PREVIOUSLY ON THE WALKING DEAD: Beth’s alive and stuck on the worst episode of Scrubs ever, like, even worse than the later seasons, where they were like university employees or something and I just watched a couple minutes of an episode and got really sad and then pretended the show had been cancelled a couple of years beforehand. Man, if a great sitcom ever went completely bad, Scrubs was that sitcom.
This episode starts with something that The Walking Dead very, very rarely gets to be: it’s cute. Abraham, Rosita, Tara, Maggie, Glenn and Eugene are all on the Little Church Bus that Can’t For Very Much Longer, and they’re bantering adorably about hair. Abraham gets all creepy when he suggests Rosita shave him “all over,” and I swear he uses the words “dolphin-smooth,” but either he mumbles too much for my old man ears to pick it up properly or my brain refuses to accept the idea of a grown man referring to his dolphin-smoothness. Glenn gets the line of the episode when in mid-conversation about the end of the world he pauses and, timed beautifully and with a perfectly straight face, just says “Why the hair?” to Eugene. Glenn is a snarky little punk at several points during this episode, which only makes me love him more. Eugene starts talking about his former boss, T. Brooks Ellis, who told him once that the hair made him seem like a “fun guy,” a line that is delivered with the deadpannest of available deadpans.
Bonus points to Lauren Cohan for managing to keep a straight face during this moment; she looks like she’s really struggling. Sadly, Maggie still appears to have forgotten that she has a little sister, as she actually gets some dialogue with Glenn about whether the group is following them and does not mention her little sister.
And then the bus blows a tire and Lori flips the bloody thing over:
Oh! Wait! Sorry, Lori’s not driving, she’s dead. Abraham flips the bus in the worst-filmed bus-flip in the history of television. I mean, granted, Lori flipped her car on an empty road, but Abraham manages to get his to teleport. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse:
We come back from the opening credits to a scene of a man crouched on top of another man beating him to death with a can of something. He stands up and the camera gets a close-up of his hand. He’s wearing a wedding ring. The man puts his boot on the neck of the other man and we finally see his face: it’s Abraham. He steps on the guy’s neck, killing him, the camera pulls back to reveal another couple of dead bodies, and he says “Ellen.” It’s not a question. He says it as if he’s just remembered the name.
Back to the bus, where everyone is coming to their senses after the accident. They do a good job of acting competent, quickly forming a plan to deal with the zombie horde outside. Tara is left inside to protect Eugene. A zombie I’ll call Cletus comes through a window and goes after him. Cletus is awesome. He’s old and shirtless and has an outstanding beard. Sadly, he doesn’t get to be an ongoing cast member, because Tara kills him:
(That’ll be the last of the .gifs, by the way, as I know they wreak havoc on some of your computers; I just couldn’t find a still image of Cletus and I needed him to be in the post.)
There’s lots of yelling and some panic-cam, and Eugene actually kills– or at least gets an assist– on a walker. Once they’re all dead, Abraham insists that they check Eugene for wounds despite his insistence that he’s fine. Maggie says something about getting some supplies from the bus, which in the second instance of fantastic comic timing in this episode, promptly bursts into flames. Because of course it does.
I am of the opinion that the producers intended this to be funny, by the way. It’s too perfect.
Anyway, Eugene suggests going back to the church, which is apparently only fifteen miles back. Abraham angrily denies his request and gets all ranty for a minute, and Glenn calms him down, reassuring him that they’re going with him and that he’s in charge, but that Glenn “needs to know he’s okay.”
He’s not okay, Glenn. But he says he is, and tries to be all Inspiring Military Speech Guy again. It doesn’t work too terribly well. He turns into Etrigan for a minute and spouts a couple rhyming cliches and they’re off on the walk.
“Maybe we can find some bikes? Bikes don’t burn,” Tara says, and it’s the first time I’ve liked her ever. Awkward fist-bump!
Incidentally, the camera gives us another shot of Abraham’s hands, which are bloody again. He’s still got that wedding ring on.
Back to the grocery store, where Abraham is walking through the aisles calling for Ellen. A woman is hiding under a desk. She stands up slowly and turns around to look at him, as a couple of ginger-haired kids look past her. They all look terrified. She has a black eye. And I’ve freeze-framed and slo-mo’ed this half a dozen times to see if she’s wearing a wedding ring, and I can’t tell. There are frames where it looks like she is, and frames where it looks like she isn’t.
And back to the present, that quickly, as Abraham and co. break into a library or a bookstore. There’s a few minutes of preparation– moving shelves, making a fire, covering the windows, that sort of thing. Again, after several episodes of people making consistently bad decisions it’s nice to see the characters acting like they’ve survived for over a year in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland and have acquired a couple of skills during that time. Somebody even pulls some thread out of the binding of a book so that Rosita can stitch up Abraham’s hand, and holy crap is she cute.
