After all the fun I've had with the last two episodes, I was dreading a return to oppression, female enslavement and face burning. In fact, I did something I never do. I postponed watching this episode the night it aired (which is why this review is late) and actually read a recap first so that I'd be prepared to handle any horrible deaths they might inflict upon us. And that would be the horrible end of the unfortunate Dr. Carson, who went face first into the furnace. Really, Walking Dead producers. Did we need to see that?
Fortunately, most of this episode was a tale of two interesting characters, both of whom might be playing the same game.
I've always liked Eugene. He's a complicated, unusual guy and he makes me laugh. He's been visibly upset, terrified or outright sobbing since Abraham's death, so I was worried that he wouldn't be able to handle his new circumstances: a dark cell, an ongoing barrage of "Easy Street," a steady diet of dog food sandwiches. But instead, Eugene was handed a position of authority, his own apartment with access to the Saviors' library, and permission to cut in line and take anything he likes from the workers known only by their numbers.
While Negan and his lieutenants were terrorizing Eugene, who was shuddering with fear while holding what had to be a heavy jar of preternaturally green pickles, I kept expecting him to drop that jar and scatter pickles, brine and glass far and wide. But no. And I think that was because that jar was a metaphorical stand-in for what Eugene was doing. We all know Eugene is a survivor, that he lied to Abraham and Rosita for a really long time about who and what he was, and that they totally believed in him. While Negan is very smart, he doesn't know enough to suspect that Eugene is tough enough and clever enough to successfully dissemble the way he did. That little smile on Eugene's face as he walked away from the confrontation said it all, didn't it?
I guess I do have to consider the possibility that a combination of fear and the availability of beer, produce, old video games and books by Vonda N. McIntyre might have been enough to turn Eugene to the dark side, but I just don't think it's likely. Not after gaining Abraham's approval and respect. Not after witnessing Abraham's death. Down deep, Eugene really is a nice guy. He nearly fell for Tanya and Frankie's little scheme with the lethal pills, didn't he?
Did you notice that Negan sent over an old-fashioned variety sampler of his harem inhabitants: a blonde (the very unhappy Amber), a brunette (Tanya), and a redhead (Frankie)? And that they were all wearing little black dresses and high heels? When Tanya and Frankie came over later and asked for suicide pills for Amber, I was going, "No, Eugene! It's a trap!" I thought at first that Negan sent them specifically as a test to see what Eugene would do.
But no. Eugene figured out that giving them the pills wouldn't be smart, so he didn't. But he did make them, and they exist now. You don't create a couple of lethal capsules on a TV show and not have them turn up later, right?
On to Dwight's half of the episode. I thought the note shoved under Daryl's door was written by Jesus, but no — it was Sherry, after all. Negan asked Dwight, "You were supposed to break him. Did he break you?" But apparently, Daryl's resemblance to Dwight broke Sherry, instead. In the letter she left for Dwight at their old house, she said, "I let Daryl go because he reminded you of who you used to be, and I wanted to let you forget."
Dr. Carson seemed to think Sherry was just too soft to deal with Daryl imprisoned, but I wonder. She did just abandon her husband to a terrible situation. She had to know that releasing Daryl the way she did and running away would endanger Dwight's life — or at least the other side of his face. But I get it. If Sherry couldn't trust what Dwight would do, if she was too worried that he was all in with Negan, it's not a surprise that she ran.
I honestly don't think Dwight would have ever hurt Sherry. When he arrived at their old house, he had beer and pretzels, as she had instructed. He kept his wedding ring hidden in that crumpled pack of Morley cigarettes, where he also hid a cigarette butt that bore her lipstick traces, a souvenir of one of their clandestine rendezvous in the stairwell. Pardon me while I burst into song.
A cigarette that bears a lipstick's tracesThe last line of the song is, "Oh, how the ghost of you clings."
An airline ticket to romantic places
And still my heart has wings
These foolish things remind me of you...
