The last few seasons, The Walking Dead has, on occasion, thrown us a character-focus episode. This happened a fair bit during the time the group was split up after the prison was overrun back in Season 4, and it happened again last season when we learned about Morgan’s origins. This season, we had a Tara and Heath episode (well, really only Tara) in the first half (S07E06 “Swear”), widely panned as one of the weakest episodes of the show so far (although I didn’t write a review of the episode, I didn’t hate it, and would likely have given it about a 6.5 out of 10). Here in the second half of Season 7, we get another, this time showing us what happens to Eugene after being taken at the end of the mid-season finale back in December, and how Dwight deals with Daryl’s disappearance from the Sanctuary. And this, frankly, is a much stronger episode than Tara’s. Scroll down for my combination synopsis and review.
[Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S07E11, “Hostiles and Calamities” – read further at your own risk.]
For the purposes of this review, I’ll begin with Dwight’s story, and then move on to Eugene’s. The two do come together at the end of the episode.
To begin, we do a bit of time-traveling, going back to when Daryl escaped, and Negan is coming back to his base with Eugene in-tow. This time, we see things from Dwight’s perspective, as he first discovers Fat Joey’s remains and the missing motorcycle, and then Daryl’s empty cell. Empty, that is, save for the note telling Daryl to “Go now” which we saw a few episodes ago – and which Dwight appears to recognize. Dwight kicks a few things – there’ll be hell to pay for letting Daryl get away.
Back in his apartment, he gets a visitor – several, actually. Negan stands in the door while a bunch of his men kick the crap out of Dwayne – there’s actually a fair amount of kicking in the episode. He quickly stuffs the note in his back pocket before they break in, and doesn’t put up any resistance. We cut to a cell – likely Daryl’s old one – and there’s another knock on the door. Negan is not in a trusting mood. Turns out that not only has Daryl fled, but so has Sherry, and the connection is pretty damned obvious. Negan asks Dwight if he knows where she’d go, and he says he does; Negan tasks him with bringing his “wife” back.
Negan orders Dr. Carson to patch Dwight up from the working over he received, and while in the clinic, Carson tells Dwight that he feels Sherry is a good person. Dwight dismisses the talk, and heads to his apartment, where he finds a crushed up pack of Sherry’s cigarettes tucked inside the mouth of a talking wall bass plaque- she’s stopped here on her way out of the Sanctuary, and she has a sense of humor.
Dwight heads off to the home he shared with Sherry in the pre-apocalypse. Inside, he finds a long note from her explaining why she’s done the things she’s done, from marrying Negan to save Dwight’s life, to freeing Daryl because she recognized a bit of the old Dwight in him. She implores Dwight to run away, but doesn’t expect him to. She’s long gone, and won’t be coming back – and she says she doesn’t expect to survive, but is sorry that she made Dwight into something he’d hate. Tied in there, as we hear her voice reading the letter aloud, is an old plan they had, which was for if they ever got separated. If they did, she’d head home, and he’d come back with a bag of pretzels and a six-pack of beer. She says that now, in the actual event, she doesn’t want him to find her – she’s afraid he might choose to kill her. However, before he leaves the house, he places two things on the kitchen table – pretzels and beer. Perhaps Sherry read him wrong; perhaps Dwight is ready for some sort of change.
Returning to the Sanctuary, Dwight sees Dr. Carson again. He tells the doctor that he killed Sherry – that he drove her into the arms of a bunch of walkers, and put her out of her misery before she could be turned. Carson, for his part, suggests that there isn’t room in the word anymore for big hearts, that there was not room for a good person like Sherry. While there, as we find out later, he slips a little something into the doctor’s pocket.
