iZombie – Season 5 Episode 4
iZombie explores the world of modern tech companies when Liv and Clive investigate the murder of a genius CEO with designs on preserving the best of Humanity after the Apocalypse.
Every show that wants to be topical will get around to doing some form of commentary on modern tech companies eventually. The results range from insightful to superficial with the worst examples shooting for comedy through nothing more than recognition of the terms being used. iZombie delivers a take on this lies between the two extremes but doesn’t really manage to find anything clever to say about how good or bad these modern industries are for the world.
The company in question is responsible for the creation of a widely used traffic app. Points are made that will be familiar to anyone watching in terms of how user data can be collected and exploited for nefarious means. Naturally there is the suggestion that blindly accepting terms and conditions out of sheer convenience isn’t a good thing but doesn’t really take this point anywhere beyond the obvious. The background detail of this data being used as a Zombie identification system through collating everything from common locations to shopping habits is fascinating as it delivers clear commentary on how freely people open themselves up to having every personal detail stored in a database somewhere. All of this happens willingly because people don’t understand the true implications of what they’re agreeing to and how profiles can be built using the simplest things. Once again the episode has nothing to say about this outside of it being problematic which is a real shame given how strong an idea this is and how well the groundwork was laid.
Liv eats the brain of the murdered CEO so gains an understanding of exactly what’s going on while absorbing many of his eccentricities. It’s an obvious riff on the likes of Steve Jobs and Rose McIver does a predictably excellent job of playing Liv as annoyingly logical. She talks a lot about data and algorithms while using buzz words designed to make her sound even smarter to illustrate her points. As always Ravi is on hand to keep her grounded and calls her out a few times. The highlight is when he points out that her crime solving algorithm idea already exists in the form of the police. It’s a subtle point but clearly reinforces that Liv doesn’t fully become the brain she’s on. In this case she doesn’t actually become a genius though she is able to reorder and recontextualise her thoughts in different ways. This allows her to realise the connection between the data the app is collecting and identifying Zombies.
The case itself is fairly by the numbers with characters that feel too over the top to be believable. Melissa (Stephanie Lemelin) comes across too suspiciously to ever be dismissed and the reveal that she murdered Cornell isn’t at all surprising. Her primary motivation being jealousy doesn’t entirely work either and it makes Cornell’s posthumous characterisation really inconsistent. Liv constantly talks about his life being lived in the pursuit of logical and rational decisions which doesn’t track with his prejudiced decision to wipe one woman off his Apocalypse board in favour of a different woman that he apparently decided he wanted to sleep with. This is a case of the behaviour not matching the implied personality which makes this difficult to accept as a well thought out plot.
Even though the reveal of the murderer was underwhelming there is something more nefarious that comes to light. When Sheldon Drake (Bill Dow) is interviewed he isn’t the least bit shy in talking about how much he hates Zombies and freely admits that he has a plan to murder the entirety of the Zombie population. Based on the data collected it’s a very real and terrifying possibility but there’s nothing that can be done about it at this point because no crime has actually been committed by him. This raises a compelling moral debate that will likely come into play over the coming episodes. The debate boils down to the difference between justice and the law. Clive points out that they can’t arrest him for a crime that he wants to commit no matter how much he may want to. It’s a strong point that makes sense but there is also the prevention argument and I suspect this will be what Liv champions. We’ve seen from prior episodes that she isn’t above taking the law into her own hands when she feels that the result is ultimately righteous. Look no further than the “fake news” decision from two episodes ago for a recent example.
There are some ideas at play within this plot that aren’t given the exploration they deserve. A genius using algorithms and collected data to build profiles that evaluate the best options for the continued survival of the Human race is an interesting idea especially given the ever-present danger of Zombies overwhelming Seattle. It’s only natural that someone of means would come up with a contingency and it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do when extinction is a very real possibility. This is simply left as an idea but isn’t explored in terms of how it may be seen by the Zombie population. There’s also the undercurrent of social elitism around who “deserves” to survive over others that only receives superficial attention. With a lot more work this case could have been a great touchstone for a wide range of issues though hopefully some of them will come back later in the season.
Liv’s genius brain created a number of opportunities that the episode fails to take advantage of. The brain makes her think differently about the world around her so it would be the perfect time for her to consider her role as Renegade and take stock of what it represents as well as what it’s becoming. There’s a lingering question over whether that role has evolved into running a Zombie orphanage or if it’s still about saving people by scratching them. Is there room in her life for both or is it going to become untenable very quickly? The ability to analyse this logically could have provided an answer to this as well as a potential evolution of sorts but this unfortunately doesn’t happen.
