The Walking Dead: 505 “Self Help” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
After three episodes with the whole crew, The Walking Dead has begun to ping around groups again – and after Beth’s bottle episode last week, it’s the turn of the Washington crew to get the spotlight in this week’s slice of gory shenanigans. While the crew of Abraham, Eugene and Rosita have been a slightly more colourful and distinctive bunch than the battle-hardened warriors that make up most of the group, they haven’t been fleshed out too much so far – and Self Help served to rectify that by attempting to flesh out all three, to mixed results.
Eugene’s character development this week was easily the most successful; he’s been a somewhat comical character so far – something of a overgrown baby the group have to carry to Washington – but Self Help ably adds a little more shade to Eugene’s character. He’s more than a little seedy, spying on Abraham and Rosita’s ‘nightlife’ in a somewhat twisted but amusing little scene and sabotaging the group’s bus (though of course, his real crimes were a little worse) – but there’s some slightly more cheer-worthy moments for the ‘scientist’, as he finally kills his first walkers (with some effort) and begins to gain a little confidence; we even find out why Eugene has a mullet. It’s a relatively basic character journey and there’s clearly some more interesting things to come for Eugene’s character, but Self Help does some solid work making Eugene a little more than a man-child in shorts (even if he is still very much a man-child in shorts).
Abraham, meanwhile, gets a little bit of a mixed bag. Self Help at least succeeds in showing the extremely masculine army man pushed to the very edge – and Michael Cudlitz does his best work yet as a practically insane Abraham (and some surprisingly understated work in the flashbacks, at least for Abraham standards) – but the central flashbacks that are sprinkled throughout the episode are a little middling. There’s a strong end to the flashbacks as Abraham meets Eugene for the first time (a neat contrast with the scenes before), but the flashbacks come across as half-baked and lazy, vaguely thought out and presented with key pieces of context missing. Half the flashbacks aren’t really explained, with questions like ‘who did Abraham kill?’ ‘Why?’ ‘How come his family knew?’ still left unexplained at the end of the episode. Perhaps the vagueness was intended, but as it is the attempt to provide Abraham with a backstory feels like a late, not particularly well thought out idea. As for Rosita? She at least gets some lines, but aside from the reveal that she shares a relationship with Abraham, she remains personality-free and fairly bland.
Self Help does deliver some great walker action – aside from the smattering of well-executed if fairly standard walker killing, the scene with the fire truck was a pleasingly inventive idea executed well, and gives us a nice hero moment for Eugene before the final scenes, and the visuals of the walker-infested fields were fittingly imposing – but the central problem of pacing crops up again after last week’s crawling first half. Self Help starts well and ends extremely well, but it does stretch a meagre amount of story into what ends up being a flabby middle section. There were some strong scenes in the bookshop – Tara and Eugene’s budding friendship saw a nice pairing of two very different characters – but the plot does somewhat stop midway through after the bus crash. Glenn and Maggie are interesting and likeable characters (and Glenn gets some great moments that show a promising resurgence for the character), but they feel a little out of place in what’s very much Abraham and Eugene’s (and yes, Rosita’s) episode, and their scenes come across as decent enough but a little inessential to the overall plot, and only really become important to the episode in the third act.
Despite my grievances with the episode, Self Help does somewhat redeem itself with a terrific final 10 minutes. With Abraham willing to drive straight through the zombie horde to avoid another detour, Eugene comes out with a revelation that flips not just this episode, but the entire season on its head – he’s not really a scientist, and doesn’t know anything about a cure. It’s the relatively obvious conclusion to an arc that couldn’t have gone anywhere else without ending the whole show, but it’s what the revelation does to the characters that make Eugene’s confession easily the episode’s highlight. Josh McDermitt, after some amusing work in previous episodes, does an excellent job with the scene; wracked with guilt (Eugene rolling off a list of names of people who have died for him was a shocking but effective little moment) terrified of what the group will to do him – and as it turns out, he was probably right to be afraid. Eugene ends the episode unconscious and bleeding after a particularly masculine (it is Abraham after all) set of punches, and Abraham ends the episode kneeling with his hopes and dreams destroyed. Where do the group go from here? Find out next week… or in a few weeks’ time.
Despite the poorly executed flashbacks and occasional glacial pace, Self Help was a fairly good episode with some neat action moments and a doozy of a final plot twist. Onto next time, which sees Carol and Daryl on the hunt for Beth…
Scene of the Episode: It’s a Knockout – Abraham lays his manly fists of moustachioed fury on Eugene after Eugene’s confession that doesn’t really have the cure.