Cut to the furnace room. We see the room initially from Eugene’s perspective, as Laura (his minder – more on her below) brings him in to watch proceedings. Negan has found a note, in Sherry’s handwriting, saying “Bye honey” – only he found it with the good doctor. He hits him hard in the left arm with Lucille, and Carson stumbles. Meanwhile, Dwight is over at the opening to the furnace, heating up the iron we’ve already seen used once this season. Negan retrieves it, and holds it up beside the doctor’s face. He accuses him of being sweet on Sherry, of helping her get Daryl out, and of helping her to leave as well. All for what? Love? It isn’t really clear, although it has been clear in their interactions that the doctor does like Sherry. Still, this is an extremely tenuous story at best, and yet Negan decides to go with it. Later, Eugene suggests that Dwight is more valuable to Negan than is Dr. Carson, hence his decision to believe that Carson betrayed him, but this doesn’t seem to hold any water – how is Dwight more valuable than the only medical doctor on the premises?
Looking at getting his face burnt off, Carson admits to everything. Negan drops the iron, and tells him, “See? That wasn’t so bad,” before grabbing him bodily and forcing him face-first into the open furnace. He screams for a few seconds, and then stops moving. Negan cozies up to Dwight, and tells him he’s sorry that he had to kill Sherry. “I’m not,” replies Dwight, showing no remorse – but of course, we know the whole thing’s a lie. Negan loves it, and walks away laughing and strutting.
Now, to the meat of the episode. As much as we do get a fair bit of Dwight, this is really a Eugene episode, and Josh McDermitt really owns it. We first see Eugene’s arrival at the Sanctuary. In the yard, Negan and his crew pull up, and one of Negan’s followers, Laura, takes Eugene inside, calling him “haircut” as they walk. He is literally shaking in his boots, anticipating some sort of horrible fate; after all, the last time we saw him back in 708, his homemade bullet had almost killed Negan, and he was unceremoniously bundled off. Laura takes him to a clean, well-accoutered apartment full of books, as well as a well-stocked fridge, and tells him she’ll bring him something to eat. He sarcastically asks for lobster – who says Eugene doesn’t have a sense of humor? – but settles for a can of pasta when she asks him, “What the hell do you think this is?”
Later, she takes him to a large workroom, where she explains the rules of the place. They, meaning the ones who work directly for Negan, eat well, the rest don’t. If he wants something, he can take it, so long as he signs for it. He’d asked her for pickles earlier, and luckily for him, there’s a fresh jar in the workshop. He refuses to take any at first, so Laura signs out the whole jar and gives it to him. This is really a case of sugar vs. vinegar. While Dwight tried to break Daryl, here, Negan has Laura trying to win Eugene over with the benefits he can reap if he’s a good and productive worker. Of course, there’s going to be a quid to this pro quo.
Laura leads a pickle-jar clutching Eugene back out into the yard, where Negan is waiting with a bunch of his men. He’s in his usual jovial-yet-dangerous mode, and he asks Eugene if he’s a “smarty-pants.” “I am indeed a smarty-pants,” Eugene replies, and then starts whipping together a complete line of bullshit about multiple PhDs and how he was working with a select group of ten scientists on the Human Genome Project prior to the zombie apocalypse. It’s pretty obviously a line, but Negan doesn’t really care, so long as Eugene can put up. Negan turns toward the fence, regarding one of his current problems: the walkers he has pinned to spikes around the grounds as a form of protection are beginning to disintegrate due to advanced decay. As he mentions this problem, one of them suddenly tears at the waist, dropping its guts (and hips, and legs) in a moldering pile beneath it.
He asks “Dr. Smarty-Pants” how he’d get the walkers to “keep” longer. Eugene hesitates – he’s still looking scared out of his wits – and then comes up with some crazy idea of using the smelter at the Sanctuary to smelt down junk metal, pour it over the walkers to encase them in metal that will hold them together, and at the same time making it more difficult for enemies to eliminate them because they’ll have metal protecting their heads. This is, to be fair, a pretty dumb plan – there’s nothing to stop the walkers from sloughing off body parts inside the shell, and a very good likelihood that the molten metal itself would melt connective tissues. But Negan absolutely, all-in-capitals, LOVES this plan.
