This is a bit of an oddball episode of The Walking Dead. “Rogue Element” is not without good bits from the characters and some developments. However, while still focused on delving further into how the Commonwealth operates, having the main storyline finding Eugene caught up in a conspiracy theory-based obsession feels like an alarming path to suddenly take in the grand scheme of things. The other plotlines are interesting enough but amount to characters finding themselves in a holding pattern. It only makes for so much solid drama, despite the many questions I still have.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Eugene grow far more unhinged than a scenario may require. It makes me wonder if Josh McDermitt is requesting meatier material, or the go-to idea with Eugene is to defy his logic-based brain by upending how he believes everything is supposed to function. Regardless, while I understand the show needs to speed things along, I once again found myself seeing what appeared to be a massive overreaction to the state of events.
Starting things off with Eugene finding himself blissful with Stephanie, only to suddenly lose her is a strange development. The issue I have, given where this all goes, is why there was no effort to just give Eugene some kind of excuse to settle him down. What it amounts to is a character we know little about deliberately making things more difficult for Eugene for the purposes of leaving the audience confused until it’s time to clear the air. That’s not my idea of great drama, as it’s asking for too much.
Is it nice to see Eugene and Princess interacting? Yes. The two work well together, and the opportunity to get more from Paola Lazaro means better establishing who she is now, with her time spent being in the Commonwealth and getting to have more frequent human interaction. That said, Princess really goes the extra mile in helping Eugene out. However, I suppose she can relate to another human becoming unhinged and resorting to panic-based actions. She’s understandably trying to watch out for Eugene, even if they take some actions that could threaten their status.
Of course, the crazy thing is that Eugene was right. There is more going on beneath the surface as he continues following up on his suspicions to discover that Stephanie, Lance, plumber Roman Calhoun, and others are working behind the scenes of the Commonwealth to procure more information and whatever else is needed to keep this place steady. Honestly, Lance’s whole move to make Eugene both calm and lightly threatened had more menace and mood attached to it than a decent explanation for what was going on, but still – Eugene was right, and I don’t know what he can do with that knowledge.
That said, he’s given a chance to meet someone claiming to be the real Stephanie (who is actually Madison – more on her in a bit), which only adds more wrinkles to this whole situation. As I’ve established before, while I enjoy seeing the Commonwealth brought to life, it’s hard to overlook how plainly corrupt this place is. There’s no hidden evil here, and yet the show wants us to believe that many of the characters are apparently accepting how things are, despite the obvious sinister nature of Lance from his general vibe, among other clear signs that things are not all of what they seem.
Fortunately, the other subplots of this episode are somewhat delving into this territory in more tactful ways. I was intrigued by Connie re-taking up her position as a reporter last week, and I’m glad that it is still a big part of the show this week. She and Kelly attempt to get to the bottom of what happened at the masquerade ball and aren’t taking no for an answer. Even after being assigned to a puff piece regarding Mercer and his stormtroopers, Connie can’t resist asking Mercer about what happened that night. She even deduces that Mercer’s sister is the woman who was held up at knife point.
Ultimately, despite gaining some insight through proper sleuthing, Connie still puts out a standard newspaper story. Kelly tries to make it okay by explaining that at least they know there’s more to what’s going on and that no good can come from pushing too hard at this moment. This whole thing may not mean much right now, but it is nice to see these sisters working together, after Connie’s prolonged absence, particularly in a manner that’s not focused on life or death stakes.
Meanwhile, Carol picks up where she left off by proving to Lance that she’s way more suited for being a Commonwealth spy than a happy homemaker. Carol has put on a certain kind of disguise before when it comes to interacting with new people in a new town. Here, with Lance, she’s already removing the façade to a degree to understand his game. They take a trip together outside the walls to meet up with Moto. Once again, I can’t say I fully understood what deal Lance has with Moto, but the gist of it revolves around supply and demand, with compensation coming into play.
Through all of this, Carol learns more about how Lance is a guy that keeps the wheels turning. How she can use this knowledge to her advantage is something we’ll know soon enough. For the time being, the best aspect of all of this is learning more about Lance as a character. His false grin, assured sense of being, and slippery disposition are interesting things to modulate. Josh Hamilton is doing a solid job of making this character work as needed in the context of this series. Yes, the Commonwealth, as a whole, could have been made to seem less obvious in having secrets, but Lance works.
This episode almost works. There is character work that helps for many involved. I like McDermitt in general, but it does feel like his episodes tend to suffer from overdoing what kind of emotional state Eugene is supposed to be in. Seeing the whole story will help, as I want to know what Eugene will be up to with all he’s learned this week. As of now, as Connie has no doubt reported, that’s just the facts.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Mercer splits a zombie’s head down the middle, with a very close look at that head. Great stuff.
- The newspaper storyline may be one of the most interesting angles this show has come up with at some time. I hope it keeps coming back in interesting ways to further play on what society knows vs. the truth.
- Roman Calhoun seems like such a fake name.
- “I got a little job. I got a little bed. I might get a little cat.” – Princess is liking her life right now.
- Eugene making a board with strings connecting photos – yeah, he’s done this before.
- Oh yeah, Connie and Kelly also received a list of names from “Deepthroat” or whoever, so the truth really is out there.
- To be continued, as far as the case of the missing/multiple Stephanie’s goes.
- Thanks for reading, and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.