So that was a nifty cold open. And by nifty I mean, in the immortal words of Wash from Serenity, “Oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die”.
Eugene is a man not fit for this world. Fear drives him. The furtive glances and monotone voice in the opening minutes reveal a great deal about him. Something is eating away at him. Unlike the stammering Father Gabriel from the church, Eugene is simply sullen, almost resigned. This flies in the face of the more driven (almost pathologically so) Abraham, for whom the mission has become everything. For him, and potentially the rest of humanity, it is everything. The world of The Walking Dead is a nightmare one cannot escape by simply waking up. In fact, it’s a given that you wouldn’t want to sleep.
I liked the quiet interaction between Glenn and Abraham. These two characters could not be further apart in terms of who they were before the apocalypse. But now, they are both survivors. Their understanding of one another is natural and it’s obvious to me they have a great deal of chemistry in their short interactions. The scene reveals more about Abraham and the toll his mission and this world is taking on him. His comment that killing has become easy is a hard pill to swallow from how he delivers the message. It seemed to me that he was almost ashamed to admit how easy killing another human being has become for him.
Eugene watching Abraham and Rosita have sex is rather creepy but it speaks to who this guy really is. Look at how he walks, how he carries himself, how he speaks and you’ll see someone who is emotionally detached from his surroundings. Something is off about this man in these early scenes. Eugene’s understanding of the world is logical and concise. If you cannot contribute, you are dead weight, which makes you expendable. His sabotage of the fuel line is driven by that fear I referred to earlier.
The fight by the fire engine, particularly the ending where the message was revealed by Eugene’s quick thinking, is black comedy at its best. I started laughing along with Abraham after the message was shown on screen. It’s the little things like this that you have to laugh at or you’d probably go a little batshit.
If the term “nightmare fuel” means anything, the shot of thousands of Walkers milling about on the road ahead certainly qualifies. At first I couldn’t quite figure out what it was and then it hit me the same way it hit the characters: a giant size cup of “fuck that noise”. And while everyone is turning away from the impassable strait, Abraham mutters a verse, a strengthener of resolve not unlike the Litany against Fear created by Frank Herbert for Dune. Abraham’s single-minded zeal for completing his mission is trumped only when Eugene reveals the nagging truth that he’s kept hidden for quite some time.
There is no cure.
In The Shawshank Redemption, the character Red makes the comment that Hope can be a dangerous thing, that it could drive a man crazy. That observation is truer here than it was in that film. This is a world bereft of hope, casting a shadow of only half-life. Eugene’s “mission” was simple: keeping himself alive one more day. He lacked the necessary skills to do so himself so he did what anyone in his position would do. He lied to save himself and in a way he also saved Abraham. The point of the flashbacks, aside from showing us more of how Abraham and Eugene first meet and what this world has already cost Abraham, is to show these have given each other a reason to continue. The loss of his family left the soldier broken. He needed a mission and Eugene provided one. Abraham provided the protection he needed.
Episodes like “Self Help” are the reasons I keep watching this show. The underlying theme I see in this particular slice of the apocalypse is purpose. Without a purpose, without goals, without something to strive toward, we are simply meat suits walking around (just like the Walkers). The drive to march ahead, even in the face of long odds for an idea, a breath of hope as it were, is enough to keep most of us going when it would be smarter and less painful to simply stop. Eugene’s mission may have been a lie but in that lie there is the essence of survival.