iZombie – Season 5 Episode 1
iZombie returns for its fifth and final season by picking up on where the previous season left off and showcasing what has changed for the characters.
This episode picks up 6 months after the events of the fourth season finale and spends a fair chunk of time reminding the audience of the status quo created. Major is in charge of Fillmore-Graves, Blaine continues to be the necessary evil that keeps the Zombies of Seattle fed, Peyton is acting as Mayor following the death of the actual Mayor, Dale is expecting her first child with Clive, Ravi is pretty much where we left him and Liv continues to juggle her responsibilities to the Morgue as well as the police with her role as Renegade. In short there have been some changes but on the whole things are relatively stable.
Naturally that stability has to be threatened otherwise there wouldn’t be a lot of drama. The trigger event is the murder of a Human woman by Zombies. It’s captured on a security camera and goes viral which threatens to escalate an already tense situation. It goes without saying that this can’t be allowed to happen so there is focus on getting to the bottom of this before an unmanageable conflict ignites. Peyton nominates Liv, Clive, Dale and Ravi her personal Task Force charged with keeping the peace and everyone gets to work in their own way.
A huge problem with this episode is that the importance of the case doesn’t ever come across as it is pushed far into the background in favour of world building. This creates an imbalance in the storytelling as none of the scenes devoted to the investigation are particularly entertaining. They contain mostly mundane things like Liv and Clive phoning different numbers looking for leads of any kind. I’ve mentioned in many prior reviews that the case of the week was the weakest part of the episode but there was usually a scene or two that would make great use of this show’s madcap sense of humour and it would feel like an important part of the overall narrative, at least up until a point. In this episode it comes across as an afterthought to enable the world building rather than being significant in its own right.
The world building elements are very strong on the whole. Anti-Zombie sentiment is represented through the shopkeeper whose security camera captured the original footage. He literally wears his prejudice as a t-shirt and will tell anyone who happens to be within earshot how much he hates Zombies and is open about refusing service to them. It’s intense and deliberately unsubtle in order to make the point loud and clear. He is the first representation of what is assumed to be a significant portion of the population base that hate Zombies which suggests that systemic racism is going to be one of the biggest issues over the course of the season. This is an obvious commentary on how many people in the real world have no problem being openly racist because they feel validated to do so by those in power. In this fictional case this shop keeper doesn’t fear consequences for behaving this way because he knows there won’t be any which makes for a difficult issue to combat as the toxicity of their way of thinking can’t be altered.
This idea is continued through the loudly proclaimed opinions of Dolly Durkins (Jennifer Urwin); leader of a group known as Concerned Humans Imposing Common Sense -or C.H.I.C.S. for short-. She appears on Johnny Frost’s morning talk show as Peyton’s opponent in a debate. She delivers her thoughts with a lot of bluster but very little rationality. She is basically looking to spread hate and reach out to anyone who agrees with her which reinforces the idea that people are comfortable openly making their prejudice known. Dolly doesn’t see Zombies as people and thinks that they shouldn’t have rights because they’re already dead. In essence she sees them as “the other” and their very differences make them less in her eyes. For now she doesn’t have the authority to enforce her beliefs in a broad sense but she clearly has no desire to listen to any counter arguments.
Even though the two main detractors depicted in this episode are deliberately lacking in nuance there is depth underneath the argument. The current situation in Seattle is understandably concerning for all involved as it is a walled city with little scope for anyone to ever leave it and the persistent threat of nuclear annihilation if the U.S. Government deems that to be the best solution. Seattle has a Sword of Damocles hanging over it and all life could end with little to no warning so it’s natural for people to feel scared. Fear and desperation can be powerful negative motivators and it’s easy to see how some could conclude that Zombies are to blame because the city wouldn’t be walled off from the outside world if they didn’t exist.
