“Self Help,” the fifth episode of The Walking Dead season 5, is another character-centric one. Abraham, his relationship with Eugene and Rosita, and his past are the subjects of an episode that doesn’t give us too much to work with. By the end, we’re left with a pretty underwhelming revelation that, while it will definitely shape the rest of the season, was very much expected.
I wish that the show had gone all the way with Eugene’s secret. Abraham and the others reach Washington only for Eugene to reveal the truth. Of course, that probably wouldn’t have worked due to the budget and source material. But it would’ve been nice for The Walking Dead to have kept its cards close to the chest for just a little while longer. I was having fun guessing when Eugene would drop the bomb.
The set piece that sets up this episode is eye-rollingly overused. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a zombie film/show where a bus hasn’t overturned, putting the characters in immediate danger, as the monsters swarm towards them. In fact, didn’t a bus overturn last season? The tricks and plot devices used in this episode seem a bit cheap, a product of a season that might not have figured out what to do with its large cast of characters.
But before I get into more complaining — I really don’t want this to become a habit — let’s talk about what the episode does well.
WHAT THE EPISODE GETS RIGHT
Josh McDermitt kills it as Eugene Porter. It’s perfect casting: the way he delivers his lines, the way he marches rather than walks, his absolute incomprehension of social cues…It’s robotic in just the right way. You couldn’t ask for a better actor to portray this character.
Eugene’s lines this week are absolutely hilarious, including his defense of his signature mullet, and perhaps this is done to counteract our complete hatred of the character by the end. The writers, Heather Bellson (who’s also a producer on the show) in this case, expertly weave a little character arc that sees Eugene become the villain of the episode and then the dumb, cowardly good guy. After all, he did save Abraham’s life back in the day.
I can’t tell if Eugene is dead after Abraham lays the smackdown on him, but that squishy sound that his head makes when he hits the pavement face-first didn’t sound too good. It was plain gruesome. In fact, that’s another note: The Walking Dead has found a way to make human violence way more shocking and gory than the zombie kill. It’s impressive.
Anyways, is Eugene dead at the end of the episode? Enlighten me in the comments section.
Ah, but Abraham is the real star here, Eugene only the dumbass that pushes the plot forward. Who is Abraham? A man on a mission, leading his men to the promised land. A man with a singluar vision: get Eugene to Washington and save the world. At any cost, even human lives. Abraham is an agent of the greater good. He’s a leader that falls so hard after tonight’s shitshow that I can only imagine his command is over.
Where Abraham’s story fails me this week is in the plastic emotions provided by the nonsensical flashbacks. Those blurry (what a cliche!) moments from the past are heavy-handed examples of over-explanation. It’s filler.
Everyone anywhere always forever could’ve guesed that Abraham had lost someone during the apocalypse. But is it worth re-telling the same story we’ve heard from many other perspectives on this show? Abraham doesn’t even lose his family in a particularly interesting way — yes, I’m a bad person — rendering the flashbacks useless. All they manage to do is confirm that Abraham is obsessive and scary. I could’ve told you that last season. That he would be purposeless if it weren’t for Eugene has been apparent since day one.
All along, Abraham has treated his companions like means to completing his mission. He describes Rosita as the “piece of ass” he needs to get through the night. He thanks Glenn and Maggie for honoring their promise after the bus crash. Eugene’s gratitude towards Tara might be described as more human.
Abraham’s breaking point comes without shock. The writers attempt to connect Abraham’s past failure to his current ones, but in doing so, rob the episode’s climax of one big moment by watering it down with a second.
Up to this point, Abraham has been an efficient character with minimal backstory because it was unnecessary. Abraham’s always had his eyes on the future — something most characters on this show haven’t really considered — and that’s what made this tank so unique to the show. He’s a bit more ordinary now.
I imagine what it would’ve been like if we’d been given a long montage of the Governor playing with his daughter before she turned, both of them laughing as he pushed her on a swing (or something cliched like that). We would’ve been robbed of some of the nuance. As we are here.
THE BIG, BAD SETUP
Like last week’s “Slabtown,” tonight’s episode is an hour-long setup for things to come. Abraham’s group is now directionless, and I can only assume (you know what happens when you assume) that Glenn is going to have more of a leadership role from now on.
Both Glenn and Maggie have been mute observers this season. They haven’t been given enough to say or do. Tonight’s episode seemed interested in shifting the spotlight a bit.
People have been placing their bets for weeks on the big death of the season. Glenn is a “fan favorite” for this fate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if purposeless Abraham got the short end of the stick on this one. Or maybe now his real story can begin. If Abraham can continue to look to the future, maybe he can still find a place in the new world.
For more on The Walking Dead, visit our coverage hub!