It’s taken a while — perhaps too long, for some viewers — for Fear the Walking Dead to trot out some of the powerhouse actors that have been waiting in the wings. Rubén Blades didn’t show up until the second week. Shawn Hatosy made his first appearance (barely) last week. And now this season’s penultimate installment — “Cobalt” — introduces someone theater geeks have been waiting to see since the show’s cast was announced. Colman Domingo, the Obie-winning co-star of the rock musical Passing Strange (and Tony-nominated for The Scottsboro Boys), kicks off this episode with what could be called a “reverse Patton” speech. Under the shadow of a backwards American flag, seated in a government holding-pen, Domingo’s character Strand saps the will of his cellmate, one needling insult at a time. In less than five minutes — before the opening credits, no less — he becomes the most fascinating person on the show.
That’s not a knock against Fear so much as it’s a big thumbs-up for Domingo. Because this is the spin-off series’ best episode yet — at times even “best TV of the year” good.
Writing for television is such a collaborative process that it’s usually misguided to give credit for an especially strong script to any one person. That said, remember this name: David Wiener. He gets his first FTWD “written by” this week, after serving as a co-executive producer on the first four episodes (and working on The Killing and Last Resort previously). There’s a wonderfully pungent flavor to Wiener’s dialogue in “Cobalt,” unlike anything this show has served up before.
It starts with that Strand monologue, who’s being held in the facility where the National Guard has been keeping the sick and the troublemakers — the place where the junkie Nick Clark and the dying Griselda Salazar were taken at the end of last week’s episode, “Not Fade Away.” The newbie only gets three scenes, which isn’t enough to explain who he is, or why he’s being detained. But Strand is clearly a man with a plan. As he asks about the attractiveness of a fellow prisoner’s missing wife like a David Mamet villain (“Did Maria… keep herself up? Her figure, Douglass. Her shape.”), he gets across his longstanding worldview: only the fit survive. Those who aren’t physically strong enough should surround themselves with people they can use. And he’s apparently been cutting deals with the guards to keep only the most potentially helpful folks by his side — one of whom turns out to be Nick.