Fear the Walking Dead continued its smart decision to, at least in these early going, not make the walkers much of a threat to our main characters. Sure, there’s the looming danger of that pesky zombie apocalypse plaguing civilization, but at least in the immediate moments of “Cobalt,” Travis, Madison, Daniel, and the rest aren’t struggling with fending for their lives from a few sets of decaying teeth.
No, the real danger is what’s to come — the unknown. Griselda, Nick, Doug, and Liza weren’t the only ones taken from the community. The military is cherry picking citizens to transplant to this mysterious facility outside the neighborhood’s gated limits, but those who remain are left without an explanation or sense of hope. They’re going about their lives as best they can, but living at the behest of a few soldiers serving as their only tether to the outside world is a lifestyle that can only be sustained for so long.
The lack of communication is certainly getting to Ofelia. She wants to see her mother, as she yells at the guards for some assistance. They almost decide to handle her with force until her military boyfriend Andrew steps in to calm her down without shots being fired.
Unfortunately, his attempted good deed lands him in a torturous situation. Madison stumbles upon Daniel and Ofelia with Andrew tied up to a chair. They want to ply him for information, and at first Madison scoffs at the idea. Travis has gone off to talk with Moyers, believing that they’re close enough to earn Travis some perks above the rest of the community, and Madison seems to think that will work. Daniel is not so hopeful. He’d rather they find out what they can from Andrew, then use him in a trade for their taken family members.
Daniel proves he also isn’t naive. He knows a trade will likely not work and he also knows there’s more to the story than Andrew is letting on. Getting it out of Andrew might just be a messy affair, so he asks Madison to keep Ofelia away from the house while he does what needs to be done.
And apparently what needs to be done is torture, as Daniel’s shaving kit doubles as a handy to-go bag of weapons of torment. Andrew offers some intel about the military setting up camp at a nearby college, but that’s not good enough for Daniel, who will not be observing Ofelia’s wishes to keep Andrew unharmed. He tears into Andrew’s arm, literally bleeding him for information on the military’s plans. Daniel is cutting layer by layer down through the skin, more nerve endings being exposed to the pain at every level.
Daniel decides to tell Andrew a story about when he was a little boy. He was faced with a powerful decision in a situation not unlike this one: Did he want to be the man tied up in the chair or the man with the blade? They’re not so different after all — both want something, and both of their lives will be irrevocably changed by the situation. He’s made his choice, clearly, and so he looks to see how Andrew reacts as the man in the chair when Daniel repeatedly asks about something called “cobalt.”
(ASIDE: In a great scene with Madison later in the episode, Daniel breaks down about having to do what he did after Ofelia discovered him. He recounts how he told Ofelia, when she was only 9 years old, about all the horrible details of their having to leave home for America. The only thing he didn’t mention was which man he was. While the writing here is a bit odd — Madison wasn’t around for Daniel’s story of the two men, so unless he told her it as well, what he’s saying would make no sense. But paired with his scenes with Andrew, Rubén Blades has quickly risen to be the MVP of the series so far. He’s mixed the pain of a father and husband protecting his family with the drive of a dangerous man fighting for survival with such ease that shifting the focus of the series more on him these past two episodes has only helped. END OF ASIDE.)
NEXT: Cobalt is coming. [pagebreak]
Many bloody cuts later, Andrew reveals what he needs to for Travis, Madison, and Daniel to hear. Cobalt is a command code to initiate evacuation from the Los Angeles command base, but only of military personnel. Cobalt also includes procedures for “humane termination,” a ridiculously polite way of saying mass slaughter of all the civilians left in town. It’s planned for 9 a.m. tomorrow. And that means a true fight for their lives is only mere hours away.
Is what lies outside the edges of their city worth fighting for, though? Travis received a taste of it while Daniel worked his bloody magic on Andrew. As Madison mentioned, he went to talk Moyers into letting him see their family and friends. At first, Moyers in his predictable, cocky ways, denies him the opportunity, telling Travis that it’s up to “the lady doctor” at camp who gets to come and go.
With Travis’ implied threat of civil unrest, however, suggesting people in town will start to become rowdy should they not be given any information about their loved ones, Moyers changes his mind. “I can do anything I want, I’ve got guns,” he explains when Travis asks if the doctor will mind, further showcasing his more despicable side when he refuses to give any of the troops a break after days without sleep.
