“Time’s nearly up for zombies. That, I can tell you. We ain’t gonna keep letting ourselves be hostages. That’s for damn sure.”
Those are the words of an idiot*, but one thing is for damn sure: Time is nearly up for iZombie. Including this season premiere, “Thug Death,” there are just 13 episodes left before iZombie is truly dead and gone.
*His way to prove somebody is a zombie is to offer them “Hellfire Cheesy Puffs,” because, zombies have zero impulse control or any way to tell he’s asking them a “trick question.” Despite clearly wearing a t-shirt that says zombies are not welcome.
Six months have passed since the events of the fourth season finale, and things are looking up. Sort of. Well, there’s no more guillotine. Blaine is a filthy rich zombie celebrity, who’s letting that get to his head as chaos ensues. Clive and Dale are expecting, which is genuinely good news if you don’t think about the ramifications of bringing a child into this world that’s always one zombie or domestic terrorist attack away from being nuked out of existence. “Thug Death” doesn’t discuss the nuclear option, but the zombie and domestic terror attacks are, in fact, aspects of this episode. The former leads to a low brain supply, as Blaine’s bribed border control agents suddenly have a crisis of conscience upon seeing zombies show their monstrous side.
Human/zombie relations really haven’t improved in the six months since Major became Commander of Fillmore-Graves, even without the guillotine. And it looks like they’ll only get worse. In fact, things are already getting worse in terms of segregation and businesses refusing to serve zombies. It’s also not just brain rations that are low either, as we can see just from a convenience store that barely has anything to offer but tanning lotion (which it never sells, because it turns away zombies) and root beer (which is the harshest joke of the episode for those who think root beer doesn’t deserve such slander).
Things haven’t gotten any easier for Liv and her Renegade duties, which is still a plot that feels like it belongs on a different show—one who about a zombie who grapples with being a zombie messiah from episode one, not an arc introduced in the fourth season of a series that has a lot of big ideas it has trouble fully committing to. “Thug Death” is a strange premiere episode in a lot of ways, but especially for this story, as its not even really Liv’s story this time. There’s more action from Baron (with Francis Capra more distractingly channeling his inner Weevil than before) in the Renegade plot than there is Liv. There’s really more action from everyone than Liv in this episode, which speaks to the most peculiar choice of “Thug Death”: iZombie has a great ensemble, but this Rose McIver is the lead. So to open a season with her mostly in the supporting role—with a very brief Liv opening voiceover—is certainly a choice. The moment Ravi scarfs down her lunch, he tags in as the zombie lead of the episode, like one of those non-J.D.-centric episodes of Scrubs (the “His Story, “Her Story,” “Their Story” episodes). This is a cast where any of the regulars can easily step into the lead role, but when the lead is in the background to begin a series-ending season like this, it’s worth questioning the why.
However, this only reason that is able to work at all is because the case Liv and Clive are working has no body, no leads. Due to the “To Be Continued…”, one assumes episode two will change that and actually give a case for the characters to sink their teeth into, but Rob Thomas created a difficult episode for himself to write here. It’s not a matter of “no body, no crime” because the surveillance video exists—and has gone viral, a point no one’s looking into—but it is one of “no body, no compelling investigation.” As much as the zombie attack video is brought up, “Thug Death” only briefly focuses on Clive, Liv, and the rest of their task force’s investigation. And it’s boring. Clive and Liv are making calls to 72 phones to find a lead, while Dale and Cavanaugh are offscreen looking through car registries (or whatever you do—I don’t have a car). This episode really makes a potential human/zombie civil war less exciting than possible, as you also have Major and Justin sorting through files at Fillmore-Graves and Peyton attempting to keep both sides calm on a morning talk show. At least Blaine and Don E get to do fun stuff like kidnapping and threatening people.
For a season premiere, the idea of table-setting isn’t new. There’s a new threat to human/zombie peace (if such a thing can exist) in the form of Dolly Durkins (Jennifer Irwin) and her Concerned Humans Imposing Common Sense (yes, “CHICS”); there are Peyton and Major’s roles as high-powered officials who want to keep that peace while keeping their people happy; there’s this video and what it’s doing to people’s states of mind, as well the suicide bomber and what that will do to people’s states of mind; humans are attempting to out zombies online; there’s also all of Blaine’s talk of keeping his hands clean while doing anything but to keep his new status quo. Plus, Ravi has yet to do a Grace Adler-esque “told ya so” dance to the CDC, who are on board—with Ravi fan and iZombie newcomer Dr. Charli Collier (Quinta Brunson) running point—when it comes to finding a zombie cure.
