After last week’s Slabtown focussed purely on Beth (Emily Kinney), this time out we pick things up with the group of survivors who are heading to Washington, D.C. in the aim of having Eugene (Josh McDermitt) saved the world from the walker-riddled shithole it’s become. At the centre of this, as ever, is Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), who really is the star of this episode. Despite us being more than familiar with the backstories of most of the Walking Dead crew, there are still a few faces who we know relatively little about in terms of what their tale is. Here, not only do we get a further delve into the life of Eugene, we also get some gnarly flashbacks on Mr. Ginger Rage himself, Sergeant Abraham Ford.
Firstly, this episode is an absolutely monumental moment in the show’s lifespan, for finally we get to see somebody address the elephant in the room: Eugene’s mullet! Whilst nowhere near as impressive as, say, Michael Bolton at the peak of his powers, Eugene’s haircut is a thing of redneck beauty to behold. When the topic of trimming Ford’s hair comes up early on in Self Help, a cut is offered to Eugene, with Rosita (Christian Serratos) quipping, “Party’s starting to get a little wild at the back.” At least it’s not just us who have been in awe at the duo of Eugene’s hair and Ford’s moustache. But away from the party-hard hair and the moustache that is the epitome of masculinity, this episode follows a familiar path to long-time comic book fans of The Walking Dead.
As touched upon in the opening paragraph, Self Help is the first time we get any real semblance of a look into the backstory of Abraham Ford. And for such a burly, aggressive guy, his backstory is laced with tragedy (aren’t they all?). We’re introduced to a Ford who is a man on a mission: to protect his family. As you’d expect, this is a Ford who takes no prisoners, even going as far as to crack some skulls with merely a can of food. But the tragedy is, his apparent protection of his wife and two children is too much for them, too aggressive, too far gone, even. When they decide to up sticks and leave, the towering hulk of machismo is left with nothing. And by now, we all know that a good soldier needs a good mission – which is where Eugene comes into play. What better way to distract yourself from the reality of a situation by immersing yourself into something that can monopolise all of your time, i.e. getting some Tennessee top hat-wearing scientist to Washington in order to save the day. And yes, this week The Walking Dead taught us a new term for a mullet.
If the tragedy of Ford’s backstory isn’t enough for you, those moments only further delve into the trigger-hair aggression of the character. We’ve seen him thrown down with the likes of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), but it seems that his overall intensity is just too much for even his own family. And it’s this intensity that causes issues for the present-day group in their problematic mission to Washington. With constant walker-filled roads and locales causing issue for the group of Ford, Eugene, Rosita, Glenn, Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Tara (Alanna Masterson), there is no reasoning with Cudlitz’s ball of rage when it comes to any other way. He has his mission, he’ sticking to it. Simples.
Whereas it’s Michael Cudlitz as Abraham Ford who really gets to shine here, Josh McDermitt’s Eugene Porter also gets some much-needed expansion. As well as the dodgy mullet, the group get to find out some serious truths about the other elephant in the arc of Eugene. For fear of anything too spoilery, we’ll leave that topic there for now. Besides, we’ve already broken one major spoiler by revealing how Eugene’s dodgy barnet is finally addressed. But it’s with Cudlitz that the episode is held together, letting viewers see several sides to the oft-regimental Ford as the character is regularly opening old wounds both literally and figuratively here. And by the end of the episode, you realise just why his mission to protect Eugene is of such importance to Ford.
Elsewhere and in other points of note, if the show hadn’t done enough for us already by educating us on another term for a mullet, we were also treated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it zombie with a beard that looked ever so reminiscent of the Techno Viking (Google him, people), and a line by Tara about maybe using bicycles going forward has us hoping for a future episode of The Walking Dead where all and sundry casually mince around as if they’re in a video for The Smiths. Panic, indeed.
Harking back to a show like Lost, that was a series which would often struggle when having episodes focussed on either a sole character or a small group. What The Walking Dead does with those very same episodes is it keeps your attention, it makes the episodes worthwhile and have purpose. To use Lost as an example once more, that seemed to churn out episodes focussing on individuals merely because it was that character’s turn. The Walking Dead instead drops these episodes in when needed and with care, all with the endgame of furthering the arc and overall narrative. As such, Self Help feels like a well-timed look into some characters who we were still murky on, plus it’s yet another episode that has long-time comic book fans ticking another “event” off their checklist. With several of the powers that be claiming that Season 5 will be sticking relatively tightly to the comic book story of The Walking Dead, safe to say there’s plenty more interesting and gruesome moments to come.
And with that, we tip our Tennessee top hats to you.
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