I like Abraham. For the comic book fans who have been both fans of The Walking Dead TV show and the graphic novels, I get the feeling that Abraham is a fan favorite of sorts in the book, and I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed by Michael Cudlitz’s portrayal of this character on the show. This week puts the spotlight on not just Abraham, but the whole trio of characters we were introduced to midway through last season, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Rather than dealing with a bunch of characters I’ll likely never focus on again, like last week’s episode, “Slabtown,” or having to deal with Rick threaten to depress me with some newfound pseudo-philosophical take on his “fight for what’s ours” mantra, we get an episode centered on the characters that are, frankly, more fun to be around, even as a certain level of tragedy strikes.
Throughout the episode we see recurring flashbacks to Abraham’s past, where we see what led up to him becoming a man who found a sense of purpose. Presumably the innocents featured were his wife and kids who left Abraham, following some brutal acts he was a part of, for the sake of protection. It would be one thing to know that Abraham had family out there somewhere, and perhaps Abraham was a character who would always be looking for them. This being The Walking Dead, though, things are much worse, as we learn that Abraham was able to see the remains of his slaughtered family and considered suicide, before Eugene came along with the perfect thing to keep him moving forward.
Jumping ahead, yes, Eugene is a liar. I am curious how many non-comic readers knew that ahead of time, but regardless, much like how I loved this show’s decision to do away with Gareth and the cannibals in a short amount of time, I love that Eugene’s secret has been revealed this early. I am actually happy with this structure of the season all together, so far. In the past, The Walking Dead would struggle with balancing its ensemble cast with how to construct a narrative on a weekly basis. In this current incarnation of the series, sure, “Slabtown” was not the best episode, but it is a part of a series of episodes that is making up the current broken timeline of this series that is happier to service the characters, rather than worry about keeping the timeframe even between everyone.
I got a little lost there, but yes, this is another episode where we follow a select group of characters (the fun ones), and it culminates in a huge reveal that leaves me wondering what everyone will be up to now. With Eugene not being a real scientist, there is now no urgency for the cast, as far as prime directives are concerned. This means no one is going to see Washington D.C. any time soon, and we are likely stuck with more filming in Georgia. Luckily, we care enough for all of the various characters in a way that makes me interested in what they will now do, since the show literally put the biggest possible wrench in the works, which I see as a very positive thing (and a fun way to work in an idiom I don’t use often).
Now, sure, we still have a whole storyline with Carol and Daryl to get back to, and I will be curious as to what Rick’s next plan is once we sync back up with that storyline, but our current state has us aware that The Walking Dead has a lot of possible avenues it is willing to keep track of, while also confident that it can get there when it wants to. For “Self Help,” the drive was to provide a compelling narrative about who Abraham (and to a lesser extent, Eugene) really is. As a result, we see this man as a determined jerk. Abraham is a good guy, no doubt, but this state of living has gotten to him in a way where he is gruff, but happy to laugh at the little things (no matter how disgusting), because he believes he has nothing else to live for. Now we have an episode that strips him of his mission, and because I like all that has gone into this performance, I can continue to be intrigued by this guy, as his development can now pay off in radical ways given the mystery in what will happen next.
Michael Cudlitz has delivered greatly for a show that is generally well-acted, even if the dialogue stinks in a lot of cases (it has significantly improved in the past year). The other two parts of this trio also deliver fine work. Josh McDermitt’s performance has worked for me since the start, given how I feel about the comic book version of Eugene, but this episode really gives him a chance to dig into both his weirdness and the dramatic (and pathetic) side of his character. It is affecting stuff, and while you can label Eugene a number of things based on his actions, it would be hard to say I dislike this person, because I get him and I get why he did what he did. Christian Serratos, as Rosita, is obviously the weakest of the three, but I would not say she has done a bad job at all, especially in the way she confronts Abraham. These three characters may have the broadest looks (moustache, mullet, short shorts), but they have brought a great energy to the show that works in a way that suggests more than just doom and gloom all the time.
Additionally, while I rarely have any technical/filmmaking quibbles with this show, Ernest Dickerson did a great job of letting the visuals do a lot of storytelling this week. Zombie action, sure, it looks as good as ever, but watching the group set up camp in a library; seeing a visual metaphor in the form of Abraham’s constantly bleeding hand; the flashbacks that put this episode into TV-MA territory; “Self Help” had lots to work with, as far as not only delivering on being a terrific hour of character-focused television, but being a show that can make that work within the realms of a genre-based, apocalyptic setting.
“Self Help” puts The Walking Dead back in the zone, following last week’s diversion into lesser territory. Abraham gets proper development, Eugene comes clean, and Rosita does more than just look cute in her zombie-killing outfit. The plot gets some shaking up that puts this season’s main goals up in the air, while we also keep in mind how there are still other plotlines that need resolve, in order to catch us up with the events of this episode at some point. A mix of good character work, zombie action, and intrigue about what needs to happen next make up the ingredients of the best Walking Dead episodes. “Self Help” has it all.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Eugene’s Zombie Hose Down.
- No one should ever talk about Abraham becoming “dolphin smooth” again.
- All of the conversations in the bus added to the fun factor that a show like this could use more often.
- Tara suggested finding bikes. That was silly, but I am happy that I really like this character now, for the most part.
- Maggie and Glenn were around this episode. Nothing really wrong with either of them,. and they had good scenes with the other characters. Still, they could use their own episode to get us to care more about them again.
- Abe and Rosita had sex. [I had no clever joke for this]
- Eugene’s Book of the Week: “The Shape of Things to Come” by H.G. Wells.
- I really loved the editing of the flashback scenes. The abrupt jumps back to the present were quite effective.
- Really happy, by the way, that this split from Rick’s group did end up leading to a really solid episode.
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what I and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.