It's practically impossible to discuss anything about this week's episode without it being a spoiler, but suffice to say we got the most major revelation since we learned Terminus is A Bad Place. And we also got a crappier, less interesting revelation: Abraham is a crazy asshole.
"Self-Help" is the title of tonight's episode, which focuses on the Abraham-led group, determined to get Eugene to Washington, DC at all costs in order to stop the zombie plague (in retrospect, it's a pretty fantastic episode title). They've taken the bus from Gabriel's church, and are heading down the road, and even get to listen to a tape! Abraham and Rosita flirt a bit, and everyone talks hair. Of course, this means Eugene's mullet has to be addressed, and it's likened to Samson's locks of power (AS IT SHOULD BE). And because this is The Walking Dead, the bus suddenly flips over.
Of course it flips into a crowd of zombies, who surround the bus, and the group needs to escape before the bus catches fire. It's not an especially tense scene of zombie action, but it is nice to have visual proof that our heroes are more than competent enough to manage a couple dozen zombies, even after a major vehicular accident. At this point, everybody is ready to head back to the church — everybody except Abraham, of course. And the fact that they've crashed a mere 15 miles from Gabriel's church matters not a bit to him.
"Self-Help" is really about two characters, Abraham and Eugene. The latter is better than the former because Abraham has gone insane, in a not-fun season-3 Rick way. He's not seeing Ghost Lori, thank god, but in his determination to complete his "mission," he has completely abandoned all common sense. It's dumb and Abraham is being dumb. Once they've lost the tactical advantage of the bus, surely it makes more sense to go back and wait for Rick and the others — the cost of waiting a day or two in apparent safety for Daryl and Carol to return, for the benefit of traveling with a larger group is obvious. But not to Abraham.
Even if you believe Abraham's speech about "This is how things stop!", which is pretty good (until you remember the entirety of both groups were asking him to postpone leaving for a day or two before setting out, not wait out the goddamn winter or anything). And when the others point out that the town they camp in overnight (specifically at the local library. Reading is power!) doesn't seem to have been pillaged, and perhaps they should spend a day gathering all the supplies from this potential treasure, Abraham also says no. Granted, he's found a firetruck, which provides transportation and water, but the fire truck's not going anywhere. And the cost of waiting a single day versus the potential benefit of what they might find is also obvious to everyone but Abraham, and that includes the viewer.
But even if you think the firetruck means Abe is right — despite the fact the truck clearly has problems, chief among which it was blocking a door to a building full of zombies, who instantly pour out (leading to Eugene saving the day by shooting the zombies with the firehose, which is more than powerful enough to blast them literally to pieces, thank to all their soft, rotted bits) — nothing excuses Abraham's incredibly moronic next decision in the slightest. But we'll get there in a sec.
Interspersed through all this are flashbacks to Abe's pre-group, post-apocalypse life, although to be specific, it seems more like one 24-hour period. We first see Abraham beating a man to death with a can of soup; we slowly piece together that someone was trying to steal it and Abe snapped, unfortunately in front of his wife and two young children. Abe entreats them, covered in blood, but they're a bit more terrified than convinced. When Abe wakes up, they've fled, even leaving a note not to try to find them. I assume they probably didn't mean it in the sense of "Because we will have already been mostly eaten when you do" but that ends up to be the case.
The Walking Dead presents Abraham as a man with a demon inside him, one he can't really control. "It's easy to kill. It's the easiest thing in the world," he tells Glenn, and clearly, for him, it is. About the best he can do is cage that demon by giving it a mission, having some kind of structure to his life, a concrete goal to channel his… let's say... energy. It's an interesting counterpoint to Rick, who has spent five seasons struggling between humanity and inhumanity, living and surviving. Abraham's struggle is to keep his inner beast from coming out.
The problem is Abraham's back-story. Obviously, Abe's savagery is pretty intense, and he kills that one guy even though he was well past the point of being a threat. But isn't that pretty much exactly what Rick and the group did to the Termites? Sure, Abe was certainly… thorough, but he was both trying to protect his family and keep them fed (as apparently the dude was trying to steal their soup). I know the show wants us to be conflicted about Abraham — I know this because in the present, Abe has a knuckle-wound that won't heal, subtly telling us that ABRAHAM HAS BLOOD ON HIS HANDS — but it doesn't give us any reason to think Abe was doing something more awful than the many times our other heroes have done similar things.