But while you can set a table, presentation matters. What “Thug Death” presents is a relatively weak opening offer for iZombie, a series that needs a strong comeback after an “ambitious but frustrating” season. On a structural level, one of iZombie’s strengths—a Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero-Wright, and Dan Etheridge (who directed the episode) special—is its ability to competently shift tones. That’s what allows a “zom-com-rom-drama” like it to work. But for everything iZombie wants to do in this episode, its tonal shifts don’t work as well as they usually would. It’s not even the fault of the Ravi storyline, which is at a 10 when everything else is at a 4. (Blaine’s at a 7 when he threatens the border patrol agents.) The worst offender is the transition from the checkpoint explosion to a character named Bix Cahill (Alex Parra) chugging a latte in the precinct, which is also tone-deaf if the show wants the audience to care about Major and his fallen Fillmore-Graves brothers. And in noting that explosion, the aftermath not being shown stands out when Liv later says, “I don’t wanna see another dead body today, Clive. Those poor soldiers.” In an episode where Liv is off to the side, to throw in a line where she apparently saw something major (and not show it) doesn’t work.
Keep in mind, this episode also has a great transition in the form of Blaine’s impending long-winded speech to Don E turning into Blaine’s Matthew McConaughey-esque car commercial.
Also, as much of a statement can be made about living in a world where we’re all too busy looking at our screens—something something black mirror—that’s seemingly not the point “Thug Death” is making here, despite the distracting amount of screen time. There’s, of course, the surveillance video at the beginning, then there’s the task force watching the video, there’s Liv watching Oliver’s video to Renegade, Ravi watching Johnny Frost’s morning show, Ravi’s Skype calls with Collier. It’s a lot, as iZombie’s return is a lot of the people acting at screens, which is one of the last things you want in a series where character interactions are one of its strong suits. Rose McIver gets to have at least one scene with almost every regular (except for Robert Buckley), and the same goes for Rahul Kohli too.) Major, on the other hand, only interacts with Fillmore-Graves employees, save for one scene with Blaine and Don E, which is ultimately a heartbreaking use of Robert Buckley and fans of a happy Major Lillywhite, if that version of the character is ever allowed to see the light of day again.
Since this is the final season, one would think that the show would finally figure out a balance for the brain shenanigans, especially when they can have serious repercussions. Instead, iZombie’s leaned even more into them, especially with the added safety net of the main characters being in on the secret, able to forgive. (Except for moments when it wants to pretend characters actually have the ability to fight the brains they’re on.) As fun as it is to watch Rahul Kohli give his audition for a Guy Ritchie movie, as Ravi on “Thumb Breaker” Barnes’ brain—in the only version of jealous Ravi I ever want to see—this plot highlights the biggest issue with zombie brain behavior. As has become the norm, the brain takes over Ravi—who’s just gotten his “monthlies” when the episode begins—completely. He’s at least still invested in solving the case—though, there’s not really much case for him to work—but he’s completely consumed by this brain. Which leads to him screwing up his CDC calls... almost. While this ultimately ends with Ravi being able to fight the brain, the subsequent scenes (with Ravi back to normal) suggest this was only possible because the brain was wearing off, not because Ravi (clearly thinking about Isobel and kids like her) would have been able to fight the brain off at all otherwise. That Liv compares Ravi’s fighting moment to “the Gollum/Smeagol scene from Two Towers” doesn’t quite hit because it shouldn’t be this big of an issue at this point. Just look at Blaine.
Cases of the week can be a tricky thing with a television show like this, where the writing and characters are sharp and the greater arcs are of course more interesting than “just a procedural.” Obviously, there’s the Veronica Mars comparison. However, I’ve always liked iZombie’s cases of the week and have felt they’ve ultimately had a lot more fine-tuning than a lot of the bigger arcs. So for iZombie to come back with a case of the week that’s, at the moment, barely a case while focusing on its larger bits that aren’t necessarily great (Renegade, Fillmore-Graves), while the big picture focus makes sense for an end of the series, it would be helpful for the series to not forget the small things that have always worked. So one can hope that the second part focuses on the case, because at the very least, in doing so, perhaps it can make help this premiere play better on that front.
