Fear the Walking Dead Recap: Episode 5, “Cobalt”

That awkward moment when your dad tortures your boyfriend for information in the basement ...

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Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk if you aren’t caught up on Fear the Walking Dead!

After last week’s heart-pounding last few moments, I was certain that episode 5, “Cobalt”, would pick up right where last week left off—TONS of action, fast pacing, Travis finally rising to the occasion, maybe a walker horde or two …

But no such luck.

The episode kicks off with Travis and Madison planning a way to get Griselda, Nick, and Liza back from the “hospital” they were taken to at the end of last week’s episode. Understandably, Madison is beside herself with worry over Nick, and Chris is very concerned that his mom volunteered to be taken to a sketchy hospital in the middle of the DZ. Despite the horrors Travis witnessed, both with his own family and the implied massacre that happened in the house that was signaling survivors from the depths of the DZ, Travis still decides that the best way to get his family back is to cordially go up to the soldiers and ask for the return of his people. Of course, on the other side of things, Daniel decides that the best way to get his people back is to kidnap his daughter’s soldier boyfriend, and promptly torture the snot out of him.

We’ve known for a while that Daniel was more of a go-getter than Travis, and that Daniel wasn’t afraid to make hard choices for survival. However not only was the stark juxtaposition of Travis’ plan versus Daniel’s jarring, but the rapid speed at which Daniel went from a normal day to detaining and brutally torturing Ofelia’s boyfriend was almost confusing. But more on Daniel and the soldier later …

Over at the hospital, things are as bleak as we all feared. Nick is being held in a literal cage with a couple other men, Doug and my new favorite character, Strand. Doug is clearly not doing well, and is feeling a lot of guilt over leaving his family—a guilt that Strand plays on by assuring Doug that his wife’s looks will help her survive. Momentary disgust aside, we start to see that Strand is carefully playing each and every individual around him to ensure his survival.

We see him not only making deals with the guards to ensure his own survival, but he also makes deals with the guards to ensure the survival of his fellow patients—like Nick, for instance—to add to his list of people who owe him favors. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a huge amount of Strand in this episode, but his keen sensibilities paired with his borderline slimy manner of manipulating the room officially makes him the most fascinating character on the show. His sass game is also hella strong. If he rejoins Madison and her family, he could really provide a strong backbone to the group. Fingers crossed that they don’t kill him in the season finale next week.

While the living conditions for “regular” patients like Nick are grim, we follow Liza into the inner rooms of the hospital to see the real story—where critical patients and patients with bite marks are taken. It is here that we learn that the soldiers and doctors are well aware of the most effective way to down a walker—taking out the walker’s brain—and they are also aware of the fact that a person who dies will turn in a matter of moments. This is, of course, a lot more than the average citizen knows. When Liza finally finds Griselda, who has lost her foot and is suffering from septic shock, Liza witnesses her last moments, and is forced by the doctor to shoot Griselda in the head before she turns.

Liza is clearly shaken up by the ordeal, and though she did a bit of sneaking around to locate Griselda, it’s unclear if Liza fully trusts the soldiers or not. Regardless, it’s obvious that she believes the fear of the individuals working in the hospital. Even though she might not trust them, we get the idea that Liza is freaked out by how freaked out the other hospital workers are. It’s unclear to both us and Liza if the soldiers, doctors, and nurses in the hospital will prove to be friends or foes when things get real next week.

Back in the city, Travis approaches the soldiers, asking to get his people back. He’s generally polite, and is ultimately able to maneuver his way into a visit to the hospital. Before he heads out, the soldiers brief him on the DZ. They tell him that the area is filled with the undead, and that they are going into dangerous territory. It’s not soon after they set out that the soldiers come across a walker, and stop to take care of it. Of course, the commander decides that Travis needs to be the one to pull the trigger, and orders Travis to shoot the walker.

