Published on November 11th, 2014 | by Bean0
The Walking Dead Review – Season 5 Episode 5 “Self-Help”
WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!!
Well, it took less than 48 hours for the dynamics of the D.C. splinter group to entirely implode. As our hopes for salvation for the human race fade in the stinky wind of death, so the spotlight fades on the unlikely hero at that thread’s centre. Eugene Porter, erstwhile “scientist” and saviour finally caved under the pressure of having the weight of the world on his shoulders. Had he not been a lying schlub, the stress of such a burden might have messed up a genuine member of the Human Genome Project anyway, but as it is – he made it all up!
The gravity of this revelation is lost on no-one, Eugene least of all, who ably recounts not only his flawed logic behind sustaining the lie, but also the names of the nine people who gave their lives for his faux-quest. Because The Walking Dead is more than the sum of it’s (dismembered) parts, the foreshadowing to this awful discovery has been gently woven into the narrative for a while; Eugene’s reluctance to elaborate on what he knew, or clamming up with a “That’s Classified!” should have been warning enough. Oh, for shame!
In “Self-Help”, repeated references to Samson allude to the group’s insistence that Eugene is their champion. But rather than their faith in him being a buoy, it seems to only cause him further anxiety. His thoughts on the bus are of the dreadful sins of the Reverend; does he draw a parallel between their crimes? His confession to Tara that he sabotaged the bus was a fuzzy alarm bell that gains clarity once the truth is out. As he and Maggie were discussing; how do you fathom the riddle inside one man’s mind?
The title theme of self-help develops multiple meaning over the course of the episode. Perversely, as Eugene spins his yarn on the bus, he gains confidence from it, perhaps allowing himself the short luxury of believing it. His lies are an oblique form of self-help, as well as a self-serving means for his own survival. He is required to start defending himself after the bus crash, though he is unable to save his own skin then, and rather prefers to help another. Acts like this point to the innocence of spirit that carve Eugene as a truly tragic figure.
The episode is one of the strongest of Season 5, and is marked, as always, by some bleakly beautiful and evocative cinematography; the lighting and framing of Glen and Abraham’s silhouettes in the bookstore window the most striking example. As the shadows of stillness encroach, the standstill Abraham fights so hard to avoid surrounds him in the twilight, a far more terrible threat to his sanity and wellbeing than ambulatory corpses.
Abraham’s incessant drive forward and the memories that fuel his relentless need for progress also become apparent in “Self-Help”. Since joining the series, he has always been the archetypal man on a mission, if not a soldier of fortune, then a warrior of purpose. The monomania of his mantra – “the mission is all that matters” – is finally laid bare. To stop or pause might give him time to reflect, to remember. Given, as it turns out, that the mission Eugene imparted to him literally saved his life, the vastness of acknowledging all he had become and been through prior to meeting Eugene is now unavoidable.
Abraham has been pretty good at the speech-ifying, rallying the troops. If he can save the world, will it absolve his soul of failing his family? Who knows, since that is no longer an option; now he must face whatever guilt he feels, whatever grief he has put off experiencing. The shot, as Abraham once again takes in his Macbeth hands, and the remorse, disbelief and horror that it sparks off, is a brilliant moment, given horrible resonance by the excellent Michael Cudlitz. Like the proverbial ant in molasses, he seems suspended in a free-fall of purpose lost.
“Self-Help” lives or dies by it’s signs and symbols, it’s metaphors and icons. For my money, the episode works all the better for them; this betrayal is a grand moment in the mythos of The Walking Dead; it requires broad strokes and subtle codes to imbue the narrative with the proper sense of loss. Without them, it’s a farce. Eugene’s promise was the first and only ray of hope, and sense of a bigger picture or long-term global view that the story has played with. That it was all an awful game to achieve one man’s survival, and not the hope of a civilisation, is a brilliantly bitter pill to swallow.
Review by Nina Clark. The following addition made by her faithful fella, the wizard Mark Rowden.
MARK’S ZOMBIE CONNOISSEUR CORNER
Another notch to add to the hilarious slain-zombie post, with regards to high-powered water jet as a weapon. Sits right alongside the classics; ‘Zombie Holocaust’s outboard motor scene; ‘Braindead’s iconic use of a lawnmower; shark vs zombie in ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’; ‘The Evil Dead’s flying eyeball gross-out; and of course, a zombie’s encounter with a helicopter blade in “Dawn of the Dead”. Timeless.
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