Oh hey — sorry, didn’t see you there. Must have nodded off during that outstandingly dull episode of a show about the collapse of society in a world overrun by an undead horde. Shouldn’t be hard to make that more interesting than CSPAN, right? Yet alas, an hour of watching Eugene’s inner struggle, another ill-advised revenge plan, and the unusual menu of activities at the Junkyard Four Seasons proves to be an utter snooze. Only the negotiation scene between Rick and Jadis salvages this set-up episode from being a complete waste of time.
Most of the action is focused on Eugene, a character who serves as a great example of when comic books fail to translate to the screen. The impossibly verbose mullet man is entertaining in small doses, and the story line that ends with the admission that he doesn’t have a clue about a cure for zombie-itis is compelling. Here’s a guy who’s on the spectrum, with smarts to spare but no clue about social behavior. Survival for Eugene means a constant tally of the odds, an ever-shifting assessment of what — and who — he needs in order to avoid “the stranglehold of cold teeth/tongues.” But while Eugene’s machine-gun banter works in spots as comic relief, and probably reads well on the page, an hour’s worth of his hand-wringing and “giggle juice” swigging gets old fast. Maybe I’m jaded from eight seasons of zombie mayhem, but at this point, I don’t care whether Eugene turns into a hero or walker food. I just want him to serve a purpose.
Gabe has the same objective. While his unidentified infection spreads, he tries to play the God card with Eugene: Sure, you’re a man of logic, but if the dead can rise, why not believe in a higher power? Credit Eugene for honest self-assessment: “I am a small person who does not stick his neck out for anyone else.” Later, he’s even more emphatic about where his loyalties lie, running into Gabe’s room with a wild rant about how he will obey Negan because that’s his best shot at survival, and that living, not heroism, is his biological imperative. Sorry, Mags, but Eugene is keeping Doc Carson in-house just in case he gets a boo-boo someday. That’s some cold caca, dude.
Eugene seems to walk the talk when he confronts Dwight about being the traitor, and surprisingly, Dwight owns it. What’s more puzzling is why Eugene doesn’t rat Dwight out. If he’s all about his own survival, and Negan has tasked him with finding the mole, he shouldn’t think twice about exposing Pizza Face’s “betrayals and Judas-ness.” Perhaps it’s Dwight’s warning that’s haunting him: “You don’t got blood on your hands, yet. But that’s coming. Once you do those things, you become those things.”
What’s most annoying is Dwight’s ping-ponging between “being Negan” and thinking of AHK, as he calls Rick’s coalition, as more than just “traveling companions.” One minute, he’s strapping Sasha’s iPod onto a remote-controlled glider to draw the herd away. The next, he’s letting one of Negan’s wives guilt trip him for bailing on their poison-pill plan. I don’t really care which team you play for at this point, Eugene. Pick a lane and stay in it.
As plans go, Eugene’s seems way better than Daryl’s, who finally reveals his strategy: smash a hole into the Sanctuary with the trash truck, let the dead stumble inside for a Savior buffet, and hope the workers will make it out safely. Inexplicably, it’s Rosita, not Michonne, who immediately objects to going rogue and says she believes in Rick. Why isn’t this the moment when Michonne decides to stand by her man? The only reason she even left Alexandria was because she “needed to see” the Sanctuary for herself. That’s dumb and inconsistent with her character; thankfully, she comes to her senses — and true to Daryl’s character, he respects her decision. What Michonne should really do is say to him and Tara, “Look, I get it, you’re pissed and want revenge. But if your selfish personal need for justice ends up biting us all in the ass — literally or metaphorically — you’re going to regret it. Assuming we’re not dead or worse.”
So what does Daryl’s plan accomplish? We learn that Morgan didn’t disappear — he just wandered off to take a sniper’s post outside the Sanctuary. Luckily, there’s enough room for the zombies to squeeze around the garbage truck and chow down on some overwhelmed Saviors. But Negan’s lieutenants are safe, the walkers are stuck on the first floor, and Eugene is confident he can produce the ammo the Saviors need for a plan of their own. (Another illogical detail that’s best left ignored: the general lack of concern on all sides for what must be a very limited supply of bullets. Remember when Rick and company made an effort to stab instead of shoot? Stark contrast to the initial Sanctuary raid that used up untold gobs of hot lead.)
Aside from Eugene’s awkward hand-kiss after he’s promoted to Negan’s number two, the episode’s highlight is Rick in his boxers at the junkyard. Jadis and her minion are snapping photos and sketching him for a sculpture for “after,” which turns out to be round two of Junkyard Gladiators. This time, Rick faces a helmeted walker on the end of a pole; in his skivvies and with his hands bound, Rick overpowers the two zombie handlers, twists the monster’s head clean off its body, wrestles a gun away from Jadis, and drops her to the ground, perilously close to that chattering skull. Absurd? Yes. But it’s the best action in the episode, save for that jump-scare flashback to Undead Sasha when Eugene sees her coffin.
Even better is the exchange that Rick finally has with the Junkyard Dogs: “You can play your games, draw your pictures, sculpt whatever shit you want, but I am leaving!” These people talk and act like aliens who’ve cherry-picked the oddest aspects of human society and the English language: trash collecting, art, haiku, sex fetishes, and a used-car salesman’s knack for negotiation. Thank you, Rick, for finally calling them on their freaky-deaky ways. Again, Jadis and Rick go back and forth on terms. She’ll take one-fourth of the Savior plunder with one catch: a sculpting session, minus the boxers. Why is she so weird and also so horny for this guy she keeps trying to kill?
None of that makes a lot of sense, but at least it’s good for a much-needed laugh. If you were expecting a big cliff-hanger to redeem this snoozefest and set up something major for the mid-season finale, well, no such luck. Rick is the only one who’s shocked to see the Sanctuary yard is devoid of all groaning flesh-eaters. Sigh. What’s Eugene’s plan? How will Rick react to Daryl going off script? Can’t they still give Negan the same ultimatum they would have otherwise? Plenty more questions, but the only one I’m interested in is: When will we all be done with the Saviors for good?