This works in no small part because Josh McDermitt is an excellent actor, who has done great work in transforming Eugene from a batch of quirks and oddities into a fully-fleshed character, who talks to hide his nerves and uses big words to hide his insecurity . I have no explanation for his embrace of the mullet, but it does look pretty cool braided in a long braid down his back.
When Stephanie ghosts him, it’s only natural that Eugene look to external reasons for her disappearance, rather than the more pragmatic suggestions of Princess that she simply ghosted him. Eugene has proven to be a thinker, and more importantly, someone who doesn’t give up just when he runs into a wall. He pursues with the determination of a terrier chasing a rat, and he doesn’t give up until he’s captured his prey or failed completely. The fact that Lance (Josh Hamilton) goes out of his way to push the cover story on Eugene only fuels his conspiratorial fire.
In the hands of screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Eugene hits heights of paranoia that would be comical were it not for McDermitt’s committed delivery and Eugene’s certainty. Princess taking pity on him is only natural, and Paola Lazaro doesn’t let it go over into sympathy. She’s been lonely, too, and she knows what that can do to a person, and she’s also seen Eugene be right enough about his wild theories and seemingly dead-end quests that he’s earned the benefit of the doubt with her. She’s a supportive friend, and Lazaro and McDermitt have a nice, easy chemistry, which feels earned despite the relative scarcity of shared screen time between the two of them. That they both love to talk only helps make them faster friends, because there’s always a ready conversation partner, rather than silent glowering from someone like Daryl or Lance’s smooth patter.
It would be uncharitable to describe Eugene as pathetic, and yet, as he keeps digging at this conspiracy no one else has noticed, it’d be easy to feel bad for the guy. The audience has watched his character develop, seen him grow into himself, earn his place as a survivor alongside the other survivors, and recover from some self-caused disasters along the way,. We don’t want to see him stumble into another one with his evidence dungeon; even if he’s right, that won’t make his situation better for knowing.
Director Michael Cudlitz never allows Eugene to feel too helpless, or too in over his head, until the conspiracy turns out to be something far different, and something far more detrimental to Eugene’s self-esteem. He’s been through a lot, and when he’s on the ground, sobbing, after being kicked by the person he thought was Stephanie, it’s somehow worse than if he’d been bitten by a walker, because this is something he’s going to have to live with just when things seemed to be finally working out for him. For all the help he’s been and all the right things he’s done, he tends to get the shaft more often than not, and yet that never seems to break him, until “Rogue Elements” fully strips him down to nothing but inner pain and self -loading.
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