There’s no denying that ‘Cobalt’ was a bit of a step backwards for Fear the Walking Dead. With the momentum built up in previous weeks, this penultimate episode really needed to splice the various plotlines back together into one key element that would drive next week’s finale. It didn’t do that. And while it’s not a crime to keep the different developments separate, it is a problem when each of those developments amounts to very little on its own.
The prime case in point here is the continued attempts to make Chris and Alicia relevant. Alicia’s arc has deteriorated over the season, from a great start as a consistent and captivating character, to one that the writers don’t seem to have much of a plan for. Meanwhile, Chris has really felt like a sort of character building device for Travis thus far, rather than excelling as his own person. So, unsurprisingly, their combined screen time this week meant very little beyond a tentative attempt at exploring the world the apocalypse left behind.
To be fair, the other points this week were both stronger and more relevant, yet none of them had the punch that we’ve seen in previous episodes. While intriguing to watch, Salazar’s torture veered wildly as it went on; at first it appeared as though the scene was designed to paint a picture of Salazar as a man failing to escape a brutal past, one that he has hidden so far. Yet by the end it felt as if we were back to the old ‘torture works’ cliché that TV insists on perpetuating. Later on, he was also the focus for a rather ambiguous ending. What exactly is behind those doors? While you might well be crying hypocrite after my earlier point on a lack of exciting development, this still stands up; no matter what that facility was, all it appears to be now is basically ‘walker HQ’.The continuation of last week’s cliff-hanger was also a bit tame. I don’t have a problem with it not being outlandishly dark or inhumane (though the holding pens were moving towards such a description), but it didn’t come across as the sort of place that would be held in so much secrecy or paranoia. It really is just a holding facility for the infected – logical tests get carried out to determine blood pressure, the doctors do really try to save the patients, and only take the final step if it’s already too late. It’s not pretty, but it’s also not the horror it was set up to be.
With the last of the main cast, the two apparent leads felt tacked on to the aforementioned storylines, with Travis acting almost as a juxtaposition for Liza – not shooting the walker, as Liza shot Griselda – and Maddy being the moral anchor. Of course this is a somewhat facetious summary, with both having other elements in play here, yet the fact remains that they joined the other characters in coming across as underwhelming here.
It’s tough to criticise Fear the Walking Dead, as it has done a pretty good job of living up to its parent show. Yet by delivering consistently up until now, it also set itself a high bar, one that ‘Cobalt’ simply didn’t attain. Hopefully the finale delivers, while also dealing with that most pressing of issues – what happens to the show once we move past the present and into a fully ‘post-apocalyptic’ world, and what separates that show from The Walking Dead? We’ll be tuning in next week to find out.