So cute, in fact, that Abraham crudely makes sure to let Glenn know that he’s going to go have sex with her at the end of his watch. “I need some ass,” he says. “I didn’t need to know that, but… cool,” Glenn responds, being all snarky again. There’s about four seconds of thrusting and moaning. And then this happens:
Now, you need to understand exactly what is going on in this scene: everyone in the group is in this room, right? And Abraham and Rosita aren’t bothering to be discreet. They’re not even under a sheet or anything. And they are openly discussing– as in he can hear them talking about it— the fact that Eugene is watching them, and so what if he wants to watch them.
What’s even better is the conversation that Eugene and Tara have when Tara catches him watching. I’m reproducing the entire thing here, because it is the very first time that Eugene’s over-enunciated, pointlessly polysyllabic dialogue has ever been funny, and people who don’t watch the show deserve to read it:
E: Cards on the table, I was watching them.
T: Yeah, I know.
E: I believe they know I catch an eyeful on occasion, which isn’t to say it’s their thing, it’s not mine either. It’s just that I enjoy the female form and I consider this a victimless crime that provides both comfort and distraction.
(A few seconds of moaning in the background.)
T: Maybe, uh… maybe we can move on from here. I was looking for you to say thank you for having my back at the bus. You saved my life.
Now, at this point, I’m gonna break away from repeating the dialogue, because it’s less funny for a second: Eugene admits that the reason the bus blew up and flipped over was because he sabotaged it. He did it to keep them from getting away from Rick and company. Tara is briefly horrified that he nearly killed them all– gee, I wonder why— but quickly tells him he can never tell anyone and basically forgives him once he tells her the reason. It contains the following line of dialogue, which is the greatest line of dialogue ever uttered by any TV character ever. Forget what I said earlier about Glenn:
E: I appreciate the positive affirmations and looking the other way on the perversion.
He explains that, basically, he’s dead without a group, and so it’s in his best interests to stay with as many strong people as possible. He thinks he’s valueless without the “saving the world” thing, and that without that no one would keep him around. Tara points out that they’re friends and they’re supposed to have each other’s backs and “that’s it.” She’ll keep his secret.
“You’re stuck with us, just like we’re stuck with you,” she says. It’s a great moment. How the hell are Eugene and Tara having a great moment? Where am I? What is happening?
And then there is an awkward fist-bump, because it’s Tara, and I can’t be allowed to not hate her for long. And then she sneaks a peek at Abraham and Rosita and gets this wicked little grin on her face and I stop hating her again.
Meanwhile, Maggie and Glenn are trying to get some sleep, and long story short, because that Eugene/Tara thing took up some room, Maggie is so very pregnant, guys. This is a prediction and not a spoiler, but… everything about their conversation is very very we’re pregnant and don’t want to talk about it. She’s sooooooo with child.
Commercials! And reflashbackening. Past Abraham is approaching terrified Ellen and the kids again. “It’s okay,” he says. “I stopped them.” The kids continue to hide behind Mom, and Abraham looks at his hands again, which are covered in blood.
Back to the present, where Rosita is trying to stitch Abraham up some more. There’s a brief argument about whether they’re going to spend the night again or move on. Abraham gets all Alpha Male again and starts hollering about needing to press forward always. Rosita actually gets more than a handful of lines in a row. I’d like to see more of her. Maggie gets into the conversation, at which point Rosita immediately switches back to Abraham’s position, which is interesting.
And then Abraham tells everybody that he got them a Christmas present, which is the giant fire truck outside their window. He gets it started (they need to address, and soon, the fact that gas deteriorates with time) and gets it maybe ten feet away from where it was before it dies.
Unfortunately, “where it was” is “holding a door shut that was keeping a bunch of zombies in the firehouse.” Abraham’s hollering about all the guts and gore stuck in the air intake, and it takes just long enough for Rosita to point out that he’s mad at the radiator and not the air intake for the zombie attack to start. It’s a great moment for her, too. And then the zombies start pouring out, kind of catching everyone flat-footed, and then this happens:
Oh, wait, no, that’s not what happened. I lied about there not being any more .gifs, by the way. This is what happened:
Yes, that’s right: Eugene kills a bunch of walkers with a fire hose, which isn’t quite zombies on fire but is pleasingly thematically similar. This shows up, videogame-style, when water gets applied to the ground, by the way:
Another flashback. Abraham wakes up in the grocery, and his family is gone. “Don’t try to find us” is written on a length of register tape in red. They don’t even appear to have taken anything with them. Past-Abraham flees the grocery, screaming his wife’s name.
In the present, the fire truck has broken down again, and holy crap is it covered in zombie guts. Abraham is working on the car, and Maggie takes the opportunity to hassle Eugene about his hair again. “You’re not the person people think you are,” she says to him, which… well, that’s a funny thing to say, isn’t it? There’s more Samson talk, too, and we’re briefly reminded of how religious Herschel was, because Maggie actually knows the Samson story.
And then everyone gets hit by an odor. Abraham, before discovering the source of the smell, announces that they’re not stopping. Significantly, his hand is bleeding through the bandage.
