In 'Time For After,' Someone On The Walking Dead Needs To Mullet Over
Eugene demonstrates that technical intelligence and moral intelligence are not the same thing in S08.E07.
Can I just tell you how honored I am to be writing another full-length recap after a hiatus of over three years? And to be writing it about a show that I've followed since the start, and have had the privilege of sporadically covering in the past? And to be working once again with Tara, Sarah, Dave, and Omar? No? I can't? Okay, then, I won't. (But I am.)
Rick is still carrying out the vital part of his genius plan in which he's allowed himself to be captured by the Scavengers and is sweating out his time in an airless shipping container, wearing nothing but his boxers, his bandages, and the binders around his wrists. The doors are swung open and he gets to his feet, blinking in the sun until two human figures resolve themselves among the trash heaps. One is Jadis, holding an outmoded camera. She's also newly accessorized with what used to be Rick's utility belt, if I'm not mistaken. The other individual is a seated guy with a sketchpad whom I am calling Dirty Art Student Legolas. Even in this vulnerable position, with no leverage whatsoever, Rick has the nerve to repeat his previous ultimatum to Jadis: "You can join us or you can die." Yes, who wouldn't want to be on Rick's side right now?
Jadis, who has apparently developed the enviable superpower of spontaneously going deaf whenever Rick speaks, takes a couple of full-body photos of him, ejecting the spent flash bulbs in between. Even while trying to maintain his tough-guy act, Rick can't conceal his curiosity about the purpose of this, and this time Jadis deigns to answer: "Sculpt you after." Looking nervous for the first time, Rick asks, "After what?" Jadis's typically maddening response: "After." You can see why Rick is so keen on being friends with her. Here's my question: how is any of this season fulfilling the promise of ALL-OUT WAR when half the characters can't get out at all?
Speaking of which, let's head over to the besieged Sanctuary, where most of this episode actually takes place. Eugene sits down in his room to make a list in three columns: "What I Know," "What I Don't Know," and "Things I Am Unaware Of, Wholly." Then he realizes he's wasting both his time and ours, so he gets up to pay Dwight another visit. In his typically cornpone-baroque manner, he accuses Dwight of being the one who is in cahoots with what he has taken to calling "AHK," an acronym of his own devising which signifies Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom. Using this term would be a huge time-saver for me as a recapper, but I'm not using it because it's terrible. Eugene further adds that he has been tapped to serve as Negan's personal spy-hunter, so he is now asking Dwight to knock off his spying in exchange for Eugene keeping his mouth shut. Dwight physically places Eugene in a chair and sits down on the footstool in front of him to tell him what's actually what: "The Saviors are finished. Negan's finished....This place is gonna fall. And all you have to do to be on the winning side...is nothing." Well, props to Dwight; if there's an argument that would be more effective with Eugene, I can't imagine what it could be.
Still, Eugene looks doubtful that he can pull that off, so Dwight appeals to Eugene's conscience instead. Obviously Eugene doesn't have much of a conscience, but then Dwight doesn't have much appeal either. He warns Eugene that soon he'll be forced to get blood on his own hands, just like every other Savior has, and then there'll be no going back. Eugene's not moved by any of this, saying, "What cranks my shaft is being safe." Which we already knew, but he claims also to be concerned with the safety of the others inside the compound. "We are Saviors," he says. "We save." He takes his leave while repeating that Dwight's secret is safe with him, as long as Dwight stops doing anything that makes anyone in the Sanctuary less safe. Although like everything else he ever says, he refuses to say it like a normal person would.
Eugene then heads down to the factory floor. They're shoring up the doors from inside, but there are still impenetrable layers of walkers pressing in on the frosted windows from outside. "What do you think?" he asks Laura. Her prediction for the inevitable breach is "A day, maybe two." So, some time next season, then?
