Screenshot: Syfy

Well, that didn’t last long. Following the introduction of a completely new society, Z Nation promptly tore it apart and fled via helicopter. I’m starting to think this show might be a little scared of change.

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There’s still a lot of promise to this rebooted story, but after the giant leap forward in the premiere, the idea that everything in Zona immediately goes to shit and forces Warren and Murphy to head back into the wild is a bit dispiriting, like the series didn’t quite know what to do with this new world. The threat of the Reset is a solid one, and the mystery of Warren’s visions suggest a larger plot than we can currently see, but it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity to put so much work into a new place only to tank it in the very next episode. Surely the collapse of the gated community could have waited one more day?

At least we got an appropriately lurid sendoff. Retroactively learning from Dr. Teller that the Murphy-derived vaccine is failing, and the citizens of Zona are all falling victim to a degenerative (and bloodthirsty) brain disease, doesn’t take away any of the WTF-style pleasure of the opening montage, where our narcotized bourgeois elites end up ripping a car accident victim to pieces. And Murphy’s golfing buddy, Mr. Spears, gets an entire deranged monologue about the agony of having an inferior partner, just before he races off shrieking down the hall after another soon-to-be-brained resident. Even Teller himself, instrumental in getting Warren and Murphy to safety before the whole place implodes, eventually succumbs to the illness, attacking Warren with a snarling intensity before Murphy puts one in his brain. (Nice to have him saving her instead of the other way around, for a change.) Farewell for now, Zona; we hardly knew ye.

Photo: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy

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“Escape From Zona” was in many ways a couple of 10-minute sequences stretched to a breaking point, sustained largely by the bigger mysteries both introduced. Yet the script by producer John Hyams (who should really come back and direct another episode, his installments were often season highlights) is so self-consciously aware of how draggy the pacing is, as though mocking how little actually happens in this installment, it ends up having a bizarrely entertaining point of view. Getting meta is nothing new for the show, but this often played like Z Nation was watching itself and saying, “Let’s get on with it!” From Warren’s exasperated eye-rolls during the Founder and Murphy’s interminable exchange to Doc saying, “There’s no end to this!” during the shootout, characters were routinely saying and doing things that doubled as wry insights about the narrative—again, something Hyams has done before, most notably in season two’s “White Light.” It’s that cracked sensibility that helps carry this show through some of its rougher patches.

Still, that sniper-fire exchange ended up providing yet another wrinkle in the Z mythos. It was a clever move pitting the Zona soldiers who captured Addy and Lucy against Doc, 10k, and Lt. Mueller and his soldiers. But the reveal came when 10k mercies the wounded grunt, and instead of staying down, he shakes off the headshot and starts ambling toward the living. Sure, it eventually devolves into a goofy shooting gallery game, spinning him around like a top (this is still Z Nation, after all), but that’s a significant change. An undead who can’t be put down (re-killed?) is a serious issue for our team—and all of humanity, really.

The bigger mystery is still the disappearances, though. The convoy’s crew vanishing is one thing: They could have been picked off by Zona soldiers, killed by Zs, whatever. But when Sun Mei comes out of the tent and realizes everyone in the camp has vanished as well? That suggests something very, very strange is going on. It’s possible Red just went to go find 10k, and the other refugees fled in the absence of Lt. Mueller, but the idea no one would remain is awfully unlikely. Zona ships flying in and zapping them all, either into nonexistence or teleporting them elsewhere? Hell, it’s a possibility. But as long as we’re speculating (I know some of you posited the idea last week that Warren is a clone), I’ll go you one better in the crazy theory department:

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Screenshot: Syfy

Warren’s vision-world is actually a real place—it’s the world as we know it, following the Reset. And everything that’s supposedly happening now is actually a Matrix-esque dream reality, put in place to hide the awful truth: Namely, that the Reset has already happened, and everyone out there doesn’t realize they’re stuck in a fake version of existence. The mass disappearances? Those are people being yanked out of the hallucination, and re-entering the awful real world. (Stay with me, I know this is absurd.) The Zona ships, like the one that appeared in the season finale, can “blip” people between realities. Warren is special because she’s pierced the veil—getting out of one while retaining her memories.

Bonkers, sure, but consider what the Founder says to Teller, before that endless back-and-forth with Murphy about talent shows and accidentally setting people on fire. He brings up the Dunning-Kruger Effect—a real psychological theory demonstrating that people with severe gaps in knowledge fail to realize how little they know, and in fact behave as though they were more informed than those who actually know more. (It has some real-world applications, too.) The Founder informs Teller that he doesn’t see the big picture, that there’s way more to all of this than the scientist can see. It doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t actually failing, and people aren’t really dying; it just means the Founder knows about an entirely different place that exists, too, and that knowledge changes everything. I look forward to walking this all back next week when it’s revealed that none of this is true, but for the time being, the mass disappearances and Warren’s visions suggest some sort of reality-warping, no?

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...Or maybe not. Maybe there’s a far more sound reason those people disappeared while Sun Mei was taking a nap. Maybe this is a show about some survivors of the zombie apocalypse trying to stay alive, without any sci-fi mumbo-jumbo gumming up the works of a perfectly entertaining series. Maybe Warren is just being empathetic when she tells Murphy she can feel Lucy’s presence, even though he can’t. Maybe NewMerica is just another supposed safe haven that’s been overrun by either Zona or Zs, and I’m making gonzo mountains out of zombie molehills. This was a decent if unremarkable hour of that story, teasing far more of future mysteries than it actually delivered on in-the-moment thrills, and it does feel like it walked back some of the strides made in the premiere.

Still, this is Z Nation. Crazy is in the DNA, right? Something is going on.

Stray observations:

  • Like I said, I’ll probably eat these words next week, but the unreality of the situation really struck me during Sun Mei’s walk through the empty camp. The colors were completely washed out, like the show often does—but the flags flying at the outpost remained starkly colored. The show is leaning into the mysticism of it all, so it’s hard to miss these hints of something far weirder going on.
  • Speaking of which, a few of you noticed the bite on Addy’s hand last week—thereby explaining the telepathy between her and Lucy—which I completely missed. Mea culpa.
  • Z Nation over-the-top flourish of the week: This week’s honor has to go to Addy and 10k firing the bullets at the same time, then having those bullets smash into one another.
  • Like Warren, I was ready to hit Teller if he avoided answering their questions with a vague “It’ll all make sense soon” one more time.
  • It was a nice detail showing all of Murphy’s blends in cold storage. Guess Zona didn’t want them wandering around.
  • Murphy, as the door creaks open to the Founder’s residence: “Oh, that’s not good.”
  • Hope you wanted more gratuitous slo-mo of Addy and Lucy!

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