Fear the Walking Dead: Cobalt
“Show, don’t tell.” How many times have you heard this phrase used to describe one of the most basic rules of storytelling. It’s far more effective to show the audience an action than to have someone tell the audience about it. Here’s another one: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So why then does Fear the Walking Dead insist on having characters tell us everything that it should be showing us? Because it’s a lot cheaper to have an actor in a chair describe the fall of Los Angeles than it is to film it.
The sales pitch for Fear the Walking Dead was that the spin-off show was going to cover the part of the story that the original show skipped over; the start of the zombie apocalypse. There’s a lot of potential in that premise if you can get the details right. The challenge is to portray the fall of civilization in a way which is believable. The zombie threat, which is slow and disorganized, has to somehow overwhelm the most powerful military in all of human history.
We have seen how our government reacts to an outbreak of something like Ebola. While controversial decisions were made, we saw that for the most part our institutions handled a real life epidemic effectively. So in order for the fall of those institutions to be believable, the zombie threat had to be more difficult to handle than Ebola. It’s got to spread so fast that the medical community and the military and anyone else who might be useful in combating it, have to be caught of guard.
Orrrrrrrr there’s another option. It’s less plausible but easier to write. Instead of explaining how slow-moving zombies with no ability to strategize toppled a powerful nation, you could just write it so that everyone who might prevent a zombie apocalypse is really bad at their job. Like Kim Davis bad. They are not just incompetent, but malicious. In fact they are all so committed to an evil conspiracy that they can barely contain themselves. Their malice is constantly bubbling up to the surface so that only an idiot – like, say, Travis – wouldn’t immediately put two and two together.
The conspiracy angle has plagued Fear the Walking Dead since the pilot. It’s just so hard to swallow. As the show has continued, the evil conspiracy has become more and more central to the story. In this episode, the military’s big plan is revealed. At oh-nine-hundred hours, they are going to initiate evacuation procedures referred to as “cobalt”. Not surprisingly, these procedures include “humanely” killing everyone who isn’t in the military.
What is the possible advantage of “Cobalt”? Why protect the citizenry behind a fence at all if you just plan to kill them anyway? Why not keep the useful ones? Certainly, if someone is infected you don’t want to risk contamination. But a suburb full of innocent American citizens, all completely healthy having passed medical screenings within the last 24 hours? Why on earth would you want to kill them? This plan – which is at the center of the resolution of the show’s first season, doesn’t make a lick of sense.
But it’s about as reasonable as anything else that happened during this episode.
We started the hour off with Ophelia trying to turn the locals against their captors. She’s not wrong to distrust the armed men who absconded with her mother in the middle of the night. But open defiance is just incredibly stupid. Her boyfriend, Adams, manages to convince her to bring it down a notch. She repays this favor by taking the soldier to her father, Daniel.
Daniel says he’s going to trade Adams for his wife. But that’s idiotic. Daniel is outnumbered and outgunned and he knows it. His real plan is to torture Adams for intel that will help him rescue his wife from the medical facility. And also Nick, although I’m not sure why anyone would want to rescue Nick. Maddy goes along with the plan because Nick is her son so if anyone was going to try to rescue him, it would have to be her.
Here’s the thing. Adams seems like a nice enough guy. He spills the beans on code word “cobalt” after Daniel carves up his arm. But seeing as how he knows that the soldiers are just going to kill everyone in the morning anyway, why wouldn’t he have warned them right from the get-go. He doesn’t seem to be down with the “kill the innocents” plan. But he needed to undergo torture in order for the show to meet its scheduled run time.
This is also when Adams delivers a monologue describing the fall of Los Angeles and how the zombies overpowered military forces and were locked in a stadium. Wow. That sounds really cool. Someone should really make a TV show about that! You know, the show Fear the Walking Dead was supposed to be.
Meanwhile Chris and Alicia set up shop in the abandoned house of wealthy neighbors and killed time playing dress-up. The fact that the show alluded to a potential romance between the two kids probably means we are stuck with Chris and Alicia in season two. Dammit. The two teens then decide to steal a couple of pages from the script for Zombieland and smash the place up. I’m sure this was in some way essential to the overall story and not just a way to stretch the episode to fit the allotted time.
Despite the fact that Travis has every reason to distrust Moyers at this point, he goes running to the military man for help. Moyers agrees to take Travis to see his ex-wife at the medical facility. Just like Maddie’s trip into town last week, Travis never actually makes it to his destination. Instead, the unit comes across a zombie which Moyers makes Travis shoot. Since Travis is completely useless, he can’t shoot the former waitress after he reads he name tag. Travis then sits in the military vehicle while the soldiers fight some zombies mostly off-camera.
Although Travis never makes it to the medical facility, we get a few glimpses inside. Of course it looks like a hospital by way of Silence of the Lambs. When the episode opens, we see poor, pathetic Doug – the one person in the world more worthless than Travis – being broken down by a smooth-talker named Strand. All of Doug’s blubbering gets him carted away presumably never to return.
Later, when Nick is showing signs of a fever, the guards come for him too. But Strand cuts a deal to keep Nick around. He later explains to Nick that he knows the world has gone topsy-turvy and that he is going to need someone with Nick’s “set of skills” to execute his grand plan. Aside from stealing morphine drips and mussing his hair, I wasn’t aware Nick had a skill set. If you ask me, Strand should have kept his cufflinks.
The episode ends with Liza checking up on Grizelda. Apparently, she has been receiving the kind of treatment that was supposed to accompany Obamacare. You know a death panel was involved somewhere along the way. Instead of giving her antibiotics, the doctors have removed her foot which somehow results in her death. Fortunately, the doctor is on hand to put her down for good with a cattle gun. Better late than never, Liza got the Cliff’s Notes version on the zombie problem.
With only one episode left in the show’s first season, there is no chance of redemption. Even if the finale hits on all cylinders, there’s no making up for the massive mis-fire that has been the first five episodes. And lets face facts, the finale isn’t likely to be much better than what preceded it. But hey, this Strand guy seems like an interesting character. Fingers crossed he is a sign of better things to come in season 2.