Galumphing along down the hallway to wherever his next destination might be, Eugene is flagged down by Doctor Carson Two-Point-Oh. Carson calls Eugene into the infirmary to discuss the subject of Gabriel. The priest, who is currently unconscious, appears to be suffering from at least one infection that threatens organ failure. Gosh, any theories as to what it might be or what's causing it? Carson wishes for some meds to treat him, and Eugene retorts that he wishes that Gabriel hadn't been part of the plan to trap them all inside. "I also wish for Razzles," Eugene adds, "but if wishes were horses and all that." Carson is surprised to hear Eugene talk like this, and not because Razzles are terrible candy that turns into even worse gum. No, he's surprised that Eugene is blaming his friend for his own condition. Eugene corrects Carson on that, downgrading Gabriel to "traveling companion." Whatever the case, Carson needs to leave Eugene to sit with Gabriel so he can maybe find some herbs or something in the marketplace, or possibly some Razzles to finish him off for good.
So when Gabriel wakes up and finds himself alone with Eugene, he says Eugene looks to be in worse shape of the two of them. Eugene shoots back that Gabriel looks like "a potato and shit casserole." Aww, it's as if they've never been apart. Eugene remains cold and hostile towards Gabriel (which, see previous sentence), barely helping the patient take a drink of water, and probably only that to spare the Savior-owned glass from getting dropped on the floor. Gabriel asks if Eugene is going to help him get Dr. Carson out of there, which Eugene doesn't see a way to accomplish given that they are "surrounded by a Wilkes-Barre of walkers." Collective nouns are fun, aren't they? Especially when you just make up your own? Eugene alludes to the likelihood that Gabriel landed in this state as a result of the old walker-guts trick, which I didn't know was a thing that could happen, but it makes sense that the first person it befell was a weenie like Gabriel.
Of course this is all beside the point, because Eugene reminds everyone that he's not the kind of person who will put himself at risk for others in any imaginable way. I actually feel like he sort of did that once or twice, but has since decided that he didn't much care for it. From his sickbed, Gabriel leans on him to do the right thing, which Eugene claims not to know anything about, and we can just imagine what it costs Eugene to say he doesn't know something. Gabriel, who has known Eugene for much longer than Dwight has, does a far worse job of pleading his case in a way that will reach Eugene, saying that knowing the right thing requires faith that God is there to guide him. And how does this strike Eugene? "It's absurd," he says flatly. So, no surprise there. Gabriel points out that, not long ago, Eugene probably would have thought it impossible that the dead could walk. Whoa, careful there, show. You don't want to get too meta on the subject of our weekly suspensions of disbelief. This series routinely asks us to believe some pretty unlikely things, even compared to the concept of walkers themselves. I see people online pointing out story inconsistencies and whatnot and the defense is always, "Eh, whaddya want, zombies aren't real either." But the thing is, we've already bought into the zombie premise, or we wouldn't be here. It's the show's job to keep things believable within that framework through the execution. If the response to every story complaint is, "Come on, though, zombies," then we might as well just throw in vampires and werewolves and community leaders who don't become megalomaniacs.
But I digress. In conclusion, Gabriel clasps Eugene's hand and says that maybe Eugene will know the right thing to do when the time comes. With that he lapses back into an unconsciousness that is merciful for everyone involved. Eugene contemplates the hand that's just been freed; the red paint from Dwight's chess set still stains the tip of his thumb. It's probably meant to be symbolic of the blood that will soon be on his hands, just as Dwight warned earlier. But Eugene looks like he's just wondering whether the pigment is lead-based, and if so, is it safe to stick that thumb back up his ass where it belongs?
After having deserted Jesus's detail, Morgan has returned to the Sanctuary and taken a shift at one of the sniper's nests across from the Sanctuary's factory tower. He's watching the shot-out windows through his rifle scope when his walkie-talkie squawks. It's one of their lookouts, calling in from a nearby water tower to report the approach of a truck. Morgan takes a peek out the other side of his building and sees Daryl at the wheel. "It's one of ours," he reports. He doesn't seem too happy about it, but then Morgan doesn't seem too happy about anything these days.
