We all saw this coming, didn’t we?
I refer, of course, to the Second City-trained Steven Yeun finally showing off his comedic chops. We all knew it was inevitable, right? The guy came from the sketch-comedy scene. Did you see him on Comedy Bang! Bang!? Yes, yes, there was also the revelation that Eugene is a fraud, but did you know Steven Yeun was in Second City’s touring company?
The Walking Dead frequently addresses the theme of identity, of what makes its characters who they are. How much does who they were before—let’s steal from World War Z—”the Great Panic” matter now? And here, in this world where daily survival is an arduous, fraught process, who are they, really?
As I mentioned last week, episodes of The Walking Dead tend to hover around a certain theme, and this week it dives even deeper into identity than usual. Who is Eugene if he isn’t this mulleted messiah? Who is Abraham without his mission to protect the Mullet Messiah? Everyone in the D.C. group should take a second for self-reflection to ponder how they came to fall for a story that was shaky from the start. Even if they bought that Eugene was a scientist on the human genome project, just how exactly he would turn the world around was never fully explained. As that question loomed larger, the more difficult it became to continue the charade, no matter how mighty the mullet.
When the episode opens, the D.C. group is happily motoring along another leaf-strewn two-lane highway. Without knowing it, Maggie turns the screws on Eugene with a question that, itself, should’ve made the rational people within earshot say, “Wait, that sounds highly improbable.” She turns to Eugene and asks how long it will take, “after you get on that terminal and do what you have to do,” for the world to start righting itself. “Terminal”? Does the fate of the world depend on a 1970s computer? Without blinking, Eugene opens the bullshit tap: It “depends on a number of factors, including density of the infected around target sites worldwide” and weather patterns, “which were modeled without the assumption cars, planes, boats, and trains wouldn’t be pouring hydrocarbons into the atmosphere this long. Changes the game quite a bit when it comes to air transmission of pathogens.”
Glenn waits a moment. “Why the hair?”
Good one, Glenn, but about this plan… Even if the van hadn’t lost control—thanks to Eugene’s own sabotage, as we learn later—it’s not as if the group presses him. Even with Glenn pushing back on Eugene’s go-to excuse of “That’s classified,” no one shows interest in getting more of the story.
Maybe it’s denial, and maybe, as I speculated back in the “Strangers” recap, the possibility of a better future is enough, even if it isn’t true. Maggie tells Glenn as much later when the group takes shelter in a bookstore. “It just feels really good having this because it’s not about what was,” she says. “It’s all about what’s gonna be.”
As abrasive as Abraham can be, his resolve is comforting. An obsessive, shark-like devotion to constantly moving keeps his mind off his painful past, which we see in flashbacks throughout the episode. “We will get through this because we have to,” he barks after the wreck. “Every direction is a question. We don’t go back!” The group has managed, even in their post-crash daze, to dispatch the walkers that surrounded their damaged bus (even Eugene, sort of). Everyone except Abraham wants to stop to recuperate, but despite the “hard shot to the sack” he took, Abraham won’t relent. “We’re not stopping. We’re rolling on. We’ll find another vehicle down the road. The mission hasn’t changed.”
A man who clings so maniacally to The Mission is a man who’s barely keeping it together. Just look at the fear and desperation in his eyes as the ever-reasonable Glenn tries to get him to slow down. “Self Help” is a 42-minute portrait of a man unraveling.
Later, as he and Glenn stare out the window of the bookstore at night, Abraham muses that the only people left in the world are the strong ones. Either they’re so strong they can help you (and you them), or you have to kill them because they’re a threat. “I wanna say it’s never easy, but that’s not the truth,” he says. “It’s the easiest thing in the world now.”
“Self Help” presents that state of mind as the logical progression of a man who, near the beginning of the Panic, beat another man to death over a canned good in front of his horrified family. He was a family man, not yet hardened by death and not strong enough to continue when they left him. Meeting Eugene gave him a mission and completed his transition to a new person.
And that guy doesn’t linger anywhere, even when everyone is exhausted. “Maybe we always wind up stopping because we never start at 100 percent,” Rosita says. Maggie notes the town is in good shape, and they could spend a day sweeping for supplies. Chastised by Abraham, Rosita gets back on-message: They’ll sweep as they go. Besides, Abraham points out, the fire truck outside should have plenty of water and get them where they need.
These are people who have spent roughly two years in a zombie apocalypse, where, as Glenn noted a couple episodes back, “There’s nothing left in this world that isn’t hidden.” Yet this group of smart people seemed to think that a blood- and viscera-smeared fire truck is going to start right up? Apparently, as Abraham’s one-for-the-books tirade indicates: “There is no damned corner in this damned Earth that has not been dicked hard beyond all damned recognition!”
Including that fire station, because no one caught the “SICK INSIDE LET THEM DIE” warning written on the sidewalk. The walkers come quickly and start to overwhelm the group, until Eugene surprisingly saves the day. Having shown limited skill with a knife during the walker fight after the bus crash, he unleashes a torrent of water from the truck’s hose, the force from which is enough to take out the rotting undead. Considering clean water is a semi-precious commodity, they’ll probably wish they had it later, but, hey, Eugene can barely do anything—and the truck gives out not long after.
NEXT: A lie of Biblical proportions