“All’s Well That Ends Well” (and this entire final season of iZombie) is an excellent example of how showrunner multitasking can cause a lot more harm than good. In this case, iZombie suffered as a result of Rob Thomas pulling double duty on this and his baby, Veronica Mars. As the season progressed, I had this idea in the back of my mind, but the combination of watching and reviewing the new season of Veronica Mars and then seeing this series finale confirmed it. Because “All’s Well That Ends Well” is the bootleg version of Veronica Mars’ fourth season finale, only with a refusal to let anything stick—due to iZombie’s different tone and genre—and an inability to follow through on the main story it told all season. If you thought Rob Thomas had trouble writing a story without it all ending in misery, “All’s Well That Ends Well” proves it’s even harder for him to write a story that doesn’t.
Without majorly spoiling for those who haven’t seen Veronica Mars’ finale or, impressively, haven’t been spoiled, these points are what I’m looking at:
- Peyton’s “death,” before the zombie reveal.
- The voicemail from Major, right down to the general context (love and admiration, “What Would Liv Moore Do?).
- An underwhelming villain leading into… an underwhelming villain. Though I’ll give Veronica Mars the edge on this front, as Veronica Mars has never had characters as bad as Martin or Enzo.
- An explosion...
- ...and a time jump epilogue.
We also know iZombie got Izabela Vidovic before Veronica Mars did, so this season had to settle with the generic Renegade orphans (turned Liv and Major’s forever responsibilities, which I’ll get to). And despite this being the show with a guillotine as a semi-regular feature, Veronica Mars’ fourth season actually had the edge on beheadings. But one series’ location is a relatively small beach town that impressively depicts the claustrophobic nature of outsiders on spring break, the other makes a city as large as Seattle look no larger than about 60 people, with 45 or so of them engaged in a battle to the death.
At the very least, “All’s Well That Ends Well” defends what Rob Thomas has said about his approach to storytelling in Veronica Mars post-mortems. It’s one thing to desire something out of an artist, but it’s another to accept that they simply cannot deliver it. (As the same writers tend to work on these Spondoolieverse shows, that means understanding Rob’s strengths and weaknesses themselves.) Rob Thomas went on the record in saying he doesn’t know how to write a happy couple without making them boring, which explains so much of the Liv/Major relationship, as well why they can have their happy ending here when all is said and done: He doesn’t have to worry about writing them on Zombie Island. (With Peyton/Ravi and Clive/Dale, his habits are also apparent, and the conclusion also prevents him from throwing other wrenches at these pairings.)
The one thing that was guaranteed by the end of the series was a happy ending for Liv/Major, despite this season doing none of the work to even attempt to sell it. At this point, it’s not even clear why they should be together or why they were apart, other than the fact the scripts made it so. In fact, storylines that didn’t even factor into this finale got more screentime this season than Liv/Major. Because up until last week, their scenes didn’t go further than “I love taking care of zombie orphans.” (Liv and Major), “I really hate my job.” (Major), and “Hi, Zombie is the escape we need.” (Liv, Major, me, now realizing the alternative).
But of course iZombie had a happy ending. As depressing as this season has been, iZombie has always been a series based on optimism, the opposite of Veronica Mars. (See: the “One Day More” conclusion scene in “The Whopper”) It’s supposed to be a light-hearted show—as much as it can be—which is why there was never any doubt that, in all the darkness, iZombie would end with the light. But that inherent optimism has also been warped to hurt the show, as the concept that also drives the “Liv is Renegade” plot and Major’s time in Fillmore Graves as a leader who thinks he can change things from within. As we learn by the end of this episode, the history books look back very kindly on Liv and Major as a result of these actions, which apparently matters more than the negative impact those plots both had on the series.
It seems odd to talk about the series’ “happy ending” when the episode has such a high body count, but just imagine the impact if we had cared about any of the characters who died in the crossfire. (The body count is honestly the closest thing iZombie can get to creating high stakes on this level because, for as much time spent on building it up, the war has never been as compelling as it should be.) At times, the only thing that made this season’s major arcs bearable was the realization that there was no way the series would end on a negative note. The closest this episode gets to killing someone who the audience cares about—other than Blaine and Don E—is Michelle, and it takes a moment in the future epilogue to even put together that she died in the Dead Ender suicide bombing. Clive and Dale adopting her son only works because of the friendship they developed with her this season, but that still wasn’t a good story in the first place. Neither is killing off Michelle, as she dies the way she was born: more of a plot device than a character.
