The Walking Dead 'Self Help' Review: Never Trust a Man with a Mullet
We thought this season was going to be about cannibals, but instead it's about cowards. Between the preacher, then the doctor, and now Eugene, this season is about the people who know they aren't built for the zombie apocalypse, and the desperate and selfish measures they take in order to stay alive. The writers are painting a portrait of humanity that basically asserts that cowardice and weakness can be (and often is) just as evil as violent aggression, or more so in some cases. Not everyone who is not cut out for the zombie apocalypse resorts to such terrible measures, as characters like Beth have a moral strength if not a physical one. Abraham said they've "Gotten to the point where everyone alive is strong now." This isn't true, but it's possible that anyone who is both weak and still alive has necessarily made moral concessions. Anyone who is unable to kill walkers or protect themselves are going to be a drain on others and put others' lives at risk, so it stands to reason that the physically weak or timid people who care about others would begin to toughen up. As we saw last week, Beth is already starting to toughen up, because she can't expect other people to take care of her forever, otherwise she'll end up like Eugene.
The problem with this episode was not its thematic content, which was relatively strong, but with the characters. As far as I can tell, fans of the comic were happy to see them arrive, but as someone who's never read the comics, the show has not done a good job of making these characters compelling, or making us care about them at all for that matter. Rosita has barely been characterized, mostly serving as borderline offensive arm candy. They tried to humanize Abraham in this episode, and his backstory was sympathetic, but the psychological arc was all too simplistic and predictable, and the flashbacks were vague, confusing, and all too familiar. I would have liked to see them flesh out his backstory more, as we haven't gotten a very detailed sense of the early apocalypse so far, but as it was it felt like they had taken an entire episode to tell a backstory that could have been told in two scenes. The character himself is neither particularly likable or detestable, he's just kind of there.
Which brings us to Eugene, who is just the worst. Not only does his confession reveal him as a coward who allowed ten people to die for no reason, but he's an incredibly creepy Peeping Tom with no redeeming qualities. Usually obnoxious characters on television pull their weight by adding humor, but he doesn't even have that going for him. If he's not already dead after that beating, I hope they kill him off soon, because he's adding nothing to the proceedings. (I know I sound eerily like the dehumanizing people at the hospital who expect every person to have a function, but he's not real and I hate him, so it's okay.)
It's telling that Glenn and Maggie were still the highlights of the episode, even though they were given almost nothing to do. Glenn, in particular, was the MVP, mostly because he got to flex his funny muscles. His "I didn't need to know that, but okay," was priceless, as was his interrogation about Eugene's infamous mullet. And Maggie's conversation with Eugene (also about the mullet) was the least significant to the plot, but it aptly demonstrated the kindness of the character and made Eugene's reveal all the more gut-wrenching, as people like Maggie and Glenn clearly would have protected him regardless (the pilot episode ends with Glenn saving Rick for no particular reason). The episode just had more life when they were onscreen, which doesn't say anything good about the new characters.
-The creators have previously stated that the walkers are decaying over time and becoming easier to kill, so the fire hose kills were technically consistent with the rules of the show, but immediately disintegrating under a stream of water might have been pushing it a little.
-Being a Peeping Tom is not a "victimless crime," even if Rosita and Abraham know about it. Just saying.
-In the comics, Abraham killed all those people after they raped his wife and daughter and made his son watch. I think it's generally a good thing that the show diverges from the comics, if only so we're not constantly spoiled, but this would have made much more sense than the vague, seemingly incomplete backstory they gave us.
-Although I have my doubts about the breakneck pace of this season, it was definitely a canny decision to avoid dragging out this reveal, as even fans who didn't read the comics saw it coming.
-Favorite characterization of Eugene, from a Jezebel commenter: "He just had a real 'I'm a genius in my mom's basement on the Internet' manbaby vibe."