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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Z Nation ends season 4 with a gripping race against the clock

Screenshot: Syfy
Screenshot: Syfy
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God bless Roberta Warren. In a world full of survival-at-all-cost fighters, she’s just trying to do the damn right thing. And when it comes down to it, this whole season has been one long march toward the inevitable—until she takes control herself.


The last thing Warren does is throw a wrench into the carefully laid plans of Zona’s Machiavellian manipulators—Dr. Teller and the Founder—thereby placing a giant question mark over what’s going to happen next. What will the result be of only half the flesh-eating bacteria formula getting uploaded into the drone, and then spread to all the mini-drones that form the shape of the Black Rainbow? That’s a question for next season, but after all the uncertainty, one thing is clear: Z Nation learned from its mistakes of season three. This is how you do a cliffhanger right.

“Black Rainbow” was a pulse-raising, non-stop action machine, the hour whipping by almost before you realized it was done, so committed was the show to delivering a fraught conclusion to the doomsday device storyline. Sure, there were plenty of dangling plot threads, and yes, some obvious questions didn’t get asked (if the Man With The Plan was trying to prevent the death of everyone, why the fuck didn’t he say so?), but the ticking-clock scenario was so thrilling, those issues can mostly be forgiven in the name of a rousing installment of the series. Much like the problems with the Tyrannosaurus Rex pen in Jurassic park, logical flaws can be set aside if the execution of the narrative is good enough, and regular director Abram Cox maintained a steady pace of adrenaline-rush excitement. So let’s take a moment and reflect upon the end results of this mostly-great season.

All other issues were set aside in the name of providing a clear endpoint to the Black Rainbow, and when it came to a fun explanation for Warren’s visions, this delivered. Teller had woken her up prior to her “rebirth,” in order to train her subconscious to carry out all the plans necessary for the Reset. Sure, it may not make a ton of sense, but in the context of the show, needing a horrific nightmare vision to register the required actions in her brain was as good a justification as any. “Sorry about the fire and brimstone,” Teller even apologizes to her, right before the Founder reveals she’s being played in the name of a fascist, anti-humanist takeover of the world. And the reveal played like gangbusters, as our initial feeling of security that Teller was doing the right thing turned to metaphorical ash in the viewers’ mouths, and it became clear Warren had been set up to carry out the very thing she was trying to prevent. Once again, it became the responsibility of a badass black woman to shut down the arrogant and brutal plans of a couple of sadistic white guys.

And before any commenters get all “notallwhitedudes” about this, let’s talk about the courage of Murphy. In many ways, Keith Allan’s reluctant hero has become just as much the leader of the group as Warren, as his chastened mentality (he really grew as a person after his arrogant moves of last season) led him to become Warren’s biggest backer, and their relationship drove almost the entire arc this year. The big moment came when Warren all but admitted her mission was a suicide run, and no one should follow. Yes, she says goodbye to everyone, but Murphy and her have a moment. That final look, followed by their old tip of the nose to one another, served as a marvelous reminder of the potent emotional bond these two have forged. Should Warren live to see season five (and come on, there is NO WAY Warren doesn’t live to see season five), I look forward to their reunion. Warren and Murphy: BBFFs forever. By which I mean, “Begrudging Best Friends Forever.”

Everything here was a steady drive toward that final sequence. Warren trying to recreate the directional guides from her dream-world was good, as it led them into the hatch (shades of Lost) as Murphy struggled to keep a tight leash on the Z president. Doc mentioned that he felt Murphy was “getting his mojo back.” It’ll be interesting to see if Murphy’s zombie control actually does return, or if this is wishful thinking. Personally, I like human-centric Murphy, but given his emotional growth, I’m willing to see where that goes. (To be fair, it’s not like Murphy’s a saint yet, given the Z-president’s 30-flight plunge to the bottom of the stairwell. “Ex-president—and he fell! I swear.”)


Everyone else played necessary underling to Warren and Murphy during this conclusion, even Doc, who almost derails everything by refusing to let Murphy follow Warren’s orders and turn the keys to launch. Sure, that might’ve been the right move in hindsight, but doesn’t everyone know by now that we don’t question Warren? 10k and Sarge do their parts to keep the encroaching Zs at bay, but when it becomes clear that they might all die, Sarge does the thing we’ve all been waiting for her to do, and jumps 10k. (“Saw that coming,” says Doc, along with literally everyone who’s been watching the season.) Doc and Murphy slip into jaded everyman mode, and Doc even dons his glasses. “Maybe the Reset isn’t such a bad idea after all,” he says, more out of exhaustion than any desire to die. But as the drones spread out—and they’re right, it is kind of beautiful in its own way—our heroes face the possibility of death in a way that hasn’t presented itself before. Namely, as an unavoidable act of god—or at least drone.

We haven’t even mentioned the fact that Murphy has turned red, thanks to whatever was in the Man With The Plan’s canister, but honestly, that’s an issue for next season. There are things waiting to be explained, none more so than the disappearance of everyone at the refugee camp, but weirdly, that mystery feels like an acceptable thing to delay. Everything here was so geared towards providing answers and a rousing finale for the Black Rainbow arc, the show can be forgiven for punting on a couple of things. As opposed to last year, which just gave up on solid conclusions and threw everyone off the side of a mountain, this cliffhanger felt earned, the result of careful and meticulous planning on the part of the showrunners. Z Nation has been renewed for season five, and let me be the first to say it: I can’t fucking wait.


Stray observations:

  • “I’m the Reset.” Even Warren’s emotional journey in this episode alone felt powerful, thanks to Kellita Smith’s ability to sell Warren’s realization she’d been played.
  • My favorite line was probably Murphy’s reassured sigh after telling everyone Warren was about to be murdered by the Man With The Plan. “Never mind! Warren kicked his ass.”
  • Z Nation, I love you, but that opening sequence of endless slo-mo shootings of Zs felt like you were just trolling me. Lay off the slo-mo.
  • So many questions about what the drones are delivering, gas-wise, but it’ll be interesting to see what half-poison, half-vaccine provides, if indeed that’s what the alternate canister Warren installed does. (Or almost installed, I suppose.)
  • “Ad omnia finum.” Not this year.
  • One bizarre issue: This is one of the strangest ways I’ve ever seen a character written off a show. If Anastasia Baranova’s Addy is coming back, great, but just having her vanish at the beginning of the season and never return is a deeply weird way to play that. And if she’s not, well, it’s even weirder.
  • Thanks, everyone, for joining me for another year of Z Nation! It’s been great discussing it with you in the comments and on Twitter. Especially because of this season’s giant leap forward in quality, no? Honestly, after the dramatic improvement that happened—mainly in the first half of the season, but also overall—this show has become so much better than the receptacle for lazy jokes and campy gore it began as. I look forward to an even more mysterious and intense fifth year.
  • Not that the gore wasn’t enjoyable. Warren crushed that Z’s head against the wall but good.

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.