Inside the building, Eugene gets a visit from Tanya, one of Negan's wives. It seems he agreed last week (in the show's timeline, not in ours) to fix her boom box in exchange for a couple of bottles of wine, and now here she is to take delivery and complete the transaction. Eugene confesses that he's not done with the repairs, and wonders how Tanya can be worried about her tunes when they're all trapped inside by a Walla Walla, Washington of walkers. (See? Fun!) Tanya pointedly says that being trapped isn't anything new for her, and makes to leave with her bottle. But Eugene begs her to leave it with him, because suddenly he's in a vulnerable moment. Not that you'd be able to tell just from reading the line he's supposed to say, which is as follows: "I've taken to throwing one-point-five fluid ounces down my gullet most PMs as a necessary requirement to catching some increasingly elusive Zs. Ergo I need the giggle juice." And he has to somehow deliver this from the verge of tears, because Josh McDermitt's job isn't hard enough as it is.
Tanya isn't too sympathetic, saying Eugene had a chance to make this place better when she and the other wives asked him to poison Negan, but he looked out for himself instead. Not to mention that it didn't work out too great for Sasha, either. But Tanya leaves the bottle behind anyway. "I hope this helps," she says, "but it won't." Wow -- Eugene's conscience, such as it is, is getting it from all sides but one today. And now Laura shows up at his door with word that Negan wants to see him. So it looks like that's going to be all the sides, then.
Somewhere nearby, Daryl and Tara are briefing Michonne and Rosita on their new, accelerated, no-prisoners-no-surrender-no-more-fucking-around timeline for taking down the Sanctuary. The plan is for the women to cover Daryl while he crashes the truck through the walkers and clear through the side of the building, resulting in what Tara calls "Savior buffet." Like Rick before her, Rosita voices some concern about whether the workers inside will be able to get away. Michonne is also worried, but about the risk to themselves. "We work with what we got," Tara shrugs, giving Morgan a cue to walk up saying that he and the other snipers will cover Daryl as well. "I want it done," Morgan says. "I want them done." Morgan has come to believe that all life is precious, but he has stayed to believe in killing them all and letting God them out. Rosita still wants to stick with the original plan, and I'm mostly on her side except for how a key part of her argument is "I believe in Rick Grimes." Non-ironically, no less. Daryl points out that the Kingdom has been knocked off the table, so that's a big downside of sticking with the original plan. Not to mention that the guns they were counting on collecting from the Big House turned out to not be in there. Strategy aside, Tara gets in Rosita's face to make an impassioned speech about how she could have helped end this sooner by telling Rick about the guns at Oceanside, and that she's not going to let that happen again, with or without Rosita. Hey, Tara, speaking of life lessons you've learned, do you recall what happened the last time you helped blast a hole through the perimeter of an enemy compound because someone with limited vision (get a haircut already, Daryl) convinced you that you should? Oh, that's right, the survivors of that attack forgave you and adopted you as their own and now you're in the opening credits. Carry on.
Anyway, Rosita's out. She invites Michonne to leave with her, but Michonne passes, earning herself a lecture from Rosita about how sometimes you have to wait and sometimes you don't get to know what's going to happen. You hear that, fans? Stop going online to look for spoilers! Rosita's big exit line is, "I wish it didn't take seeing Sasha walk out of that coffin to realize it." I wish I understood what those two things have to do with each other.
Eugene comes in for his sit-down with Negan, who has a little motivational speech for him about how people are going to start dying soon. Not Negan, of course, because dying isn't Negan's thing -- but other people, and Negan doesn't want that. However: he didn't call Eugene in here to threaten him, but to flatter him. He comes around the table, talking about how "that spongy organ between your eyes and your spectacular mullet" is as strong as anything else in the Sanctuary, which after all is about pooling and organizing strength. He offers his hand to Eugene, then snatches it back when, after an even more awkward pause than usual, Eugene moves to kiss it. "I was going for a handshake," Negan explains. But he gets why Eugene would make that mistake: "A handshake is a sign of mutual respect. Not many people get that from me." Take two goes better, though, and oddly, that's all Negan has to say. I guess for now he's just offering the carrot and withholding the barbed-wire-wrapped stick. Whatever the case, Eugene says he's getting back to work.
