‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Episode 5 Recap: What’s the Plan, Dan?

Spoiler alert: Do not read until you watch “Fear the Walking Dead,” Season 1, episode 5, titled “Cobalt.”

Following last week’s gripping look at life in a suburban L.A. internment camp, Episode 5 of “Fear the Walking Dead” was a curiously dull affair that did little to advance the story or deepen the characters. Instead, this installment spent an unwelcome amount of time rehashing the TV torture debate, an exhausted plot device that should’ve ended with the series finale of “24” back in 2010.

The episode – titled “Cobalt” – opens with an image of the American flag seen in reverse and topped with razor wire. Behind it, frightened Angelenos are held prisoner in Guantanamo-like cages. Subtle, it’s not.

Above the crying and shouting, a velvet purr of a voice begins narrating a disturbing sales pitch. This is Strand (played by Colman Domingo), a stylish operator who’s busy getting inside the head of Doug Thompson, the unbalanced neighbor who mysteriously disappeared last week. Unlike the rather mundane characters who’ve populated “Fear the Walking Dead” so far, Strand is a true original.

This introductory scene plays very much like an audition for “Glengarry Glen Ross,” with Strand taking on the role of smooth-talking salesman Ricky Roma. To drive the message home, he even refers to himself as “a closer” at one point, and as anyone familiar with David Mamet’s incendiary drama knows, coffee is for closers.

Why Strand breaks down Doug’s fragile defenses, manipulating him into getting taken away at gunpoint, is a bit of a mystery. What’s obvious, however, is that his curiosity is piqued by fellow prisoner Nick.

Back in the neighborhood, tensions between the citizens and the National Guard are boiling over following the late-night kidnapping of 11 “at-risk elements to the local populace.” With morale dangerously low, Travis meets with Lt. Moyers to see about getting his people released from custody.

“If the ones you took don’t come back soon, you’re gonna have more than me to worry about,” Travis threatens. Calling his bluff, Moyers takes the pacifist English teacher on a military ride-along to see Dr. Exner at the nearby medical facility.

This leads to a disappointing sequence where Moyers demands that Travis shoot one of the “Skinbags” (i.e. walkers) to prove that he’s on their side. When Travis claims that he’s not a good enough shot, Moyers teases that with the equipment they’re carrying “Helen Keller could drill this thing.”

It’s unclear how seeing Travis refuse to shoot a zombie is meant to give us greater insight into his personality. Instead, it merely reiterates things we’ve known about him since the very first episode. Ultimately, the scene feels like yet another example of the series marking time before its finale.

Meanwhile, Alicia and Chris, bored and angry at their parents, break into an empty home and bond by playing with their neighbor’s expensive toys and clothing. “These little bastards are having the childhood we deserve!” Alicia says. Fans of classic zombie cinema might notice a striking visual parallel between Alicia primping in a mirror and a nearly identical shot of actress Gaylen Ross playing dress-up in George A. Romero’s original “Dawn of the Dead.”

Sadly, the bulk of the episode is spent with Daniel and Adams, the seemingly-decent National Guardsman introduced last week, replaying an overly familiar torture scenario in the dimly-lit basement of an abandoned house. With Maddie’s grudging approval, Daniel questions the young soldier, while slowly stripping the flesh from his arm.

“This is how we bring them home,” Daniel tells Maddie, referring to their missing family members.

Despite Daniel’s mumbo-jumbo about how “the man with the blade and the man in the chair” are not different, this tired sequence adds nothing new to an issue that’s been repeated ad nauseam on series like “24,” “Lost,” “Homeland,” “Chicago P.D.” and “The Black List.”

Honestly, do we really need to have this debate again?

Even the actors barely seem invested in it. After delivering a powerful monologue last week about the horrors he witnessed as a child in El Salvador, Rubén Blades’ flat recitation of a torturer’s mantra lacks both energy and nuance.