And yet, even though I'm sure Dwight loves Sherry, he clearly has a brutal side, and not just the things he has to do in service to Negan. Dwight must have thought pretty darned hard about what Negan would believe. If he'd returned and said he'd killed Sherry, with no proof or backup, he almost certainly wouldn't have been believed. But sacrificing Dr. Carson? Dwight took a lot more from Dr. Carson than lollipops. Maybe he thought Dr. Carson would just suffer, not die. But still, pretty awful.
While I looked away for the actual execution, I noticed in the earlier part of the scene that the focus of the camera was Dwight's face, close-up in the foreground. He's staring at the furnace as he is heating up the iron that had disfigured his own face, while Negan and Dr. Carson were out of focus behind Dwight. They couldn't have shown us more clearly that what was happening was all about Dwight. Interestingly (and I'm not sure if they've been doing this all along), most of the shots of Negan in this episode were of him unseen on the other side of a door, or with his face in deep shadow, or the back of his leather jacket — or focused on Lucille. I took that as a visual representation of how both Dwight and Eugene see Negan. Well done.
Just like Eugene's little smile as he walked away from Negan, Dwight had a look of malevolence on his face as Negan walked away from him. Dwight could have gone after Sherry, or ran away on his own, but he went back for revenge. That last shot of Dwight and Eugene standing together was a candidate for Most Obvious Symbolism too, because they could very well be allies, even if they never communicate that to each other. Do we all remember that the last time these two saw each other, Eugene was on his knees biting Dwight's private parts?
Eugene: "Regarding me clamping down..."
Dwight: (interrupting) "You on board?"
Eugene: "I am. Just like you."
What a terrific double entendre.
At the start of the episode, Dwight found chess pieces all over the floor of his room, another bit of symbolism. Because Dwight and Eugene are both playing a long game.
-- This episode began with the discovery of Fat Joey's dead body next to a crumpled sandwich. One more fat joke, even in death. I was expecting to hear Fat Joey's memorial service in person, the one we heard over the walkie in the previous episode, but no. Not yet.
-- Dwight is of course still wearing Daryl's angel wing vest and riding Daryl's motorcycle. Another big clue that he sees himself as the resistance now.
-- Negan said he sent Simon to Alexandria to "good cop this thing." That means the bad cop has yet to arrive. Not good.
-- There's another Dr. Carson, the obstetrician at the Hilltop who is treating Maggie. Are the two of them related?
-- I really enjoyed Eugene fully committing to his performance and butting in line, taking everything he could see. I also enjoyed the rubber gloves full of helium, and the demo of the "elephant toothpaste."
-- Things I could do without: Dr. Carson's death, of course. Also, the guts dropping out of the walker on the fence. Come on, guys.
-- Joss McDermitt was one of the guests on Talking Dead afterward, and he's genuinely funny in person. For what it's worth.
Laura: "Welcome home, haircut."
Laura: "Sure. Whatever."
Eugene: "Really? Anything I want?"
Laura: (impatiently) "Dude. Yes. You can have anything. What do you want?"
Eugene: "Can I have lobster?"
Laura: "No, you can't have lobster. What the hell do you think this is?"
Eugene: "I am indeed a smarty pants."
Negan: "God damn, if that ain't the coolest thing I've ever heard in my life! Not only is that practical, it is just bad ass. Look at you, Dr. Smarty-Pants."
Does Negan still have an inner teenager? He really liked the metal armor thing for the disintegrating walkers.
Sherry's letter: "I loved who you were. I'm sorry I made you into who you are."
Eugene: "I don't even know what you call this. I'm gonna call it a 'grembly-gunk'."
Negan: "You do not need to be scared anymore. You don't need to be scared. You just have to answer me one question, and it's a big one. Who are..."
Eugene: "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."
Three out of four overly green pickles,
Billie Doux loves science fiction but hates horror, and is confused about why she loves The Walking Dead so much.