That work is Tanya's boom box, apparently. Even if the Sanctuary is facing imminent disaster, a deal's a deal. But then, contemplating the device's removed speaker cone seems to give him an idea. So he switches tasks to exploring a cluttered store room with a headlamp. Eventually, he finds what he appears to have come looking for: Sasha's former coffin, now equipped with flashbacks of that lady's corpse coming snarling out of it. Eugene pulls himself together enough to reach inside and retrieve what he came for: the off-brand iPod he lent Sasha for the drive, which is still in there. He'd better hope its battery has lasted longer than she did.
With Morgan monitoring through his rifle scope from overhead, Daryl drives the garbage truck as close as he can get without drawing walkers from the yard with his engine noise. Tara hops out to find a safe place from which to provide covering fire, inviting Michonne to join her. But Michonne doesn't move, instead staring blankly through the windshield. She's having second thoughts, and tells Daryl that maybe it's better to trust that things will keep working than to risk themselves on what they're about to do. Daryl disagrees, but Michonne has decided that she can't do it. "Then you shouldn't," says Daryl, not unkindly. Michonne slides out of the truck, and leaves him -- and Tara -- to it. Whatever comes of this, it's not going to be good. Because it's just going to lead to a lot more arguing.
Unaware of any of this, Eugene is up on the Sanctuary's roof, and he's got that MP3 player rigged up to a little radio-controlled glider that he appears to have constructed out of duct tape, giftwrap, and school supplies. It's probably the most brightly colored thing we've ever seen on this show. He must have also cannibalized the speaker from Tanya's boom box, because he seems to think he can generate 96 decibels with this thing and fly it out and away from the Sanctuary, leading the zombies with it. This he narrates into an old-timey tape recorder at his hip, like it's his captain's log. Just as he bends down to activate the player, Dwight's voice comes threateningly from behind him: "Don't turn around." Uh, Dwight? If you're making song requests, that's cool, but I believe the correct title is actually "Der Kommissar."
Tara gets into position just around the corner from the Sanctuary and calls in on the walkie-talkie that she's ready. The other snipers and Morgan also check in as Daryl's truck rolls up. Meanwhile, on the roof, Dwight threatens Eugene at gunpoint to back away from the homemade drone. Eugene insists that he's trying to save lives by getting the walkers away from the building, and Dwight reminds Eugene that this will lead to Negan killing all of Eugene's old friends. "They're former traveling companions, nothing more," Eugene repeats. Stepping forward to hold his gun against Eugene's mullet, Dwight says that he's working with Eugene's former traveling companions and they're almost rid of Negan. Eugene says, "Negan ain't the dying type, Dwight." Whereas Eugene is, which is why he hasn't stood down yet. He explains that he sees two options: either he aborts the flight and they get overrun and he gets executed by Negan "as what he considers to be a personal favor." Or, he could go ahead with his plan, and "take my chances being shot in the back by a sometime ally despite any injury I may have caused in the past by delivering a chomp down on your choad." Which is the option he goes with, and indeed Dwight can't bring himself to pull the trigger as Eugene starts the royalty-free salsa music and sends his craft sailing out over the crowd below.
Meanwhile, Daryl puts the truck in gear and floors it, calling "Now!" into his walkie. At the same time, Dwight finally arses himself to fire -- sending not Eugene, but the glider, down to certain death on the ground. Eugene marks this with horror -- as well as the approach of Daryl's truck, and a burst of machine-gun fire from Tara, and the fact that he is suddenly alone on the rooftop. Daryl sets a cinder block on the truck's gas pedal and rolls out of the cab, just before the truck plows through the crowd of walkers -- popping some of them against the windshield like zits -- and crashes against the building. He and Tara make a run for it while Morgan -- and, presumably, the other snipers -- provide cover fire. The hole that the truck made doesn't seem too big from the outside, but from the inside it looks like a gaping maw of sunlight allowing in countless other gaping maws. Saviors open fire on the walkers now invading the building. It's mayhem in there as the zombies begin to chow down. Everyone races for higher ground -- except Eugene, who has come down from the roof to witness in horror from the mezzanine level. I don't know what Dwight thinks of this diversion from the plan, but he's blowing away walkers like everyone else. As Eugene watches the bodies pile up below, undead and otherwise, something snaps inside him.
