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With a clever trip into the past, Z Nation reveals a key piece of the puzzle

Photo: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy
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If there’s one thing you can count on with humanity, it’s that we’ll always make sure there are plenty of ways to destroy our species. Sure, we may not be so great at implementing minor climate regulations, but when it comes to wiping out all human life, we’re on top of it.

That’s the only real explanation for a “4th Strike” weapon, designed to mop up any remaining forms of life following a third strike. (You know, in case the first two nuclear assaults didn’t already take care of the job.) But Zona is counting on this outdated weapons system to take care of the outside world, destroying humans and Zs alike in a bid to wipe the slate clean—the “Reset”—and make North America one giant abandoned lot for them to resettle. (How much of Zona’s population remains alive after everyone went nuts is another question altogether.) It’s the Black Rainbow, the real-world embodiment of the vision-quest imagery that Warren’s been following all this time, her strange dreams finally matched to a tangible goal. She still doesn’t know how all these clues and maps got dropped into her head, but now she has an outlet to focus her anger: She’s going to lead everyone to the nation’s capital, and they’re going to save the damn day. Hopefully.


“Return To Mercy Labs” does something I really didn’t think was possible: It retroactively made me like the season three premiere a little more, simple by dint of incorporating it more meaningfully into the larger storyline. By having Teller’s old lab hold another piece of the puzzle, in the form of those strange canisters hidden deep inside the disgusting locker of fungal matter, the show provided some much-needed connective tissue between Teller’s words back at Zona and the team’s current mission of following Warren’s vision. The scientist was most likely tampering with Warren’s mind during her two-year cocoon stage, and now we’re seeing the results of that mental tinkering.

But the big reveal came in the form of Black Rainbow. Simon and Kaya are now essential members of the team, working from afar to help research the problem and aid our protagonists in getting where they need to go. At long last, there’s material evidence of a purpose to Warren’s hallucinatory dreamworld. It’s not clear what exactly it means that she only sees it (and receives the necessary instructions to do things like open complex locks) while in her vision-state, but it’s looking less likely that my previous theory—Warren’s seeing the world as it really is following the Reset, and right now we’re stuck in some alternate reality that people can get zapped out of and back into the dark reality, per all the refugees at the camp—is accurate. (I did acknowledge it was bonkers at the time.) But it’s still entirely possible that her dreamworld is something more than a mental map drawn in other imagery, to lead her to the weapons system. Teller’s dead, but surely someone out there has the answers Warren seeks.

Photo: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy

The team’s journey back to the red-covered facility allows for some opportunities for smaller emotional arcs to play out as well, against the background of everyone’s memories of their time here. 10k has the roughest go of it, given the place is rife with his memories of both Red and 5k. (Ten bucks says the little guy makes an appearance before season’s end.) But his painful recollections allow Doc the rare opportunity to do more than just crack wise; there’s a genuinely soulful moment between the two, in which the elder of the two reminds the younger that hope isn’t just a fanciful dream, but a necessity for getting through this world. Our dreams and desires aren’t just so many foolish intangibles—they directly shape our lives and actions. Hell, if you need proof, just look at what’s in Roberta’s head, then see if you still don’t think dreams matter.

Those smaller beats actually played better than the discovery of Andrew, Teller’s son, who has already been shot in the head, but is somehow being kept alive by the hermetically sealed chamber in which he stands. After a lot of hand-wringing, and Sarge’s comments about the importance of keeping the kid alive, Warren just steamrolls over the situation, insisting they need the power, and assuring everyone that sometimes mercy-ing someone is the more ethical choice. (It’s certainly the more practical one, in this case.) Given that we don’t know this basically-already-dead youth, it’s not much of a loss, but it does provide a chance for yet more evolution of Murphy, who, after pointing out he might’ve frozen Lucy, given half the chance to keep her alive, acknowledges that sometimes you have to do a thing because it’s right, regardless of effect. “At least they’ll be together now,” he says of the deceased mother and child, and when Doc asks if these corpses care, Murphy says the truth: “No. But I do.”

Photo: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy

Kaya and Simon, meanwhile, are ensconced in their own little world, raising J.Z. and fighting off (again) the Z that was such a pain in the ass for Simon when he first returned to Camp Northern Light. Kaya’s flat affect can sometimes make it difficult to tell what she’s feeling—there are several moments where I was convinced she was pissed off at Simon, only to let a guarded smile appear moments later—but she does seem to be invested in getting to the bottom of the Zona problem, more so than her laid-back significant other, which is a bit of a role reversal from previous seasons. Still, their domestic life was surprisingly affecting—especially the moment of father-son bonding while catching some sun.


Ironically, Zona’s plan is a good one, in terms of getting rid of the Zs and trying to make the world habitable again. If only it didn’t involve killing off every remaining innocent human, as well. Now that the team has a clear purpose, there’s a chance to change everything, by repositioning the weapon. If only there were a safe place to get everyone before launching it, maybe there’s still a way it could work. Hmmm—like, say, some mysterious alternate reality in which humanity could hide for awhile...

Stray observations:

  • Yes, I know that last idea is ridiculous. I’m just trying to imagine what a happy conclusion for our poor heroes might possibly look like, one that Doc could get behind.
  • The final song is Jason Gallagher’s “Hero.” He’s the guy who also does the theme song, incidentally.
  • Kaya is such a mom, doing the practical thing and zipping up that Z in a bodybag. Simon: “That was so...efficient.”
  • All the callbacks this episode were smartly integrated, from the one remaining Kraken Z to the body of Teller’s wife.
  • Doc’s Z kill of the week is straight-up hammertime.

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About the author

Alex McLevy

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.