iZombie – Season 5 Episode 10
“Night and the Zombie City”
iZombie delivers a take on a detective noir plot when Liv consumes the brain of a trench coat wearing private detective.
Fans of the website may be wondering where my reviews of episodes 6 through 9 are. The answer to that is real life got in the way and I decided that it would be unrealistic to clear the backlog that has been quickly building so I opted to cut my losses and pick up with the most recent. If I had to give a one sentence summary of those four episodes I would say that they were good though I’m less than impressed with Liv meeting her father as a plot.
The reason it doesn’t gel with me as it feels very late in the game to be introducing such a pivotal detail of Liv’s life. Liv’s relationship with her family has been basically ignored for a long time now that I had almost forgotten about everything that had unfolded. I can see that the writers would have an appetite to wrap up that particular thread with the series coming to an end but it feels less than necessary when there’s already a lot going on already. Martin’s introduction does bring a lot that’s added to the show’s overall mythology such as the creation of Utopium, tainted Utopium and the origins of the Zombie virus. There’s a certain poetry to Liv’s father also being the father of Zombies as it basically makes him Liv’s father on two separate counts. There isn’t really anything more to it than that but it’s a fun added detail that adds some texture to their relationship and gives Martin a reason to be around among the myriad plots filling up the final run of episodes.
It has been clear from his introduction that Martin can’t be trusted and that he has a plan that involves controlling Romero Zombies to do something terrible. The details of what he’s up to have yet to be revealed but the long and short of it is that he’s living two lives which makes his relationship with Liv feel both genuine and artificial at the same time. One thing that has been done really well is avoiding the tropes associated with reconnecting with a long lost parental figure. Her efforts to help him rid himself of his addiction have been working really well and there’s an earnestness to their relationship that does make it very watchable. Her reaction to finding out that he created Utopium is very emotionally charged and feels more realistic as a result so the writers are managing to deliver something that feels real and compelling through the development of this relationship. How this will pan out when Liv learns the full extent of the truth is unknown but it’s clear that the impact will be profound.
Thankfully the characters aren’t written as being dumb and have reasonable suspicions from early on. Martin’s interest in Tainted Utopium is enough to get Ravi’s attention and creates enough suspicion for he and Liv to look into the situation further. They quickly learn that he has a plan involving Romero Zombies though they are equally in the dark about the mechanics of this plan as the audience are at this stage. The reveal works despite the audience being aware of what Martin has been up to because the recent episodes have done a good enough job distancing Martin from his plan in an effort to allow his relationship with Liv to be worth investing in. Their interactions have always been well done and he has rarely come across as anything other than genuine when he deals with her. If nothing else his desire to connect with his daughter feels sincere though it has been compartmentalised away from whatever his plan will turn out to be. It’s complex, interesting and a weighty emotional cliffhanger where Liv is concerned as she now has to decide what to do with this information though it’s highly likely that she will be consistent and confront him right away.
The trench coat wearing detective brain is a lot of fun and manages to repackage the familiar formula in a way that feels somewhat fresh without actually changing anything. Ravi points out the roles he and Clive occupy fairly early on and blatantly states that nothing has actually changed so there’s a real honesty about what the episode is doing here. My thinking is that the writers had this sort of plot on their bucket list to play around with before the show ended and are finally taking the opportunity with a handful of episodes left. This is no bad thing especially when it’s as entertaining as this is. Rose McIver fully commits to the part as usual which helps bring the over the top style to life. There are enough knowing glances and comments from those around her to keep in mind that this behaviour is peculiar. It’s fun while it lasts and keeps the fairly standard mystery plot moving. This one is somewhat atypical because the culprit is known early on so the investigation becomes more about how it was done than who did it. It’s not enough to elevate it beyond a standard riff on the formula but it’s a little refreshing.
A reasonable excuse is found to create the noir aesthetic. Only one scene is truly in black and white but many others are presented in darkness with heavily muted colours. A storm and a power outage are used as the justification for leaning into this visual style and it’s as good an excuse as any to enjoy a different visual aesthetic for a brief period. It definitely enhances Rose McIver’s performance and allows the episode to take on the form of the thing it’s satirising. The explanation for doing so wasn’t at all necessary but it’s another example of how self aware this show can be and does no harm as it’s such a small thing.