A new threat is introduced in the form of “New Boss” (Bill Wise). He has a nasty Utopium habit and a strong belief that Zombies are the next step in Human evolution and clearly isn’t afraid to enforce that idea violently. He is shown recruiting turncoat Fillmore Graves soldiers sympathetic to his cause which ties nicely into Major’s tenuous grip on the organisation by providing tangible consequences to him losing the loyalty of the soldiers under his command. All this talk of evolution in an episode that also contains Biblical references through some name dropping and the mentions of a Noah’s Ark style bunker designed to preserve the Human race is surely no accident. The rest of the season looks to be juggling the different ideologies associated with these concepts and I’m certainly all for it. It’s possible that “New Boss” might be too much to try to cram into a final season but he could turn out to be integral to what the writers are trying to achieve in the final episodes. I certainly look forward to seeing how it plays out.
Blaine makes a return after an brief two episode hiatus and the writers find a clever way of exploring the different ways he presents himself. He spends most of his scenes interacting with Al Bronson (Gage Golightly); a reporter tasked with doing an in depth profile on Blaine. Ever a sucker for a pretty face Blaine sets out to impress her and ends up doing the opposite because it is such obvious bravado. This tells us something about Blaine that we haven’t really had an opportunity to see before as he normally targets his brand of charm at those who are more susceptible to it but Al quickly shows herself to be intelligent and capable when she points out that she’s heard all of his lines before from others and isn’t interested in humouring him. It’s interesting to see Blaine not having the upper hand for once and having to consider the prospect of being genuine. Al is a great foil for Blaine in the beginning though I didn’t really buy that she would find herself under his thrall after such a short period of time. Her introduction was all about how she’s a cut above the women he usually goes after so it was less than believable that she would find herself impressed by his obvious attempts to look more appealing. She does snap out of it when she realises that he’s behind the murder of the Mayor but it doesn’t alter the fact that she was swayed just a little too easily. There’s also a confusing yet entertaining dance fighting number with a live score from a Brazilian Samba band that’s just ludicrous enough to work.
Jimmy’s comedy Troupe starts to work on the “Hi, Zombie” show designed to improve the perception of Zombies through the use of comedy. It’s off to a bad start for the simple reason that it just isn’t funny which is a major problem for a comedy. It takes a lot of skill to portray something as painfully unfunny and have the laughs come from it failing to amuse. The comedy is in the reactions and Peyton’s frustration at the lack of competence on display is priceless. There is a missed opportunity here in having Ravi take a back seat considering it was his idea even if it does make for Peyton to take charge since it’s her reputation on the line should this not succeed. It could have been a plot that allowed Peyton and Ravi to collaborate on something and share a story but is mostly focused on Peyton which prevents it from being as strong as it could be. Ultimately this story is about artistic differences and Jimmy storming off when his vision is usurped makes sense given that he’s an overly sensitive creative type having his work savaged by external eyes but it’s good that he comes around to Peyton’s way of thinking eventually and realises that the process is going to have to be collaborative. I’m also interested to see how Yasmine (Stepni Chin-Salvo) will fold into the overall dynamic.
An uneven episode that has a lot of really good idea but doesn’t quite manage to explore them in the required detail. Liv’s genius brain provided the perfect opportunity for her to rethink her role as Renegade and examine what it was turning into in a more dispassionate way but there is only superficial mention of what it is becoming and no real commentary on how sustainable it is. All of the talk about mining data and how nefariously it can be used is very topical while also having terrifying applications within the show itself. The reveal that it could be used to slaughter the Zombie population by identifying where they are judging by their movements is a scary prospect and the use of the Sheldon character as an open advocate for this shows how real a possibility it is while introducing the complex moral question over whether something should be done before he acts on it. The case itself is fairly underwhelming with a less than interesting resolution but the wider implications of it are fascinating. Introducing a new villain who believes that Zombies are the next stage in Human evolution is interesting enough on its own and it neatly connects to Major struggling to maintain loyalty among his soldiers but it’s also possible that this is too much to introduce for a final season though it’s also possible that “New Boss” will become integral to the overall narrative.
The introduction of Al who interviews Blaine for a profile is really strong. She makes for an effective foil for Blaine as she’s a cut above the women he usually tries to charm with her sharp wit and self respect. Unfortunately she does succumb to his charm fairly quickly especially when considering how disingenuous he comes across early on. I’m not against the idea of him wearing Al down but how quickly it happens is jarring. At least it doesn’t stick and the spell is worn off when she spots the mask that connects Blaine to the murder of the Mayor. Peyton overseeing the early stages of Jimmy’s comedy troupe trying to bring “Hi, Zombie” to life is hit and miss. There is some comedy to be mined from how unfunny the show is and the idea of creative differences altering a project is handled fairly well. There is a missed opportunity to give Peyton and Ravi a plot to work together on but it also makes sense that Peyton would take the lead given that her reputation is on the line. I’m also interested to see how Yasmine blends into the overall dynamic.
- commentary on the use of personal data for nefarious purposes
- a compelling moral dilemma associate with Sheldon openly admitting he plans to wipe out all Zombies
- a strong foil for Blaine in the form of Al
- tying the new threat into Major struggling to maintain loyalty at Fillmore Graves
- not using the Genius Brain to its fullest potential
- Al succumbing to Blaine’s charms a little too quickly
- mining comedy out of something not being funny
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