Even more so than the Liz/Major reunion, Blaine’s demise is the most expected series finale beat. After an entire season of making clear that redemption for Blaine shouldn’t even be a whisper in anyone’s ear, these last two episodes have had him go full classic fairytale villain. Only, without the Disney resolution where his abuse and monstrous behavior was simply because he didn’t understand love until blah blah blah. (The worst part about this season clearly being rushed is David Anders not getting to play the “Beast” version of Blaine up even more than just this episode.) Blaine’s death is simple and anticlimactic in a way the rest of the episode (with its barrage of bullets from guns that never need reloading) refuses to be, which is instantly more compelling and entertaining. The particular moment before he dies also boils Blaine down to his simplest form (as Al—remember Al?—did), as a spoiled rich kid with daddy issues, who thinks not being boring makes him special. The entire well scene itself is about five seconds away from becoming “Dear Sister,” which is also part of the weirdness that makes it work, even though it’s not as heightened and realistic as all the other death (which doesn’t work) in this episode.
As great as it would be cathartic to see Ravi or Major kill Blaine like they’ve wanted to for years, there’s something poetic in him finally being taken down by one of his own men, especially the most sycophantic of them all. Plus, the doom of him spending the rest of eternity with his rotting father and Don E is arguably a fate worse than death. The true cathartic moment, however, is when Liv knocks Don E in the well. Sure, the moment itself is unbelievable—but in that weird, quirky way iZombie should be, like the whole scene itself—but the moment in time when Liv realizes that Blaine is finally gone and can let her emotions go and process Peyton’s “death” is the best, most honest piece of acting in this entire episode. (Ravi’s reaction to the Peyton news comes close.) One of the worst things about this season is how much of a disservice it has been to Rose McIver as its lead, but McIver has made chicken salad out of so much of this season, not just the typical brain personalities.
In iZombie and Rob Thomas’ defense, circumstances beyond their control apparently affected the predominant storyline in season four, and in The CW renewing the series for a fifth and final season, it was clear the series’ endgame would be rushed. At the same time, in its third season, a series that always had amazingly low ratings took a hard left in terms of the story it had been telling, so even if it had gotten the time to breathe or tell the full story it had wanted, it arguably still would have been disappointing. We’d still be getting all of these storylines, only with more screentime dedicated to them. These storylines being rushed doesn’t change the fact the series decided that the found family story between Liv, Ravi, Clive, Major, and Peyton (and even Dale) wasn’t good enough—despite actually being developed—and decided to plop in the orphan kids as a result. Even though, other than the original introductions of these characters, we know nothing about them or their relationship with Liv. Yes, she’s their adopted mother (figuratively, then literally), but that doesn’t count for a blanket statement on their relationship. Isobel’s relationship with Liv and the rest of the characters was clearly defined, to the point where her death still meaning as much as it does to Ravi makes absolute sense. This season hasn’t done anything to suggest that any of these kids’ deaths would matter past the idea that Liv would blame herself for not being the best Renegade she could be. (That’s even teased when she returns to Renegade House and they’re nowhere to be found.) This season hasn’t done anything to suggest that anyone’s death (outside of our series regulars) matters at all.
Here’s the thing: As time went on, iZombie needed Renegade and all these kids (as well as other Renegade “customers” with incurable illnesses) as a way to provide an actual reason to want to be or remain a zombie, other than insanity, greed, etc. The problem is, the series was arguably at its best when its characters were looking to cure themselves as well, to right the wrongs of this thing that was done to them instead of standing up for zombie rights. Honestly, a reset where everyone took the cure would have actually been a better end, perhaps true to the show’s original mission statement. Because for a “happy” ending, this episode reveals that not everything ended well with human-zombie relations, even though it pretends that it’s not as big of a deal. Then again, this finale ignores a huge chunk of what was in place for this war, which speaks to the fact that so much of this season was a waste of time.
That’s really the thing about this season finale and season five altogether: While the characters and actors may have been able to do some interesting stuff, the things they’re working in service of weren’t on that same level. That’s why the Blaine stuff is such a compelling break from the war and why it’s not even frustrating that Liv, Clive, and Ravi spend a considerable amount of time on a road trip instead of on the streets while all of this is going down. Because anything is better than watching these characters be brought into this poorly-written story. For starters, after episodes of setting up the new and improved Romeros and even having Enzo plan to turn Major into one of them, they don’t factor into the literal firefights between zombies and humans. All of the battles are humans vs. Fillmore Graves soldiers, who—because they’re played by human actors without a ton of typical zombie make-up—look like humans. I can’t even blame this fully on the series budget, because it’s just poor storytelling.
