‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Recap of ‘Cobalt’: The Enemy in Dark Thoughts

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“Cobalt” was the working title for Fear the Walking Dead, so presenting its fifth episode with that title is some telling insight to the show’s thesis, which seems to be a tale of morality thus far. “Which is it? You don’t want him hurt or you don’t want to know?” is the ultimatum Daniel gives Madison when she begins to protest the torture of army-good-guy Andrew (his name care of IMDb, not the show). The choice set before her is the first blurring of the line of decency, and by allowing Daniel to take drastic measures to get a bit of information, Madison has crossed over from her steady place at “neutral good” to the decidedly more callous “chaotic good” (Game of Thrones example for reference). Her transition signifies that the world as they know it is morphing into the world of lawlessness that we know in The Walking Dead, where decision-making has become determining whether to do the right thing or to get what you need/want, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

As Daniel loves to remind everyone, however vague and unspecific his details may be, he lived through what is most likely the Salvadoran Civil War, during which people frequently “disappeared.” His experience is indicative of his reluctance to believe that he’ll see his wife again if she’s taken from him and he can’t follow. Judging from his anecdotes, it’s hard to tell if he was on the military or the faction side of the conflict (neither were very good, but the military was worse), but whatever his position, blood letting as a form of torture seems to be something he’s familiar with doing. Daniel has been hanging out in the “chaotic good” quadrant of the alignment chart for some time now, evident by his actions against Andrew. Sure, it was a little unnecessary and a lot cruel, but his actions were not ruthlessness for its own sake. And neither were Moyers’.

As society falls apart, the concept of moral stability becomes up for interpretation because the world is being pulled in every different direction and everyone is operating with their own motives. The government wants containment of the infection so they remove any minute threat that may arise, including a psychological threat like Doug. Ofelia wants her mom back so she brings Andrew to her father. Daniel wants to know how to get Griselda back so he tortures Andrew. Madison wants Nick so she passively lets Daniel do what he needs to do to get information. Moyers is the arm of the government so he obeys his orders to the letter. The soldiers below him recognize the increasing futility of the military state, so they abandon (kill?) Moyers in order to return to their families.

Liza wants to help in the most genuine way possible, and represents the pinnacle of altruism and intellect to which all the other characters should hold as the standard. She’s become the most dynamic character on Fear, because she’s participating in the system but she is not of the system. Unlike Dr. Exner, whose motives are to execute government-mandated orders, Liza’s motives are to help the people, not dispose of them, no matter who they may be. (Did anyone else notice the majority of the patients in the makeshift hospital were soldiers?) She’s treating everyone like a nurse would a patient in a former world where compassion, rather than overwhelming paranoia, still exists.

Between bartering cufflinks for drug addicts and spouting diatribes against life insurance, it’s hard to determine the motives of the show’s newest (and quickly, best) character, Strand, other than that he just wants to stay alive. He pushes Doug to the brink of psychological collapse on purpose, but why? Perhaps disposing of people secures his place in post-apocalyptic jail, which also secures his life. Maybe it serves as a distraction for the soldiers so that, by comparison, he looks normal and unthreatening. His motives will likely be made clear in the season finale, but so far, Strand (again, name c/o IMDb. Introduce your characters, Fear!) has a key and he needs Nick to use it.

Poor, dumb Travis wants desperately to believe they can come back from this. Moyers asks him, “You were a teacher?” “Still am,” he responds. In refusing to shoot the walker, he solidifies his place as the LA Basin’s biggest optimist, fiercely clinging onto a world that no longer exists. He’s already been inches away from death at the hands (mouth?) of a walker, so if that experience didn’t thrust him into understanding the severity of the situation, he’s going to have to come real close to death to know the person that was once inside the rotting body is gone.

Similarly, Daniel has been cucumber-cool since the riots first broke out in the city, because up until now his experience in war gave him a frame of reference for everything that’s been happening, at least in terms of a military takeover and tactics used against civilians. So what is it going to take to truly frighten him, or anyone, for that matter? Though there are varying levels of comprehension and reaction to the zombie apocalypse, no one is operating within a mindset of preparation. They’re not considering what reality will be when the military is gone and they don’t have power or phones or food or medicine or any government-issued resources. A harsh reality is going to slap them across the face soon enough. They (and we) need Tobias to convince them to quit wasting time on drinking coffee in the dining room and smashing plates at a neighbor’s house.

Fear the Walking Dead is, almost surprisingly, concerning itself much less with the presence of the undead than examining the ugliness of the panicked human condition, as evident by the lack of walkers in the last two episodes. TWD has focused more on humanity’s pitfalls in its more recent seasons, but that seems like a more natural progression since it began its story with Rick as he was trying to find Lori and Carl, which created a more compassionate tone overall. In that show, we had to get Rick to his family while dodging the rotting attackers before we could begin to worry about what the living are capable of. Through Fear and its predecessor, the post-apocalyptic world presents a sort of bell curve in priority: we start out caring for one another, but actions become more severe as the stakes rise, as needs become more dire and as we get more desperate, until those remaining can reclaim some semblance of peace and empathy. Each person slides around the alignment chart as necessary in order to stay alive. The course of events in Fear will likely present themselves in a triage-like situation once people are out on their own and surrounded by walkers, and our characters will soon long for the days when they had a roof over their head while worrying about their loved ones. For them, there is a long way to go until genuine caring and harmony come back into the world.

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