iZombie – Season 4 Episode 5
iZombie draws a line in the sand and encourages the characters to pick a side in the upcoming conflict that will split Seattle’s population.
This is a show with moral grey areas but at this point there are two distinct sides in this upcoming conflict. The largest side is Fillmore Graves and they are basically the villains of the piece as they represent a corrupt authority who claim to have the best interests of the citizens at heart but largely turn a blind eye to widespread suffering. On the other side is basically everyone who stands to lose something at the hands of a corrupt ruling body though the side being promoted as as the opposing one is the small resistance movement Mama Leone was in charge of.
Mama Leone’s capture last week was a game changer for Seattle in general as suffering people lost someone genuinely interested in helping people and making sure they could be safe. Without her there is less hope in the city and the stranglehold Fillmore Graves has on the city grows ever tighter. Mama Leone’s public execution is designed to send a message to those hoping to be freed from the rule of law. The message is simply that Fillmore Graves won’t tolerate it and will make an example of anyone who tries.
The execution scene itself is dripping with tension as whether it will happen is left ambiguous until the very last moment. Seeing the varied reactions of the crowd adds to that tension as they form a microcosm of Seattle at that moment with Humans who want to see her killed, Zombies who see her as potential salvation and everything in-between because this is a complex situation with multiple points of view. The guillotine dropping down and beheading her -off camera because it’s still the CW- has the desired impact and carries the necessary weight because Mama Leone has been well established as a source of hope in a hopeless world. Her loss will be felt and it certainly forces the plot to move forward.
Liv in particular is motivated by the injustice at play here and resolves to pick up where she left off. She asks Levon (Daniel Bonjour) to bring together everyone involved in Mama Leone’s organisation because she has to keep the dream alive and take up the task of helping people escape their current circumstances. Liv has now chosen a side and has been shocked out of apathy into action. She is now at the point where she is vehemently opposed to Fillmore Graves and won’t let them get away with dictating the law to the detriment of people on the street.
This decision opens up a can of worms for Liv because Fillmore Graves are a very powerful organisation who will eventually get wind of the fact that someone is picking up where Mama Leone left off. They will stop at nothing to track her down and she has seen exactly what they will do to her if they find out. I suspect that Liv will find herself in exactly the same place before the season ends once Fillmore Graves closes in on her.
Not all loyalties are as simple as Liv’s as Major’s involvement is still something of a wild card. He’s an interesting character because pretty much every decision he has made has been for reasons that are easy to understand. Complexity comes from the fact that it doesn’t excuse the things that he’s done or the things that he continues to do. The look of regret he gives Liv as Mama Leone is executed while he stands in his Fillmore Graves uniform refusing to do anything about it encapsulates this perfectly as Major has resigned himself to being part of the problem without fully agreeing with what he is being made to do. Effectively he’s a soldier who has to follow orders he doesn’t necessarily agree with and lacks the conviction at this point to speak out against them. His turning point will most likely come when Liv inevitably faces the Guillotine.
Fillmore Graves aren’t even as simplistically villainous as they could be because this show refuses to take the easy way out when establishing its antagonists. Chase Graves is the face of the organisation and is wonderfully nuanced. He organises the execution because he feels that is the thing he needs to do in order to maintain control. His scenes with Mama Leone throughout the episode shows that he has nothing against her personally but he has a job to do and the rule of law has to be maintained without exception. Making an example of her is something he feels is necessary but it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s easy to fixate on stopping someone who is faceless but when the face of the opposition is an old lady defined by her kindness and sense of duty to other people then it isn’t as easy.
Chase has a lot of depth in this episode thanks to an excellent performance from Jason Dohring who successfully conveys the pain and anguish as he tells Mama Leone what is going to happen to her. He takes no pleasure from what is about to happen and tries to make her feel better by promising it will be painless. It’s heart wrenching stuff showing how torn Chase is between duty and his own sense of decency. His belief in what he needs to do is stated clearly earlier in the episode when he tells Mama Leone she might wake up from being frozen when the power fails and there’s nobody left to care. In one sentence that encapsulates that he feels he is doing what he needs to do even if it’s nor popular.
If he doesn’t follow through on his own promises then he will lose the respect of his men as well as any sense of control the organisation has over society. If Fillmore Graves don’t make good on their threats then they will be seen as toothless and more people will disobey the law. Of course he has no idea if Mama Leone’s death with have the opposite effect and intensify the opposition.