The zombie brothel Martin put Riley in charge of to mass-produce zombies? All the sleeper agents in D.C.? Any of Martin’s plan that Enzo was all-in on enough to kill him and take over? None of this is mentioned in the epilogue either, and based on Rob Thomas’ post-mortem interviews, it doesn’t seem like that’s supposed to be a lingering issue. In season four, despite the Robert Knepper controversy, his storyline was so extremely prominent; given the way the Martin storyline ended, you’d think Bill Wise was the actor accused of sexual misconduct and then fired instead. Martin’s plan was for global domination, and Enzo supposedly killed him to maintain that plan. But in his short time as Fillmore Graves Commander, Enzo had absolutely no vision past Seattle and local zombie dominance. Of course that could’ve easily translated to much larger things once the world saw how he got this city in line, but considering all of the moving pieces for this storyline in the first place, that there’s no discussion of them is a waste of time.
The epilogue and final scenes are a good send-off for iZombie and a reminder of why we love these characters, who are without a doubt the best part of “All’s Well That Ends Well” and this season. But even if you consider this a good series finale for the series as a whole, this is simply not a good finale for the story told within this one season dedicated to reaching this conclusion. After wondering if the introduction of all these new characters would end up working in iZombie’s favor, the answer is a resounding no. Enzo is killed by the tutor who was blackmailed into working for him and Martin, over a boyfriend we only ever saw in one scene. (One scene where the tutor was running his mouth about working for Renegade in the first place.) And then Enzo kills him. After a season of defiance, Tater (a character with zero redeemable qualities from start to finish) and Ames are killed as blips in Major’s plan to get Max Rager. Dolly Durkins’ zombie son exists again just for her to kill him and the series to ignore any emotional fallout because these characters are all just black and white pieces to move. Riley, an integral part of Martin’s original zombie outbreak plan, is out in the world, presumably continuing on her boss’ plan? Mr. Boss is essentially written out of the brain smuggling equation as a result of zombie utopia, and who knows how he took that.
The thing about this final war is that its weaknesses truly do all fall on the zombie side, which you wouldn’t expect from a show called iZombie. It would have been one thing had there been another zombie contingent (on equal footing with the Dead Enders) outside of Martin’s zealot base, but they were supposedly one and the same. And as the series ends with Liv and Major giving their friends the hard sell on becoming zombies—which apparently wasn’t just a winking joke, according to Rob Thomas—while it’s supposed to be a sweet moment, it’s an endpoint that maintains iZombie’s refusal (or inability) to acknowledge how becoming a zombie in this world never actually came across as cool or something worth rooting for (outside of just a minor fanservice bit, like Peyton as a zombie). It’s the major reason why there’s such a disparity between how the Renegade storyline has been treated on the show versus how it’s actually perceived as a viewer. Ultimately, it falls on iZombie’s abilities as a genre show, as its zombie mythology has always been a mix of murky and not-that-special.
“All’s Well That Ends Well” creates the illusion of a competent finale from scene-to-scene, but as expected, its inability to actually follow through on the story it told all season—and on tying up the loose ends that would suggest zombieism should’ve been eradicated altogether—is its downfall. Its saving grace is moments from its main characters (Liv/Peyton’s reunion, Ravi giving Major Max Rager as the “cure,” Clive yelling “Bozzio-Babineaux” in a hospital) and every scene technically makes sense as is. But this is a weak execution of the story iZombie force-fed its audience in this final season’s first 12 episodes. And that’s not all well and good.
- Just to be clear: I don’t regret getting this assignment (that I pitched for and was really excited to get), and this is far from the worst show I’ve ever reviewed for The A.V. Club. As disappointing as this season was, I’d say iZombie was never a bad show overall, it really just didn’t have the ability to achieve its potential, on multiple levels. Still going to miss these characters and this cast though.
- If you’ve read my last Veronica Mars review, you might remember a bit where I mentioned a Veronica reenactment actress looking like Liv Moore. The joke apparently goes both ways, thanks to Liv’s talkative seatmate on the plane, even though it doesn’t really work with brunette Liv. (What does work, however, is Ravi enjoying the amenities of first class.) Also, my last comparison between the two finales is pointing out their perfect final song selections. Veronica Mars had Sara Lov’s cover of “The World We Knew (Over And Over),” while iZombie has Skeeter Davis’ “The End Of The World.” Both are completely appropriate for their finale’s intentions.