What’s the smell? About a million zombies, far enough away that they can’t see or hear them, but… crap, it looks like half of Georgia is in that herd. Luckily, there aren’t many stragglers. This spawns the mother of all arguments, as Abraham insists that the group continue to move directly forward and everybody else rightfully tells him that he’s completely insane. It contains this great exchange:
Abraham: I’m not saying we just go straight.
Maggie: That’s the way the road goes.
And then Rosita finally publicly turns on him, insisting that everyone else is right, because they are. And Abraham loses it, grabbing Eugene by the arm and dragging him along. Glenn and Tara both try and grab him and are shoved away. The scene gets scary and intense enough that Eugene starts screeching “I’M NOT A SCIENTIST!” at the top of his lungs until it gets through to Abraham.
There is a silent moment. Eugene says that he lied and he doesn’t know anything. Rosita’s literally just lying on the ground at this point, staring at him, not even bothering to get up. Everyone is shocked, because we’ve gotta have another dumb moment before this episode can end.
Eugene tries to explain. He knows that he’s smarter than most people, that he’s a good liar, and that DC is the best place to be right now. He wasn’t lying about that, he says.
“People died trying to get you here,” Rosita says. “I’m aware of that,” Eugene says, and proceeds to name off about a dozen people, ending with Bob.
He doesn’t even know T. Brooks Ellis. He does, however, think that he is the type of guy who wouldn’t think twice about a “Tennessee Top Hat.” He then reminds them that he’s smarter than them again.
You get about a quarter of a second to appreciate the phrase “Tennessee Top Hat” before Abraham beats the shit, and I mean beats the shit, out of him. Gene’O’s asked me not to swear too much, guys; I’m a lot saltier on my own blog. But this requires that phrase. He beats Eugene into an unconsciousness so profound that my wife and I both hollered at the final punch that knocked him out. Kudos to the stuntman, who had to land directly on his face at the end of this scene without the slightest bit of cushioning the fall. It’s brutal. I mean, it’s Walking Dead brutal; this is the show that started the season with baseball bats to the back of heads and slitting throats, and this might be more visceral.
Rosita, of all people, finally gets in between them. Her hand is on her gun. Also, her belly button’s kinda peeking out, because that’s how she rolls. And Abraham’s hands are dripping with blood again:And we’re at the final flashback, and Abraham has found his family, and they’re eaten. He looks around for a bit, tears off his dog tags, and sticks a gun in his mouth. Which is right when he hears Eugene, who is running– well, stagger-walking, really; he’s clearly exhausted– from three walkers. He ineffectually yells “Get ’em” at Abraham a couple of times, then begs Abraham to stop and help him. You can see the moment where Eugene sizes the guy up and decides he has to lie to him.
“I have a very important mission,” he says, and it’s the final line of the episode.
These recaps usually run long, I know, and this is probably my longest one, but this was also my favorite episode of the season so far, so I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me for a bit longer. Now, before I get into this next part:
- I am aware of the backstory in the comics;
- I am aware of what Josh McDermitt and Michael Cudlitz said on Talking Dead after the show; and
- I don’t care.
I’ve been mocking Abraham as an idiot for basically as long as he’s been on the show, guys, and this episode made him so so so much more interesting. He wasn’t pulling Eugene along because he was convinced Eugene was telling the truth, he was pulling Eugene along because Eugene was a lifeline. And another aspect of him: it seems clear to me from the episode, as opposed to the comics and various interviews with the actors, that Abraham is also an abuser. I don’t think those bruises on his wife and kids came from other people– I think they came from him. He lashes out and gets angry and violent when he doesn’t get what he wants over and over again in this episode, and having literal blood on his hands is a recurring visual trope. Cudlitz claimed that Abraham’s wife and children had been assaulted by the men in the grocery and that’s why he killed them. I don’t think that causes those people to run away from you, the person who saved them, at the earliest opportunity. I think that they realized that Abraham’s anger could and would be used for murder if he was pushed hard enough– and maybe they did attack the wife and kids, but they clearly made the decision that they were safer without Daddy than with him, and that doesn’t make sense unless that anger had also been used on him.
You could make the claim that Eugene deserved the beating he got at the end of the episode. You can’t claim that Abraham is against beating up on people who are manifestly weaker than him. He’s treated Eugene like a battered wife throughout the series– pushing him around, not listening to him, even openly cheating on him in a way with Rosita. He doesn’t mind Eugene watching because for Abraham having sex with Rosita is a power play. Even Rosita kind of acts like an abused spouse, disagreeing with Abraham only to immediately change positions and support her man when he’s challenged by someone external.
All this makes him a bad guy. It also makes him fascinating, because other than Shane, who started off as a good guy, the show’s never really asked us to accept a bad person as a member of the group before. All the characters with major flaws in their personalities that I can think of have rather openly been adversaries of the core group. Well, okay, Lori and Andrea were idiots, and that counts as major flaws, but those aren’t the kind I’m talking about.
I’m really looking forward to where they go with this guy next.
Is it next Sunday yet?