Review Scorecard: Fear the Walking Dead 'Cobalt'
The us-versus-them mentality +5
When Ofelia calls the soldiers "fascists," you essentially believe her. The soldiers may have good intentions, or at least innocuous ones, but they've accepted their role as gatekeeper/God far too seamlessly, and this power inevitably leads to abuse. The writers draw a parallel to real-life oppressive situations, such as colonialism, when one of the soldiers says Ofelia is "inciting the natives." I would make fun of the word "natives" for being completely inapplicable, but I suppose the military has code words for everything, and this particular choice of code word demonstrates their utter contempt for the people they claim to protect.
The soldiers' concern for their families +2
The other side to that coin is the fact that these soldiers aren't just Stormtrooper grunts; most of them are just scared kids. They want to get back to their families, they're in over their heads, and they've been taught to follow orders. Just like every other military conflict that gets out of control.
Daniel Salazar is the Daryl of Fear the Walking Dead +10
Daniel is shaping up to be a fan favorite, mostly because he's the only character with any depth. In this episode, he was simultaneously sinister and sympathetic, adopting the "take no prisoners" attitude seen in other fan favorites like Daryl Dixon or Sayid on Lost. Daniel's ready willingness to torture a young soldier for information is not only compelling to watch, but brings out the core traits in other characters. Kim Dickens does a great job this episode of portraying Madison's initial shock, but then unconditional acceptance of his methods for the sake of her son, while Travis's moral indignation once again demonstrates that he is a slightly self-righteous, but ultimately kind and humane character.
"I just didn't tell her which one was me" +5
This was a powerful line, and a heartbreaking monologue in general, but Madison's borderline callous response, "Did he tell us what we needed to know?" sealed it. Great scene all around, featuring the two best actors in the cast.
Griselda makes a last confession +3
Griselda's feverish confession reminded me of characters like Ava and Helen on Justified; Griselda "loved who she loved," and she knew from the beginning who Daniel was. Daniel loves Griselda, but only refers to Ofelia as "pure," because Griselda was all but his partner in crime. It was a devastating little piece of character development that made her inevitable death much sadder.
Adams's description of the chaos outside +3
I wish we could have seen some of this chaos ourselves (although that might have been a little too World War Z), but Adams's depiction of thousands of people turning on each other, trampling each other, being reduced to less than human, either through zombification or panic, almost did the trick.
Strand is a nascent cult leader +5
Strand is a person who survives. He's charismatic, self-interested, and has learned to expertly manipulate others to get what he wants. He is clearly the kind of person who would take advantage of a post-apocalyptic landscape to grab power for himself, much like the Governor or any of the other human villains on TWD. He should be a fun character to watch, and it will be interesting to see his relationship with Nick develop, as drug addicts are the masters of manipulation.
A Marxist bent +7
Class is increasingly becoming a thematic focal point in Fear the Walking Dead; in this episode, Alicia and Chris loot a rich neighbor's house, wondering what could have happened to them. I'm sure we're supposed to think that they're dead, as coddled, sheltered people don't belong in this world anymore. Nick is uniquely suited to this environment, Strand says, because he "understands the meaning of necessity." As a drug addict, he was considered to be part of the dregs of society, but now, it makes sense for Strand to say that heroin is the "gold standard" of addiction, because it has taught him the skills he needs to survive. It's Workers of the World Unite, but with zombies.
I wanted to place Cobalt in the pro column, because at first blush, it was terrifying. After seeing a street full of the bodies of the innocent last week, we know that the soldiers are capable of truly evil acts, and we wouldn't put it past them to exterminate a suburb full of civilians. But systematic evil doesn't happen for no reason; there's always some kind of "pragmatic" justification, and that's just not established here. It was so powerful to see the military take away the elderly, the injured, the sick, and the unpredictable last week, precisely because killing them would be exactly the kind of massacre that a scared and corrupted government would sanction. They could justify their actions by telling themselves that Griselda was going to die anyway, or that the elderly would slow them down and wouldn't be able to work, or that Nick is a liability. That would have been much more fitting with some kind of political allegory, as it represents the government deciding on groups of people that are "desirable" versus "undesirable," which always yields positive results.
But it makes absolutely no sense for the soldiers to kill the people inside the fence. They've already demonstrated their willingness to take away the undesirables, so why would they kill all of the desirables for seemingly no reason? Why wouldn't they put the healthy people to work? And most inexplicably, why would the government bother to try to heal Griselda when it was clear from the beginning that she was probably going to die, but then exterminate able-bodied people? Maybe the reasoning behind the Cobalt order will become clearer next week in the finale, but for now it makes no sense.
Alicia and Chris do some looting -5
Alicia and Chris go to a rich neighbor's house and play a game of dress-up, which is about as boring as it sounds. I understand the need to break up the despair with a little bit of levity, especially since TWD probably doesn't do that enough, but the characters aren't developed enough to support this uneventful sequence. It was a little more interesting to see the kids trash the neighbors' house, as it demonstrated that the fabric of society has already begun to fall apart, but it didn't fully justify the amount of time spent on this subplot.
Teen petulance -5
I know many fans are annoyed by Nick, but I honestly hope Chris dies first. He is the prototypical snot-nosed teenager, and there's really no reason for him to exist. His relationship with Alicia has the potential to be sort of charming, but his interplay with Travis and Madison, especially dumb lines like "Go be with your family, Dad," make me wish he'd stick around for Cobalt.
Total: +20 points
This episode left something to be desired in terms of logic, but otherwise demonstrated the upward tick in quality experienced by Fear the Walking Dead over the last few weeks. The focus is shifting to the most compelling characters, the dialogue is improving somewhat, and the oppressive military regime leaves lots of room for social commentary. Hopefully the season finale can live up to this improvement, but for now it seems that Fear the Walking Dead is coming to terms with its own identity.