by Thom Yee
5×05: “Self Help”
For a variety of reasons, including the Governor’s story being overly drawn out — which I maintain ruined the pacing and development of a lot of different parts of the show last season — Abraham’s group has been pretty underserved so far. Beyond the mission, we don’t really know what’s going on with them, what’s motivating them, or who they are under the surface. Abraham’s incredibly militaristic; Eugene’s improbably anti-social; Rosita’s impossibly hot. That’s been about all there was to them up until this episode.
“Self Help” represents a fairly important turning point in the whole cure storyline that’s been percolating (and going nowhere) ever since we were introduced to the Abraham trio.
On the road to Washington, D.C., our heroes’ bus blows up and goes flying through a mid-air turnover, Fast-and-Furious-style, leaving the group to find shelter and finally slow down a bit. Abraham receives the lion’s share of attention as flashbacks throughout the episode gradually reveal that his wife and kids were eaten by walkers after they freaked out at the sight of the severe beating Abraham gave the men who raped them (some of whom were once friends and neighbours, pre-outbreak) while he was out on a supply run. It’s a decent backstory for the formerly unknowable Abraham, who’s sort of going insane over the course of the episode, but I honestly got a lot more of a sense of the character from brief moments like his talk with Glenn, thanking him for backing him up on moving forward post-bus-crash when they could’ve just gone back to the church.
Eugene gets a little bit of time for his own tiny little character arc as he goes from totally ineffectual against walkers to blowing an entire group of them away with a fire hose. Sure, it wasted a lot of the group’s potential drinking water, but it showed the ingenuity of the character just as it looked like our heroes were about to be overwhelmed (well, not really, we all know everybody’s pretty safe, except maybe Tara who has yet to serve much of a purpose so far). Though the outward signs are spare, it’s easy to see Eugene coming around to the group and building himself up throughout the fairly literally titled “Self Help”.
All the way up till he reveals that he has no idea how to cure the zombie outbreak, that is. Obviously that’s a huge revelation and the turning point of the episode, and it’s really one of the few times the writers have managed to land such a game-changer in such a devastating manner. It completely deflates and derails the group, causing Abraham to totally break down and beat Eugene near to death in a moment obviously mirroring the events that caused Abraham’s family to abandon him in the first place. Though this reveal threatens to make Eugene a pariah (along with the reveal that he deliberately sabotaged the bus and caused the crash), Eugene’s stilted speech and logical reasoning somehow manages to keep him just this side of sympathetic — he knows that he wouldn’t have survived without help, and combined with the ruthlessness of Abraham, who was willing to abandon him before Eugene lied to him and gave him a mission, you can see why he did what he did.
While not the fastest or most exciting of episodes, “Self Help” finally gives us some development for the heretofore largely ignored Abraham trio (except for Rosita, further proving that there’s no interesting roles for women who don’t carry their own katanas) before blowing up their entire reason for existence. Unfortunately, for those of us who read the comic, we all already knew this, and I’m really starting to miss the days of the writers totally screwing with the established continuity, even if that practice generally turned out a vastly inferior product. Still, it’s an episode with an impactful message delivered much more organically than the show usually manages, and it’s hard not to at least be happy about that.
The Walking Dead “Self Help” final score: 8
Items of Note:
- One interesting wrinkle to all of this is that comic-book Glenn and Maggie probably wouldn’t have gone along with Abraham’s group because they were acting as [the still-surviving] Sophia’s surrogate parents at the time [since Carol had long-before died and never become the character she is in the TV show]. It’s an interesting contrast to the somewhat more freewheeling Glenn and Maggie of the TV show.
- “He’s watching again.”
- Seeing Eugene and Tara fist bump made me think about the timeline of this show against cultural artifacts. Considering the show’s start in 2010, their world never got past the first iPad, never saw The Avengers or the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and only saw Obama through the first two years of his presidency.