The Walking Dead season 5 episode 5 review: Self-Help

Was this week's episode the best time to flesh out Abraham and Eugene's characters in The Walking Dead? Ron thinks not...

This review contains spoilers.

5.5 Self-Help

After last week’s surprisingly good Bethisode, The Walking Dead refuses to stick with the storyline that I want to see finished and instead chooses to take a little field trip in the church bus. Yes, rather than seeing the Trojan Carol spring into action with the surprisingly capable Beth at her side (call them Daryl’s Angels), we get something of an Abraham origin story. Of course, it’s spread throughout the episode in little drips and drops to extend the dramatic tension, but everyone’s favorite Fu Manchu gets a little more characterization besides “ginger bad-ass with a stereotypical temper.”

Abraham is in dire need of some fleshing out, so far all we know about him is the above-mentioned hot-headedness and his ability to just go kill-crazy on zombies at any time, but I have to question the timing of this. All I wanted to see this week was some resolution for Carol and Beth, or maybe Daryl leading the cavalry back to rescue the aforementioned ladies. However, we get to follow Glenn, Maggie, and the least fleshed-out characters in the ensemble as they go for a bus ride, tease Eugene about his mullet, and then hide out in a library after a terrible car accident and an impressively-staged escape from a handy gang of walkers.

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It’s an interesting dichotomy the episode sets up, with the most active characters of the bunch being Abraham, Eugene, and Tara, with Abraham and Eugene shouldering the weight of the dramatic tension. I really enjoyed Josh McDermitt’s performance this week, as he does a great job of keeping up Eugene’s semi-autistic mannerisms while also betraying the character’s inner weakness and his own ambivalence towards his actions to slow the group’s progress towards Washington. Eugene has been keeping a secret for a long, long time, and like Dr. Edwards last week, he’s willing to put everyone in danger to keep his own mullet intact. That secret—probably something everyone at home has figured out ages ago—ends up coming out at the best/worst time for the group. It also feels a little artificial that Glenn and Maggie aren’t smart enough to see through the guy, but the flashbacks do a good job of establishing just why Abraham doesn’t want to see through Eugene’s subterfuge. Michael Cudlitz does a great job this week as well, both in the flashbacks and in the present-day scenes as he comes to terms with his mission’s futility. I look forward to seeing more from those two before this season is out.

It helps the argument that Eugene’s pretty clever when he has to be. He may not be much in a zombie fight, but the man knows his way around a water cannon. It’s a very clever set-up, courtesy of the show’s stunt team and filmed expertly by Ernest Dickerson. To see the struggle as our heroes batter away the firehouse walkers—great effects on the skull crushing by Abraham with the butt of the rifle—only to be saved by Eugene’s clever use of the high pressure fire hose made a pretty standard clearing sequence into something really gross and fun. The disintegrating zombies were very cool indeed. I’m not sure if people really turn to paste under the pressure of a fire hose, but I’m sure at such close range that water would do some real damage, particularly to someone whose body lacks the structural integrity of the living. Dickerson also makes great use of space in his shooting scenes, particularly in the scenes with the group walking down the road. The fact that he made sure the group went around the flaming, potentially exploding bus, is a clever bit of thoughtfulness.

The script this week, from Heather Bellson and Seth Hoffman, tends to show more than tell. The writing is good, but it’s harder to engage with these characters after what happened last week. (The performances really help sell the material, just the same.) No knock on their work, as the script is fine, Eugene’s reveal is perfectly placed in the episode, and Abraham is funny, but it just lacks the crackle of previous episodes.

Perhaps it only suffers in comparison to the previous great to really great episodes. Characters have to be developed eventually, right? This just might not have been the best time in the season to do that. I’m not invested in most of these characters at this point—even Glenn and Maggie have seen better days—and I’m very invested in the fate of Beth and Carol at the hospital. If we could get two Governor episodes back to back, surely we could’ve saved Abraham for next week and resolved the hospital post-haste.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Slabtown, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that Eugene’s creepy voyeur act is the funniest thing he’s seen on television in years, if only because of Josh McDermitt’s great expression. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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