The Walking Dead: Hostiles and Calamities
Imagine a TV show based on the Wizard of Oz. On this hypothetical show, the audience watches the Cowardly Lion overcome his fears and cheers as he discovers his courage. Almost immediately afterwards, the character reverts to being a sniveling coward seemingly at random. Viewers watch the Lion repeat the same story beat over and over again. That’s what’s happening on The Walking Dead with Eugene playing the role of the Lion. He even has the mane.
So far this season, Eugene is the third character to be taken prisoner by Negan and forced to live among the Saviors. There’s not a lot of mystery to Negan’s compound any more. We seem to be spending more time there than we do with the protagonists in Alexandria. Daryl spent the first half of the season refusing to accept a position within the Saviors and suffering for his stubbornness. The smart move would have been to play along, biding his time until he saw a chance to escape. But Daryl was never a very smart guy.
Eugene is. Or at least, he’s supposed to be. He impresses Negan with his suggestion of pouring molten steel over zombies to keep them from decomposing. Negan dubs Eugene “Mr. Smartypants” despite the fact that his idea makes no damn sense. Negan’s problem is that he has zombies posted on spikes along his perimeter, but they keep disintegrating into goo. It’s a neat bit of gory make-up, but in the show’s seven years we’ve seen a lot of zombies hold up to a lot more wear and tear than this. Why are Negan’s zombies so squishy? And if they are falling apart so easily how are they supposed to endure having molten steel poured over their heads?
When threatened, Eugene reverts all the way back to his original state even going so far as to repeat the lies he told about being a genius scientist and part of a super secret human genome project. It’s a whopper of a tale which Negan buys into on the basis of Eugene’s homemade bullet and molten metal scheme. Rather than being thrown in solitary like Daryl, Eugene is given a comfy apartment with a locking door and an Atari 2600. It should be pointed out that pre-apocalypse you would have to go out of your way to find a working video game system from the early 1980’s. Post apocalypse, it would be a hell of a lot easier to find a PS4 than a retro gaming session. But apparently Eugene would rather play Yar’s Revenge.
As a signing bonus, Negan throws in some time with his wives. Eugene bonds with the girls over science experiments. The next day, they approach Eugene about creating a suicide pill for one of the weaker-willed members of Negan’s harem. She wants to end it all peacefully and without pain. When Eugene asks for the girl’s weight it is estimated at 120 pounds. He agrees reluctantly to the request and the girls respond by doubling the order. Eugene never asks about the purpose of the second pill.
While gathering the components for his project, Eugene starts throwing his weight around. From all appearances, he seems to enjoy his newfound power which includes the ability to cut in line and to intimidate others. We are intended to think that Eugene is being seduced to the Dark Side but it’s hard to feel one way or another about that when we’re never sure whether or not his conversion is legit.
When the girls return for their poison pill, Eugene refuses to give it to them. He has figured out that the reason the girls doubled their order was that they wanted to kill their husband. You have to wonder why the women need Eugene’s help to off Negan. Poisoning him should be a simple enough task. We have already seen several characters pass up opportunities to kill him. And just about everyone has reason to want him dead. Odds are, whoever killed Negan would be hailed as a hero rather than prosecuted for their crime.
We’re supposed to see Eugene’s refusal to hand over the poison as some kind of betrayal, but really it’s the smart thing to do. He doesn’t know these women. They could be testing his loyalty on Negan’s behalf. If they sincerely wanted to kill Negan they could have done so already. Better not to be part of such an inept conspiracy. Handing over the pills would have ended badly for Eugene one way or another.
After the refusal, Negan shows up at Eugene’s door wielding his bat. He’s looking for a profession of loyalty which Eugene is all too eager to provide. And why shouldn’t he? Declaring “I am Negan” costs Eugene nothing and buys him his life (not to mention creature comforts like pickles). Since we don’t know whether or not Eugene is being sincere, there’s not a lot of reason to care that he pledges allegiance to the bad guy.
In the episodes’ B-story, Negan’s right-hand man, Dwight, is in the dog house. Not only did Daryl escape under his watch, all signs point to his ex-wife as the person who set the prisoner free. Negan tasks Dwight with finding Sherry and bringing her back to face the consequences of her actions. Before he departs, Dwight pays a visit to Dr. Carson who treats his would but mostly provides terrible advice which on the surface seems to be urging Dwight to stay loyal to Negan but could also be interpreted as pushing him towards revolt.
It turns out that Dwight and Sherry had made arrangements to meet at their old house should they ever be separated. This is where things get weird. In voice a voice-over Sherry informs us that Dwight has a terrible memory. How bad is it? Dory bad? Guy Pearce in Memento bad? It’s never explicitly stated, but Sherry has her doubts that Dwight even remembers their good times together. Seriously? How has this never come up before? But Dwight does remember the good times. Per their arrangement, he shows up with beer and pretzels. It’s all for naught. Sherry is long gone.
Dwight returns home empty-handed. He covers his tracks with a bold faced lie. He tells Negan that he found Sherry and killed her. Before she died, he says he told her that Dr. Carson is the one who let Daryl go. Negan buys the story with absolutely no evidence. He says Dwight has no incentive to lie, but that’s only half true. Dwight has every reason to lie about Sherry’s fate. Why he is setting up Dr. Carson is never clearly established.
Negan is apparently a really gullible guy. Based on Dwight’s unsubstantiated story, he decides to chuck his only medical doctor into a fire to be burned alive. He thinks he has a suitable substitute in Eugene based on his claims of having worked on the human genome project. But even if that’s true, Eugene’s only been there a couple of days. At the point that he kills Dr. Carson, Negan hadn’t even exacted a pledge of loyalty from his new “doctor”. Even by the standards of The Walking Dead, this is just incredibly short-sighted.