Singer Jerry Butler once had a hit with “Only the Strong Survive,” a Gamble/Huff tune celebrating the character trait of fortitude, one that everyone loves to cherish. Then there’s Eugene Porter, the chief nerd of The Walking Dead. He’s singing a different tune. It’s Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” a tune that perfectly encapsulates his attitude in this dystopian world.

Instead of strength, Eugene relies on stealth and an uncanny ability to sense the right lie for the moment. For Eugene is a master at bending his personality to suit, whether it’s lying about his credentials or sullenly becoming the omnipotent wizard of science when he’s trying to impress.

All of it was on display in this week’s episode, which focused on the aftermath of Eugene’s capture by the Saviors and his reaction to their world of manipulation and terror, all wrapped up in the titanic ego of warlord Negan.

This week’s recap:

*** We pick up with Eugene’s introduction to the main camp of the Saviors. His hooded ride to the compound is abruptly ended as he’s confronted by bat-toting Negan, who realizes that he’s got a rare guest – someone who can look at a problem and devise a solution. Eugene proves his worth by recommending a way to preserve the walkers who guard the compound by pouring molten metal on them. He’s then led away sans hood to what passes for a luxury apartment in the compound. Clearly, he has value.

*** Eugene has no real duties delineated, but Negan knows that he can easily buy his loyalty with small gestures, like sending over a group of his wives to entertain him in a non-sexual way. That and a jar of pickles quickly capture Eugene’s fickle attention, and soon he’s adapting to his new environment with an arrogance rarely displayed in his stint at Alexandria.

*** In the night’s B-story, we see the aftermath of Daryl’s escape from the compound – Dwight has been confined to the hell-hole that Daryl previously occupied. It’s all a reminder that his privileges at the compound are at the whim of Negan, who sends him on a mission to capture Sherry, his former wife and Negan mistress who apparently was the key to Daryl’s escape. His mission – find her and capture or kill her.  Dwight knows that his wife is headed toward their former home, and heads that way. It is his only chance at redemption for allowing Daryl to escape, no matter how small a part in that he played. In Negan’s world, failure is not an option.

*** Dwight can’t find Sherry, but he does find a note that explains her motives in the Daryl caper. She reminds him that living as a flunky is not better than being out there in this walker-filled world, and hoped by freeing Daryl, he’d be reminded of the man he once was. Dwight ends his search for her, leaving behind a token offering that they’d both promised to leave if they were separated in the before-the-collapse world – some beer and pretzels. When Dwight returns, he makes up a story about Sherry’s death, and blames the community doctor for aiding her in the Daryl plot. He’s quickly and gruesomely dispatched as Dwight remains silent.

*** The petty power of Eugene quickly takes control. After impressing Negan’s wives with a few science tricks, they are convinced that his story of scientific credentials is true, and they ask him to make a death pill for one of their sister wives. She can’t take this life, and they want two pills that will quickly end her misery. Eugene reluctantly agrees, and bullies a hapless worker in the community to provide him the medicine he needs to make the magic death pill.

*** But along the way, Eugene witnesses the horrific death of the doctor who was found guilty of betraying Negan. The message to Eugene is clear – he can have a life as a member of Negan’s inner circle if he toes the line, or he can betray his benevolent dictator. When the sister wives return to claim the death pill, Eugene dismisses them – he realizes that they want the pills to kill Negan, not their fellow mistress. He also warns them that if they blab to Negan, he, Eugene, will be believed over them. He has value, he tells them. They are disposable.

*** Later that night, there’s a knock on the door. It’s Negan, alone save for Lucille. Clearly, he’s heard the story of the death pill, but he’s there to confront any potential problem. Before Negan can even complete his usual question on loyalty – “Who are you?” – Eugene blurts out that he’s Negan, has always been Negan, even before he knew Negan. The master is pleased at his servant’s answer.

*** In the final scene, Eugene and Dwight meet on the balcony. It’s just some normal chit-chat, but Eugene feels compelled to remind him that “We are Negan.”  The transformation is complete, and the Seig Heil kneejerk from Eugene is proof that he’s bought into whatever program he thinks will help him survive.

 

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