THE WALKING DEAD Recap: “Self Help”

     November 9, 2014

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Tonight’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead was all about Eugene, for better or worse.  Josh McDermitt’s character has been the sole remaining hope in this hellish post-apocalyptic world, and is at the center of Abraham Ford’s promise of a new future.  But was his story about being the savior of the human race all it was cracked up to be?  Well, this episode, “Self Help,” aims to answer that question, while opening up a whole new can of worms about just where our survivors will go from here.  This was a textbook case of an episode chock full of character development and emotional swings, while also folding in some of the best Walker-fighting scenes in the series so far.  And Rick & Co. weren’t even featured!  Season five is the strongest this show has been in quite some time, and tonight’s episode certainly did not disappoint.

Hit the jump for The Walking Dead recap.

the-walking-dead-self-help-michael-cudlitz(I’ll save Ford’s flashback sequence in its entirety until the end of this recap.)

When the episode opens, the short bus is rolling with Ford, Glenn, Maggie, Rosita, Tara, and Eugene on board. Ford and Rosita are flirting it up pretty hardcore, so it’s safe to assume that these two might be the cause for the network’s censors getting all worked up.  While Eugene is worried about Father Gabriel’s actions in the past, Glenn and Maggie are concerned with how the group they left behind is getting along. Eugene distracts them with talk of ballistic missiles. While they’re all busy engaging in conversation, a horde of Walkers crosses the road and Ford swerves around them. The bus malfunctions and Ford crashes it into a disabled car, flipping the bus on its side and stunning them all temporarily.

Conscious once again, the gang clears the path to get Eugene and themselves to safety. The group is quite capable, save Eugene, who is at the mercy of his own fear … at least until he manages to save Tara. Eugene and the others are fine, but Ford’s reopened a cut on his hand (and hopefully wasn’t bitten). Eugene suggests that they retreat to the church, but Ford is adamant about not going back.

They make camp for the night in a book store and set to making a fire, getting water from the back of a toilet, cooking their food, patching up their wounds, and sweeping the perimeter.  Yet another example of just how capable they’ve become in the wilderness. Glenn and Ford watch a couple random Walkers bump into the window and wander off. Ford thanks Glenn for staying with them even though they could have taken off.  Ford then laments how easy it is for the strong survivors to kill in this new world, and Glenn states once again that the world will change if they’re successful.

And yep, Ford and Rosita have a “strong sexual situation” that night, during which Eugene watches from behind the stacks, and everyone seems okay with that. What people aren’t okay with (or at least Tara, since she’s the only one he tells) is that Eugene put crushed glass in the gas tank in the hopes that it would cut through the fuel line before they got too far from the church. It was just bad luck that it happened to fail near the spark plug and ignite. He’s afraid that, if he’s unsuccessful at killing off the Walkers, he won’t have any worth anymore. Tara reassures him that they’re all in this together now, no matter what. For some reason, Glenn and Maggie aren’t having sex, but they are talking about the future.

the-walking-dead-self-help-steven-yeunThe next morning, Rosita patches up Ford again, but she wants to stay there for the night. He wants to press on to Washington. He plans to take the fire truck complete with 500 gallons of fresh water. With a stroke of luck, the thing fires right up … yeah, the luck just about runs out since the truck dies a second or two later, after opening up a blocked door to the fire department. A pack of Walkers stumble out and the team brains the lot of them. Eugene turns the high-pressure hoses on the Walkers, shredding their rotted bodies.

Everyone seems to be here to bolster Eugene’s confidence in this episode.  Maggie even compares him (and his mullet) to Samson and his legend, as well as his famous riddle.  She says that she always wondered how people were ever supposed to guess the answer to something that only happened in his life, and was locked away in his head.

A foul smell is carried on the wind and the group investigates, finding a huge horde coming their way across the fields.  Ford wants to smash right through the horde, but the rest of the crew wants to detour. He’s defiant about going straight through, but everyone else doubts his certainty.  He takes his frustration out on Eugene and drags him back towards the fire engine while the rest of the team tries to stop him.  In the chaos, Eugene confesses that he lied, that he’s not a scientist, and he has no idea how to stop it. So it turns out that anyone who distrusted Eugene this whole time was right. He’s just a mulleted creep.

So now, after almost an hour of lifting Eugene up on their shoulders, what will the group do with this new information?  Eugene reveals that he wanted to cheat people into getting him safely to DC since that’s the city that has the strongest likelihood for survival.  Eugene goes through the list of people who have died trying to get him safely to DC, and says that he tried to buy time so that when they finally reached their destination, he could smooth over the whole thing.  Ford doesn’t let him finish but hauls off and cracks him pretty good, right into unconsciousness. Ford reopens the cuts on his hand as Eugene lays unconscious (maybe dead?) on the pavement.  Ford, his hopes and dreams crushed in an instant, walks away from the group and kneels in despair in the middle of the street.  I wonder why this guy’s so upset…

the-walking-dead-season-5-episode-3-michael-cudlitz*Ford’s Flashback*

While the horde advances, we flashback to Ford’s past.  He’s busy beating a man to death with canned goods in a grocery store before snapping his neck with his boot.  He calls for someone named Ellen and wanders through the store. He happens upon a young woman with two young kids. They all look pretty terrified of him despite his assurances, probably because he’s covered in blood and just beat a man to death.

He wakes up, disoriented, screaming for his family. He finds a note that says, “Don’t try to find us.” He eventually does, and it’s far too late for them as they’re little more than corpses in the grass. He rips his dog tags from his neck and puts the barrel of his gun in his mouth. Before he can off himself, Eugene comes wandering across the parking lot, helpless. Ford saves him. Eugene reveals his “very important mission” to Ford for the first time.  (On The Talking DeadMichael Cudlitz reveals that the flashback scenes were a nod to the comics version of the show, which is apparently much darker.)

“Self Help” is one of The Walking Dead’s great episodes that actually leaves you with something to chew on after the episode ends.  Rather than just gushing over the cool effects or crazy action sequences, we can take a moment to reflect on Eugene’s decisions and his long-running ruse, or the effect that the truth has had on Abraham Ford and where that will take the story going forward.  Please share your thoughts on this episode in the comments below!

Rating: A

Odds & Entrails:

  • Tara to Eugene: “Maybe Rosita can give you a shave, too. Party’s getting a little long in the back.”
  • Eugene: “He said my hair makes me seem like, and I quote, ‘A fun guy,’ which I am.”
  • Maggie: “I’m not rubbin’ dirt on anything.”
  • Ford: “We’ve gotten to the point where everyone alive is strong now. Gotta be.”
  • Tara to Eugene: “Welcome to the human race, asshole.”
  • Okay, so Eugene mowing down the Walkers with the fire hoses is one of the coolest scenes in the season, if not the series.

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