Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 5: Self Help

This week The Walking Dead finally finds the time to actually do something with the Abraham, Eugene and Rosita trio. They first showed up eleven episodes ago, way back in Season 4's Inmates. Oddly enough they've had very little to do since, making me wonder why they bothered to import them from the comic in the first place.

There were two main plot points in this episode– Abraham's backstory and Eugene big confession. I already knew about Eugene from the comic, so I wasn't thrown by his revelation, but I was surprised that it came so soon. As I've said before, if this was Season 2 they'd have dragged out his mystery for a dozen episodes. I'm enjoying this new faster pace (especially since I knew what was coming).

Glenn and Maggie have also been criminally underused so far this season, so I was hoping this episode would rectify that oversight. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. They each got a couple of brief moments, but mostly took a backseat in this Abraham and Eugene character building exercise.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, Eugene, Rosita and Tara make their way to Washington D.C. in their bus. After a spirited discussion about Eugene's mullet, the bus explodes and overturns. The group narrowly avoids a herd of walkers and holes up inside a library. Eugene tells Tara what everyone should have already guessed by now– that he's not really a genius and he has no idea how to reverse the zombie plague. Tara, who for some reason seems to be sweet on Eugene (I guess the pickin's are slim in the zombie apocalypse), wisely tells him to keep that under his hat. His Tennessee Tophat.

The rest of the group wants to go back to Rick and his crew, but Abraham goes all Captain Ahab and refuses to give up the mission. The next day they spot a vast zombie ranch (?) and it's obvious they can't go any further. Abraham wants to give it a go anyway, which causes a bit of a scuffle between him and Glenn. In the midst of the brawl, Eugene confesses his secret to the rest of the group. Abraham doesn't take it well, and gives Eugene a well-deserved beat down.

There are also several flashbacks in which we see Abraham's backstory. After a group of fellow survivors rapes his wife, he kills them with naught but a can of beans. His savagery scares his wife and two young children so badly that they leave him in the middle of the night. He finds them the next morning, torn apart by walkers. As he's about to kill himself, Eugene blunders in, chased by walkers. He saves Eugene and decides to protect him, which gives him a reason to live.

Thoughts:
• According to actor Michael Cudlitz (TV's Abraham) this episode was almost banned by AMC's censors! He didn't elaborate as to why, and I'm puzzled as to what could have sent the censors into such a tizzy. We've seen far worse scenes on the series before; earlier this season in fact. Some possible culprits:

The Sex Scene: While hiding out in the library, Abraham and Rosita start going at it. Eh, I doubt this could have been the culprit. The scene wasn't the least bit graphic; heck it was almost chaste compared to what they get away with over on A Game Of Thrones. If this was the offending bit, then shame on the censors and our society in general. Stoving in the head of a zombie is just fine, but showing two humans being intimate? Laws no, that's going too far.

Abraham's Dead Family:
In Abraham's final flashback, we see his little family's been literally torn apart by walkers. This could have been the scene that riled the censors, as it depicted the mutilated corpses of a couple of kids. But we already saw plenty of dead kids last season with the whole Psycho Lizzy storyline, so I don't know.

Abraham Killing Humans:
At the beginning of the episode Abraham kills several men (not walkers) by crushing their heads with a can of beans. The men had supposedly raped his wife. Admittedly this was a pretty brutal scene, but again, nothing worse than we've seen before. We usually see violence against the dead though, not the living, so it's possible this might have been the offending scene.

The Zombie Water Fight: As the group is trying to get the firetruck running, they're surrounded by a herd of walkers. Thinking quickly, Eugene sprays the zombies with the firetruck's water hose. The high pressure water stream rips the heads and limbs from the shambling, rotted corpses. I could see this being the scene that broke the censor's back, as it was pretty graphic and just went on and on. But, once more with feeling, it wasn't anything we've not seen before.

Maybe Cudlitz will tweet additional info as to what it was exactly that got the network's panties in such a bunch.

• While traveling in the bus, Glenn looks pensively at the road behind them. Maggie consoles him, saying that Daryl and Carol have probably returned and Rick & Co. will be following them soon.

What the hell? If anything it should be Glenn doing the consoling here, since Maggie left the group having no earthly idea what happened to Beth. You know, Beth? Maggie's sister? Apparently Maggie is fine with the fact that her only remaining kin is missing in action and possibly dead.

