Sunday, September 27, 2015

With Cobalt, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Is Out Of Its Element

Ofelia is upset. As "Cobalt," tonight's installment of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, opens, she's down at the fence cursing the military who have taken her injured mother and spectacularly failing to goad the surrounding civilians into revolt. The boys with guns are about to address the spectacle in a most unkind manner when Adams, the kindly corporal who has taken quite a shine to Ofelia, steps in and insists he can deal with the matter. The goon-squad stands down and he takes the little lady under his wing to walk her home and try to dispel her anxieties.

This turns out to be a big mistake.

Prior to tonight's ep, the soldiers occupying our heroes' neighborhood had been portrayed as little more than sinister, even malevolent automatons. "Cobalt" tries to put a more human face on some of them but it's a bit little and quite a bit too late. Adams, the only one who has shown any ordinary human warmth toward any of the central cast and their only potential ally in the military camp, ends up taken prisoner, strapped to a chair and tortured by Ofelia's father Daniel.[1] This, Daniel assures Madison, is how they will get back his wife and her son. Daniel has no weapons and no one else with him. How he thinks he's going to secure his wife's release (or accomplish anything other than radically shortening his own lifespan) by declaring war on the military in the midst of a small, military-occupied safe-zone is anyone's guess. It's that peculiar mystery that constitutes the "reasoning" behind most of the characters' actions on FTWD. Take, for another example, the one useful thing Daniel learns from this exercise (a thing irrelevant to his stated goal): the word "cobalt," used by the soldiers in their radio transmissions, is a code for abandoning the civilian areas and "humanely" liquidating the civilian population!

In a dying world where the dead become the enemy army, why on earth would this be a policy? And why would anyone carry it out? Why would the unfortunate corporal Adams have to be tortured to divulge that info rather than simply telling the civvies upfront what was happening? Was he going to let his comrades liquidate his own girlfriend and her family without so much as a warning?  We're shown a large medical facility the military has established not far from the safe zone but why would the military go though all the trouble of setting up and maintaining such a thing if the plan is just to kill all the healthy people in the safe zone?

Those who ask such questions are not among FTWD's target audience. For the rest, it seems, the loss of reputation that would befall an evil military were it to fail to do evil things in a big season finale blow-out is sufficient motivation.[2]

There was plenty of filler material tonight. A great deal of time is spent with Chris and Alicia pointlessly trashing the home of some absent rich family. A military excursion outside the fence establishes that Travis still thinks of the dead as people, the latest ham-handed effort by the writers to stamp "expiration date imminent" on his forehead. He's jacked by a pair of deserters who leave the lieutenant in change of the entire safe zone in a sticky situation[3] and say they'll dump Travis a few blocks from the wire. Even given these circumstances, he apparently has no trouble regaining entrance.

This was the penultimate installment of FTWD's first season, a freshman performance that continues to be a creative disaster. With "Cobalt," the series was definitely out of its element.



[1] And the normally-solid Ruben Blades is terrible here. I'm normally quite merciful with the thespianism of TWD on the grounds that it would simply be impossible for the actors to convincingly enact a lot of what the writers give them. Even the greatest actors in the world have their limitations. Blades as the rationalizing torturer was particularly bad though.

[2] The series' horrendous writing and apparent budget shortcomings have conspired to deny the construction of any sort of environment of desperation as well. Zombies are practically never seen. There are no hordes of them at the safe-zone fence. We haven't seen any of them at the fence, in fact, or much of anywhere else. Except for an encounter we only hear on the radio, the area around the safe zone seems to be almost entirely deserted for as far as the eye can see. The soldiers don't seem desperate or on the verge of being overwhelmed; to the extent that this ep gave them any reaction, they're just bored, homesick and don't see the point of what they're doing. We don't even get any news about such-and-such position being overrun or zombies massing here-or-there or trouble heading so-and-so's way while they're running out of ammo or any of that sort of no-budget tension-building.

[3] It's a very budget-conscious sticky situation--it happens mostly off-camera and we hear it on the radio. Likewise, Daniel is careful to keep the gorier aspects of his abuse of Adams' flesh below camera range. Adams describes how he and his evil military comrades dealt with a stadium full of civilians among whom zombie-ism had broken out; much cheaper than showing any such thing.


  1. It was bad... real bad.

  2. this show has become pointless...what exactly were they trying to achieve?.
    I only feel sorrow and pity for the ones who are involved with making it. at the end of last nights episode I had felt like I wasted my life watching this show.
    it is not worthy of the comics name 'Walking Dead'.