- Liv/Major aren’t the only ones who get happy endings: Ravi is the head of the CDC and still with Peyton, who is the district attorney of Atlanta. Clive and Dale are co-captains at the San Francisco Police Department. Also, podcasts are virtual in 2029.
- It’s nothing new for guns in genre shows to feel out of place, but guns reach their peak here in this episode. In the culmination of iZombie’s commitment to making everything as much of a one-to-one comparison to the real world as possible, it makes the guns feel very much in place—which in turn sells out its own existence as a genre series. iZombie has always had issues on that front, considering its specific (vague) zombie mythology, but this season went out of its way to just make zombies “others” instead of genre character.
- The Dead Enders’ deck of zombie leadership cards—a la The Good Fight season two or real life—is a good idea and even a good image… that would’ve been even more impactful had it been introduced earlier. But it’s clear the cards have just been made—after being stocked with weapons by General Mills, which is also never discovered in the aftermath—as evidenced by “the new King of Spades,” Enzo.
- With the Martin storyline, I talked about how the show revealing to us early on how evil he was essentially ruined any chance of ever caring about his relationship with Liv. The season hurt Dolly in a way too, as it’s not until this episode that I realized Dolly leading both CHICS and the Dead Enders was even supposed to be a surprise to everyone else. Remember, they basically stopped saying “CHICS” after her introduction, when they went all-in on the domestic terrorism of it all.
- I know why, for story structure reasons—but logistically, why didn’t Blaine move into his father’s mansion until now? Yes, we know daddy issues, but with this as an option, he wouldn’t have had to stay at Mom E’s. That was supposed to be a safe house, but unlike Liv’s place of employment, I don’t think his father’s mansion is easy to find.
- This season has gone out of its way to show how terrible humans are to zombies, so as contrived as it is, the fake-out scene with the flight attendant and her brother—thankful for how Renegade helped their kid sister—is honestly refreshing. And a necessary scene, because this really has been a miserable season in this sense.
- We were robbed of seeing Dolly Durkins either: 1. Die in battle. Or at all. 2. Realize she killed her son after it had just been announced that there was a zombie cure. And then die. Her final scene features her being bloodthirsty in a way that suggests the Dead Enders didn’t just quit because of the cure. And then it’s confirmed, during all talk of utopia Zombie Island. Where is the win in that? The saving grace of both sides of the human-zombie zealot base (Dolly and Martin) was that this civil war would lead to both of their demises. Martin’s wasn’t satisfying, because it didn’t even make it to the big show—and there was no big show as a result of Enzo’s leadership—and Dolly gets to live on, most likely regrowing her numbers and planning an attack on the centralized home for zombies. This isn’t a win.
- I can’t remember if I said Don E would be the one to kill Blaine, but this whole season has led up to this. And with Blaine killing Darcy (confirmed here), it was only a matter of time before Don E snapped. You don’t murder a man’s child bride and get away with it. Sorry, but having the other Freylich kids along with the zombie orphans highlighted again how young they are. While they had funny moments, the relationship was only a choice made to get from point A to point B, not one with much thought put into it… unless it was to remind us that Don E is still a creep like Blaine. This episode definitely points out just how bad Don E is too (and he gets the well as well), but this season relied too much on his plight and then his heartbreak—and here, the catharsis of him pushing Blaine in the well—for that to be the case.
- Peyton: “How funny would it be if now I knocked you in?” This is the line of the episode.
- I get that the point is Dolly’s resorting to doxxing Liv to flush her out (we all get the real-life comparisons the show is making), but… As Renegade, Liv revealed who she is. We saw that article about her. People know she’s a medical examiner for the Seattle Police Department. The address of her place of employment is the exact definition of public information. Is it even doxxing at that point? They could’ve bombed the building without a tweet. In terms this character would understand, it’s like posting the address of the White House to “dox” Trump.
- The series has always kind of danced around this, but during the end comments about how Major and Lily haven’t aged, I was struck by the concept of the zombie orphans once again. (And it’s a point to realize when it shows them playing around.) They will always be children, never aging, perhaps mentally maturing, but we don’t know if that’s guaranteed. I just can’t see how that isn’t ultimately a nightmare.
- Speaking of the nightmare that is New New Seattle: It’s a good thing that, like humans, zombies are able to have a society where every single one of them is a good person and nothing bad will ever happen, right?
- In a fun bit of synergy and another Spondoolieverse guest appearance, Chris Lowell appears here (as Byron Deceasey), a week before GLOW (and my GLOW reviews) returns on Netflix. I consider this the trade-off for no more Piz.