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‘The Walking Dead’ Review: “Self Help”

The Walking Dead Self Help Review
AMC

The Walking Dead’ season 5 brings to life its 5th episode with “Self Help,” as Abraham leads Glenn, Maggie, Rosita and Eugene further down the path to Washington, exposing some of the group’s darkest secrets along the way.

Last week’s ‘The Walking Dead’ episode, “Slabtown,” saw Beth awakening after her kidnapping to find safe haven at a hospital, only to discover that her new surroundings were predictably not what they seemed. So, what does the latest episode of season 5 bring? Does Eugene’s plan grow any closer to fruition?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘The Walking Dead’ season 5, episode 5, “Self Help”!

I wasn’t a fan of last week’s Beth-centric hour, if only for the fact that ‘The Walking Dead’ season 5 has somewhat awkwardly structured its narrative toward answering and expanding upon last year’s cliffhanger, only to splinter the story in three different directions that make a cogent midseason finale seem increasingly questionable. Still, where Beth hadn’t quite earned the credit to carry her own story through a hospital full of walking redshirts, we’d naturally wanted to follow the grouping of Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, Maggie, Glenn and Tara, if only to flesh out a bit more of these characters who’d made such fleeting impressions in their inaugural appearances.

Sure, we’ve gotten to know Glenn and Maggie over time, but Tara has made little impression (I initially forgot she’d be among the group), while the D.C. trio’s initial appearance carried over from the comics just a bit too perfectly, that their distinct presences seemed more plausible on paper than film. Short-shorts and hoop earrings with zombies clawing from every direction? Come now.

In any case, “Self Help” does a far better job of justifying the narrative split of its predecessors, affording ample opportunity to explore both Abraham and Eugene that we might not necessarily have gotten were Rick, Daryl or Beth to have stuck with the group overall. However jarring the flashback format might have proven at first (Abraham is knocked unconscious! Time for a memory!), the device grew on me by the end, as did the repeat jump cuts and humming that suggested Abraham looked to shake off his darker thoughts and impulses at every possible opportunity. We’ve seen the ex-military man flexing his calm in most appearances, whereas the rare backstory exploration* allowed us a chance to establish not only what propelled him so furiously to get Eugene to Washington, but also why someone like Rosita provided a soothing balm to his worse impulses.

*Well –versed in the comics as I am, it took me a bit to realize that AMC’s version didn’t quite explain why Abraham had taken to slaughtering the men in the grocery store, at least in the detail the books had. Whether it detracted from the flashbacks’ effectiveness, you’d have to tell me in the comments.

And while Eugene’s ultimate revelation somewhat robs the prior episodes of a sense of narrative purpose, I couldn’t help feeling as it “Self Help” made its point another way. Someone like Abraham needed a mission to keep the gun out of his mouth as much as the portly Eugene needed a protector, and while hope has been floating around season 5 quite a bit, a point nicely exemplified by Maggie and Glenn’s renewed optimism, the case seems to have been made for personal interaction as hope’s strongest true pull. Abraham and Rosita ultimately ignore Eugene’s voyeuristic impulse to watch the pair in the throes of passion, a crystallizing reminder that in a world gone all-but-extinct, the few purposes we find for living lie in serving others, or at least inspiring one another of the need to press on, rather than saving the world outright.

As far as Eugene’s inevitable confession goes, I mentioned above my appreciation for the comics. I couldn’t help but hope that AMC’s rendition swung in a different direction, or at least provided a different rationale as to defeating the hope of Eugene’s cure, though the adaptational difficulties of a strained run-time had somewhat shorted any credence lent to Eugene’s claims. We’d seen the character display his intelligence here and there, though not quite so much as to assure that the man could truly inspire hope, or at least with the more flat affect Josh McDermitt seems to have afforded the character.

Don’t ask me why, in my head Eugene always sounded like Tucker from ‘There’s something About Mary.’ A facetious intelligence, but an air of intellectual founding that helped sell his particular lie nonetheless. In any case, it also somewhat undermined Eugene’s rather cavalier confessions, both in the library with Tara, and later with the others, though we at least have a much stronger sense of the show’s characterization than the previously limited interactions would allow.

The Walking Dead Self Help Review
“Handlebar mustache and Barbie shorts, and I get the third degree?”

I’m still not entirely certain how the final three episodes will shake out, what with next week’s hour returning us to Carol and Daryl’s pursuit of Beth in another time-hopping episode sure to muddle expectations of a midseason conclusion, though “Self Help” at least afforded a much more welcome diversion than last week’s installment. I’m burdened by the ‘Game of Thrones’-esque implication to urge fans to read the books for more explicit characterization of either Abraham, Eugene, or Rosita, but tonight’s hour proved an overall strong entry into a season more concerned with audiences investing in its zombie entrees, before serving them up as such. There was still plenty of zombie carnage to be had, between the bus crash, Eugene’s firetruck solution or the ranch at the end, but “Self Help” ultimately had much more to play with than Beth’s solo hospital adventures.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • Granted TV brightness settings will vary, boy howdy if cinematographers weren’t pushing the boundaries of what we could expect to make out with such dim lighting in the library scenes. The post-coital cut to a walker shambling outside the library windows seemed almost impossible to make-out.
  • It’s of interest to see how much the walkers have decomposed, that Eugene’s firehose would blow them apart, though the show’s own internal logic might raise questions as to how effectively it might put them down for good.
  • Heh, “Tennessee Tophat.”
  • Great juxtaposition of Rosita’s hand on her holster vs. Abraham’s bloodied hand and wedding ring, and wholly evocative of what the characters represent to one another

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of thrilling zombie killing? Were you surprised by Abraham’s past or Eugene’s confession? Stay tuned for more coverage of the ‘Walking Dead’ season 5, and join us next week for another all-new episode review of episode 6, “Consumed,” on AMC!

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