Rather than air a repeat or skip a week, the AMC network followed through with a new episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ on Sunday opposite the Oscars. Expecting ratings to be down, the episode focuses on Eugene and thus is mostly disposable. Smart move, show producers!
Of course, we live in an age of DVRs and I’m sure that most viewers probably just recorded the episode to watch on Monday, as I did. Nevertheless, the point remains that Eugene is simply not an interesting enough character to merit an entire episode to himself. Here we have one anyway.
In ‘Hostiles and Calamities’, Eugene is brought to the Savior compound called The Sanctuary as a prisoner. As usual, he’s a crying pansy. When he’s led through the building by a Savior chick named Laura, he assumes that bad things are about to happen to him and cowers in terror when she opens a door. Instead, he finds a fairly nice room (by apocalypse standards) furnished with an old TV, some books on a shelf, and a refrigerator stocked with beer and vegetables. These are to be his accommodations.
Laura then takes Eugene on a tour of the compound and explains that he’s one of them now, a Savior. This puts him on a higher standing than the “Workers,” who are assigned numbers like prisoners and forced to do all the menial physical labor. “You want something, you take it,” she tells him. When he expresses interest in pickles, she cuts into a commissary line and gives him a big jar full of them.
Eugene is brought before Negan again and nearly pisses his pants. Negan probes him about what use he can be to them, and Eugene delivers the same BS spiel about being a scientist on the Human Genome Project that he fed Rick and the others previously. Negan has no reason to doubt him. He points to a zombie pinned to the perimeter fence just as the bottom half of its body rots away and falls off. If Eugene’s such a bright guy, surely he can find a solution that will keep their zombie guards from falling apart like that. After thinking for a moment, Eugene says that he saw a foundry in the building and suggests covering the zombies in smelted metal. If you pour it on their heads, this will also have the side-benefit of protecting their brains from attack. Negan is very impressed. He thinks having an army of armored zombies around the building is totally badass.
(Am I the only one who realizes that once the metal hardens, it will also restrict the zombies’ movement and prevent them from biting or clawing at intruders, therefore negating their usefulness as a defense?)
As a sign of his appreciation, Negan offers Eugene an evening of entertainment with three of his wives – but no sex. That’s a line he’s not allowed to cross, not that Eugene would be able to anyway.
Eugene is of course no social butterfly. It’s an awkward evening as he sits and plays old Atari videogames on the TV, trying not to interact with the women too much. One of the wives, Amber, acts depressed and clearly unhappy to be there. The other two, Frankie and Tanya, are more flirtatious, suspiciously so. One of them expresses interest in Eugene’s science background and convinces him to perform some ‘Mr. Wizard’ tricks by making hydrogen balloons and foam volcanos out of ordinary household supplies. (Gee, will this be important in some later episode, I wonder?)
Frankie and Tanya return to Eugene the next day to ask for his help. They claim that Amber can’t take living with Negan anymore and plans to commit suicide. They beg him to make an overconcentrated sleeping pill or something that will allow her to die painlessly. Eugene refuses at first but, dumb sap that he is, eventually agrees.
When Eugene visits the commissary looking for cold medicine to use in this project, he experiences the thrill of simply taking what he wants and asserting his superiority over the lowly Workers. It gives him a little rush.
Negan’s henchman Dwight is another character who has received a disproportionate amount of screen time this season. This episode actually opens with a flashback to Dwight discovering Fat Joey’s dead body and learning that Daryl has escaped the Savior compound. He also finds the note that someone (obviously his ex-wife, Sherry) slipped to Daryl telling him, “Go now.” Dwight recognizes the handwriting and chooses to keep the note a secret.
For his failure to keep Daryl a prisoner, Negan has a group of his other goons beat the crap out of Dwight and throw him in Daryl’s cell. Eventually, he drags him out and lectures him. Negan informs Dwight that Sherry is missing, and he believes she helped Daryl escape. Dwight insists that Sherry wouldn’t do that. Negan orders him to go find her and fetch her back so they can straighten all this out, with the appropriate punishments.
After getting his wounds stitched up by the overly-inquisitive and prying Dr. Carson, Dwight takes a motorcycle and a bunch of weapons and rides back to his old home. He doesn’t find Sherry there, but she left him a long note, along with her wedding and engagement rings. The note blathers about how she’s sorry she ever took the deal with Negan, because of what it has caused Dwight to turn into. She says that they’ll probably never see each other again, but she hopes he finds a way out.
Dwight returns to the Sanctuary and lies to Dr. Carson, claiming that he did find Sherry but that she was torn apart by zombies when he chased her. Carson asks a few too many questions about this.
Laura grabs Eugene and brings him to the factory floor, where he’s forced to witness one of Negan’s branding ceremonies. The victim this time is Dr. Carson. Dwight framed him for helping Daryl escape because he was allegedly in love with Sherry. The doctor protests his innocence, but Negan won’t hear it. He demands that Carson admit his guilt and apologize. Seeing no other option, Carson does just that and begs forgiveness for a crime he didn’t commit. Rather than brand him, Negan tosses the doctor right into the furnace and lets him burn to death. The punishment for messing with his wives is harsher than any other crime.
Negan has decided that he trusts Dwight, because he believes Dwight is completely broken. They have another doctor at the compound, so Carson was replaceable.
When Tanya and Frankie next visit Eugene, he coldly refuses to give them the pills he’s made. Apparently he’s not as big a dope as they assumed, and knows that the pills aren’t for Amber, but for Negan. He warns them that they’re just as dispensable to Negan as Dr. Carson was, and that he’d kill them if he ever found out what they were plotting.
The next knock Eugene gets at this door is Negan himself, making a show of swinging his bat Lucille around. The time has come for him to decide his loyalty and make the “I am Negan” oath. Without hesitation, Eugene blurts out, “I am utterly, completely, stone cold Negan.” He says that this is what he was always meant to be; he just didn’t know it until he met Negan. He’s ready and eager to join the team. Negan is pleased.
The episode ends with Eugene and Dwight overlooking the yard as Workers pour molten metal onto zombies, as Eugene had instructed.
I don’t buy Eugene’s sudden turn to the Dark Side for a moment. It seems obvious to me that he’s just playing possum and plans to double-cross Negan once he devises an elaborate plan for how to do so.
There’s nothing especially wrong with this episode, and if it came in the middle of a stronger season I’m sure I’d have more patience for it. However, with the show on such a decided downslide this year, I really didn’t need to waste an hour on Eugene and Dwight right now.