We’re only five episodes in, but The Walking Dead’s fifth season has pretty much been kicking ass so far. Each episode has packed in big reveals (cannibals! tainted meat! a metaphor for Eugene’s mullet!) and captivating action scenes, while also finally sorting out how to keep the story moving at a brisk enough pace. Sunday night’s episode, “Self Help,” even managed to squeeze in several scenes of laugh-out-loud humor, rarities for the show’s consistently bleak tone.
Perhaps because it revolved mostly around ultra-macho sergeant Abraham Ford and his “package” (Eugene, not Abraham’s crotch—though there's plenty of that here too), “Self Help” was the funniest Walking Dead episode in recent memory. A selection of my favorite lines:
Maybe I’ll let you shave me down all over. Dolphin smooth. —Abraham
The smartest man I ever met happened to love my hair. My old boss, T. Brooks Ellis, the director of the Human Genome Project. He said my hair made me look like, and I quote, “a fun guy.” Which I am. —Eugene, in his best monotone
Listen, I took a pretty hard shot to the sack with that crash. I am stressed and depressed…I’m gonna rub some dirt on it and walk it off. —Abraham
Glenn: You better turn in, you got late watch.
Abraham: Yeah. I really need some ass first.
I lied about T. Brooks Ellis liking my hair. I do not know T. Brooks Ellis. But I did read one of his books and he seemed like the type of guy that wouldn’t blink twice at a Tennessee top hat. —Eugene
(And bonus points for the school bus that burst into flames with the comic timing of a Simpsons gag.)
“Self Help” was also refreshingly inventive, from small props like a makeshift stovetop assembled step-by-step in front of us out of a can, paper, and wire hangers (and Tara’s suggestion to look for bikes, a tip straight out of Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide), to the dazzlingly gory spectacle of Eugene tearing through a horde of walkers with the pressurized water of a fire hose. Abraham’s reaction to that last one put it best: “I’ve been to eight county fairs and one goat rodeo. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
The fun of the episode, however, stands in stark contrast to its conclusion. Eugene, in the heat of an argument, finally divulges to the group that he is not, after all, a scientist with the key to ending the undead virus. As Rosita points out, this little revelation comes after several friends have already died in the effort to get Eugene to Washington, where he had claimed he could deliver his message to other scientists and work on a solution to restore the world to its pre-apocalypse state. (It turns out he just wanted to get to Washington because he figured it was safer there than in Houston.) He even actively tried to slow down the group’s progress by dropping crushed glass into the bus’s fuel line, a move that nearly killed them.
Many in the audience already knew Eugene’s moment of truth was coming—Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels pull the same trick—but the show’s version of the big reveal was still nothing short of heartbreaking. What should have been a moment of reckoning for a selfish, serial liar instead ended with us pitying him. Eugene looked terrified as the confession came tumbling out of his mouth and ashamed at the horrified looks from Maggie, Glenn, and Rosita—people he had only just begun to consider friends. But the person taking this all the hardest, of course, is Abraham.
Through a series of flashbacks planted throughout the episode we learn that Abraham once had a family: a wife, Ellen, and two kids, Becka and A.J. (a redhead!). They watch him beat several men to death inside a store; by the time Abraham turns to his family, they are afraid of him. He attempts in vain to comfort them but wakes up some time later to find that they’ve run away and left a note behind: “Don’t try to find us.” Abraham runs outside and finds their mangled corpses. On his knees, he pulls out a gun and places the barrel inside his mouth.
But before Abraham is able to pull the trigger, we hear Eugene’s panicked voice. Ambling behind him is a handful of walkers, which Abraham dispatches in a matter of seconds. Abraham then turns back, presumably to finish what he started, but stops dead in his tracks when Eugene offers him a lie: “I have a very important mission.”
Getting Eugene to Washington, we learn, was the only reason Abraham is alive. It explains his irrational resolve to keep moving forward no matter what, even if the area ahead is a straight road infested with hundreds, if not thousands of walkers. Hearing Eugene tell the truth was equivalent to having his sole reason for living crushed right in front of him—just like it was when his family was killed.
It may be a few episodes before we check in with this group again—the next episode will likely dwell on Daryl and Carol (and how she got into that hospital) or Rick and his group. The show is finally moving faster than the undead it’s named after—characters are no longer being forced to stay in the same locations for months at a time, and even individual scenes are being cut at a brisker, more invigorating pace—at least until the midseason finale. (Andrew Lincoln describes the first half of season five as “Helter Skelter” and the second half as “A Day in the Life,” if you can follow that metaphor.) Hell, maybe we’ll even get to a point this season where Maggie prioritizes finding her sister—but let’s not get crazy here.