- I am LaToya Ferguson, and I’ll be your reviewer for the final season of iZombie. You might know me from my reviews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (also on tonight), Riverdale (R.I.P. me reviewing the show), Lucifer, and GLOW, as well as the pre-air review of iZombie many moons ago.
- Unsurprisingly, there is no sign of Robert Knepper in the previouslies. The previouslies do mention how Liv’s new enemy is the U.S. Army, but that doesn’t come into play here.
- Blaine “No Fatties” DeBeers deserves to suffer when it’s all said and done, but after tonight, I might want worse things for Johnny Frost. Ravi came so close to throwing hands all episode, but nope.
- The reforms Major has instituted since becoming Commander: “No separate justice system for zombies, no curfew, a system of review that allows human in life or death situations to leave the city.” Plus, no more guillotine. As for the “system of review,” we see how well that’s working, with the woman stuck here because she came to visit before the wall went up.
- Seriously, If it turns out the dance contest is So You Think You Can Dance and Major has prevented these two unseen dancers from ever meeting Cat Deeley, I might never forgive him.
- According to Peyton, humans in Seattle outnumber zombies 50:1.
- As the only person who apparently sent in a video for Renegade, you’d think Oliver would have included the part about his foster sisters. Especially since the sexual abuse was the part that swayed Liv. I also don’t want to use the term “precocious” with this subject matter, but while I actually liked the Isobel storyline last season, I don’t think that should’ve been an opening for more kids on this show. (And IMDB suggests it’s not stopping any time soon.)
- No one’s called iZombie the most subtle show on television, but I physically recoiled (out of extreme familiarity) during Collier’s introduction scene, as her superior kept trying to prove his (and her former professor’s) woke bonafides by calling her a “real-life Good Will Hunting” (she was a student at Johns Hopkins, not an unenrolled janitor) and talking about how she surpassed her “privileged” peers (she’s the daughter of two doctors). And: “humble origins” and “hard worker.” Then at the end, when her superior suggests she defer to other doctors from now on, their names are Dr. White, Dr. Rich, and Professor Man(n).
- Two other shows that pretty much laugh in the face of subtlety—in different ways—are Supergirl and The Good Fight. With Supergirl, while its current storyline about aliens and today’s political climate is far from perfect (there isn’t as much of a 1:1 ratio as the show would like ), I feel like it commits far more than iZombie ever has (or possibly could) when it comes to its concept of “the other” and social issues, which helps sell its stories. And as much as I want a zombie deck of playing cards, that’s a moment that doesn’t hit as hard as The Good Fight’s “Kill All Lawyers” cards, because Major believes it means humans aren’t making IEDs. (Whoops.)
- Blaine’s tosses out a reach of a Dr. Demento reference by calling Ravi “Dr. DeBeardo.”
- The delivery guy calling Ravi’s last name a “strange name” was not cool… until it turned out the name on the sandwich was literally “Shark Body.” Strange name.
- Dr. Collier: “People wouldn’t hunt children.” What world does she live in?
- Which distasteful but funny shirt do you prefer? The convenience store clerk’s “No Shirt, No Pulse, No Service” shirt or the Oh My Cod! food truck’s “Dead Fish For Live People” shirt?
- Dolly: “I wouldn’t send my kids to school with vampires and werewolves either.” 1. What about hybrids? 2. Come on, we all know werewolves are still technically humans.
- Dolly: “Stop. They’re already dead.” Hehe. Of course, once Dolly ended up being a domestic terrorist, she got a lot less funny. Before the reveal of the IEDs, I honestly thought the set-up was going to be for another zombie attack, meaning she was behind the first one.
- Major: “Stay in your lane, Blaine.”
Blaine: “Make a new plan, man.”
Don E: “Get on the bus, G—”
- Blaine: “Zombies are going hungry because of this video, and that makes me sad. And I’m delivering fewer brains to Major, which makes me less wealthy, which makes me sadder.”