All good things must come to an end. In the case of Z Nation, whose first half of season four is arguably the series’ best creative run since it began, that ending comes now. And it ends the way so many other good times have: with juggalos.
Actually, that’s not fair. Real juggalos might have made for a good time. But the lazy and unappealing stereotypes that exist in “Warren’s Wedding” are less like human beings and more like cartoons barfing up Faygo. Not that juggalo culture isn’t intentionally cartoonish; you’d be hard-pressed to look at it and not notice the manner in which it goes out of its way to be over the top. But in the world of Z Nation, these “Zuggalos” were reductive and tiresome, a poorly freestyling step in the wrong direction. I get why the show went here: It’s exactly the kind of intentionally stupid silliness Z Nation played around with in its first few seasons, and to a lesser degree in season three. But now it feels painfully anachronistic, an idea that was on the shelf far too long and met its expiration date, only to be dusted off and used anyway, quality be damned.
“Warren’s Wedding” stops everything in its tracks for a one-off about encountering a band of dumb yokels who took juggalo culture, replaced the “j”with a “z,” and pretty much kept every other aspect the same. From the moment the mother is rescued by our heroes, to the final moment the “king” gets in the car and is instantly devoured by his former associates, the episode is basically coasting on autopilot, all our protagonists sitting around and watching the lunacy unfold, either bound to a device like 10k, Doc, and Murphy, or rolling their eyes at the endless (and pointless) rambling, like poor Sarge. Throwing some clown makeup on a group of poor white idiots doesn’t make them more compelling antagonists, it just makes for a bland diversion.
At least the choice to make Warren a former juggalo—or at the very least, a fan of Insane Clown Posse’s music—was surprising, albeit out of character. Watching her suddenly start dropping science about obscure tracks and release dates was briefly entertaining simply because it was so unexpected, given there was no indication this was a part of her past. And then to go from that to her spitting awkwardly paced rhymes (admittedly better than the other guy’s, but still) was the kind of jarring weirdness that no longer fits the series like it used to. The closest thing to an audience surrogate was Murphy, dumbfounded and suffering in equal measure, thanks to what was unfolding in front of him.
Of course, this was all Murphy’s fault in the first place. He went against his own rule—don’t get off the boat—because his grief was consuming him. Beating a random Z to a pulp wasn’t near enough to let out his anger and frustration, so he impulsively decides to go after whoever had left the woman to die in the ferris wheel. Again, this was the kind of stupid move that would’ve made more sense before the show got smarter. 10k and Doc wouldn’t have been party to any plan that didn’t involve at least minimal recon, and Warren would’ve stopped him before he got them all captured, not before. The only real justification is Murphy’s grief: No one wants to get in his way right now, let alone physically restrain him, so there’s a potentially reasonable cause for everyone acting so foolish. But it still doesn’t sit well.
And character development, the one thing that should be different in some way by the end of even the most frivolous throwaway episode, didn’t feel earned here. At the conclusion, it’s not Murphy who’s had any growth or change. No, it’s Warren, suddenly blaming herself for Lucy’s death, even though none of the events of this installment seemed to have any impact on her decision. No, she just ignores the fact that everyone chose to follow her twice before, despite her willingness to make this trip alone, knowing full well it might lead somewhere deadly. Rather than try to continue on alone, or simply accept the violence as she always has before, Warren decides it’s time to go to NewMerica, regardless of how far they’ve come on her vision quest.
And there’s one small glimpse of her vision-world tonight, as the first two zuggalos are dispatched by our team. In Warren’s eyes, the dying men are alone in the burned landscape, slowly frying into ashes, another sign that the overlap between her worlds is continuing apace. Going to NewMerica instead of pressing forward feels more like a stalling tactic than a believable move at this point, and the intensity of Warren’s visions—along with literally every move she’s made to this point—speak to the jarring and abrupt reversal. She wants to figure out what’s causing her visions, fine; perhaps the show will better address her concerns next week. For now, it’s enough to be done with this shoddily thrown-together installment, a low-water mark that seems even worse simply by virtue of coming on the heels of some of the best work the series has done. Let’s hope this was just a bump on the post-apocalyptic highway. Fuckin’ one-offs—how do they work?
- “Clowns?” “Could be worse—could be mimes.”
- I think the moment this episode really went off the rails for me is when the King just launched into his direct-to-camera carnival barker routine, naming and explaining each feature as though this were an ad for the Annual Gathering.
- Part of the problem was Steve Graham’s direction. The show’s producer was making his debut behind the camera and it showed, with clumsy, plodding momentum and awkwardly staged action. Even the zuggalo grabbing for Doc and going out the upstairs window was zapped of any tension or excitement.
- Most cringeworthy rap battle of the year? Possibly.
- An odd final point: Until I was writing this review, the phrase “my ninjas” just seemed like a random and silly choice of sobriquet for those in the juggalo family. It seemed harmless. But one of our editors, unfamiliar with juggalo slang, point out the fact that, in print, it looks an awful lot like someone wanted a comparable sound-alike substitute for the n-word. Now that she’s mentioned it, I can’t not notice the resemblance. Am I way off-base here? Does anyone know the origin of the expression?