve drawn comparisons between this and season two of The Walking Dead for the last few articles and I stand by it. We’ve just finished the long learch for Sophia, and we’re about to kick in the barn. It’s as clear as day that this is about to blow up in a big way. Will it satisfy fans and lure them back for a second season? I have a feeling it will, and predict that during the interim AMC will overhaul the show to feature more of the hardships of living amongst the dead.
For now though, let’s focus on last night’s episode. “Cobalt” is the best episode of the season so far. With very little excess in terms of narrative, we finally get a clear picture of just how bad things have gotten for humanity and how far we still have to fall. A perfect example of that is Strand, a new survivor introduced at the Home Base interment camp. Trapped in a makeshift cell alongside Nick and neighbor Doug, Strand exemplifies the type of survivor who’s constantly looking for a way out. In an act of pure cold-blooded survival of the fittest, Strand preys on the mentally fragile Doug until the man snaps. Sobbing and apoplectic, the military removes the mass of nerves from the cell, leaving the cool and calculating Strand behind, safe and sound. It’s a chilling moment, but one that makes sense. He know’s the world is gone and he’s not going to be taken down by the weak. Ironically, he sees a hidden strength in our junkie Nick that he can use to his advantage. As I’ve said before, Nick knows how to live on the world’s refuse, that’s a talent in the apocalypse and Strand sets himself up as someone to use it. It’s a great piece of work that makes you like and hate Strand all at the same time. It’s dark, depressing, and infinitely dour, but in that shadow is a glint of hope as you can see that Strand has a plan to escape and he’s willing to take those who can be useful with him.
Speaking of dark, can we talk about Daniel? With the help of Ofelia, Daniel makes a huge power move to save Griselda by kidnapping PFC Andrew. As I said last week, it was clear Andrew was smitten with the young Ofelia and would do anything to help her, but he clearly underestimated how badly she’d want her mother back. Despite her insistence that no harm come to the Andrew, Daniel revealed just what kind of man he was back in South America. Without getting too graphic let’s just say that there was a good reason he insisted that Ofelia retrieve his barber tools consisting of 15 different kind of straight blades.
It’s a moment that makes you cringe. It shows the depths that Daniel will go to to save those that he loves. Upon discovering this fact, Ofelia is disgusted and runs off but Madison buttons up her horror and accepts that this may be the only way their families can survive whatever is on the horizon. After a bloody interrogation Daniel discovers exactly what “Cobalt” is: the signal to evacuate the LA Basin region and the “humane termination” of those interred. Now to be fair, the term interred was a little vague. Some have theorized they mean all the Safe Zones as well as Home Base, while others (myself included) assume they mean the Hospital. No matter how it shakes out, it means our survivors have to make a break for it and try to save their loved ones before the end of the next day, because that’s when Cobalt goes into action and it’s clear that the military is about saving their own skin at this point and civilians be damned.
It’s a great setup, and gives us something to latch onto for a finale. With the previews indicating that the hordes of zombies will finally overrun any last blockades, it’s sure to be an excellent farewell from season one.
The Learning Curve
Madison Clark: 9 of 10. We didn’t spend a lot of time with Madison this week as the majority of the episode was spent with Daniel, Travis and Liza. That said, Madison’s discovery of Daniel’s torture of PFC Andrew was a great turn. Her initial disgust, something I think we’d all feel at first gives way to the fact that this man has information that might save people she cares about. She takes that most difficult pill and swallows it in order to get the info needed. It’s a solid moment that showed excellent instincts and her ability to take command despite moral objections that could ultimately hurt her family.
Nick Clark: 7 of 10. I swear Nick has the yo-yo effect going on right now. With the addition of Strand to the mix, Nick’s chances of survival have shot up quite a bit. It’s clear that Strand sees something in Nick that can be helpful in the apocalypse. The real question is, will Strand dry Nick out or use his heroin addiction as a tool to keep the junkie in check? I have no idea, but it’s going to be an interesting development.
Alicia Clark: 5 of 10. If there was a weak point in this week’s episode, it was the Chris and Alicia scene. After her introspective alone time with Susan’s note, Alicia decided to let off some steam by raiding neighbor’s houses and looking at abandoned lives. Nothing terribly exciting, but we did get two interesting moments where Alicia becomes more aware of her sexuality when Chris sees a bare shoulder as she dresses in a fancy gown. It’s a quiet moment that gives her an ego boost, but could also indicate that she is begin to understand the power that can have in an apocalypse. Just the idea can bewilder some people. If she keeps throwing elbows and fists like a pro I predict Alicia could become very dangerous for predator types in the post-apocalypse.
