iZombie: “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother” establishes a new and problematic normal

**This is a pretty spoilery review from start to finish.**

iZombie’s season two finale cleared the board, killing off or otherwise getting rid of the show’s major villains while ending the season with a zombie- and energy-drink-fueled conflagration that threatened to alert the whole world to Seattle’s undead problem. The first episode of season three, “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother,” is all about establishing a new baseline for the show and for all its characters, starting with everyone getting their stories straight about what happened at the Max Rager party, as the episode picks up 2.8 minutes after the last one ended. It’s a tense beginning, with Clive, Liv and Major coordinating their stories with new character Vivian Stoll (Andrea Savage) while on the other side of town Peyton, Ravi and Blaine are dealing with the aftermath of the shootout with Mr. Boss’s men after they’d kidnapped Peyton.

After this initial excitement, however, things slow down for a minute so we can get a slightly info-dumpy Liv voiceover that catches us up on the current state of the team—Liv, Ravi, Major, Peyton, and Clive—who are gathered together at Liv’s place to figure out what to do next. Liv suggests that they adopt a new “no secrets” policy between the five of them, and in the interest of that agreement tells them about her first meeting with Vivian and Vivian’s idea of making Seattle the capital of a zombie homeland. Interestingly, instead of jumping to conclusions and immediately labelling Vivian as a villain, Liv, Major and Clive take the time to set up a meeting with Vivian the next day to find out more about what she and her company (Fillmore Graves!) have planned.

Meanwhile, Blaine has headed back to his funeral home, where he’s confronted by Don E., who is convinced that Blaine is faking his amnesia. It’s an interesting and entertaining way for Blaine’s past to come back and haunt him, but even more interesting is to see a glimmer of the old Blaine when he realizes that the business is his and that Don E. and Chief were taking advantage of him when he first lost his memories. He lets Don E. quit, but before Don E. leaves, he finds Blaine’s frozen dad. It’s no surprise later in the episode to find Don E. unfreezing the old man so they can plot revenge against their mutual enemy, but it is a positive development, at least for watchers of the show. I’m encouraged that the show seems to have found a balance between Blaine having amnesia and Blaine still being Blaine, deep down.

The meeting with Vivian is delightfully unexpected. I rather thought she was going to replace Vaughn Du Clark as the show’s manically wicked corporate bad guy, and Andrea Savage would be great in that type of role, but that doesn’t seem to be the direction the show is going at all. Instead, Vivian’s preparations for “D-day” (“D” for discovery, when humans learn about the zombies in their midst) are actually mostly sensible. I mean, if she’s really concerned about humans taking military action against zombies, I’m not sure that moving every zombie man, woman and child to a tiny island is the best strategy, even if she does have her own zombie militia, but it’s not the worst idea, either. Sure, it sounds like a made-to-order target for drone strikes, but it could also work to prove that zombies are peaceable, normal people capable of existing in regular society if given the chance. If nothing else, Vivian thoroughly shows here that she’s not planning a pre-emptive strike or anything of the sort, and this gives Liv, Major and Clive quite a bit to think about regarding whether humanity is ready to know about zombies at all.

Unfortunately, after this promising start to the episode, the rest of it turns into a little bit of an overstuffed mess that all the smart, snappy dialogue in the world can’t completely make work. Here’s a list of things that happen in the final two thirds of “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother”:

