In Fear the Walking Dead’s penultimate episode, “Cobalt,” it’s become clear that the infected aren’t the only danger. We learn more about how the military plans to respond to the growing threat. In “Not Fade Away” Travis and Madison weren’t on the same page. Despite their increasing awareness of the danger they’re in during” Cobalt,” Travis and Madison’s worldviews remain quite disparate in “Cobalt.”
For most soldiers it can’t be psychologically easy to detain civilians and forcibly take away their loved ones, all while worrying about their own families. It’s surprising that the National Guard unit in the East LA neighborhood hasn’t already disbanded in order to go protect their own families. The battle-hardened Lieutenant Moyers was probably the only thing holding the unit together.
During most of the episode, it was difficult to demonize the emergency response team of the military, health workers, and unseen officials. Yes they’re detaining people, but if there ever was a good reason for martial law, a zombie apocalypse would be it. Of course if the soldiers follow the order to “humanely terminate” the civilian population before military evacuation, then they will transition from morally complex individuals to two-dimensional villains.
We learned some very disturbing things about Daniel Salazar. He forces the audeince to consider questions about what is truly necessary to survive, and what constitutes evil. Participating in the systemic disappearances of men, women, and children in the Salvadoran Civil War, certainly falls on the side of evil. Daniel’s past introduces moral questions about a main character in ways we haven’t seen before. They gave us four episdoes to see him a strong, sympathetic character before revealingthe truth out his past. The grimness of his past is further reinforced through Griselda’s dying words.
Fear the Walking Dead seems to be playing Madison’s hardened response against Travis’s more compassionate one. Madison seemed far too willing to accept torture as the only viable option. On the other hand, Travis isn’t naïve or weak, but someone who has a different definition of what’s necessary. Though the audience is aware of the extent of the death and destruction that this virus is causing, these characters are not. Now that we know his past, we can understand why Daniel would take the inhumane route so quickly, but with Madison she seems more desperate then we would expect at this point. How these characters get through the season finale, assuming they survive, could leave Fear the Walking Dead on a different moral trajectory than it’s predecessor.
Recap – Adjusting to the New Reality
Those identified as being at-risk, either because they are physically or psychologically ill, are being held in fenced pens at the LA field hospital. Travis’s hysterical neighbor Doug Thompson (John Stewart) is there. Doug shares a cell with a man, Strand (Colman Domingo), who keeps talking about sales. His talk seems to eventually drive Doug over the edge and the soldiers take Doug away. It’s not clear if they’re assigning cells based on neighborhood, but after being forcibly evacuated by the National Guard, Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) has found himself in the same cell,
In East LA, Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason) is freaking out, and throws a bottle at the National Guardsmen who stand behind the fence. She demands to know where her mother is, but gets no response. She yells to the civilians in the nearby houses:
“What are you afraid of? You know they’re not here to protect us. You’ve seen what they do. When are you gonna step up? Huh? When they come for you? When they come for your family? Why are you hiding?”
Sergeant Castro (Bobby Naderi) has been told to deal with Ofelia, but the soldier she recently became romantically involved with, Corporal Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy) convinces the Sergeant to stand down. The Corporal tries to calm Ofelia and she asks him to walk her back home. This scene causes some dissent amongst the guardsmen, who are already on edge.
Inside the house, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) tells Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) he’s going to talk to Lieutenant Moyers. Travis’s son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) interrupts, wanting to make sure that Travis is also looking out for Liza, and an argument erupts. This crisis is certainly not bringing the family together. Blended families are already complicated enough, but add a zombie apocalypse and the dysfuntion increases exponentially.
Dr. Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt) keeps Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez) busy at a field hospital at a college gymnasium. She doesn’t seem willing to find the time to fill in Liza about what’s happening. When Liza asks to talk to Griselda Salazar so she won’t be scared, Dr. Exner comments, “Right, we wouldn’t want anyone to be scared.” Seems like you’d be less likely to lose your nursing staff if you could prepare them for being attacked by zombies.