Putting Blaine on a similar brain compliments this nicely. It gives Liv a defined nemesis to outwit her at every turn. Both of them having the same objective maintains a palpable sense or urgency and Blaine never feels anything other than formidable. There’s a delicate balance between that and the comedic nature of his personality shift that the episode handles wonderfully. iZombie as a show consistently juggles the comedy with the drama and keeps things moving as it needs to. The binary nature of the Liv vs. Blaine plot in this instance works really well and allows for some strong interactions between these characters. Chief among them is the fight. This show seldom delivers action because it mines so much from interpersonal drama that it isn’t really a requirement. It stands out whenever an action sequence presents itself and this one makes good use of the characters involved. The fight itself is clumsy, awkward and uncoordinated which makes sense for two combatants that have never had any formal training so it makes sense that they would be scrambling for the advantage without actually having any idea how to gain it. The fact that they are both Zombies allows the struggle to be prolonged and the fight to be fairly brutal without any real risk to either of them. It’s also satisfying to see Liv and Blaine finally come to blows after so much build-up even if neither of them are in their right mind.
Liv isn’t the only one getting into fights; Peyton’s coping mechanism includes drinking heavily and making her presence felt at a karaoke night. A lot has happened in her life recently and this episode only really explores it on a superficial level though it’s possible that once Peyton decides that she’s done with the heavy drinking portion of her recovery she will start to think more clearly about how best to move forward. For now it feels like the right thing for her to start a bar fight as misguided as that may be. It’s entertaining to see her performing bad karaoke and becoming hostile with the patrons that heckle her which is certainly good enough for now.
In terms of the big picture there is the threat of nuclear annihilation with only a small committee standing between that and safety for the residents of Seattle. As tension would dictate the vote is deadlocked and down to the Chairwoman who thankfully has her conscience challenged by an earlier viewing of HiZombie where she realises that Zombies have hot sauce in common with her husband which allows her to consider that they are people just looking to live peacefully just like anyone else. It’s very on the nose but backs up her decision to save Seattle on that basis which upsets General Mills (Andrew Kavadas) enough to formalise his alliance with Dolly Durkins therefore presenting a different issue to deal with. It’s worth remembering that some of the decision committee are Zombie sleeper agents but having the safety of Seattle subject to the whims of such a small group of people isn’t without its tension as there is a lot of power removed from the hands of the characters as to their fate. Keeping it all tied together will be difficult but at this stage the dagger hanging over the city that could be dropped at any time is a really nice touch.
A strong episode not afraid to have fun with the noir aesthetic that makes good use of character relationships and never loses sight of the bigger picture. Liv and Ravi learning part of the truth about Martin by discovering the Romero Zombies allows the characters to retain their intelligence and pick up on obvious clues without undoing the good work done building Liv’s relationship with Martin. It’s an emotionally charged reveal and a weighty cliffhanger for Liv who now has to decide what to do with this information. The trench coat wearing detective brain is a lot of fun thanks to Rose McIver’s engaging performance and an unnecessary yet harmless excuse to change up the visual aesthetic to match. These two things compliment each other nicely and riff on the established formula without really changing it.
Having Blaine on a similar brain creates plenty of opportunity for entertainment while maintaining the urgency. The fight is an interesting departure from the norm and is well choreographed considering the lack of skill involved on either side of the conflict. It’s also immensely satisfying to have Liv and Blaine come to blows after such a long time building up to it. Peyton’s heavy drinking, karaoke and starting bar fights coping mechanism lacks depth though is somewhat reasonable considering she might still be processing all the changes in her life. It’s entertaining enough to watch play out though hopefully there will be more introspection before long. The decision committee deliberating over whether to save or destroy Seattle carries the appropriate amount of tension and ties nicely into the HiZombie plot even if it provides an on the nose justification for her to vote to save Seattle. Having the safety of Seattle subject to the whims of such a small group of people automatically creates tension and removes power from the hands of the characters. Keeping this all tied together will be difficult but not impossible and there’s certainly a lot on the table for the final run of episodes.
- Ravi and Liv not acting dumb to keep Martin’s secret hidden for longer
- an emotionally charged cliffhanger for Liv to deal with
- Rose McIver’s performance combining with the visual aesthetic to create an effective noir satire
- Blaine becoming Liv’s nemesis for the episode to maintain the urgency
- the deliberately bad choreography in Liv and Blaine’s fight
- tension associated with the small group of people deciding to destroy or save Seattle
- the lack of depth associated with Peyton’s coping mechanisms
- the on the nose justification for saving Seattle
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