The Walking Dead
Anakin Skywalker. Walter White. Kanye West. Now we can add Eugene Porter to the list of troubled characters we’ve watched descend into villainy. Until tonight’s episode, Eugene was mostly comic relief — committed to that mullet and talking with an odd combination of AP English vocabulary and slang. What he’s got in gray matter, he lacks in spine. But for a minute there back in A-town, it looked like Eugene had turned a corner. He trained to fight and defended the safe zone from the zombie horde last season. Like Father Gabe, Eugene dropped a few spots on my list of people I’d like to feed to the walkers. But by the end of this episode, what began as a tale of the weeping, wimpy “Haircut” turned into something unexpected — the origin story of “Dr. Eugene.”
As The Walking Dead tends to do, “Hostiles and Calamities” steps backward to catch up with a parallel story line at the Sanctuary, as Negan’s crew realizes Daryl has escaped (but before Fat Joey’s tender eulogy). It’s no surprise that Dwight gets an ass-whooping when Negan returns home to find his favorite plaything is gone. (You had one job to do, Dwighty.) What’s shocking to us — and certainly to the newest A-town captive — is that solitary confinement, dog-food sandies, and a hot-iron facial are not on the menu for Eugene. Instead, with help from a neck-tatted Saviorlady, Dwight is escorted to the Sanctuary’s baller suite: books, a TV, a fully stocked fridge, and curiously displayed frying pans hung on the wall. If not for that damn “Easy Street” song playing on the hi-fi, this place would be heaven even if Eugene prefers lobster over pasta and tomato sauce. What a friggin’ diva.
As much as this is Eugene’s episode, it’s also a Dwight tale, as he confronts the fact that Sherry — his wife/member of Negan’s harem — probably helped Daryl escape. Quick to prove he didn’t help her, he repeats the ol’ Savior mantra, “I am Negan.” So Neags sends Dwight out to find Sherry and bring her back to face punishment.
In sunnier times, the couple agreed that if they ever escaped, they’d meet at their old house and start over. Sherry made it back, but what Dwight finds there might be more torturous than anything Negan’s done to him — a good-bye note and her wedding rings. The CliffsNotes version: She let Daryl go because he reminded her of Dwight himself before he became Negan’s bitch; she’d rather die alone in zombieland than live as Negan’s sex slave while Dwight does nothing about it; hope you come to your senses; sorry for my role in making you this way. Guess it’s better than saying “I ran off with Daryl because he’s like you used to be, only hotter,” but still, the sudden good-bye leaves Dwight a mess. (Especially since he brought beer and snacks for their reunion, as he promised.) The handwriting on the note also confirms that Sherry did indeed set Daryl free. Wonder if we might actually see Sherry again, and if so, whether she’ll hook up with Daryl, and if so, how many lunatic Daryl fans will troll that poor actress on Twitter because her character is not good enough for the fictional man they’re in love with.
Meanwhile, Haircut is slowly getting used to life as a Negan cabinet appointee. You want a pickle? Here’s a whole jar of ‘em. Bored? Please enjoy this Atari 2600 and Yars’ Revenge, which is no Pitfall, but better than being stuck with Combat or E.T. Want some quality time with hot babes in little black dresses? Negan will offer up a blonde (Amber), a brunette (Tanya), and a redhead (Frankie) — just keep your pants zipped, buddy. Amber has a drinking problem and seems rather depressed about her polygamy situation, while the other two party girls just want to have fun. Soon enough, Eugene’s Bill Nye routine wears thin: What Frankie and Tanya really want is for the brainiac to make a poison pill that’ll put Amber out of her misery. But they need two doses?
Eugene sees through their ruse, of course. It’s Negan they really want to kill. The wives see him as one of the good guys, but Eugene disagrees: “I’m not good. I’m not lawful, neutral, or chaotic — none of the above.” (Shocking backstory reveal: He played Dungeons & Dragons.) In gen pop, we see the first sign that Eugene is smellin’ himself a bit: Screw your line, lady. I’m taking the cold meds, that bedpan, a fly swatter, a stuffed animal I’m calling a gremblygunk, thankyouverymuch. Cue Eugene’s Breaking Bad moment as he cooks up some killer pills while “Everything Right Is Wrong Again” by They Might Be Giants plays in the background.
That’s when the wheels come off and Eugene’s character arc bends in a different direction. He sees Dwight has weaved quite a tale: Just before he watched Sherry get torn apart by walkers, she confessed that the Sanctuary’s resident doctor was the real mastermind behind Daryl’s escape. A pizzaface makeover isn’t enough punishment for such treachery, so Negan tosses the Doc in the furnace. As Dwight tells Negan he’s not sorry to have lost Sherry, and the physician flambé burns, it seems Dwight wants to erase any memory of his ex and fully embrace the dirtbag he’s become.
By the end, Eugene has proven his worth to Negan by solving the rotting-corpse conundrum that’s turning the zombie playland into a mess. (Excellent gross-out as that chain-link walker’s torso separates in an explosion of goo.) He even recommends metal headgear so the zombies are tougher to kill. (Somewhere, Rick is thinking, We should have ditched your ass when you admitted you weren’t a scientist.)
Here with the Saviors, Eugene lies again about his bona fides, then goes a step further: Not only is he not helping the wives kill Negan, he actually defends the guy. The babes storm out of his room and in walks the boss, promising what Rick never really could. Here at the Sanctuary, Eugene doesn’t have to be afraid. Dr. Eugene is now somebody.
When you consider that Abraham was Eugene’s only true friend in this world, and Negan beat him into a pulp, Haircut’s response is sickening: “I’m Negan. I’m utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan. I was Negan even before I met you.” Cut to Dr. Eugene, the coward-liar-traitor, watching over the zombie playpen, gremblygunk hanging out of his pocket while he barks orders and chews on a pickle. When Dwight walks over, Dr. Evil reintroduces himself: “Eugene. You’re Dwight. We are Negan.”
Dwight responds with a halfhearted, “Yeah.” Maybe he’s puzzled by this weirdo who is now one of Negan’s lieutenants, and thus competition for Negan’s attention. Maybe Dwight still hopes he’ll somehow reunite with Sherry and prove he’s still human. But is it possible Eugene just told his biggest lie yet, pledging allegiance to Negan but acting as a sleeper cell for the resistance? In a way, the answer doesn’t really matter. Although “Hostiles and Calamities” is slow and low on thrills, it accomplishes one crucial goal: Whether he’s truly turning into Dr. Evil or not, Eugene is finally worth watching.