Madison finds the suicide note left by neighbor Susan in daughter Alicia’s room. She goes to Susan’s house to look for Alicia, and is surprised to find Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), daughter Ofelia, and a bound and gagged Corporal Adams. Daniel tells Madison they can use him as a trade, which Madison finds absurd. After Ofelia leaves, Daniel admits he wants the soldier to get information:
“He knows the whereabouts of my wife. He knows where they have your boy. Security, how many soldiers there are with him. How much time we have left. I’ve seen this before. People that go out on trucks never come back.”
Madison says she doesn’t want Daniel to hurt the soldier. When Daniel asks if she wants her son back, she backs down.
Once Madison leaves, Daniel informs the Corporal that he won’t be keep the promise he made to Ofelia to not harm him. Corporal Adams tells Daniel that his wife is at a field hospital two miles east. The soldier tells Daniel he’s willing to tell him whatever he wants to know. Daniel agrees that he will. He begins to lay out his instruments of torture.
Daniel tells Corporal Adams a story his youth in El Salvador. He describes a choice he was forced to make, telling the soldier: “The man with the blade and the man in the chair are not different. The both suffer. Their lives are changed forever.” Daniel is removing the skin of the captured soldier. He asks the Corporal what the code word “Cobalt” means, which he keeps hearing on his radio. When the soldier claims he doesn’t know and Daniel continues with his torture. Seems like this National Guard soldier would have given up any information he had a while ago.
Ofelia has come to check on her soldier boyfriend and she’s not happy to find her father removing his skin. Us either. She runs out of the house as Madison enters. Daniel bears his secrets to Madison:
“She was nine years old when she first asked me about the war and why we came to America. And I told her in detail about the violence, what was done, how we suffered. (water running) I told her everything except which man was me. (voice breaks) Do you think she will understand… that it was necessary then… to survive?”
Apparently Daniel Salazar was a torturer, not one of the tortured during the war in El Salvador. Madison’s only response is to look into the room where the soldier is and ask: “Did he tell us what we needed to know.” When it comes to her children, Madison is one cold mother.
Travis is using his own methods to try to get Nick, Liza, and Griselda back. He approaches Lieutenant Moyers (Jamie McShane), asking how long they will be held. Lt. Moyers is focused on keeping his company from falling apart by keeping their “dark thoughts” at bay. He keeps them busy and counts how many “skinbags” they’ve killed (83). Travis point out that 11 people have already been taken from their neighborhood and more people could start to complain. Finally Lt. Moyers tells Travis he will take him to the hospital. It’s seems that “Mr. Mayor” has stopped being an asset to Lt. Moyers and started being a threat. We suspect this visit to the hospital won’t have the outcome Travis is hoping for.
Out on the road to the hospital, Lt. Moyers confronts Travis by telling him to shoot an infected waitress they’ve come across. Travis looks through the scope and sees the infected women, still wearing a nametag, and can’t do it. Lt. Moyers rebukes him:
“Travis, I want to know what it is. ‘Cause you don’t think that she’s human, do you? ‘Cause if you do, if that’s what you think, then we’re just a bunch of murderers. Is that it?”
Travis’s drive-along to the hospital gets detoured in order to help another squad pinned down at the library. Zombie librarians are the worst! The soldiers run inside, telling Travis to stay in the car. Travis can hear screams and gunfire over the radio. The guardsmen come out of the building without Lt. Moyers, as Travis stands dumbfounded outside of the vehicle. Once they’re on the road, Sergeant Castro tells Travis they’ll drop him off a few blocks from home. Instead of going to the hospital. the Sergeant is going try to find his family in San Diego.