Travis is visibly troubled by this order, and the commander pushes, asking if Travis believed the walkers to be humans—which would make the soldiers murderers. Travis insists that he does not believe the soldiers to be murderers, and attempts to take out the walker. Ultimately, he is unable to when he notices the walker wearing a name tag. I had really wished that Travis was given the opportunity to explain his aversion to killing walkers. We’ve seen people struggle with walker killing before in characters like the Governor and Hershel, so we’re used to that internal struggle. But the fact that Travis had a clear moral issue to shooting the walker, but then quickly backed off the claim that he believed the walkers to still be human made his issues confusing.

I don’t understand most of Travis’ actions, so it would have been great to get a picture into his mind. Later, of course, the soldiers encounter a large group of walkers. Most of the soldiers are killed, and one is able to escape and take a very shaken up—but still a conscientious objector to taking out walkers—Travis back to the safe zone. When he returns home, he learns about Daniel’s “project” with the soldier. Despite all he’s seen, despite all of the valid questions raised in Travis’ mind about the soldiers, he’s still clinging fiercely to his pre-apocalypse moral code, and is horrified by Daniel’s actions.

While I’m not a fan of watching torture on TV, I felt like we as the viewers were supposed to be fully on board with Daniel pushing moral boundaries to get information. He wanted to know where his wife was, where Nick was, and where Liza went. He wanted to understand the military’s purpose in the town, and what the code word “cobalt” meant. Clearly, this was all sensitive information that the soldiers would not give up easily, so it made sense to have to push to get the info. But for Daniel to go from a normal conversation to menacingly whipping out his shaving kit in the span of a few minutes felt incredibly rushed. While his rash actions are later briefly explained when we get a tiny glimpse into his backstory living in a war-torn country and making questionable choices to survive, I would have liked to have understood Daniel’s fear a bit more.

Ultimately, I think that is my issue with the series. I don’t particularly care about the survivors at this point, nor do I really care about the outcome of their story. I mean, I’m interested because I know zombies are a part of the story, but I’m not terribly invested in the characters’ plights. I can’t help but wonder if that is because the writers have tried so hard to push the story forward in so few episodes. It would explain the jarring plot lines, the jumpy pacing, and the confusing characters.

Had the writers been given the time to flesh out Daniel’s character on the front end, had we been given a chance to understand Travis’ tendancies towards non-violence and his issues with taking out walkers, and had we been able to understand a bit more about characters like Alicia and Chris—who, if you were wondering, spent the entire episode playing dress up, trashing a house, making gooey eyes at each other, and hanging out in the front yard of the house—then viewers would see more at stake than just a group of random people trying to survive. A weak character and plot foundation paired with not having a lot of zombie action makes it tough to plug in to the show. Seeing as next week is the season finale, I don’t know what they can do to fix those big problems.

Of course, it looks like we are in for some serious action next week in the season finale. Not only has Daniel discovered a giant auditorium filled with walkers, we’ve also learned what “cobalt” is—a “humane” way to terminate all of the citizens of the neighborhood and safely extract the soldiers and doctors from the area. Cobalt is set to happen the next day at 9:00 in the morning. So while the character development isn’t quite what I was hoping for, it seems likely that we’ll at least get an action-packed finale.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Do you agree that the plot and character development has been a bit rushed, or are you totally on board with the show? What are you hoping to see in the season finale? Let me know what you think in the comments! 

(featured image via AMC)

Kendall is an editor and a writer. She has a geek and pop culture blog, she is a seasoned Netflix binger, a hoarder of candles, still an unabashed Hanson fan, and she takes ballet twice a week to stave off some of her clumsiness. You can find her on TwitterTumblrFacebookPinterestInstagram, and Google+ (yes, she is actually on Google+).

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Author
Kendall Ashley
Kendall is a geek, gamer, bookworm, Netflix binger, and an awkward ballerina who still has a secret dream of becoming an ass-kicking superhero in the movies. If it has a zombie in it, she's probably interested.