The Walking Dead, S5 Ep5 — Self Help

Season 5 of The Walking Dead has been good so far, better than I expected it to be. “Self Help,” unfortunately, is a snoozer, despite creative walker kills, the first sex scene in ages, and a giant reveal. It should have been good. I’m not sure exactly why it wasn’t, but I think the problem was how the characters were dealt with.

Last week, I was pleasantly surprised by “Slabtown,” a Beth-centric episode I’d been dreading. It turned out a lot better than I expected, even though we went into it only knowing a single character. And while some characters (especially Gorman) were shallow caricatures, Beth developed some and we met a couple of interesting characters, including Noah (who may become a regular) and the very grey Dr. Edwards.

Eugene and Tara have some bonding time.

Eugene and Tara have some bonding time.

By contrast, “Self Help” doesn’t do anything to develop the characters. Sure, there are Abraham flashbacks that really just show that he’s nothing special — a guy who lost his family and hasn’t gotten over it (which reminds me, where is Morgan and why are we wasting time with this when this type of story was done a thousand times better with him?). Rosita, as suspected, is having sex with Abraham. That’s the extent of her development. Maggie and Glenn are completely wasted. Tara gets a couple of OK scenes; it’s just too bad she’s actually getting lines in such a lackluster episode.

And then there’s Eugene. Eugene is fairly interesting, and definitely well-acted. But (spoiler alert), was anyone really shocked that he was full of shit? I can see the characters believing him. They’re desperate and pretty much out of their minds. But surely every viewer knew, with or without knowledge of the comic arc. More shocking was his attempt to thwart the trip to DC by tampering with the vehicle, which very nearly got them all killed. But the episode doesn’t treat that as a shocking reveal (confessed only to Tara, who quickly buries it and moves on with no ill feelings or further questions) on the level of his confession to the group. Yeah, this screws everything up and sucks away that one thread of hope. But Maggie and Glenn didn’t seem to really believe it, they just used themselves as bargaining chips because… I mean, I’m sure there’s a reason I’m forgetting.

Back at the church, I don’t think any of them really, truly believe Eugene is going to save the world. Right now, they’re not even thinking about it, they’re about to turn their focus on the hospital and Beth. Basically, it looks like all this Eugene storyline has really done is separate the group again so they’ll have something to do once the hospital arc is done.

Trust me, it looks better in the episode.

Trust me, it looks better in the episode.

You know an episode of The Walking Dead is a dud when the zombie killing is the highlight. “Self Help” turns to a gimmicky “creative” kill scene as the group, attempting to resume their journey in a fire engine, are quickly stranded with a horde of walkers surrounding them. Eugene climbs to the top of the engine and turns the fire hose on the walkers. Being well-decomposed, the pressure of the water breaks them apart. It’s something the show hasn’t done before, and the effects are pretty cool, but it sort of seems like the episode was built around the cool walker kill scene.

On the other hand, The Walking Dead episodes can’t be all things to all people. For every viewer who hated “Clear,” (still my favorite episode), there is probably one who loves “Self Help.” In a way, that’s one of the cool things about The Walking Dead: at some point, there’s something for everyone. And they don’t really worry about making everyone happy all the time (if they did, Daryl would be in every episode). So, hey, they don’t have to pander to me. A return to more character development would be nice, though.