The Walking Dead ‘Self Help’: When Eugene was almost a villain

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

In season 5’s “Self Help,” The Walking Dead offered another huge surprise: Eugene’s ongoing pattern of lies and betrayal.

As any fan will tell you, The Walking Dead was never just a zombie show, and the writers often find new ways to explore human weaknesses (and, occasionally, strengths). The character of Eugene Porter is entirely unique among the survivors and was definitely one of the most vulnerable by season 5. In fact, “Self Help” reveals him to be a very pathetic, almost useless sort who puts the entire group in danger in numerous ways.

The episode chiefly begins with Eugene, Abraham, Rosita, Tara, Maggie and Glenn on their way to Washington, D.C. Initially, it’s a bit of a mystery why the church bus closes control, crashes and lands on its side. Later, Eugene tells Tara he accidentally caused it by putting crushed glass in the fuel line! By the episode’s end, Eugene confesses to everyone that his story is a sham. He is not a scientist with knowledge of a cure for the zombie infection. He made the whole thing up to avoid being abandoned.

In a way, then, Eugene was oddly almost as big a threat as the walkers themselves! Perhaps his idea wasn’t as simple as kill or be killed (or bite or be bitten), but simply doing what it takes to survive. The fact that he was entirely vulnerable, with almost nothing to offer, means he’ll really struggle to redeem himself ⁠— at least by this point in the series.

Beating Eugene

This Walking Dead episode examines Abraham Ford a little bit. We catch bits and pieces of his past, indicating that his family abandoned him only to end up as walker bait after he killed numerous people to defend them. Now, with Eugene’s admission, Abraham’s rage cannot be concealed. If you think about it honestly, his coming untethered is 99.985% understandable. This whole time, Ford made it his mission to loyally serve Eugene in his journey for a supposed cure. People have literally died in the quest, and Abraham at times seemed like a fanatic about it. Pair that with the slight concussion and hand wound he got from the bus crash and what do you have? Plenty of excuses to give Eugene a beat down!

That’s the thing about The Walking Dead. There are times where, no matter how much one opposes violence, there are moments where one could (or perhaps even should) fully understand why some of these characters snap. Abraham’s rage almost becomes cathartic for other reasons, too. In a way, Eugene represents the world of supposed super-geniuses who — despite their massive egos — barely have better answers than the man on the street. In fact, a good chunk of the time, their intelligence and wisdom is just an act, no better than a magic trick or mirage. This episode singlehandedly makes Eugene one of the most interesting and unique Walking Dead characters, who jeopardizes lives mostly through selfishness and deceit. If he wasn’t a villain in this episode, it’s a mere technicality!

Real-life applications regarding incompetence

Eugene is in many ways an incompetent person in season 5.  He barely has any ability to defend himself (he’s probably a worse shooter than most novices).  He’s socially awkward.  He either can’t drive or doesn’t, and he obviously claims to be way smarter than he is.  In many ways, Eugene represents people who are incompetent and self-important at the same time.  Such people obviously exist in this world.  Without naming names, let’s just say that they sometimes rise to the top and for no particularly good reason.

While this is semi-true of many characters on The Walking Dead, it seems most of them easily have some strengths along with their weaknesses.  The problem is, if someone really has nothing to offer, they’ll potentially slow others down.  When it’s a life-and-death situation, that is obviously not good.  So let this episode be a lesson to everyone:  It pays to have some skills of some kind in order to pitch in and have value.  If you don’t, all of your shortcomings will seem all the more noticeable, if not egregious.  It’s more troubling if you don’t prove valuable in an environment where people are expendable!

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What are your thoughts on Eugene in this classic episode of The Walking Dead?  Let us know in the comments!