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The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a drama about a zombie apocalypse. It is based on the 2003 Image Comics series. AMC 2010-???

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Episode 5 - Self Help

16 November 2014

Credit AMC

Synopsis: Abraham's crew crash after Eugene sabotaged their school bus. He admits this to Tara while Abraham pushes everyone relentlessly forward. When he tries to take them through a large horde of Walkers, Eugene breaks down and admits that he isn't a scientist. In flashback we see how Abraham lost his family and found Eugene.

The Good: This was pretty disappointing despite having its heart in the right place. There really was an attempt to flesh out Abraham, Rosita, Eugene and Tara which was definitely needed. And actually Glenn benefitted from playing sane lieutenant to a crazy captain.

I enjoyed the presentation of Abraham and Rosita's relationship. The early grooming sequence in the truck confirmed the affection she has for him but it wasn't clear until we saw them having sex whether he reciprocated her feelings. Even then it wasn't clear how deep his feelings really go. By referring to her as "ass" and laughing off Eugene's voyeurism he gave off a calous air. The potential gulf in their feelings was highlighted by flashbacks to his sad family breakdown and added real texture to the moment when she stands between him and Eugene (see Best Moment).

The comedy worked better in this episode than it has for some time. Glenn's "I didn't need to know that" after Abraham's "ass" comment wasn't quite as good as Eugene's "and I quote 'A fun guy'" line. Together with Eugene playing peeping Tom in the "self help" section and Tara taking a peek too there was far more fun than the apocalypse usuaully allows.

The survival skills montage once the crew were in the book store was nicely put together and adds valuable plausability.

The Bad: It seems clear to me that AMC wants The Walking Dead run on a fairly tight budget. After their publicised spats with various showrunners (including those on Mad Men and Breaking Bad) it seems like Scott Gimple is honouring their wishes by dividing up our ensemble (saving money on cast pay) and shifting away from action toward character (saving the special effects budget). It's a strategy which can work but if it is mishandled it can cause real problems.

I hinted at this last season but the one area where Scott Gimple has failed to match his predecessors is in creating genuine tension. The zombie scenes have lacked any threat in the past two seasons (except for the two finales we get each year i.e. the mid season finale too). The two zombie attacks we got here were particularly poor. When the episode begins with a Walker scene it's very hard to generate drama and yet no creative use was made of the overturned truck. Conversely the use of a fire truck hose was creative but somehow contrived to be dull. Our survivors actually looked really vulnerable when the Walkers filed out of the doorway but the direction had made it so obvious that they were coming that it never felt like anything more than an action set piece. When the water came to the rescue it felt gimmicky rather than cool. It also raised all the usual questions about how exactly these creatures can survive and rip human flesh off when they're weak enough to be torn apart by a jet of water.

Ok so if your action is failing you then you need good character moments. Sadly I didn't think we got that. Tara for example did seem like a nice person. But should she be speaking for the group about how they're all friends now (to Eugene)? That seemed presumptious for someone who is relatively new to the gang. It would be better to show us who she is before she starts giving advice.

I know you could drive from Atlanta to Washington DC in 10 hours but that's not going to happen in this world. So it felt premature for Eugene to be panicking about his secret with so much ground still to cover. I also felt Eugene and Abraham's stories stole time from one another. The emotional focus was mostly on Abraham and so when Eugene's revelation came it felt out of place. It also had no sting to it. We all suspected that Eugene was faking it. It seems like it would have been more fun for him to play Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica) and keep having to prove his worth as the lies piled higher and higher.

Abrham's intensity too seemed out of place given the long road ahead. It felt like the writers were artificially pushing him to a breaking point when experience would suggest that another road would have been fine to keep them moving north. The flashbacks were effective at conveying the dangerous power he possesses. The dark hint in them was that Abraham had actually abused his wife before the apocalypse kicked in (maybe accidentally). That would certainly explain their terror at him beating some looters to death more than the mere brutality of it. I thought the final scene would spell that out more clearly but instead it turned to a pointless prequel of how he ran into Eugene. It felt very unsatisfying and quite unnecessary to spell out so literally how Eugene saved him from suicide.