He tells Eugene he feels he should give him some sort of signing bonus, to which Eugene, in one of the night’s many excellent lines, replies, “I have this jar of pickles.” No, Negan decides, Dr. Smarty-Pants deserves something more. He offers to send not one, not two, but all three of his wives (being that Sherry has disappeared) to Eugene’s room for fun and games – but no sex allowed. He is greatly discomfited by this – on the surface. However, as he walks away, still clutching his pickles, we see something interesting: Eugene cracks a slight smile.
We cut to Eugene’s apartment, and he’s playing Yar’s Revenge on his TV. This is a real throwback nostalgia moment for me, as I used to own this game on my Atari 2600 about 35 years ago, and I recognized the sound before I saw the game on the screen. Eugene is explaining the game to the three wives – one of whom, Amber, is extremely drunk – and offers to load up Warlord, which is a four-player game (and another I used to own – it used the old paddle controllers!). Frankie, whom he refers to as “Red,” offers Eugene a massage, as she was a registered therapist in the good old days. He refuses, but they keep trying to find ways to get him to open up and be, perhaps, a little more fun.
The third wife, Tanya, tries flattering Eugene’s intelligence, telling him she’d love to hear about the Human Genome Project. He demurs, claiming to be still under strict orders to stay silent (which is patently ridiculous), but they do manage to convince him to make a bomb. There’s a bit of an homage to MacGyver here, as they want him to make a bomb out of a couple of household items. He tells them that’s ridiculous – he’d at least need a few other simple household items to make it work. So, of course, they get to it. He makes some hydrogen and fills a couple of latex gloves with it, exploding them as well as setting off an Elephant Toothpaste experiment – check out the video below to see an explanation of how it works.
The wives are tickled by this, and they all seem to have a good time. So good, that the next day, Tanya and Frankie come back. But this time, they don’t want to play video games – they want to know if Eugene can make a suicide pill for them to give to Amber, the third wife. They try to appeal to him, calling him good, to which he throws in a Dungeons & Dragons reference, saying, “I’m not Good, not Lawful Neutral or Chaotic, none of the above.” But after hesitating, he asks what Amber’s exact body weight is (120 pounds, they say), and agrees to do it. They ask for two pills – just to “make sure” it works.
He heads to the storehouse, where he cuts a line to ask for some cold medicine. The woman handing out the meds tells him to get to the back of the line, calling him a prick in the process. He hunches his shoulders, and starts to head back, when he suddenly grows a backbone. Remembering what Laura told him about taking whatever he wants, he confronts the woman, calling her by her number and telling her he works for Negan. She’s taken aback and extremely apologetic. He takes the medicine he wanted, then a bedpan, then a flyswatter, then the rest of the medicine in her cart which he dumps into the aforementioned bedpan, and finally a stuffed sloth. He looks at it and says, “I don’t even know what this is, but I’ll call him Grembly Gunk.” It’s this weird moment of epiphany for the constantly downtrodden Eugene – he finally has a modicum of power in some small way, and he gets a little drunk on it.
At this point, we briefly intersect with Dwight’s story, as Eugene is brought to the furnace/smelter by Laura to observe Dr. Carson’s punishment. Eugene tries to turn away when the doctor burns, but Laura grabs his jaw and forces him to watch. Each of the wives are also watching, with Amber looking close to sicking up.
Back in his room, Eugene is trying to escape into some more Yar’s Revenge, when Frankie and Tanya come back to check whether or not he’s made the pills. Eugene, however, is not so easily fooled as they might think. He tells them he knows what they really want – two pills to kill a 240 pound man, rather than a 120 pound woman. Negan is their target, and he refuses to give them the pills. They call him a coward, to which he readily agrees, and then threaten to tell Negan that it was his plan all along. They leave, disappointed.
A little later, Eugene is eating one of his pickles, when there’s a solid knock on his door. It’s Negan and Lucille, and he doesn’t look too happy. Eugene starts to quake again, but Negan gets right up in his face and tells him, “You don’t need to be scared. You just have to answer me one question. And it’s a big one. Who are…” But before Negan can finish the question, Eugene blurts, “I’m Negan. I’m utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan. I was Negan before I even met you, I just needed to meet you properly to know. I’m Negan.” Negan smiles.
