“Self Help,” the fifth episode of this season of The Walking Dead, was not a particularly good episode. Yet I find myself grateful for it nonetheless, because it finally did away with one of the show’s more ridiculous, manipulative, and narratively suspect plotlines, and hopefully can clear the way for some of the more superficial characters to begin to actually grow. It finally answered a question that we have been asking from the get-go, and while that revelation came with something of a thud, it’s nice to have it resolved nonetheless.
The problems with this episode — and to be fair, with this season in general — lie squarely on the shoulders of the three newest characters: Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita. It began at the very beginning, where seemingly out of nowhere there is now a romantic/sexual relationship between Abraham and Rosita, one that really hadn’t even been alluded to before. It was crammed into the episode in an effort to get us to buy into Rosita being an influencing factor on Abraham, something that felt so forced and artificial given how much window dressing Rosita has been up until now. Then, we have Abraham, who seems incapable of speaking in anything other than militaristic dudebro aphorisms, a ridiculously — dare I say it? — comic-booky style of speech that simply does not translate well into a show that has prided itself on its profoundly humanistic interactions and dialogue. This is dragged down even further by Eugene’s cryptic, Rain Man brand of hokum. It’s not helped by the fact that nobody — not one person — ever sincerely question’s the veracity of Abraham’s story.
The three of them have the unfortunate effect of bringing the viewer out of every scene that they’re in, making what you’re watching seem fake and cheesy and unbelievable. The sad thing is, there were moments in this show where the interplay between them and the others was solid — Abraham and Glenn on watch in the bookstore, Eugene and Tara after he confesses his sabotage, Rosita’s determination to publicly back Abraham even as she privately argues with him. And for the most part, the actors are doing solid work with what they’re given, particularly Michael Cuditz, who seems to be trying not to chew scenery that was obviously scripted with the opposite in mind. But it’s simply not working, and we’re not buying it, and it inevitably hinders the viewing experience.
So despite a couple of bright spots — the above mentioned scenes, as well as some effective flashbacks and the always-enjoyable scenes of them innovatively battening down the hatches — “Self Help” fell flat. There’s so much there that failed miserably — the awkward and gross moment of Eugene watching Abraham and Rosita having sex, the buildup to that sex scene (“first I gotta get some ass” might be the worst line in the history of this show) which essentially confirmed Rosita as little more than a f*ckdoll with a gun (up until the final fifteen minutes when she suddenly had a personality). Eugene reading “The Shape of Things to Come,” the Samson allusions, and so on. It all felt like a ball of garbage rolling down a hill, so much so that when we finally arrived at the revelatory moment, my reaction (and I’ll concede that I knew it beforehand but still) was absolute, total apathy. I simply didn’t care. Given the way their stories have been clumsily crafted, Eugene’s confession was embarrassingly awkward and anticlimactic and truth be told, none of us were ever particularly involved or invested in that story in the first place. And thus, annoyance replaced awe and resignation replaced revelation. If anything, we were simply aggravated that this pointless storyline took us so far off-track.
I will admit that Abraham’s first right cross to Eugene’s face was probably the most satisfying moment of the entire episode.
“Self Help” was a road to nowhere in more ways than one, but at least it dumped off a particularly irritating storyline. It had a revelation that everyone either already saw coming, or didn’t care about in the first place. The saving grace was that we saw the first inklings of actual human emotion from the three least believable characters. We’re stuck with Abraham, Rosita and Eugene for now, so my only hope is that this is a jumping point for them to become more fully fleshed-out and realistic, and that they can escape the corny trappings that we’ve sadly become accustomed to. Their story took us off-course, but hopefully now the ship can be righted once more.