Travis Manawa: 6 of 10. Travis eeks out another point in the positive category this week. First, his ability to orate makes him a natural leader that gives him an advantage of seeing past some pretty horrific personalities. When he bumps up against the Moyer’s “might makes right” policy, Travis is able to thread the needle of insanity and get permission to visit Home Base. Unfortunately this only punctuates how much we’re missing behind the safe zone wall as the soldiers try to help out a squad pinned in by zombies. Left alone in a humvee, we hear the exciting action and get a big ol’ bag of reaction shots from Travis himself. That said, when the soldiers returned with Moyers dead and the squad dead, we get a great moment when the surviving troops agree to take him back to safety rather than ditch him on the side of the road. Travis’ charisma is his most powerful weapon, but it also means that sooner or later he’ll find himself in a situation he can’t talk his way out of. Then he’ll have to take the shot.
Liza Ortiz: 9 of 10. Let’s just call Liza what she is: the party’s medic. After learning triage skills from Doctor Exner, Liza has become the de facto healer for our survivors. It’s a great development that gives her a lot of legs in terms of survivability but also made her privy to the rule that we already knew: everyone is infected so the bites really don’t matter. While we’re unsure if everyone in the facility knows this, it’s clear the Doctors know what’s up and are trying to deal with the problem head on. With her freedom to move around Home Base freely and a skill set in high demand, Liza survives – barring a stray bullet.
Chris Manawa: 4 of 10. Seriously, break this kid’s nose. After a bit of a redeeming week, Chris went back into angsty teenage mode, nearly tussling with Travis. After a bit of a cool down, Chris steals away with Alicia to raid some houses for remote controlled airplanes and lots of things that make smashy noises. In a moment that smacks of complete uselessness, Chris manages to be boring and stay boring. Despite the fact that he figures out the military is leaving the safe zone rather than patrol it, I can’t see any useful traits from Chris. He’s Sophia through and through. I just wonder if there’s a barn nearby he can go and visit.
Daniel Salazar: 10 of 10. The monsters survive and despite his best efforts to push it down, Daniel has shown himself to be a monster. regardless of the necessity, it’s clear that Daniel’s past was more than simply escaping the bad guys. As he indicated to Madison, the stories he told Ofelia were true, but he left out the part where he’s the bad man in them. It’s a lingering scene as he cleans blood out of a bowl, crying as he tries to explain to Madison that he never wanted to be this way, but had to in order to survive. Straight up, he’s 100% going to make it, for now and may the heavens protect those who get in this guy’s way.
Ofelia Salazar: 7 of 10. Ofelia stays at 7 because of her ability to use others in order to get what she wants. While it was clear she cared for PFC Andrew, those feelings played a distant second to the love of her family and protection of those in her care. Tempered with some of her mother’s dignity, Ofelia hit the wall that most of us get to when facing an atrocity and couldn’t justify her father’s actions. It makes sense, but now that she’s been exposed to it, how long will it be before she see’s her father’s actions as acceptable? My guess is about two minutes longer than the discovery of her dead mother.
Griselda Salazar: 0 of 10: Our first official casualty on the Learning Curve, Griselda was given a horrible hand. Doomed practically from the beginning, she fought to survive as long as possible. In her final moments we were given some insight to Daniel and why she stayed with a man with such a checkered past. God and The Devil wear the same face, its up to us to figure out which is which. In an interesting reveal though, Griselda is how Liza discovers everyone is infected. The humane bolt gun method of preventing resurrection was handled with dignity but still a horrific fact in this reanimated world. Goodbye Griselda, sorry we had to put a hole in your head.
Strand: 9 of 10: Our first addition to the list! Strand had a tour de force introduction that showed he was more than capable of exploiting the vice and weaknesses of his fellow man in order to ensure his own survival. With some slight of hand and Nick indebted to him, it’s clear that Strand is going to become a force to rally for or against. Is he simply a curmudgeon with a heart of gold, or is he an opportunist that could become the next Governor? I dunno, but he’s a welcome addition to the crew.