Photo: Bettina Strauss (The CW)

What would a zombie apocalypse look like? From its onset, iZombie differentiated itself from the many zombie stories who use the idea of an apocalypse as a jumping-off point by keeping its own story tightly focused on one zombie’s story in what was, at the time, a small zombie outbreak. The end of season three brought that small outbreak to its inevitable point of escalation, bringing zombies out into the open and spreading the virus exponentially to encompass the entire city of Seattle. The season four premiere tackles the obvious question: Where do we go from here?

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One of the things that is so compelling about iZombie’s apocalypse is that the entire virus, and spread thereof, was perpetrated and perpetuated by greed and power. It was Vaughn and Max Rager’s slimy malfeasance that created the virus, and then a radical group inside government contractor Fillmore Graves that caused the spread of the virus throughout the city of Seattle. As we see immediately, it’s Chase Graves and Fillmore Graves that are tasked with keeping everything about Seattle running now, from enforcing the quarantine wall around the city, to manufacturing and supplying the city’s zombies with brain tube rations, to policing the streets and enforcing curfew rules and keeping general order. The inherent friction between them being part of the creation of this new reality and then being tasked to sustain it is a philosophical and political knot the show isn’t quite ready to untangle just yet.

What the premiere does an excellent job of, though, is establishing where each of our characters are and how they fit into this new reality. For Liv, the biggest change is that she can now live her life out in the open, with all the good and bad that entails. Brain ingestion as a method to solve murders seems to have been quickly accepted and adopted by Seattle PD, and Liv can not only tell her suspects that she has seen visions, but the rest of the zombies on the police force—including the newly turned Dale Bozzio—also mention using the method as well. The murder of the week smartly uses the Seattle Seahawks as a way to tell the story of an over-the-top fan (giving Liv a colorful personality to inhabit after she eats his brains) while also using that fan’s situation as an illustration of how putting a wall around a zombie-filled Seattle has changed the city. The victim was a man who lost his dream job because of the quarantine, and his subsequent anger at the zombies who caused it led to him rejecting his turned son and then losing his life, via the scorned wife who was on her last straw. It’s a tragic story, if a bit strangely undercut by the goofy football-obsessive personality Liv inhabits to solve the case.

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Photo: Bettina Strauss (The CW)

For Major and Chase, their roles are now significantly heightened as Fillmore Graves is tasked to be the de facto coordinator, government, and law enforcement force as it relates to enforcing the quarantine and ensuring that the zombie population is supplied with food and kept in line. While Seattle PD seems to mostly be business as usual when it comes to human crimes, Chase presents a far more rigid idea of control over the zombies under his oversight. The idea of “zero tolerance” for zombies who turn others is mentioned, and the presence of zombie soldiers throughout the city paints a picture of Seattle as police state. When Major is asked to start a homeless youth program that essentially turns into a recruiting forum for Fillmore Graves soldiers, that really hammers home the messy—and uncomfortable—place Fillmore Graves now occupies in this world. Fillmore Graves is in charge of brain rations for the entire zombie population and their own soldiers eat well, but the lower-class teenagers in Major’s group are obviously almost starving under these conditions. How sustainable is a city full of zombies under this strain?

Blaine is the type of person who finds himself sustainable in any new reality, and Blaine has settled himself quite nicely into a world where zombies with disposable income are looking for places to spend it. The most interesting part of his multiple ventures comes in the juxtaposition between the people who can drop hundreds of dollars for “cemetery to table” meals featuring the brains of their choice, and the majority of zombies with lesser means who are forced to starve on the rations of mushed-up brain tubes Fillmore Graves provides. This tension creates a backdrop for a class conflict that seems bound to eventually explode, and Rob Thomas telling another class-conscious story is definitely something I’m interesting in watching.

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The final piece of the protagonist puzzle is Ravi, who we left on the biggest emotional cliffhanger of the episode last season. Yes, Ravi is now a zombie (sort of, I guess, I think?), as he attempts to create a vaccine that permanently gets rid of the zombie virus and leaves the test subject fully human, for good. The issue is that the vaccine works, but only for a few weeks before the zombie traits start reappearing. For some reason Ravi appears to be the only person in Seattle working on a cure, which is an interesting choice I don’t quite understand the purpose of now that the zombie outbreak is so widespread. It does give Rahul Kohli a chance to do some fun things with zombie brain personalities, and as long as Ravi is better integrated into the action that he was at times last season, this could be a good story arc for his character.

Photo: Bettina Strauss (The CW)

With the premiere efficiently establishing the place each character occupies in this new reality, it makes it easier to focus on the trickier part of the change, which is the larger-scale implication of this reality. Focusing on a story so clearly defined by “real world” components like the murder of the week was is a great way to quickly orient viewers as to what is different in the show’s new post-quarantine reality, but it also has the tricky side effect of reminding that the show does exist in our contemporary reality and therefore makes it beholden to how that reality works. Watching the episode cleverly drop little breadcrumbs throughout about how the residents of Seattle are adapting to this change—both zombie and human—I couldn’t help but think over and over again about the humans who are now trapped in Seattle under quarantine. We get a glimpse of the extremes, like when a group of kids light up Fillmore Graves soldiers with a Molotov cocktail, or when zombies’ doors are tagged with a spray-painted Z. But what about the average person in Seattle who wasn’t one of the hundreds of thousands to escape? Are they just going about their day jobs and complaining on Twitter about the government? Are they staging protests and setting up rallies? Or have they adapted so quickly that this is now their new normal?

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There are small shades of this in the episode, but changing the status quo of a major American city is a huge idea to tackle on a small scale. This is especially true when all our protagonists are essentially zombies or zombie sympathizers, and their stories are the bulk of what we see. That’s not to say this huge idea is doomed; there’s definitely a way it can be great, and zeroing in on the class struggles within what Blaine dubs as “New Seattle” is a smart way to bring immediate focus to a sprawling story. It’s just that focusing on the fringes—especially during what feels like a moment of real upheaval in our actual society—feels like it leaves the show in danger of leaving out all of the gray that exists in the middle. And this gray is where most of us end up existing.

Stray observations:

  • The biggest thing I left out of the above is the resurrection of Blaine’s father and his subsequent transformation into some sort of zombie prophet. The idea of this—and execution thereof—is still far too amorphous for me to feel comfortable making any sort of assessment, but my initial feelings are entirely of the “what the fuck?” variety. Mainly because all of those people just sat there while a really gross-looking stranger spouted wacky theories and then killed their pastor? Really?
  • Peyton is still working for the mayor and is fully ensconced in the “haves” portion of the class wars, which has definite potential for what is hopefully an interesting class examination this season.
  • I have so many logistical questions about the quarantine and the wall around Seattle. So many. Too many. I’ll save them to see if they are answered in future episodes, but seriously: so many.
  • All right, I’ll ask just one question: How many zombies do you think snuck out with those humans in the initial surge and are living undercover outside of Seattle? How secure do people living outside the quarantine zone really feel? (That was two questions, but I refuse to apologize. So many questions.)
  • So brain visions are not admissible in court, or at least that’s what we’re told in the course of Liv and Clive’s investigation. I love the little breadcrumbs of information about the post-zombie world sprinkled throughout the dialogue in this episode.
  • Liv making buffalo-fried brains to the NFL song was one of my favorite brain preparation montages.
  • Naked Ravi was a very amusing runner but come on, Ravi. That’s not OK. Put some pants on.

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