Of course this is a basic understanding of the situation and has the built in assumption that Zombies have engineered this scenario deliberately which is far from the case. When blaming those who are different it’s easy to dehumanise them because it’s harder to hate someone -or something- you can relate to. It’s possible that this division will be overcome by people altering their perception of Zombies in order to see them as victims. For this to be accomplished there will need to be a clear positive example of the Human side of Zombies. Of course this may not be the direction this goes in but it seems like a natural path and there are hints that the narrative may be heading that way.
Drama can be founded on a situation getting worse before it gets better and this point in the story is about escalating the divide through acts of extremism. Dolly is so committed to her hatred and her desire for retribution after the contextless murder that she enables a willing suicide bomber to drive a van full of explosives into a FIllmore-Graves checkpoint which causes the death of four Zombie soldiers. The bomber is very much a means to an end as far as the story goes with little in the way of characterisation though there is talk of him having lost his wife and child to the Zombie outbreak in some way. Without the details it’s hard to invest in him but he is clearly motivated by grief and hatred which does support the antagonistic nature of Dolly as well as those who share her views.
Bizarrely the episode does little to focus on the aftermath of this attack. It awkwardly cuts to a man drinking coffee in the precinct rather than showing the damaged caused by this act of terrorism and the cost of it. Liv even mentions not wanting to see another dead body after being present at the scene of the explosion. Since we don’t see this it fails to have any impact; this is especially jarring as everyone in the precinct is shown to be gearing up once news of the attack reaches them. It’s almost as if this was cut for time though I can’t imagine what was deemed more important than this.
Liv is largely sidelined in this episode. She’s involved in the uninteresting investigation and shares scenes with the majority of the cast but doesn’t actually do much over the course of the episode. Most of her scenes serve as a reminder of her current role The strongest scene was the one where she and Peyton worked as a team to decide who is most worthy of the risks associated with sneaking people into Seattle to become Zombies. It reinforces the inseparable nature of their friendship, serves as a strong reminder of how great a team they make and underpins the ethical weight of being Renegade. Peyton being involved turns this into a shared burden and having that support clearly comforts Liv. There’s a lot of potential to explore this compelling dynamic especially if they have their opinions differ on who is most deserving of Liv’s help.
Unfortunately this episode doesn’t feature a brain induced personality shift for Liv. Ravi takes on that role for the duration due to his “monthlies”. Ravi takes on the personality of a London Street Thug and Rahul Kohli really throws himself into the part. He acts entirely unlike Ravi to the point that he’s almost recognisable even if it does cross the line into caricature. The personality definitely overstays its welcome but it is enjoyable seeing Ravi become someone completely different. It’s rare and works well enough.
The personality shift feeds into the introduction of a new character; the CDC scientist Dr. Charli Collier (Quinta Brunson). She is introduced as a fan of Ravi and their first meeting is a fun example of the “don’t meet your heroes” trope as Ravi doesn’t exactly make the best impression on her due to the repugnant personality he exhibits. To her credit she doesn’t stand for it and makes it clear that she’s unimpressed with him. Her introduction brings with it. Her introduction also sets the stage for a moral dilemma that plays out over the course of the episode. She has discovered the connection between the illness that Isobel had and the Zombie cure. Knowing that she plans to present her findings to the others at the CDC is what causes Ravi to fight the influence of the alternate personality to make an earnest plea for Charli to keep the findings to herself. The reasoning behind that is confirmed cases of the illness are rare so the knowledge would likely lead to those individuals being hunted and sacrificed in order to produce the cure. It doesn’t need to be said how unethical that is while also being an entirely believable course of action that would be taken in the kind of desperation that exists at this point.
So far, Charli is a compelling addition to the cast. She’s young, idealistic and eager to please but also has a strong moral code as shown by her following Ravi’s recommendation to keep her findings to herself. It’s a good foundation to build from and I’m interested to see what direction their working relationship takes. Her first scene provides commentary on positive discrimination through her boss going out of his way to prove how progressive he is by saying things about her that just aren’t true. In his mind he’s taken on an underprivileged minority who really needs the opportunity. He calls her a “real life Good Will Hunting” and talks about her besting her more privileged classmates even though she’s the daughter of two Doctors and earned her place at a prestigious university. The words “humble origins” are also used so the whole thing is really concerning and hilariously on the nose in terms of showing the sort of working environment she has been brought into and the level of respect she can expect from those she works with. She certainly isn’t shy about standing up for herself though this is in the midst of the same people who fired Ravi so we can definitely expect friction.
