Since Scott Gimple took over as showrunner on The Walking Dead, the series has been a lot better about character building. We’ve seen the evolution of Rick. We’ve seen the transformation of Carol. Last week, even Beth gained new dimensions. This week, we learned a lot more about Abraham and Eugene, and the problem wasn’t with the decision to build the episode around those characters, it was in the way they were built. Instead of appreciating the characters as we found out more about them, the details about Abraham and Eugene in this week’s episode actually made them both less likable.
It was also not The Walking Dead’s most exciting or engaging episode, either.
The focus was on Abraham’s crew and their trip to Washington D.C., with Maggie and Glenn now tagging along. From the outset, Eugene seemed hesitant about going to D.C., and the bullsh*t meter on him tipped the scales when Glenn began asking him questions about his world-saving solution. Soon thereafter, the bus they were on crashed, thanks — we would later learn — to Eugene, who sabotaged the bus in order to prevent them from getting to D.C. He wanted to stay behind at the church because he knew that the closer they got to D.C., the sooner he’d have to reveal that he was not who he said he was.
Meanwhile, we also got the backstory on Abraham, who has been fighting a futile fight all along to get Eugene to D.C. Turns out, Big Red has a temper, and his anger drove his family away soon after the zombie apocalypse began. In fleeing, they were killed by the walkers, and a desolate Abraham nearly took his own life before he stumbled into Eugene.
Abraham’s anger would resurface in the present day when Abraham and the crew were confronted by a road blocked off by a herd of walkers. Abraham insisted on cutting through the zombies — a suicide mission — and everyone else insisted otherwise. The argument came to a head when Abraham began to lose control over the group and Eugene, in the chaos, admitted that he was not a scientist after all. He was a fraud. He did not know how to save humanity, but he was convinced that D.C. was a better, safer place to be, which is why he was attempting to reroute everyone there at the cost of several people’s lives (nine, including Bob Stookey, last week).
It was the kind of admission that should have irreparably turned everyone against Eugene, and it would have had Abraham, in a fit of rage, not punched Eugene unconscious, thereby redirecting the anger of the group toward Abraham, while Eugene — responsible for the whole mess — elicited their sympathies. You can’t hate a guy that’s beaten and bloody. Abraham, meanwhile, fell to his knees, realizing at last that everything he had fought and struggled for since nearly taking his own life was over a lie.
“Self Help” was a necessary episode, if only to tease out Eugene’s lie so that the series could refocus on the now. But then again, it was kind of a cheap out, and it took away some of show’s sense of hope. Terminus did not offer them salvation. Eugene cannot save humanity. What’s left to fight for beyond survival? That’s a question that has confronted the characters for several seasons now: What is the point of living if there is no future for which to live? Frustratingly, “Self Help” reminded us that there is no end point to The Walking Dead, no goal to pursue, and while that is the very thing that can keep The Walking Dead running for ten to 12 seasons, it’s also what keeps the series from moving ahead.
Granted, we are nowhere near season three of Lost in terms of wheel-spinning; for the most part, we are satisfied watching these characters we have grown attached to overcome walkers, enemies, and other obstacles. But at some point, an end-goal beyond survival needs to come into focus, lest we grow bored with their continuing adventures and human threats that are already starting to repeat themselves (Dawn, for instance, is just another version of The Governor).
We now know that Eugene is not going to get us any closer to that end point, and that’s OK. For now.