In the containment unit, Nick is going through withdrawal. The soldiers in masks come to take him away. The salesman Strand seems to want to keep Nick around, but the soldier tells him that anyone with a temperature goes downstairs. Being a man who understanda other’s motivations, Strand bribes the soldier with expensive cufflinks to let Nick stay. Despite his state, or because of it, Strand sees Nick’s potential value:
Strand: “I look at you and I see someone who knows the meaning of necessity.”
Nick: “Well, I’m an addict.”
Strand: “No, you are a heroin addict. That’s the gold standard. Don’t sell yourself short. The soldiers are leaving. I’m gonna require a man with your talents when I make my move.”
In a different part of the field hospital Liza is also getting exposed to how bad things are outside of Madison’s East LA neighborhood. Some soldiers are brought in, one of them with bite marks who is sent downstairs to quarantine. Dr. Exner tells Liza she’s not trying to save six people, but 600,000.
Liza is looking around the field hospital. She opens a door and sees the detainment area, though she doesn’t appear to see Nick. After walking around a bit more, she finds Griselda lying in a hospital bed within in a locked cage. Dr. Exner is there, seemingly waiting for Liza. She asks Liza why she doesn’t trust her. Uh, maybe because Dr. Exner hasn’t really explained to Liza the deadly and widespread nature of this crisis. Or possibly because Dr. Exner won’t let her contact her son. Griselda has septic shock and Dr. Exner tells Liza: “Sometimes all we can do isn’t enough.”
Griselda is dying, and unaware of her surroundings. In her last moments, Liza hears her talk about her husband Daniel’s true nature. With Liza it’s always hard to figure out what she really understands though, so she may not have realized what Griselda was referring to when she talked about fearing retribution from the families of the disappeared. Dr. Exner finally explains to Liza that everyone who dies will turn unless they experience traumatic brain injury. Liza takes the livestock gun from Dr. Exner and puts the bullet in Griselda’s brain herself. It’s still not clear if Liza truly understands the danger of the infected.
When Travis returns to their neighborhood he finds a very upset Ofelia. When Travis learns the Corporal Adams is being tortured he bursts in and confronts Madison: “Tell me you didn’t know.” Madison doesn’t meet his eyes. In the other room the solder is telling Daniel about locking thousands of civilians, both infected and uninfected, into an arena after his unit lost control. Travis comes in and Madison asks Adams to tell him what he already told Madison and Daniel. The code “Cobalt” initiates an evacuation from the LA basin. The soldiers are leaving at 9am the next day, and they will be “humanely” executing the civilians before they leave.
Earlier in the day, Chris and Alicia blew off some steam by breaking into a neighbor’s abandoned house. It seems like there might be something between these two. Or else Chris is just always awkward. As they head home, Chris recognizes that the soldiers aren’t patrolling, but leaving the neighborhood. They realize something is wrong.
Daniel goes to the arena where the solder claimed to have chained in thousands of infected and uninfected together. As he approaches the doors, he sees the chains and hears the dead inside, fighting to get out. Thousands of undead penned in, just walking distance from the Clark’s neighborhood, can’t be a good sign.
We’re happy not to spend too much time in this short series watching the protagonists fight off groups of zombies, because it allows for a more interesting storyline. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend our disbelief when it comes the good-sized safety zone they’ve manged to carve out in this highly populated area. The plan of killing all the civilians when they evavcuate also seems unlikely. By the next episode the safe zone may become less safe.
The Fear the Walking Dead writers don’t always seem to know what to do with the teenagers. Last week their portrayal of Chris and Alicia as misunderstood and alone was very well done. Then this week they became Clueless characters with a clothes montage that we could have done without. Having teens be a part of the show has the potential to be interesting because adolescents aren’t easily controlled like children and they are more impulsive than adults. Of course if it devolves into a teen romance all bets are off.
Despite a few unrealistic aspects of the narrative, “Cobalt” was a strong episode of Fear the Walking Dead. It created some interesting complexities and introduced a fun new character in Strand. Next week will be the final episode in this short season of Fear the Walking Dead and we can’t wait to see who will survive it.