Each episode, iZombie is building something. Building the characters, building the episode arcs, building the season arcs, building the world—the show is always working, and the result is a deftly maneuvered yet constant stream of information, carefully doled out to deliver big moments with maximum impact. The best thing about the way iZombie builds stories might be that while the payoffs are great—and they’re definitely great—the build along the way feels just as satisfying.
“Max Wager” is the perfect episode to discuss the way iZombie builds stories because it’s basically all build; even the moments that pay off previous story beats are building to something much bigger in the future. The episode is so focused on the build that even the murder of the week is a case that builds off of the previous episode, when the gambling lawyer (who sort-of inadvertently got the basketball coach killed) gets gunned down right in front of Clive. The case itself isn’t all that interesting, but it’s a great way to set up almost everything else that happens in the episode. Because of this case, Clive and Liv end up at a barbershop that doubles as a book-making operation, and this allows Liv to meet someone very important. Also because of this case, Clive and Liv end up at Shady Plots, which puts Liv and Blaine together again to debate the virtues of being a zombie versus being a human. It’s clever and exceedingly organic, and a very smart way to make the ongoing story arcs and murder of the week feel intrinsically connected. It also gives Clive a reason to geek out over basketball in front of Rick Fox, which is fairly delightful in and of itself.
The most satisfying thing about the way stories build on iZombie is how they always build with dread before exploding into something much worse. This makes the middle of the story so much more interesting, and there’s plenty of dread to go around right now. The biggest bit of dread introduced in this episode was the character of Stacey Boss, played with just the right amount of calm malice by Eddie Jemison. His introduction is perfect: face obscured, but immediately pegged as someone important simply due to the fact that the actor’s voice is so recognizable. By the time he shows his full face to Liv later (which, was that the longest haircut ever, or a different day, or what?) it’s pretty clear who he is, especially when he reels off the most disturbing “perfect murder” scenario ever, just for kicks. It isn’t until he goes to visit Peyton at the DA’s office and informs her exactly who he is and what he can do to her if she keeps investigating him that his full menace is revealed. Boss might not be a zombie, but he’s definitely the scariest villain in iZombie-land, and it looks like his story is just beginning.
While meeting Stacey Boss is essentially kicking off the dread in that storyline, Major’s story is smack dab in the middle of dread and has been for quite a long while. On the surface, Major’s life is looking much sunnier: He’s back with Liv, he’s happy and smiling and cracking jokes. But what becomes abundantly clear in this episode is that although things are looking a bit brighter on the personal front, Major is still neck deep everywhere else. He’s still disposing of zombies for Max Rager, and everything going on with Clive and Detective Bozzio seems destined to come directly for his head once they start putting the pieces of all of their separate investigations together. At least Major finally knows that he’s in danger of being exposed for more than the Meat Cute murders, after meeting Detective Bozzio and learning from Liv what she’s working on. Major’s story also features the biggest payoff of the episode, when we finally find out he’s not actually killing the zombies, but storing them in a freezer for safe keeping. It’s not surprising to learn that the show’s romantic lead isn’t actually a killer, and it’s not like it makes Major a saint; he’s still kidnapping people and putting them in a freezer, after all.
What this show does best is tie its different stories together, and it does this in the best way with Major and Blaine’s story here, as the last zombie Major puts in the deep freeze is none other than Blaine’s father. For maximum impact, iZombie twists the knife on this story by having Blaine’s father show up and take over Blaine’s business, forcing Blaine to work for him or else he’ll turn him back into a zombie. Instead of bringing his father the brain of the enemy he wants, however, Blaine’s plan is to bring him his own father’s brain, his infirm grandfather (who we learned earlier in the season is the one person in the world Blaine has actual affection for). It is an insanely unconscionable act, but the real tragedy of the story is that while Blaine is sadly packing up his grandfather’s brain, Major is busy kidnapping his father and putting him on deep freeze, therefore making Blaine’s actions completely meaningless. No matter what happens, it’s pretty difficult to walk yourself back from killing the one person the world you love just to teach your father a lesson. This show is dark, man. Dark.
As if this episode wasn’t jam-packed enough, it also twists the knife in the rekindled Liv and Major relationship, and with it brings a needed emotional component to the episode. They spend most of the episode in that blissful “new couple” stage, tempered only slightly by the fact they can’t have sex until they figure out how to do it without turning Major back into a zombie. It manifests in very cute ways, exemplified by the sweetest game of strip Skype poker ever. The gut punch comes when Ravi reveals that unlike other viruses that can be stopped by condoms, the zombie virus is too small and would have a 100 percent infection rate through intercourse. Liv and Major’s vow to “be creative” and make it work is sad and sweet and destined to lead to a lot of misery for them both, which is exactly how Rob Thomas shows like to do romance. Because what fun would it be to build to a happy ending when you can instead build to soul-destroying sadness? No fun at all, I say.
- I could definitely listen to Liv and Blaine debate the merits of being a human versus being a zombie for an entire episode. Rose McIver and David Anders are always wonderful together.
- Ravi and Peyton were just casually eating breakfast together, and it was very nice, and yeah, I admit I’m ready for them to start making out.
- Do you think Calvin Owens and Terrence Cook are friends? They certainly have a lot in common.
- A Fish Called Wanda reference! I just watched that movie a few months ago (I know) and it is delightful. I’m nothing if not current.
- “It’s nice to get a name. In my head you’ve been Girl From The Morgue Who Somehow Makes Goth Work.”
- “That is her Native American name. Hi, I’m Barely Employed Arm Candy.”
- “Dad. I’d hoped your first visit here would be more… horizontal.”