Instead he wants to show Travis who is boss. That’s really all Moyers cares about — proving he’s the one in charge of the situation. Any threat to that needs to be neutralized, and if spraying that threat with bullets isn’t the best option, well he’ll still find a way to use his gun as proof of his power. While on the trek to the military facility, the soldiers catch sight of a walker in a restaurant. A single, lone, shambling walker who could easily be killed at close range with a knife. But in these early days of the infection, they don’t take their chances. Moyers sets up a sniper rifle to take out the walker, but demands that Travis be the one to do so.
It’s a pissing contest to prove Travis is his lesser. He wants him to shoot the walker to prove that he doesn’t think these things are human. Travis plays along at first, even those his previous words and actions have proved he does believe there may be humanity left in them. The scene is effective in its moments, not so much in the editing. A handheld, shaky cam style is adopted to get up close and personal with Travis as he preps the shot, changing the color and style of the episode, but the affectations do little to drive the moment home. It’s in the simple moments that Travis’ struggle is most successful. He prepares to take aim, and then sees a nametag on the walker, forcing him to acknowledge there was once a human in this body he’s about to shoot, and, for all he knows, there still could be.
He falters, and Moyers uses the moment as a victory, but his platoon suffers for his hubris later. Before making it to the facility, they make yet another stop at a library where another group of soldiers was held up. The place is crawling with walkers, enough to warrant the use of grenades at least, but Travis is forced to watch the fight from afar. When the troops flee from the scene back to Travis in their ride, he sees that the mission was botched and, more than that, Moyers is nowhere in sight. He’s told he’ll be dropped off back by camp while the rest of the soldiers hightail it out of there.
NEXT: The military care facility from hell. [pagebreak]
So when Travis returns home empty-handed, it makes the information Andrew has all the more pressing. Clearly the National Guard is in disarray, and what little care they may have for the citizens will be gone by the time Cobalt is fully in effect. But this presents a major problem for him, specifically what to do about Liza, Nick, and Griselda.
While Travis is left in the dark about their predicament, “Cobalt” shows us the not-so-joyous state of this medical facility. Liza is helping Exner with the influx of patients, but Liza remains wary of Exner and what’s really happening. She wants to see Griselda, but is merely assured that she’s being taken care of and is instead asked to focus on saving the people right in front of her.
Liza witnesses the stark reality of the situation — anyone treatable is shipped one way, anyone visibly bitten is quarantined in another direction, the timer on their lives rapidly ticking down. But Liza can’t simply let Griselda slip away from her, so she runs off to find her in a gated off room. She’s in septic shock as Exner, who conveniently appears moments after Liza does, explains. “Sometimes all we can do isn’t enough,” she tells Liza, and for Griselda, it’s now just a matter of when, not if, she will die even though they amputated her leg.
In her final moments, Griselda’s mind wanders. She speaks as if she’s in an entirely different location, talking directly to someone, though who that is is never explicitly stated. It stands to reason though, that coupled with Daniel’s talk of his former life, her conversation comes from the memories of another life long before the harrowing one she’s seen in the last few days.
She dies, and then the next true test for Liza comes. Griselda needs to be shot in the head so she doesn’t come back, but rather than letting Exner do it, she does so, unbeknownst to Daniel and Ofelia as the family faces its first casualty of the zombie apocalypse.
Liza makes another discovery during her search for Griselda, but that particular hunt leaves her little time to investigate. She finds a massive room with chain link fences set up into separate guarded cubes, which is where Nick happens to be held.
Nick, sick and weak at this point, is stuck in a cell with Doug, the anxious husband and father Travis spoke to last week, and a newcomer to the show, some smooth talking closer who promises he can sell anything. And he’s sold plenty of his belongings apparently to ensure the guards leave him alone. But Nick intrigues him in a way no one else has.
To him, Nick could be an asset, and he tells Nick as much when he reveals he’s going to make a move with a key he’s palmed. Nick will come in handy, because he knows the importance of necessity being a heroin addict.
But this man may need to make a few adjustments once Cobalt goes into effect. The time for it is already at hand it seems, as Chris and Alicia discover while walking out after curfew. The two ransacked and then destroyed an abandoned home that belonged to a wealthy family (and possibly showcased Chris’ awkward crush for his almost-stepsister when catching her looking at her reflection in a dress), and on their return trip home come across a few military vehicles barreling down the street.
They aren’t on patrol, however, a fact that also lets Daniel slip outside their perimeter to investigate based on Andrew’s intel. And the doors he comes to are chained up with the sounds of walkers pushing their way through on the other side. Whether they’re the “humane” way of taking care of the people or just another obstacle, the threat of Cobalt looms large, and with only hours left before it is enacted, let’s hope Daniel has something as effective as his one-man torture chamber planned to keep his family, and maybe a few others, safe.