The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 5: “Self Help”
Directed by Ernest Dickerson
Written by Heather Bellson and Seth Hoffman
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC
“Self Help” gives Abraham and Eugene their first spotlight since they first made an appearance last season. Eugene has been the sole remaining hope in this post-apocalyptic world, and this week The Walking Dead does a superb job in building and revealing his story. The group, led by Sgt. Abraham Ford (fuelled with a healthy supply of testosterone) hits the open road in a troublesome journey full of pitstops and roadblocks. From a viewer standpoint, the episode can seem frustrating but once we get to the end, we realize that the obstacles and the pitfalls lead to a great payoff. Everything and anything stops Abraham from transporting the mullet-sporting Dr. Eugene Porter to Washington D.C,; but as it turns out, the trip is the least of his worries. It was due time that these characters were fully integrated into the show and given ample amount of screen-time to allow viewers to get to know more about them. Unfortunately the group had to fall apart in order for them to be properly fleshed out.
A handful of well directed flashbacks shows viewers Abraham’s tragic past, and later, the moment when he first meets Eugene, who in a panic, tricks Abraham into helping him when he claims that he needs a solider for a top secret mission. The flashbacks to these early days of the apocalypse are fragmented, left purposefully vague, but we do discover that his temper and his propensity for violence ultimately chased away his family. The flashbacks don’t provide full context of what was happening, but it appears that he resorted to an act of unforgivable violence in order to stop several men from harming his wife and children. In doing so, the woman (we assume his wife) and her children flee, believing they would be more safe if not surrounded by Abraham’s violent ways. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t the case.
The final twist is something viewers may have been able to spot miles away, while comic readers knew for sure it would come; but regardless, it was still handled extremely well. As it turns out, Eugene does not in fact have a cure to save the world; he’s just a really smart guy who understands how to manipulate less intelligent people like Abraham and Rosita to help keep him alive. We knew Eugene wasn’t going to cure the zombie plague, because if he did, that would be the end of the series – but Eugene’s confession is so well written, so well directed, and so well acted, it might just be the season highlight thus far. It’s here, that we learn how Abraham and Eugene came to know each other, and how Eugene gave Abraham his second chance at life.
Eugene was using Abraham to help him survive but despite this obvious fact, Abraham needed Eugene even more. In the final flashback we see Abraham raise a pistol to his mouth, ready to commit suicide. Only before he can pull the trigger, he is interrupted by Eugene’s cries for help while trying to escape the clutch of three walkers. Eugene interrupts Abraham’s hara-kiri, and helps distract him with an important world-saving mission. Abraham needed to instantly preoccupy his thoughts with something positive, something to look forward to, and something to help momentarily wipe out the memory of the family he let die. Given Abraham’s headspace at that precise moment, he sure wasn’t thinking clearly, but deep down, I’m willing to bet a part of him has always known Eugene was full of shit. With Eugene’s confession comes the realization that he now has nothing to look forward to and no hope of changing the world back to the way it was. The truth shall set you free, but in Eugene’s case it comes at a heavy cost: three solid punches from Abraham leave him bloodied, broken and knocked out. Lucky for him, Rosita’s intervention prevents further punishment. But in all honesty, Eugene deserved the beating and while he’s trying to make everything right, his confession is still somewhat selfish, a way to help ease his guilty conscience.
The most interesting takeaway this week is the episode’s mise-en-scene. “Self Help” does a fantastic job of justifying the narrative split, and affording ample opportunity to explore both Abraham and Eugene, and to some extent, Rosita. The flashback format, repeated jump cuts and Abraham’s constant humming, all emphasize how hard Abraham tries to ignore his darker thoughts and violent impulses. His inner pain manifests itself physically through his own bloody hand. By the end of the episode we learn that the moment he beat four guys to death was the moment he lost his family, and that never-healing wound along with his wedding ring serve as a permanent reminder of what he once had and what he did wrong. After beating Eugene in rage, the cut once again reopens. Eugene’s confession means the entire mission and all of the lives lost along the way were rendered completely meaningless. Now Abraham will need to start over, and heal himself once more. But the juxtaposition of Rosita’s hand on her holster and Abraham’s bloodied hand and wedding ring symbolize what their relationship really is. Perhaps now that Abraham won’t put all his focus on Washington, maybe he can see what good still stands in front of him.
“Self Help” is one of The Walking Dead’s best episodes; a starkly beautiful, harrowing journey with touches of black humour. This is a tough, smart, ingenious instalment that leads its characters into situations where everything depends on their (and our) understanding of human nature. So what do they all do now? Do they head back to the church or remain separate from everyone and head north?
– Ricky D
I love how the episode shows how these people have learned how to survive without exlecitrity and hot water.
Maggie talks to Eugene about Samson’s odd riddle. What does it mean?
Apparently the Censorship Powers That Be almost kept “Self Help” from airing. At least, that’s the story told by star Michael Cudlitz. Here’s how he put it on his Twitter page.