It seems like the wife would have to be hopelessly naïve about the zombie apocalypse to think, "Oh, my husband killed that dude who was endangering our entire family; clearly, the best thing for me to do is to take the kids and wander around zombie-ville utterly unprotected." Hell, even if she thought Abraham was a monster, he was a monster who could and would protect her and her children. (It doesn't help that this is still so soon after the Termites, where we saw humanity at its very worst — yes, Abe killed a dude, but not without cause. All these other sins, shown so soon are Terminus, pale in comparison by proximity if nothing else. Seriously, lady, you could have it a lot worse.)
Now for Eugene. I think this part of the episode worked better, and not just because a lot of it was focused on Eugene's awesome mullet. While everyone else in the group has turned into a badass more or less, Eugene is a complete anomaly. He's a coward, but he admits it; he appears to have some extremely mild sort of autism; and he's incredibly smart and clever — infinitely more than the others. He also likes to watch Abraham fuck Rosita (as he does in the library), although to be fair Abe and Rosita know and don't care.
Rosita catches Eugene in the act of staring at the two (but not masturbating, for the record), at which point Eugene makes a startling confession — he's the one who sabotaged the bus. He put broken glass in the fuel line; it wasn't supposed to start at all, but a bit of bad luck caused kept it running a bit until it basically exploded. Tara is shocked, but chocks it up to Eugene not wanting to leave the group. Seeing the look on Eugene's face is proof enough that this isn't the case, at least not totally. (I do appreciate that after sending Eugene away, Tara takes one more peek at the happy fuckers.)
Later, Maggie continues the mullet discussion in a much weirder way: She brings the Samson metaphor again, not as the source of Eugene's power, but because Samson once asked people a riddle, a riddle that only he knew the answer to, because Samson was an asshole. Maggie somehow links this to Eugene knowing something everyone else doesn't, which is both strange and incredibly on-the-nose given the rest of the episode. (Note: Maggie leaves out my favorite part of the Samson story, where the dudes Samson posed the impossible riddle to decide to bribe his wife for the answer. Samson loses, which means he has to give 30 guys new clothes. So he and God team up to murder 30 other people to steal their clothes. Old Testament God was crazy, you guys.)
The Eugene and Abraham plots cross when the fire truck dies and Abraham refuses to go back, again. As they walk along the road, the group begins to smell something awful, and as they crest a hill, the finally see an immense plain… a plain filled with zombies. They're far enough away that the zombies can neither see nor hear them, but even if they had the truck, they wouldn't be able to pass through.
And Abraham decides they're going to anyways.
Everyone freaks out, because this is pretty much the dumbest idea ever. Maggie, Rosita, Tara, Eugene… Glenn suggests taking a small detour, just a few miles out of the way and still Abraham refuses to hear of it. He's abandoned all reason, and here's this episode's biggest problem — Abraham has turned into an insane asshole.
Only an insane asshole would decide to travel through a plain full of literally hundreds of zombies. It doesn't make sense on any level, especially for his "mission" to get Eugene, alive, to DC. Even if Abraham is obsessed with saving the world to the point of insanity, taking the world's last source of hope through this plain isn't madness, its imbecilic. And it sucks, because last season Abraham was just as committed to his mission, but he wasn't an insane asshole. He was willing to go to Terminus. He was hoping to join a larger group. He knew there was safety in numbers. He knew safety mattered infinitely more than speed. And yet suddenly, in season five, he's an idiot with an imaginary deadline.
At least this imbecility leads to one pretty amazing moment. Faced with Abraham taking him across the plains, almost assuredly getting him killed, Eugene makes an even more startling confession: "I'm not a scientist! I lied!"
Yes, Eugene — the dude with the mullet and the cargo shorts — somehow is not the savior of the zombie apocalypse.