So Eugene bursts into the infirmary and while what happens next may or may not be the emotional climax of the episode, it is certainly the verbal one. Eugene delivers a furious, rapid-fire, yet somehow even nerdier than usual stemwinder into Gabriel's puzzled face, and...well, here goes.
"The answer is no! I will never, not on your Nelly, be on board with your plan. Your invite is declined. I will not end up like Sasha or you. You both made your choices, what I imagine most will calculate as the 'right thing,' rolled your D20s and came up dead and seemingly soon to be. I cannot do the same. Now judge me if you choose, but I'm seeing twenty for twenty, I'm feeling ten for ten, I'm receiving five by five that staying safe means staying alive and I'm A-OK with doing whatever it takes to lock that down. So I will obey Negan. I will not cover for anyone's U-turn on loyalties, and I will damn well make sure Dr. Carson stays cozy-comfy right here in case I ever require his healing expertise. And I won't feel bad about it. Because I will survive. It's in my biological imperative. It's all I know how to do."
And, you know, I often get a kick out of Eugene's distinctive way of speaking, but a little of the Porter Patois goes an awfully long way. A whole episode of it just gets exhausting, especially for a recapper who's three-plus years out of practice. And it raises so many questions for me. Do they write his dialogue like that on the first pass? Or do they draft it in plain English and then translate it into Eugene-ese? If so, is that a manual process, or have they developed some kind of app by feeding Google Translate a thesaurus, a comic book store, and a bunch of old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons? And then are we supposed to believe not only that a person would actually speak like anything approaching this, but that the people he's talking to would just stand there and listen to it with a straight face? Nobody ever looks at him weird, nobody walks away from him in mid-filibuster, nobody ever interrupts him, nobody ever sticks a gun or a knife in his face and screams, "TALK NORMAL!" Christ, maybe the reason Rick keeps sniffing around after Jadis is because he needs an antidote to this guy. And don't even get me started about Eugene's reference to rolling the D&D dice of life and death without taking into account the +4 modifier he enjoys as a white dude. But I will say this: after Eugene storms out, at least Gabriel has the good grace to be left lying there like someone just smacked him across the face with a hand-caught catfish that had been sautéed in Romulan ale.
Cut to the conference room, where at least we seem to have skipped past what easily could have been another scene of Eugene unspooling yet more mouthfuls of chicken-fried geekery to pile up at his leaden feet in great curling sheaves. Eugene has apparently just told Negan his plan for clearing out the walkers -- and promised to restock all the ammunition it's going to take, provided he can get access to his machines. High above the carnage on the ground floor, Negan is not only calm but impressed by Eugene's wherewithal. "How does it feel to be the second most important person here?" he asks proudly. But wait, Eugene says there's more! Negan waits -- or at least he fills up a long pause with more of his compliments and grinning avuncularity -- and just when Eugene is about to tell him, there's a knock on the door.
Regina and Dwight rush in to report that while they have the stairs secured, the walkers have taken the entire lower level. But Negan isn't worried, because of what Eugene just told him -- and what Eugene is about to tell them all. Instead of raising his weapon and shooting literally any other person in the room, Dwight stands there looking defeated. But instead of rolling over on him, Eugene decides at the last minute to announce that he thinks he can fix the building's intercom. Woo...hoo? Negan is a little disappointed that this was the big finale Eugene had just promised, and Eugene simultaneously apologizes by saying, "That kind of thing cranks my shaft." Which is also a secret signal to Dwight that they're still cool, so congratulations on having suddenly developed some social skills, Eugene.
