The second act of “Self Help” takes place in an abandoned bookstore that’s bathed in dim lighting. This is an ideal setting for potential horror, and it also corresponds with the timbre of the conversations that transpire between the characters. Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) apologizes and thanks Glenn (Steven Yeun) for helping him and living up to an agreement; Glenn goes on to have some sweet talk with Maggie (Lauren Cohan); and Abraham and Rosita (Christian Serratos) screw on some discarded furniture. These are exactly the human moments that ground this series through even the goriest zombie chow-downs, and what happens to Glenn, Abraham, and their crew in the daytime makes these quiet exchanges all the more precious to the characters and crucial to the show’s overall poignancy.
In the case of Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who’s caught peeping in on Abraham and Rosita, the late-night conversation revolves around dependency and loneliness, the latter being a particularly volatile emotion for Eugene. It’s ultimately what gives eerie meaning to what turns out to be Eugene’s fantasy of saving the world, one that he uses to get Abraham, Rosita, and hosts of others to protect him and befriend him. The series is careful, however, to show how Abraham depends on the same fantasy for far more disturbing reasons. The showrunners utilize a chilling series of flashbacks to build a quick yet effective portrait of Abraham as a man of violence, seeking bunko salvation for alienating his loved ones through violence and thus putting them in danger. Abraham’s constantly bleeding knuckles are simple, clever symbols for his raging and sad temperament.
Eugene’s confession, in essence, does exactly what Abraham has always been refusing to do, which is look back or rest on something. His more acrimonious encounters with Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group have revolved around his refusal to stay in any spot for too long, in effect sidelining his drive to get Eugene to D.C. The knowledge of what happened to the family Abraham beat and terrified comes rushing back, and considering his reaction to Eugene’s massive fib, there’s a sense that he’ll never quite learn how to stop himself. The release of a few dozen walkers around the episode’s midpoint happens due to Abraham and his crew unable to see a message of warning left by someone beforehand, and that message, “Sick Inside, Let Them Die,” comes to take on a personal note for both Abraham and Eugene, who tears apart the zombies with the blast from a fire hose.
Still, what remains most potently in the wake of “Self Help” is less the revelation of Eugene’s lie, one which was always a bit dubious, than the sense of bonding and acceptance that happens when notions of “missions” and duty aren’t being bandied about. Tara takes a smaller revelation of sabotage from Eugene with grace and undue understanding, and Glenn proves a caring and attentive listener when Abraham starts discussing how simple it’s become to kill. In such moments, the very buds of civilization seem to be showing themselves, and the power of The Walking Dead remains in its clear-eyed sight of these buds as well as the soil of blood, bone, and betrayal from which they grow.
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