Now, normally I try to avoid reading anything about The Walking Dead comics, but when Eugene first popped up on the show, I had to know what his deal was. Obviously, a cure existing for the Walkers would vastly change the series, but for all I knew it had actually happened in the comics. I very quickly found out that Eugene was a liar, who lied because even though he was smart, he knew he needed other people to protect him, and to get that protection he had to provide some value.Saying he had a cure for the zombie plague was perfect. The reason he chose DC as a location is because, given his knowledge and his impressive reasoning skills, Eugene thinks that DC would have the best ability and resources to deal with a scenario this fucked up. I imagine he's right.
I'm very surprised TWD revealed Eugene's lie so soon — I guess they continue traveling to DC because they assume Rick and the others are headed that way? That's… actually, that's pretty clever, giving everyone a reason to continue making the journey. But the promise of a potential cure isn't just a holy grail for the survivors, but the audience… I'm shocked they didn't save it for the mid-season finale, if not even later.
Abraham does not take this revelation well. Watching Abraham's reason for living evaporate is powerful stuff, and I mean that literally because as we learn, only the appearance of Eugene kept Abe from committing suicide upon seeing the munched-upon corpses of his family. I also appreciated Eugene listing all the people who had died to keep him alive, believing they were helping to save the world. Eugene clearly hasn't forgotten any of them, and their deaths obviously weigh on him. Eugene's ashamed, but he's finally reached the point where being honest offers him a better chance of survival than if others believe he can save the world.
Which is almost certainly correct. Unfortunately, Abraham starts beating the shit out of him anyways. He's only able to be pulled away after he knocks Eugene into the fire truck, giving him a nasty head wound and causing him to drop on the ground like a lifeless corpse. And Abraham slowly walks away and sinks to his knees in utter defeat. There is no cure. No chance at a normal life. No reason or justification for anything Abraham has done. No point to anything.
There is only Eugene's mullet.
• This week in hilariously vague DirecTV summaries: "The group must contend with a new set of issues."
• Speaking of, the DirecTV/AMC war rages. Between my excellent DirecTV service and the fact AMC pulled this exact shit with Dish Network a while ago, my sympathies were already heading to DirecTV. This was cemented when AMC put enormous "EVERYBODY PANIC DIRECTV WANTS TO KEEP YOU FROM WATCHING THE WALKING DEAD!!!!!1!!" banners on the top AND bottom of the screen. You've run 100 commercials, AMC. We know the issue. But right now, the one blocking TW from us is you.
• Line of the night, in an episode that has some good ones: "The smartest man I ever met happened to love my hair. My old boss, T. Brooks Ellis, the director of the Human Genome Project. He said my hair made me look like, and I quote, 'a fun guy.' Which I am." — Eugene
• I was literally more upset about Abraham calling Rosita "some ass" than I was by Abe killing that dude in the flashback.
• I know I've mentioned this, but I love when the show shows how the survivors adapt in the post-apocalypse. In this episode, Abraham takes apart book binding to get thread in order for Rosita to give him stitches.
• Even better, the group takes water out of the toilet tanks from the library restrooms. What? It's the apocalypse. Water is water. To be fair, it's not like Glenn and the others were especially thrilled to be drinking it.
• Eugene is reading H.G. Wells The Shape of Things to Come. If anyone has any parallels or illusions to draw forth between the two, please let me know in the comments!
• Seriously, if you're a character on The Walking Dead and you get into a car, you have a 25% chance of that car freaking out and flipping, always in a crowd of zombies. I'm with Tara: Bikes don't explode.
• Next week on The Walking Dead — Daryl and Carol assault the poorly run hospital Beth is trapped in! And Daryl burns takes the corpses of somebody small!
• Spoiler for next week's episode, courtesy of a preview from Talking Dead: The corpse Daryl puts on the fire looks small, maybe smaller than Beth. But I don't remember seeing any kids at the hospital. I also don't know why Carol would say thank you to Daryl for burning Beth's corpse, since Daryl and Beth had the closer relationship. On the other hand, if Beth is alive, where is she? If D&C are in the hospital and have the leisure to be burning corpses, why wouldn't Beth be with them? We'll find out next week, presumably.
• So I used to work in the downtown library of Lexington, Kentucky (it's a real city, about the size of St. Louis or Pittsburgh, just FYI). People masturbated in the stacks all the time. I also once had a homeless guy try for about 15 full minutes to touch my butt. Just throwing that out there.