“I’m Eugene, you’re Dwight. We are Negan.”
It seems to me that people really are split on Negan. Is he the best thing that has ever happened to The Walking Dead or the worst? My thoughts on Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the charismatic tyrant are very well documented by this point, I think he’s amazing in the role. I am also a huge fan of Josh McDermitt as Eugene so this episode had a lot of promise for me.
After Rosita’s assassination fiasco with Negan at the tail end of the season’s first half, Eugene was captured and taken back to The Sanctuary. He did create the makeshift bullet that took a chunk out of Lucille, after all. At first it seemed like Eugene would be getting the same treatment as Daryl, slowly broken until he gives into Negan. Daryl might have managed to resist the psychical and physiological torture of The Saviors but there is no way Eugene would even last a day. But to his surprise, and ours, that’s not what happens. He’s given a really nice room, access to any food he want (within reason), old video games, popcorn and beer. He even kinda enjoys “Easy Street”. It’s clear from the start that this is going to play out differently than it did with Daryl.
It doesn’t take long before Eugene has to prove his usefulness to Supreme Leader Negan. Negan berates him a bit, calls him an asshole after Eugene quivers and gets scared. Then Eugene stands up for himself and shows some brains. Holding his giant jar of pickles, somehow a perfect metaphor for Eugene in food-form, he comes up with a pretty ingenious way to fortify The Sanctuary. Negan is actually impressed at how good an idea it is and how badass it is. The conversations between Negan and Eugene in this episode are really good. Both of them can sometimes be a bit over the top but the writers find the perfect balance for two of them.
His treat for this act of helpfulness is an evening with Negan’s wives, but definitely not in that way. With Eugene being Eugene, which is basically just the Reddit community in human form and a pair of cargo shorts, he plays video games with them and eats popcorn. It’s sweet and feels so real! In a world of macho heroes and badass heroines, it’s really cool to see a normal nerdy dude being useful in the apocalypse. The date with the wives quickly turns into an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy as Eugene takes them outside to show them some serious science. He is so desperate to keep himself safe that he lies to people about his usefulness, he may have possibly overplayed his bluff with Negan by saying he was part of the ‘Human Genome Project’ (we’ll see how that plays out) and he does the same thing here. Really he’s just a clever guy with an above average knowledge of random skills, like lockpicking and basic science. It’s like a sitcom where a character finds themselves in increasingly ridiculous situations because of a lie they’ve told.
He is quickly recruited into making a pill to help one of the depressed wives end her life. This leads to an awesome Breaking Bad-inspired drug making montage. But he doesn’t go through with it in the end, coming to the conclusion that the wives want the pill to kill Negan himself. The writers are setting up a very interesting arc for Eugene. Is he playing the long con here? Stringing them along, making him think he’s a good worker until he can get back to Rick? Or has he been broken? I think it’s unlikely that the latter is true, as this would undo all the good his arc has done in the past few seasons, turning Eugene from a cowardly liability to a useful member of the team. But with that being said, if we were all in Eugene’s position with a fridge full of fresh food, video games, beer, and a lot of newfound authority, would we not all give in?
On the other side of the episode is Dwight. He’s had a hard time in every episode he’s been in and people still see him as kind of a dick. But hopefully this episode turns things around for him because he’s really not a bad guy. Like Eugene he’s playing the long game and is waiting for his opportunity to strike. In ‘Hostiles and Calamities’ it is Dwight who is blamed for Daryl’s recent escape. He gets beaten and thrown back in the hole. He has a chance to redeem himself however. One of Negan’s wives is missing. That wife just happens to be Dwight’s ex-wife Sherry. He is sent to get her. Sherry and Dwight are a sad case. She gave herself to Negan in an attempt to save both her and Dwight’s lives, telling themselves at least it was better than being dead. But that was before they knew just how bad Negan was.
He doesn’t exactly find Sherry but he does find a note from here. It’s at their old family home and this scene was heartbreaking. Sherry writes that she knew he would be there with ‘beer and pretzels’ if they ever got split up. She explains that she let Daryl go because he reminded her of the kind of guy Dwight used to be before giving in to Negan. She goes on to point out that being there isn’t really that much better than being dead. She ends it with ‘Goodbye honey.” Austin Amelio is brilliant in this scene. After a few episodes of not having the chance to show any depth, he knocks this scene out of the park. And it’s a real gut punch of a scene too as Dwight leaves the beer and pretzels in the house and leaves. For a couple that have only had a little bit of development, it was a really touching scene and changed any conception I’d had of Dwight up to this point.
Once back at The Sanctuary Dwight does something which may or may not be a good idea. He blames Daryl’s escape of the cold Doctor Carson. He puts part of the letter in his desk and comes up with a story where the doctor freed Daryl to get in Sherry’s pants. And Sherry told Dwight this whilst she was being pulled apart by walkers. It’s a decent story and Negan believes it. If Sherry ever turns up again, Dwight better hope he has a head start on Negan.
And finally we get to the third major player of the episode. The man himself; Negan. I won’t go on about awesome he is in this episode (very), I won’t write a thousand words again about what a great villain he is (the best) and I certainly won’t talk about how charismatic and funny JDM is as Negan (what a guy). I love Negan’s final conversation with Eugene in this episode as he tells him he doesn’t need to be afraid anymore. I like to think that this is Negan’s real heart coming through, but the truth is that they are both no doubt playing each other.
The big Negan scene is the brutal dispatching of Doctor Carson. Just when you feel relieved that perhaps he won’t burn off the crippled doctor’s face, he throws him head first into the furnace. It’s horrible but oh-so Negan. It might not be the best long term plan, killing the only doctor at The Sanctuary but it sends a message. In particular it sends a very clear message to Eugene who witnessed the whole ordeal.
Overall it’s an awesome episode. What could have been a pace-slowing diversion from the main characters turned out to be one of the series best. The Eugene scenes were usually hilarious and the Dwight scenes were devastating. And Negan, well’s he Negan.
Reviewed by Jack.