TV Recap: The Walking Dead, ‘Self-Help’

The Walking Dead Season 5 poster.

Self-Help Plot Summary:

With his mission to bring Eugene (Josh McDermitt) to Washington DC back on track, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) won’t let anything stop him. But when his small group keeps hitting roadblocks, Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and Rosita (Christian Serratos) begin to have their doubts.

How one can survive in a world filled with the undead is put at the forefront fairly regularly on The Walking Dead. We have the tried and true method of using your innate weapons skills to fend off attackers, perfectly exemplified by Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Abraham. Followed quickly after that is a human’s basic tendency to adapt to any situation which is how people like Carol (Melissa McBride) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) can keep going. Lately however, we’ve seen a less aggressive method take hold: deception. People who don’t have the physical means to fight or adapt naturally default to tricking others as a means to live longer. Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) did this when he locked his parishioners out of his church. Now Eugene can join him as we learned in “Self-Help” that he’s been lying the entire time about being a scientist who can save the world.

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

You can’t exactly blame Eugene for doing what he did. When the world went to shit and people were eating other people, he naturally defaulted to the one weapon he could rely on: his brains. Eugene is smarter than the average person. His actions that brought him to where he is now prove that. He knew that, if he was able to present himself as the most valuable human being in the world, people would do everything they can to keep him going. Many literally died with the dream that Eugene was the savior the world was looking for. Of course, this is disgustingly selfish. As we heard during his confession, Eugene is indirectly responsible for the deaths of many, many people. It clearly pains him for doing that. But it didn’t matter to him how many people lost their lives. He was moving on and that’s all he cared about. Hell, he even confessed only when he was pushed into a position that no longer made his ruse the best course of action.

The Walking Dead did a great job handling this radical confession too. It’s one that really changes everything for our entire group, but more so with Abraham and Rosita. The stunned silence that followed was appropriately palpable and you can really feel the confused rage seething out of Abraham. I mean, here’s a guy who dedicated his current life to saving the world with Eugene. As we saw during flashbacks, Eugene is the one who stopped Abraham from killing himself and gave him a reason to live. To find out that everything was a complete sham is clearly devastating and you can just see that through Cudlitz’s performance. Ending the present story with Abraham collapsing into tears was intense too. The good news also is that, as someone who keeps up with the comics, I could still feel the sheer gravity of the situation. Knowing it was coming didn’t belittle the reveal by any means. It also helps that McDermitt really crushes his role as Eugene.

Doctor Eugene Porter
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Yet while the final fifteen minutes of “Self-Help” were great, everything between that and the bus crash in the beginning was pretty inconsequential. It was basically things to fill up time. The group staying at the bookstore? Abraham boning Rosita with Eugene watching? Heart-to-hearts between Glenn and Abraham, and Glenn and Maggie? Mostly padding that entered some pretty creepy, voyeuristic territory. The one thing that mattered was Eugene confessing that he sabotaged the bus, which was the latest in a long string of red flags that everyone failed to notice. Really, if you look back at Eugene’s actions since his first appearance, he was always for delaying the trip somehow. The flashbacks to Abraham’s previous life were powerful but unreasonably quick too. They primarily served to give us a taste of what makes this man tick but did nothing to introduce us to his past love interest. I think her name was Ellen? The show glossed over it so much that Abraham’s desire to suddenly kill himself didn’t feel that organic.

I will say though that focusing on this small group did give the ending the weight it deserved. Every character clearly wanted Eugene to succeed, but this is the tiny bunch that cared about it so much that they took a head start. They all maintained hope regardless of when shit hit the fan. To see all of that squashed instantly was even more devastating after seeing how bright everyone felt the future was. Even when Rosita tried to convince Abraham to stay an extra day in town, or when Glenn tried to get them to circle back around that massive herd. They all believed that what they were doing had purpose. Now that purpose is gone and everyone is pissed for being misled. So even though I wasn’t a fan of the group dividing two weeks ago, only to inevitably come back together, I do acknowledge the benefit of keeping the story tiny to up the intensity.

Glen from The Walking Dead.
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

It looks like next week’s episode will be all about Daryl and Carol going to rescue Beth (Emily Kinney). Not going to lie, this is not where I expected the season to go. To spend half a season waiting for the group to get back together, only to watch them split up again shortly after, is pretty shitty. The product of this so far is the slog of an hour that was “Slabtown” and now “Self-Help” which will probably only be remembered for what happened at the end. Even though a solid half of the episode reaffirmed everything we already know about how the characters feel, it did increase the ending by a certain magnitude. There is a benefit to keeping the groups in question small. The consequence though is that you’re often left with some fluff, which this episode did have. But hey, Eugene spraying walkers with a firehose was pretty freaking cool.

Rating: 8/10

===========================================================================================================

Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.

===========================================================================================================