We cut to the next day, out in the yard again. Eugene is overseeing two workers pouring molten metal onto a pinned walker. He has another one of his solid lines, saying, “Do you want to get burned by molten metal? ‘Cause that’s exactly how you get burned by molten metal.” Dwight joins him on the catwalk, looking down on the work. Eugene eyes him sideways, and starts, “Regarding my clamping down,” but Dwight interrupts him – “Are you on board?” “I am,” Eugene replies, “Just like you.”
Talk about a loaded statement. Eugene’s not stupid, and my thinking is that he saw right through his lies to Negan regarding Sherry and Dr. Carson. Putting two and two together, he realizes that Dwight is possibly turning on the boss, so when he says, “Just like you,” he means not at all. Dwight is a pretty well-hated character at this point – you don’t shoot Daryl and get away with it – but this looks an awful lot like it might be some sort of rehabilitation in the making.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Yes, there was a fair bit of suspension of disbelief (in a show about zombies? Go figure!), but Eugene’s unique and quirky charm made for an episode that has some genuinely funny moments in the midst of some pretty horrible acts. I fully believe that Eugene is playing Negan, and I fully believe that Negan is at least half aware of this, but doesn’t give a shit about it. Negan walks around focusing on and valuing expressions of power over truth, and this is reflected in the way that he clearly does not care that both Dwight and Eugene are doing what he wants. If either of them turns on him, he’ll put them down just like he did with Dr. Carson. Seriously – there isn’t anyone much more valuable than a full medical doctor in this world, and yet Negan did not hesitate in the least to kill him. And before you say, “Yeah, but that was because he bought Dwight’s story,” remember this: Dr. Carson has been shown on numerous occasions cozying up to Negan’s wives, something Negan is sure to have noted. By killing the doctor, he actually puts Dwight somewhat at ease, increasing the likelihood that he’ll make a mistake sooner rather than later, meaning that Negan can thus remove two threats to his position.
Eugene is smart. Not multiple-PhD smart, but smart nonetheless. He thinks he’s playing Negan right now, but he’s going to have to be careful. I know that a lot of buzz is going on out there right now around whether or not Eugene is truly turned to Negan’s cause – don’t believe it for a second. He’s in love with Rosita, and wouldn’t do anything to betray her if he can avoid it. Remember, this is the same man who found the courage to literally bite a man’s sexual organ late last season to prevent friends from being killed. He’s got more courage than he’s letting on, and he’s up to something.
Why, you might ask, did he not send the pills with Tanya and Frankie? Well, I believe that Eugene suspected the whole thing might be a set-up, a trap set by Negan to test his loyalty. This is, I feel, confirmed by Negan showing up at the apartment. He was testing Eugene, Eugene passed the test, and now he takes one more step into the inner circle. If the pills were a test, he would have been killed for falling into the trap; but holding off, he can find other opportunities to kill Negan with less risk, or scout the interior of the enemy’s lair for when he (hopefully) gets back to Alexandria.
Dwight’s development is less certain. Is he actively planning to turn on Negan, or is he going to simply look for an opportunity to run? If it were the latter, I think he would have done it this episode, having found Sherry’s note. He’s definitely showing more layers than he initially did, and he’s showing a potential for more changes to come. I believe he’s biding his time, sounding people out, and looking for an opportunity to take out Negan when he has the least threat to himself in the process. He isn’t really interested in dying, not after all the sacrifices he and Sherry have already made.
I loved the geek culture shout-outs in this episode, from Bill Nye style science experiments, to Yar’s Revenge on the Atari 2600, to Eugene’s aside about D&D alignments. There was also a song played during the storeroom scene that comes from a band with pretty solid geek cred (no, not The Collapsible Hearts Club’s “Easy Street,” though that does get a brief play earlier in the episode): “Everything Right is Wrong Again” by They Might Be Giants. Good stuff all round. Scroll through to the bottom of the review for a link to the song, if you’d like.
Steve’s Rating: (8.5 / 10)
Airdate: February 26, 2017
Directed by: Kari Skogland
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: David Leslie Johnson (written by); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)