Dwight and Eugene find out what they're made of.

By Nick Romano
February 26, 2017 at 10:09 PM EST

Unless you count his earlier voice cameo over the walkie talkie, Negan makes his first appearance this week since the midseason premiere, but the action has calmed down a bit since Rick’s junkyard match with Winslow. This week, it’s back to spending an entire hour, mostly within the confines of the Sanctuary, with Dwight and Eugene as the camp scrambles to pick up Daryl’s trail.

Eugene isn’t exactly the most likable or interesting character, and he isn’t the most likely candidate to carry the bulk of an episode, but when paired with Dwight, it makes a little more sense. Both are reminded of who they once were and make strides to return to their former selves — Dwight learns from Daryl and Sherry that he’s not the obedient lapdog Negan forced into submission, while Eugene learns from Negan that he’s someone who can exploit the one thing that makes him indispensable. When he does so again, we’re reminded of how he lied to Abraham and Rosita about his work before the outbreak, a lie he repeats to Negan and his wives to convince them he’s worth keeping alive — and, more than that, worth a place among their ranks.

Negan, even though he seems to have lost a bit of his bite, tends to bring out the best — and worst — in everyone.

Dwight discovers Fat Joey’s bashed-in remains and begins piecing together that it was Sherry who let Daryl out of the cage when Eugene is carted in. Negan’s “Mr. Smarty Pants” is an emotional wreck, but, aside from the initial handcuffs and bag over the head, he’s given the star treatment. He gets his own room, any food he wants (except his first thought, lobster, because seriously), books, and a fridge full of beer and perishables.

Dwight, however, is blamed for letting Daryl out. Even after he’s beaten and thrown in the closet, he protects Sherry from Negan’s suspicions, but she, too, is missing — so he’s tasked with retrieving her. Dwight first stops is to get stitched up by the doctor, who reminds us that Sherry married Negan in order to save her husband’s life. He then stops to grab his pack of cigarettes hiding in his room before heading out. There are only three left, and one of them, half smoked, seems to have lipstick stains on the butt.

The courting of Eugene continues in Dwight’s absence. He’s brought into the main warehouse, where the lower workers reside and trade food and services. Laura, one of Negan’s right-hand women, tells him he’s part of the elite, so he should get used to taking what he wants instead of asking, starting with the jar of pickles he’s been eyeing. He’s then led out to the fences, where Negan is waiting to size up just how smart he is. It’s here where he reprises the lie that first led him to Rick: that he worked with the Human Genome Project with other scientists to try and weaponize diseases against other diseases.

As a further test, Negan needs Eugene to solve a problem for him: some of the “free labor” protecting the Sanctuary are falling apart. Eugene, always quivering in the presence of Negan, suggests melting down scrap metal and coating the walkers with the liquid, which would keep their bodies from decomposing while transforming them into the likes of Winslow. While Eugene isn’t a typical “badass,” his ideas are, and that’s why Negan likes him — not to mention the reason he’s there in the first place, which is to make bullets. As a reward, Negan promises to send Eugene some of his wives later that night to keep him company. But no funny business — that’s “a big no-no.”

NEXT: Out with the old, in with the new

We pick back up with Eugene playing video games with three of Negan’s wives — one of whom, Amber, continues drowning her depression in alcohol. Eugene acknowledges they aren’t there of their own volition, so he’s attempting to show them a good time through games. They suggest having a conversation, but when they press him about the Human Genome Project, he deflects and instead dazzles them by creating a mini homemade bomb. Despite his occasional grunts, he’s becoming seduced by his new status — but the ladies’ flirtation has another purpose.

Elsewhere, Dwight rides up to the house he once shared with Sherry, where he finds a note weighted down by her wedding band and ring. In it, she mentions that they had a plan to reunite here if they were ever separated, but she couldn’t remain since she didn’t know whether he would go away with her, take her back to Negan, or kill her. She blames herself for Dwight’s downfall, which she believes was brought on by marrying Negan. She released Daryl because he reminded Dwight of the man he once was, and she wanted him to forget. The saddest part is that Dwight probably would have gone with her: He reveals he’s kept his own wedding ring in his cigarette pack, and he brought with him a case of beer and a bag of pretzels, the same thing he’d always bring her at the house.

Back at the Sanctuary, Tonya and Frankie, the other two wives with Eugene, ask for his help in making a poison. They claim Amber is about to commit suicide and they want something that would kill her peacefully, since they’ve seen him concoct bombs out of household items. They try to appeal to his human nature, but he starts listing off Dungeons & Dragons alignment traits: “I’m not good. I’m not lawful, neutral, or chaotic.” They say they need two doses of a poison because they don’t know when they’ll get their chance, and, after further massaging, he agrees.

Eugene attempts to get the supplies he needs in the warehouse bullpen, and it turns into an exercise of his newfound authority. He’s initially turned away when he cuts the line to get meds, but then he realizes he can throw around his higher rank like a weapon. Noting the instant obedience from those around him, he claims a lot more than he needs, along with the entire supply of pills. And then Eugene gets his Breaking Bad on in his room as he starts brewing his own toxic concoction in beakers.

Dwight returns to the doctor to get his stitches checked and spins a lie about Sherry’s death. He claims she ran and, in her panic, landed in a herd of walkers. While the good doctor admires Sherry’s emotion and admits they’re not allowed to have “big hearts” at the Sanctuary, Dwight plants one of her handwritten notes in his office and informs Negan. Dwight claims it was the doctor’s idea to release the captive, prompting Sherry to run away in fear of getting blamed. Since the signature on this note matches the note slipped to Daryl, Negan gathers his subjects to punish the doctor with a branding.

While the doctor ends up burning to death inside the furnace, Dwight only did it to get Negan off Sherry’s trail. Though brutal, he was out to protect the one he loved. Has he reached his “no turning back” moment, since he no longer has anyone to live for? It’s not all that clear. Eugene, however, is embracing his place within the inner circle. With the doctor dead, Negan sees Eugene as a replacement.

Tonya and Frankie come back to Eugene’s room later to retrieve the pills, but he’s no longer willing to offer them. He’s pieced together their real plan, which is to poison Negan, and he seems to have decided that he enjoys being an invaluable asset. They threaten to tell Negan the assassination plot was all his idea, but Eugene deduces he won’t be punished since, again, he’s a necessity. In her defeat, Tonya calls him a coward, a badge Eugene happily wears.

Negan visits his new subject, who’s finally cracked open the pickle jar he stole, enjoying the fruits of totalitarian rule. Even though Eugene tears up again upon seeing Lucille, Negan promises he doesn’t need to be scared anymore — all he has to do is answer the question, “Who are you?” He doesn’t even finish asking it before Eugene assures him he’s “100 percent Negan.” Well, that was fast.

Maybe it’s the fact that he didn’t have to push very hard to break Eugene, a self-proclaimed coward, but it seems like Negan is losing his mojo. He used to bring with him such a fearful tension that permeated his domain, especially when he was just a name. As an unseen monster in the shadows, his cruelty was unpredictable and, worse, creative. Now he’s becoming predictable.

The next morning Eugene looks at home, chewing another pickle and commanding workers to pour the molten scrap metal over the walkers on the gate, when Dwight emerges next to him. They immediately shrug off that time Eugene chomped down on Dwight’s johnson as if it were their awkward one-night stand, and Eugene declares, once again, “We are Negan.” It could be possible that I’m not giving Eugene enough credit. Maybe this is all part of some plan to help Rick. Eugene knows he can’t take on Negan physically, but he is smart. However, unlike Rick’s smile when he met Jadis, Eugene’s smirks throughout the episode didn’t put me at ease.

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