AMC‘s The Walking Dead Self Help TV Show Review. The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 5: ‘Self Help,’ was the watershed moment that could have taken forever to arrive, but came in a single episode, mercifully enough. It was also something of a footnote, to the conclusion of the Hunters arc, and likely helped frame the upcoming mid-season finale.
Of course, a watershed moment, to a show like The Walking Dead, tends to come with a whole load of back breaking, spirit crushing, heavy material (occasionally with a helping of righteous payback); so, naturally, a little humor is offered as an appetizer.
In this case, it was banter about hair. Taking front & center, was Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) power mullet. There remain those amongst us who swear by the power of the mullet. For those of us choosing to resist its obvious advantages, I’d say don’t underestimate the power of the mullet in the hands of TWD‘s showrunners. To drive home that point, the discussion was cut short by the bus crashing, then being set upon by Walkers. Save for the hilarious sight, of creeping Kilroy Eugene (later on), that concluded the light-hearted calm-before-the-storm set up to the episode.
The first sign of things to come, however, was Tara (Alanna Masterson) coaxing Eugene out of the wreck, and into the fight. Eugene took an opportunity to get a Walker out of Tara’s blind-spot, then took the time to inspect his first assisted kill. I reasoned that he didn’t so much spit at it, as spit at the fear he had only just faced, for the first time. That’s how it started for Eugene. For Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), it started with the prospect of having to make another stop. While stopping has always run afoul of his stay-on-the-offense mind-set, the episode provided another reason.
It seems that stopping allows Abraham’s demons to catch up to him; demons now made known to us through a series of quick, scene framing flashbacks. While the rest of the group settled in, before the next leg, Abraham worked on keeping sharp. Keeping sharp, however, may have been a personal diversion, this whole time.
I thought it odd that, up ’till now, no one had brought up bicycle travel, as a principal mode of transport. Personally, I had just ruled out road travel, altogether – especially after the first run in with the mega herd had neutralized a car. Still, it would be a sensible way to cover ground, without worrying about noise or fuel – provided you were willing to carry it across densely wooded detours, in the event of an unpleasant run in.
The field rigging bits were always nice to see. Coming at the expense of literature, however (tragic as it was), is a cyclical reality of such times. After a plague of disease, and barbarians, it would take the Islamic Renaissance to restore Greco-Roman culture to western Europe. I have no idea who the custodians of civilization would be, in Walker World; but I suspect it will be a reoccurring theme.
One theme that probably hasn’t gotten as much coverage as some might like: sex. Glenn (Steven Yeun) & Maggie (Lauren Cohan) are practically an old couple, at this point; so I guess the Abraham-Rosita (Christian Serratos) relationship needed consummating. This was no mere fanservice, however. When Tara caught Eugene playing voyeur (from the self-help section, no less), he eventually stumbled his way into coming clean, about his role in the bus crash. Between Tara turning his revelation into a private bonding moment, and Maggie’s latter take on his inner nature – only hinted at by his ‘plumage’ – Eugene sensed a sea-change to his place within the group. There was also a change in the works for Abraham & Rosita. If her sex scene with Abraham (complete with his dismissal of Eugene’s creeping) seemed to confirm her role, as a mere comfort to Abraham, then it only accentuated what came later.
I would regret the sentiment, later on, but after Eugene got another ego boost (using a fire engine’s pressure hose, to take down some Walkers), Abraham got a real kick out of the scenario that was left for them (by the previous occupants), and I thought that I liked him better in a bad mood. I just couldn’t tell who was less mentally reliable – him, or Eugene – otherwise. With positive reinforcement reacting with Eugene’s own inner demons, and Abraham’s single-mindedness now affecting more than just Rosita, I suppose it was a stupid question.
Rosita finally broke from Abraham’s orbit, this episode, and it was about time. I gather it was some time, in the making, but Abraham’s inability to let his own hand heal may have been a clear representation of Rosita’s frustration – as the one constantly patching it up. The additional voices of Maggie & Glenn – making the group more than just one man, plus one, getting Eugene to the church on time – likely gave weight to her objections. There was a group dynamic, now, and it had swung against Abraham’s Generalissimo styled bullying.
Being a soldier, however, someone like Abraham does not recognize democratic principle in emergency situations. An unassailable obstacle (like, say, a Walker mega herd) meant all sorts of problems – but retreat wasn’t one. Detour equaled retreat, retreat equaled failure, and to him, failure equals death.
Source fans have been relatively good about keeping the outcome of ‘Self Help’ to themselves. Some source context, left vague in the episode, was that the men Abraham killed (in the flashback), were part of the group his family originally set out with. They turned on his family, he did what came naturally, but his family was as ill-prepared for his savagery, as they were for the initial betrayal. His failure cost him their trust, then much more, resulting in his life becoming forfeit. In fashion timely enough to be divine intervention, Eugene gave him a reason to soldier on. Abraham, in turn, gave Eugene a means of surviving a hopeless situation.
The brief, and sporadic nature of Abraham’s formative flashbacks, suggested that they were always in the back of his mind – driving him for the duration of the D.C. mission – and were at the ready, when the second shoe dropped.
With his own self-doubts now in doubt (and a kind of hope acting as a catalyst, to the fear now boiling over, in time with the flaring tempers of the others), Eugene came clean. It could have been panic, it could have been an act of novice bravery. What it was, for certain, was poorly timed.
Abraham Ford is a machine. He has been programmed to protect what matters most, at the expense of all else – even if that means the destruction of all else. Take away that which matters, and destruction (self, or otherwise) is all that remains. Something to be said about military indoctrination, maybe; but the great taker, of what mattered most to Abraham – sitting atop a list of takers, that included the group that turned on his family, and himself, for failing to protect them – was now the very thing, itself, Eugene.
If anything makes the case, for the difference between knowledge & wisdom, it was Eugene resorting to the “I’m smarter than you” line, after bringing Abraham back to the state he found him in. In that state, Abraham was the killing machine. The difference between a suicidal Abraham, and a homicidal one, however, was determined by whether the demons he had to kill were internal, or external. Eugene drawing attention to himself, as the unjust cause to a lot of sacrifice, was most unwise. Country don’t mean dumb; but smart don’t mean dumb-proof, and sometimes, the mullet only has power over the mind it conceals.
An alternative title to ‘Self Help’ could have been ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ If Abraham & Eugene each thought that the mission to save all mankind would somehow spare them the pain, of confronting their own handicaps, then it’s just as well that it was doomed from the start. Dismissing all else – including Rick’s group – likely didn’t help build karma points. The Walker mega heard factored in, once again; but only served as the trigger to an inevitable confrontation. Sooner or later, it was going to happen. The fact that it was sooner, can only mean a return to Rick’s group. You can argue that to be an inevitable outcome, in & of itself, but the Ford expedition had to run this course, before getting there.
Rick’s group could do nothing for Abraham’s, so long as its mission was front & center; no more than Eugene could indefinitely stay in the shadows of others, for his own survival, or Abraham could externalize his very existence, as a protective killing machine. If either of them is to be of any use, to the larger group, going forward, they had to get over themselves. As of ground zero, however, it remains to be seen if either man will survive that process, physically, or otherwise.
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