Outside of that there is a murky grey area where many of the other characters live. Peyton, Ravi and Clive all work within the system as best they can without compromising their own sense of morality. Clive still solves crimes, Ravi still investigates dead bodies and Peyton is shown to help people in any way she can such as ensuring that extra rations go to a hungry Zombie family. It’s clear she can’t do much more than that without potentially compromising herself and she doesn’t entirely consider the implications of the decision she makes in this episode as what she is doing is giving preferential treatment to one family when there are countless others enduring the same thing. It’s an interesting moral problem because it makes a big difference to the people she helps but does nothing to solve the overall problem which makes for a very Human moral conflict as Peyton can’t help everyone but can help some people so is it right to do so if it makes her feel better even if the overall benefit is minimal?
This scenario reminds me of a Gandhi quote “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” which sort of applies here. Peyton is behaving altruistically and acting for the betterment of a small group of people. If everyone in a position of privilege was to follow her example then the problem would largely be solved. At this point she isn’t advertising that she helps people so she’s setting no example to follow but her kindness suggests a mindset that could be applied to everyone for the betterment of society. The smallest difference is still a difference in essence, at least that’s how Peyton operates.
The episode juggles a lot of different types of plots such as the paranoid intrigue explored above, the usual procedural crime drama/comedy and a road trip plot involving Major and Don E. It’s a very strange story as there is no context given to it right away which frames it as something of a mystery. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you missed a chunk of the previous episode as we first see them bickering while driving while listening to loud music as someone bangs on the trunk looking to be let out.
As the episode progresses the necessary answers are given in ways that don’t really justify the mystery other than an apparent desire to keep the narrative moving by starting in the middle of it. The woman is eventually revealed to be Sloane Mills (Laura Bilgeri), the daughter of the General who wants to Nuke Seattle to solve the Zombie problem once and for all. It’s a crude, messy yet effective solution and Chase needs leverage in order to prevent that so sends Major and -for some reason- Don E to kidnap her. It seems to be going fairly well until Don E acts like his normal unhinged self and draws unwanted attention to them. The result is turning Sloane Mills into a Zombie which grants them the necessary leverage though puts Fillmore Graves and Major on uncertain moral ground once again.
This plot wasn’t bad as such but it wasn’t particularly good either. Don E is a delight as always but starting in the middle was too jarring and the mystery wasn’t interesting enough to make the choice of starting the story in the middle feel worthwhile. Ultimately it was a distraction that adds to the overall tapestry of the season but as a viewing experience on its own it was distinctly lacking.
The case of the week is largely routine to a degree with some Hockey jokes and jabs at Canadian stereotypes but it lends itself to a significant turning point that informs Liv’s end of episode decision. She sees a vision of Blaine murdering Mama Leone’s associates at the laundromat which is enough to bring him in for questioning. Liv and Clive are very close to bringing Blaine down once and for all until Fillmore Graves forces the Mayor’s office to free Blaine because they claim to have caught the real murderer. Liv’s visions don’t carry as much weight as manufactured proof so Blaine slinks away once again. This plainly shows the corruption in Seattle at this point as Blaine is under Fillmore Graves’ protection because he’s useful to them which means that there is no justice and that someone actively has to stand up for those who go unrepresented. Liv makes that choice because she can’t bear to see people wronged while Blaine gets to walk free once again.
An excellent episode that revels in the moral ambiguity built up before this point. Liv’s decision to actively resist Fillmore Graves by actively taking on Mama Leone’s self imposed responsibilities works brilliantly as a decision because there’s a lot of weight behind it such as the clear example of corruption when Blaine is allowed to go free by Fillmore Graves. She is now in opposition to Fillmore Graves which puts her in a difficult position with Major who has clear reasons for his own decisions which doesn’t make them any more justifiable. I suspect there will be a decision point if he and Liv are on opposite sides.
The episode also does a great job of exploring the complex morality at play. Chase Graves arranges Mama Leone’s execution because he needs to set an example of what will happen should anyone defy Fillmore Graves. The situation is deteriorating and to his mind the only thing keeping it together is fear of what will happen should the rules be broken. Showing that he takes no pleasure in ordering Mama Leone’s death humanises him somewhat and adds depth showing that it’s not a simple case of good vs. evil. The episode also contains a bizarre Major/Don E road trip that has its moments and adds to the overall tapestry of the season but is ultimately underwhelming and doesn’t justify the mystery storytelling structure.
- outlining the sides of the conflict
- the justification for Liv making the choice to oppose Filmore Graves
- consistently fascinating moral ambiguity
- Chase Graves given depth further complicating the morality
- the mystery angle on the road trip not working
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