Fear the Walking Dead 1×05 ‘Cobalt’: Descent into chaos

Fear the Walking Dead 1x05-1

It’s apparent that “Cobalt” is meant to function at a bridge between “Not Fade Away”, which sets up the stakes in the military-controlled quarantine zone, and “The Good Man”, which will surely be the transition from “control over the infection” to “the collapse of Los Angeles”. For the majority of the episode, “Cobalt” is rather quiet, giving us a little more information about Liza and the doctor, about what it is that the military is doing, and about how the military is faring against the infection. It’s not until the end that we learn exactly what Cobalt is, but the journey that gets us there helps to further define who these characters really are.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x05 Cover

Source: AMC

It’s clear that the characters of focus are Madison, Travis, and Daniel. The other characters are all peripheral, with Chris, Alicia, Liza, and Ofelia still fairly undefined. Nick is defined to a degree, as there as more focus on him than the others in this first season, but even he is largely undeveloped. But here, in “Cobalt”, we see Daniel embracing his violent side, Travis contending with the need to embrace a degree of violence, and Madison trying to figure out how much violence is necessary to save those she cares about. Those three characters are, right now, the lifeblood of the show, their character shifts responding to the increasingly difficult questions that the new status quo is throwing at them.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x05-2

Source: AMC

“Cobalt” has Daniel torturing one of the National Guard soldiers, Adams, until he learns what the Cobalt protocol really is. While Ofelia is horrified and even Daniel is shaken by what he had to do, there’s a level of acceptance that lies underneath the act. As the world shifts towards a new status quo, and as positive results come from acts that were previously unfathomable, people start to accept those acts as being part of the new world. Madison may not be happy to see Daniel torturing Adams, but she understands that they need answers quickly in order to get Nick and Griselda back alive. But, of course, Griselda passes away at the hospital, and Daniel torturing Adams for information isn’t going to help him at all. It just goes to show that “guess and check” is the only real way for anybody to figure out what to do anymore. Now that all of the rules are gone, nobody knows what’s next.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x05-3

Source: AMC

And this is something that Travis is contending with as well. When he goes off to the hospital with Moyers’ squad, they run into a zombie that Travis is told to kill with a sniper rifle, only to find himself unable to. He still sees the lives of the people inside the zombies, and he does so because he doesn’t have to immediately consider his family’s lives over the zombies. What Fear the Walking Dead is doing, same as what The Walking Dead is doing, is showing how people slowly abandon who they are and shift to the new status quo, and we see Travis being exposed to more and more horror in order to make that transformation plausible. He isn’t able to kill a zombie yet, but that day is coming. And Fear the Walking Dead is also going a great job showing how the military is slowly losing the battle against the walkers, humanizing them along the way. Moyers may be a lunatic, but many of the solders just want to get home to their families, knowing that they’re up against something that nobody really understands.

Fear the Walking Dead 1x05-4

Source: AMC

Part of the episode also takes place at the hospital where Liza and Dr. Bethany Exner are taking care of the sick and injured. Liza’s character is altruistic in her intentions, wanting to help those around her in order to feel like there is some sort of order or control in the world. But as Griselda dies and Liza learns that the bites are lethal, that order and control seems more like a joke than anything else. Liza can’t save everybody when the world around her is falling apart. On the other hand, new character Strand seems to believe that he knows just how to survive and just where to go. Strand is the kind of character you would find on The Walking Dead, the kind of character who is better suited to a comic book than anything else. The actor playing him is certainly compelling, but the character needs a backstory to feel like more than just a comic book character.

“Cobalt” continues the streak of solid Fear the Walking Dead episodes, developing the main three characters while setting up a potentially intense finale. It continues to remind us that, as the status quo changes, we have to change with it. There is only so much power that can be exerted against the forces that impose the status quo. Here, in our world today, there’s space to fight back, to try to make the world a better place by changing the status quo ourselves. But when the world is so violent and ruthless, when the stakes are so high, it’s not quite as easy to change things. Best to just duck your head, pick up your gun, and move on.

So what did you think of “Cobalt”? Who isn’t going to make it through the end of the season? Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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