Did the writers forget that Maggie and Beth are related?

• When Abraham loses control of the bus, it hits the back of another car and is catapulted into the air, almost as if it hit some kind of hidden ramp. How odd. Generally when a bus crashes into a car it just smashes the back end and keeps going. Apparently the zombie virus has affected buses as well, making them more agile and prone to launch themselves into the air.

• I still think the TV version of Eugene is a complete misfire. He claims to be a genius, but he seems like he couldn't pour cereal for himself, much less reverse the zombi apocalypse. I don't know if the fault lies in the writing or with actor Josh McDermitt's performance. I think the problem might be with his accent. When I read the comic, I didn't "hear" Eugene speak with a slow, monotone Southern drawl, which makes him seem more like Rain Man than a scientist.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think the character would have worked much better if he'd been played similarly to Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, rather than the twitchy, pseudo intellectual hillbilly he is now.

I'm surprised Glenn and the other characters believe him either. It makes them seem less intelligent for accepting this obvious fraud at his word. Maybe they went along with him because he represented a glimmer of hope in a hopeless world? 

I can understand Abraham believing him, because Eugene provides him with a purpose; a reason to keep the revolver out of his mouth. He needs a mission to accomplish. It doesn't matter what that mission is; he'll see it through to the bitter end. And Eugene needs someone to protect him, so the two of them form a twisted, post-apocalyptic symbiosis.

• After the bus crash, Tara suggests looking for bicycles because as she points out, "Bikes don't burn."

Huzzah! Finally-flippin-lee, someone on the show pointed out the obvious– bikes are a thing that exists and could be used to quickly and quietly move from one place to another.

For years now fans have been asking why the characters never think of using bikes. I'm betting this line was a shout out to those fans.

Of course despite her awesome idea, no one ever goes looking for any bikes and the group either tries to find a working auto or just hoofs it.

• Do you think Abraham's never-healing cuts could possibly be some kind of metaphor for his psychological wounds? Subtle!

• Kudos to Eugene for his quick thinking in blasting the zombie horde with the water cannon. And kudos as well to the make up department or the CGI artists or whoever did the sequence of the walkers getting ripped apart by the high pressure fire hose.

• After the fire truck breaks down, Eugene sits on the back reading H.G. Wells' The Shape Of Things To Come. An apropos book I suppose, as part of it deals with a deadly pandemic. Of course the rest of the book goes on to describe how the world becomes a utopia, so it's not completely applicable.

I have to say I'm not a fan of this "Character Who Just Happens To Be Reading A Book Relevant To His Situation" thing. They used to do it on LOST a lot (Sawyer reading Watership Down, for example) and I didn't like it any more back then. 

The reason I dislike it is because when I see the director has taken pains to make sure a book's title is visible, I figure it's somehow pertinent, and then I'm taken out of the story as I try to figure out why and how.

• So what exactly was going on with the zombie "ranch?" As the group comes over a hill they see what appears to be a large farm with fences and corrals, full of wandering zombies.

I'm assuming this was a cattle ranch or something, that attracted a huge herd of walkers? We've seen them eat animals and other wildlife in the early seasons, so it wouldn't be out of the question for them to be attracted to the area by cattle.

• When Eugene confesses he's not a scientist, Abraham punches him several times and right into next Sunday. The unconscious Eugene falls forward right onto the pavement. Kudos to Josh McDermitt for taking such an impressive nosedive. I'm guessing he probably fell on a piece of fake rubber asphalt or something, but it still looked pretty amazing.

• In the final flashback, Abraham discovers his family's been killed by walkers. He sticks his gun in his mouth and right as he's about to pull the trigger, he sees Eugene fleeing from several walkers and decides to save him (inadvertently saving himself in the process).

Eugene's situation deserves a closer look. He's bleating for help as he's trying to get away from the three very slow walkers. Despite their lack of speed, he's barely able to keep two steps away. 

The walkers in this world shamble slowly along on rotted feet. You could easily escape them at a brisk walk. Jesus, no wonder he needs help surviving. 

• Next week it appears we'll see what Carol and Daryl have been up to. That's going to have to involve some time skipping, considering we saw Carol at the end of last week's Slabtown.

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