The Unknown: The nighttime scenes at the book store were very hard to make out. Perhaps it was my screen but they were almost totally in darkness at times.  In a way that is of course very realistic. No light means much less chance of attracting Walkers. But it made those scenes harder to follow.

Best Moment: The episode did lead well to the moment when Rosita put her hand on her gun and stood between Eugene and Abraham. Michael Cudlitz did an excellent job throughout conveying the raw power of the man and his attack on Eugene looked nasty. That his temper could flare outward had been established through flashback but fortunately he had enough feeling for Rosita or perhaps enough self preservation to stop there and back off. It wasn't tense but it meant something.

Conclusion: I'm being hard on this episode because I think with a few tweaks it could have been more compelling. At times it was slow and dull and if the emotional moments had landed I would be defending it. But I didn't think they did and so I ended the episode feeling empty. In a way I think it would be more compelling to have discovered that Eugene was a fraud and Abraham hurt his wife and then let tensions build for another episode or two. By blowing it all off now I'm not sure what we are left with. I also worry about AMCs budgeting because if we did start to care about any of these characters it seems like we will only rarely see them for two weeks in a row.

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  • They should have titled this one simply Abraham. A large piece of what brought him this far is presented well for the most part. ‘Self Help’ could refer to a few things:

    1. Onanism. Eugene watching Rosita and Abraham 
    2. Abraham mentally trying to cope with the death of his family by taking on Eugene’s mission.
    3. Abraham mentally trying to cope with what to do with his life after learning Eugene is nothing but a liar and the mission was nothing but a lie.
    4. Eugene helping himself survive by lying to everyone.

    Good:

    Great use of flashbacks to provide back story and mentality of Abraham was very well done (except for a few things SEE: The Bad).

    Eugene confesses a huge lie. There have been clues to this throughout Season Four and Five.
    • Reluctance to go with Abraham at the church: (S5E3.)
    • Inability to defend himself or others.
    • Awkward manners and social interaction.
    • Perhaps the mullet (although I am sure there are scientists with them.)


    We have added a bunch of show axioms from this episode:

    • Lies will catch up to you and cost lives. This can be unforgiveable.
    • Some groups will defend those who don’t know how to defend themselves or are mentally ill prepared for helping defend themselves.
    • Hope (even if it’s falsely generated) can save someone from suicide and change their mental outlook on survival in the apocalypse so they can cope (Eugene with Abraham.)


    Bad:

    It took me two watches to get clear that Abraham was beating to death four marauders that harmed his family in a supermarket. It all came together for me when he called out ‘Ellen!’ and then he saw her body and those of the kids. Also the scene where he finds their bodies is a bit quick to discern what set him into shock. They should have held on that shot longer (although there maybe something with that and the censors with showing the bodies of children.) It was also lit a bit dark to quickly figure out what was going on.

    Eugene’s lie had a strong impact on Abraham. What about Maggie and Glenn? Where were their strong reactions? After all, Maggie gave up the search of her own sister just to get Eugene to DC.

    Unknown:

    Will Eugene be banished from Abraham’s group?
    Will Abraham’s group go back to the church now that the truth is out or will they still go onto Washington DC?
    What does Abraham want to do? Find Rick or continue to DC?
    What does Glen and Maggie want to do now?
    Beth found a Washington DC ashtray at a golf country club gift shop in Season Four.
    Does this still hint at DC as a destination? If so, the only thing that would bring Rick’s group to DC would be if the two groups stayed separate and he finds Beth. Beth would want to find her sister, which would compel Rick and company to head northeast.

    Viewer score: 59 / 100

    Posted by Fluids, 10/11/2014 9:40pm (6 years ago)

  • Great episode, much better than last week's distraction.

    Since Abraham is a character from the comic, it seems that it made it much easier to produce an episode centered around him.

    A couple good Walker attack scenes and some decent character interactions makes for a solid episode.

    With 3 episodes left and 4 groups of survivors, should be interesting to see how it all comes together.

    Viewer score: 65 / 100

    Posted by Ben F., 10/11/2014 4:05pm (6 years ago)

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