So then Eugene goes and sits in his room, listening to the sound of unbroken volleys of machine-gun fire echoing through the building while he makes faces that look like they'll take more than one-point-five fluid ounces of giggle juice to fix. He downs half the bottle, then pukes it back up, and then gets back to work sucking down the rest. Tanya is not going to be happy with him.
And that's a wrap for the Sanctuary this episode. Now back to the junkyard for the second of the two Rick sequences that bookend this week's installment of The Perils Of Eugene Porter. Rick is led out of his shipping container by a Scavenger who looks uncharacteristically kempt. Until now, I thought the Scavengers only owned one pair of scissors between them, which Jadis guarded jealously and only used for cutting her own hair, but apparently not. This relatively preppy Scavenger forces Rick to his knees, still with his wrists tied in front of him, and holds him there. Another shipping container at the opposite side of the trash-clearing is opened up, and the first thing out the door is another one of the Scavengers' pet walkers. They haven't had time to pimp him out like Winslow was; this one pretty much just has a spiny helmet bolted over its eyes, with a long handle attached in the back. Another Scavenger uses this handle to lead Winslower in Rick's direction. Jadis looks at Rick, not without sympathy, and says, "Time for after." Doesn't sound like Rick's going to get to see her sculpture.
Rick quickly gets bored with having a walker shoved in his face, so he knocks down the one Scavenger who was holding him and then the one Scavenger who was holding Winslower's handle while Jadis just yells, "Subdue!" at her hapless minions. Even with a walker attached to one end, Rick makes effective use of its handle against his opponents. And then he makes use of it to detach the walker's head from its body entirely. Jadis finally draws her sidearm, but Rick is upon her and forcing her shots to go wild as he wrestles the gun away. Then he pins her to the ground so her face is inches from the undead one he just liberated from its body, its mouth still working and snarling. In case you've ever wondered what Jadis looks like when she loses her cool, here you go.
Now that Rick has won, the clearing suddenly floods with other Scavengers, who circle Rick and train their guns on him. And if you think this is a no-win scenario, then you don't know Rick Grimes. He announces to all of them, "I'm walking out now. And me walking out means a lot of you die." Of course the Scavengers can't have that, so they shoot him dead on the spot. Or they would, if they weren't idiots. So Rick is allowed to go on with his threats until Jadis manages to free one hand and -- signal them to stand down. They lower their guns, and Rick helps Jadis back to her feet. I can't think of a single reason he isn't dead right now. But since he isn't, let's carry on with what happens next. Still in his underwear, still sweaty and gross, with his hands still tied, he lays down the law for Jadis: she and her people will accompany him to the surrounded (he thinks) Sanctuary and demand the surrender of those inside. Except of course for Negan, for whom Rick still has his hard-on to kill personally. Jadis tries to bargain with him, but he doesn't budge on his position that the Scavengers will only get a quarter of the Saviors' shit, and he wants his boots and clothes RTFN, and there will be NO SCULPTING. These Scavengers are certainly iron-willed negotiators until the plot requires them not to be.
So Rick returns to the Sanctuary with the Scavengers in tow, I guess because he owns them now. The streets around the place are quiet. Too quiet, as the saying goes. Rick makes his way to the nearby water tower, where a few walkers are munching on the street-level remains of what used to be the lookout there. After dispatching them with his knife and not getting any responses from anyone on the walkie-talkie, Rick picks up the rifle that once belonged to the late sniper and climbs the ladder to the top of the water tower. From there, he can peer through the scope into the yard. And what he sees below is very much not the plan. There's the factory building, with the garbage truck still parked half-in and half-out of the wall. Of the walkers that were still supposed to be here, there is nary a one. In fact there are no further signs of life, or unlife for that matter. And there's a gory trail leading out of the building, suggesting that the Saviors are long gone. The oh-shit face Rick makes when he sees this is nothing short of epic.