Life is good for Blaine at the moment as business is booming and Fillmore-Graves need his services to keep the Zombies fed to maintain control of the situation. A problem arises early on when a delivery of brains is low so Blaine reawakens old habits against his preference by kidnapping the border patrol agents and threatening their loved ones unless they cooperate as they did before. As always it’s a pleasure to watch David Anders work; he tows the line between incredibly sinister and charismatically comedic. He can switch gears at a moments notice and never make the scene feel like a farce. At all points it feels as if the border patrol agents are in real danger and the casual reveal that one of them was killed to prove a point is appropriately chilling.
Major’s acceptance of Blaine as a necessary evil in the current climate makes a lot of sense and is one way of showing his realistic approach to making sure that Seattle continues to function and not become a Warzone. The episode lists the improvements he has made such as the removal of the guillotine but a softer Martial Law is still Martial Law. It’ll be interesting to see how Major’s role continues to evolve especially when he’s more connected to Liv and the other characters.
Surprisingly this episode features many scenes of the main cast playing against screens whether that be computers, phones or reacting to a televised broadcast. It’s a bizarre choice as this show is at its best when the actors share screen time and bounce off one another. Seeing so much of this contained in a single episode is jarring and incredibly limiting. Hopefully this is just a blip and normal character interactions will resume in the coming episodes.
A solid opening to the season that has some good character moments and excels at world building. The anti-Zombie tensions in Seattle threaten to be escalated following the killing of a Human woman by Zombies. This event forms the basis of the investigation and allows for examples of people feeling comfortable being openly racist against Zombies. In one case it’s a shop keeper who refuses services to Zombies and another is Dolly who engages in a televised debate with Peyton where she does little more than spew hate speech. It’s a good indication of what one of the central conflicts of the season will be and leads to the most shocking moment the episode has; the suicide bombing of the Fillmore-Graves checkpoint. Unfortunately there’s nothing to the investigation because it’s pushed so far into the background that very little of interest happens and the aftermath of the bombing is only referenced rather than covered so there are definite weaknesses in the overall storytelling.
Liv is also something of a background feature in this episode. Most of her scenes are about reminding the audience of her current role rather than pushing her forward. The scene she shares with Peyton where they decide who needs Renegades help most together is the strongest because it shows how deep their friendship is and turns the Renegade responsibilities into a shared burden. The altered personality is taken by Ravi this time out and Rahul Kohli fully commits to the performance. It borders on caricature and definitely overstays its welcome but it is entertaining on the whole. Charli makes for a compelling new character to the show and immediately makes an impression as idealistic with a strong moral code. Having her be less than impressed with Ravi’s behaviour shows her lack of patience for anyone messing with her and her decision to cover up her findings to protect people with a rare illness shows that her morality is in the right place. Blaine getting his hands dirty once again when the brain shipments fail to meet expectations makes for great viewing. David Anders perfectly portrays Blaine as being both sinister and comedically charismatic. Major accepts him as a necessary evil and it’s easy to see why given the situation. The improvements under Major are encouraging as well but a softer Martial Law is still Martial Law. Bizarrely most of the characters spend a large part of their screen time interacting with screens which is very limiting considering one of the strengths of this show is in person character interactions. Hopefully this amounts to a blip and normal service will resume.
- strong worldbuilding around the anti-Zombie tensions
- unsubtle commentary on the modern world with people feeling comfortable openly spreading hate speech
- Rahul Kohli fully committing to Ravi’s alternate personality
- a strong introduction for Charli
- Liv and Peyton sharing the Renegade decision making burden
- the greatness of Blaine
- a weak investigation
- keeping Liv in the background
- not showing the aftermath of the suicide bombing
- the characters spending too much time interacting with screens
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