The sequence itself is poorly staged, with Adams never crying out or begging for his life. “You don’t have to do this,” is the most he offers. The whole thing lacks tension, since we get the impression that he could easily be convinced to tell Daniel everything he knows with just a little bit of coaxing. Instead, we’re treated to the ugly sight of a formerly interesting, sympathetic character reduced to recreating scenes from Eli Roth’s “Hostel.” It’s a major letdown.

In the end, Adams reveals the meaning of the code word “Cobalt” that Daniel’s been asking him about. It’s a command to evacuate the Los Angeles basin by 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include civilians. They’re to receive “humane termination” from the soldiers, instead.

See that, everyone. The torture worked. Yippee?

The episode ends with Daniel somehow walking all the way from the fenced-in East L.A. neighborhood to the Los Angeles Arena (that’s at least seven miles on foot in the dark), where the soldiers have chained 2,000 zombies inside.

What’s his plan? To release them all before Cobalt can be initiated? After this somewhat tedious hour of television, the possibility of a massive horde of hungry walkers storming through L.A. on a collision course with the National Guard doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

With any luck, smooth-talking Strand will be the only one left standing when the dust settles.

More TV

  • "Raven's Home" Executive Producer, Eunetta Boone.

    Eunetta Boone, Showrunner and Creator of 'One on One,' Dies at 63

    Writer-producer Eunetta Boone, creator of the UPN comedy “One on One” and showrunner of Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home,” died Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 63. Boone was found dead at her home of an apparent heart attack. Boone had most recently worked as showrunner on the third season of the Disney [...]

  • Global Sales for ‘Les Miserables’ Series

    Global Sales for ‘Les Miserables’ Starring Dominic West Ahead of Series Mania

    The BBC and Masterpiece adaptation of “Les Miserables” will play on a numerous international channels after a raft of deals were sealed for the series, which features Dominic West, David Oyelowo, and Lily Collins. Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic has been acquired by broadcasters in Scandinavia and southern Europe, and by several buyers [...]

  • Kevin Hart

    TV News Roundup: Kevin Hart Netflix Comedy Special Drops First Trailer

    In today’s roundup, Netflix releases the official trailer for the comedy special “Kevin Hart: Irresponsible” and Josh Charles joins Showtime’s Roger Ailes series “The Loudest Voice.” DATES Season two of “Yellowstone,” starring Kevin Costner, will premiere on Paramount Network on June 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The sophomore season will continue the story of rancher John Dutton [...]

  • adidas game of thrones

    5 New 'Game of Thrones' Collaborations Coming in Time for the Final Season

    Some of the biggest lifestyle brands in the world are jumping on the “Game of Thrones” bandwagon this spring, hoping to capitalize on the fandom and popularity of the HBO hit, as it enters its eighth and final season. From sneakers to spirits, these officially-licensed collaborations extend the characters and colors of the show beyond [...]

  • Nicole Richie

    Nicole Richie Joins Fox Comedy Pilot 'Richard Lovely'

    Nicole Richie has been cast in a series regular role in the Fox single-cam comedy pilot “Richard Lovely.” The project follows Richard Lovely (Thomas Lennon), the disgruntled author of the best-selling children’s book series, “Mr. Mouse.” He doesn’t hate children, but rather just everything about them. After a publicity fiasco involving an unexpectedly savvy 9-year-old [...]

  • Gabrielle Union Marketing Summit

    Gabrielle Union on Building a Brand as a ‘40-Year-Old Black Woman From Nebraska’

    When New York & Company approached Gabrielle Union to be their new brand ambassador and the face of her own clothing line, the actress reacted with “disbelief.” “We are not supposed to be getting those offers, I’m not supposed to be having a career resurgence, my value isn’t supposed to be this high,” Union explained [...]

  • Lachlan Murdoch

    New Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch Announces All Employees to Receive Stock in Company

    The new standalone entity Fox Corp. held a town hall on Thursday, just over a day after the official closing of the 21st Century Fox-Disney merger. Fox Corp. chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch led the meeting, at which sources say he announced that all employees would receive stock in the new company. The amount of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content