  • Ravi isn’t dealing well with the news that Peyton and Blaine slept together, and he’s being a dick about it. Peyton hasn’t been entirely fair to Ravi, what with totally bailing on him without a word and all, but Ravi needs to grow the fuck up. I almost audibly cheered when Liv told him to stop it.
  • Peyton goes to see Blaine to thank him for saving her life, and he asks her straight up if they’re a couple. Whatever conversation that leads to happens off-screen, however, which makes it not really clear to anyone, viewer included, exactly where these two stand.
  • Major is looking for a job, but everyone still thinks he’s probably the Chaos Killer, which sucks. He eventually takes a job at Fillmore Graves. Because of course he does.
  • Ravi and Clive have a genuinely excellently done expository scene where they talk a lot about Ravi’s seventeen remaining doses of zombie cure and Liv and Major’s options re: getting cured and losing their memories versus just sticking this zombie thing out for a while longer. We’re also reminded that Major must make a choice sooner rather than later before the first non-working cure he took horribly kills him.
  • The security guard from the Max Rager party goes on a right-wing conspiracy theory radio show and spills about the zombies he saw tearing through the event. Liv and Clive try to stop him, but this only makes matters worse by adding fuel to the government cover-up fire.
  • Liv keeps staying on soldier brains to try and keep from feeling her feelings about having to shoot Drake, but it obviously stops working. Clive gets her extremely drunk, off-screen, which is sweet, but now it feels like the show is trying to avoid letting anyone have any feelings about this.
  • Peyton is being harassed and/or threatened on Twitter, and it frightens her. She tries to call Ravi, who petulantly refuses to answer the call, so instead she turns to Blaine for comfort. Nice going, Ravi.

What I want to talk about is the end of the episode. Early on, when Vivian is showing Liv, Major and Clive around Fillmore Graves and explaining what they do there, they meet a little boy, Wally, who knows Clive. It turns out that Wally and his parents are zombies, but they also used to be Clive’s neighbors, and Clive is happy to see Wally again so they agree to make plans to get together later. At one point in the hour, we hear a caller on the radio talking about how he thinks his neighbors are zombies, and the episode ends with Wally and his parents being murdered, each one shot in the head, presumably for being zombies. I suppose this can be interpreted, generously, as a way for the show to make the zombies’ potential plight real and to give Clive a very personal reason to care about what happens to the zombies in case his friendship with Liv isn’t enough.

Okay, sure. But there is a lot of weird coding going on here. While Malcolm Goodwin and Rahul Kohli have been regular cast members since day one, the show has otherwise struggled at times with diversity and hasn’t spent much time dwelling on race at all. However. There are some definite parallels emerging between the zombie experience and the experiences of immigrants and people of color in the US, and it’s uncomfortable, to say the least. All but one of the show’s notable zombies (good and bad) before now have been white, and it’s bad optics—at the very least—for the first black zombie family on the show, including a young child, the be murdered before we’ve even been properly introduced to them. At worst, it’s lazily racist shorthand to reiterate—in case the violent anti-zombie rhetoric that sounds very like ordinary right-wing vitriol wasn’t enough—that the show’s white zombies are, in the universe of the show, an oppressed minority. That the instigator of the anti-zombie frenzy that led to Wally and his family’s murders is also black doesn’t seem coincidental. It’s weird messaging all around, and I’m not sure that I’m willing to give it the generous interpretation when the show has failed on race in several other ways.

Finally, and still speaking of race, let’s talk about why this show, now in its third season and having received criticism for it for years, still can’t seem to cast a woman of color in any significant role. In addition to Vivian Stoll, the show also introduced us to Ravi’s ex-boss, Katty Kupps (*groan*), who is (surprise, surprise) also white. Listen. I love this show, and I love Liv and Peyton, and I liked Gilda or Rita or whatever her name was last season, but the most memorable woman of color that’s ever been on the show is memorable primarily for being a horrendously offensive racist stereotype of black women. No woman of color has ever had a multi-episode arc, and Liv has never been shown to be friendly with any woman of color. We couldn’t even get a woman of color as a love interest for Clive, who when he was dating dated a white woman, or Ravi, who is very hung up on Peyton.

This is bullshit. Women of color deserve better, and white women don’t deserve to always have even fictional worlds revolving around them a hundred percent of the time. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised later this season, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Considering this show’s predilection for slightly on the nose joke-y names, I googled “Stoll” and was not disappointed: Vivian Stoll could be roughly translated to “life support.”
  • So… do zombie kids grow up? Or are they trapped as children forever? This is important.
  • “We’re trying to keep a secret here.”
  • “I don’t like thinking about that!”
  • David Anders should sing in every episode.
  • Aly Michalka has finally gotten promoted to series regular, which means we should be seeing a lot more of Peyton from here on out.

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