[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
What’s it like to be the henchman of a truly evil person? That’s the question that underlies every scene in this week’s quirky detour, “Hostiles and Calamities”. The theme is explored through the experiences of two of the show’s most eccentric characters, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) with a number of tense appearances from Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is a much more effective villain when used sparingly, but more on that later.
We open with Dwight discovering Daryl has flown the coop and Eugene getting delivered to Negan’s compound aka The Sanctuary. It’s a nice juxtaposition, as Dwight is one of Negan’s favoured acolytes and Eugene is a hostage, literally bound with a sack over his head, but we’re about to see a rather neat reversal of fortune.
Eugene is dragged towards what we imagine will end up being a grim and grisly cell but is in fact a totally terrifying… comfortable-looking room! He’s then offered a meal and is left to his own devices. His fridge is full, the stereo works and Eugene cranks that bloody ‘Easy Street’ song. Enjoy having that stuck in your head for another week. Thanks a bunch, Walking Dead.
Dwight meanwhile ponders the note Daryl received that reads “Go now”. Does he recognise the handwriting or is he just an ardent fan of neat penmanship? His train of thought is abruptly derailed as Negan is at the door with a group of Saviors. Poker night for the boys? No, actually it’s a savage beating for Dwight. Negan is evidently displeased by Daryl’s escape and perhaps something else? Cue the opening titles.
The next day Dwight, found lounging in Daryl’s old cell, receives a visit from Negan. Apparently Sherry (Christine Evangelista) former wife of Dwight and current “wife” of Negan, has done a runner. Negan wants to know if she helped Daryl and, perhaps more importantly, where she is. After reestablishing his dominance over Dwight with a classic “Who are you?”, “I’m Negan” exchange, Dwight says he’ll find Sherry and bring her back, first paying creepy, gaunt-looking Dr. Carson (Tim Parati) a visit to get his busted mug fixed. No shade, Dwight, but that’s like pouring perfume on a pig, mate.
Eugene meanwhile gets a brief tour of what looks like the most depressing post-apocalyptic version of Paddy’s Markets imaginable and scores a jar of pickles for his troubles. He’s then lead outside where Negan quizzes our clearly-on-the-spectrum hero about just how smart Eugene really is. Initially, it does not go well, and Eugene delivers a stumbling, flustered monologue about his own intelligence to little avail. As if to punctuate just how badly he flopped a nearby zombie drops its guts, leading Negan to ask how Brains Trust would fix the problem of fence zombies falling apart like poorly-rolled burritos. Eugene comes up with an insane plan that involves pouring molten lead over the walkers. Naturally Negan loves it, praising the idea as “not only practical… it is just badass!” Eugene lives to eat more pickles, but just what game is he playing?
As a reward for his grand idea, Doctor Smartypants (Eugene’s new nickname) gets a visit from three of Negan’s wives. Frankie (Elyse Nicole DuFour), Tanya (Chloe Aktas) and Amber (Autumn Dial) all purr and coo at Eugene who plays Yar’s Revenge on an old Atari 2600. Eventually the ladies convince Eugene to perform a few explosive science experiments and the mulleted one delivers, getting awkward hugs and mild sexual tension for his efforts. Eugene, you lady killer.
Meanwhile Dwight searches his old house and finds a note from Sherry. Sherry apologises for leaving, but claims they never should have returned to the Saviors. Even though that course of action was Sherry’s idea, the note concludes with “I loved who you were – I am sorry I made you into who you are” and Dwight finds his former wife’s wedding rings inside. It’s a surprisingly emotional moment and one can almost sympathise with Dwight’s plight, although a lot depends on what he does next.
Meanwhile back at The Sanctuary, Frankie and Tanya beg Eugene for a suicide pill to give Amber. Amber has fallen into a dark and abiding depression and wants to shuffle off this mortal coil painlessly and soon. This seems a lot to lay on the big fella, but Eugene mumbles and nods his assent and uses his newfound status to score meds at the market, not to mention a bedpan, flyswatter and cuddly toy.
Dwight returns and tells Doc Carson that Sherry was torn apart by walkers. Carson is about as sympathetic as a particularly callous brick and one wonders why the scene exists at all. The question is answered in the next sequence where Negan is heating up the branding iron in the furnace. It seems a note has been found in the not-very-good doctor’s belongings, implying that he wanted to impress Sherry by releasing Daryl to curry her sexual favour. A ripped bit of paper seems a fairly thin piece of evidence, but Negan is convinced and offers Carson the iron or the apology. Because Carson has clearly never watched the show before, he admits his guilt, apologises and gets chucked into the furnace.
Eugene gets a final visit from Frankie and Tanya but it doesn’t go well for the ladies. Eugene is hip to their plan, which is to poison Negan, and will not be a part of that. “You’re a coward!” the ladies spit, “That is a correct assessment” Eugene replies. Later Negan visits and it’s time to ask Eugene the big question, but Eugene is so ready to answer he doesn’t even let Negan finish asking: “I am utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan.” Oh, Eugene, say it ain’t so.
The final scene shows Eugene’s molten-lead-on-the-walkers plan being implemented while Eugene munches on a pickle. For him there is a sense of belonging here, even if it comes at the cost of personal freedom and dignity. Dwight sidles up next to him and the compromised pair chat awkwardly. “We are Negan” Eugene says. “Yeah,” Dwight replies.
“Hostiles and Calamities” is a strange episode, offering a mixture of deadpan humour, quirky dialogue and genuinely threatening Negan all at the same time. It’s light on zombies and violence but it does offer an interesting glimpse into the henchman’s dilemma. Is it really is it better to die on your feet than live on your knees? For Dwight the court’s still out, but for Eugene – when slavery comes with an Atari 2600 and all the fresh pickles you can eat – it seems he’s all too willing to bend the knee.