iZombie: “Zombie Knows Best” would be better if it wasn’t a showcase for Whiteness

iZombie is a show that has always struggled with issues of race (and even, at times, gender), and “Zombie Knows Best” functions as a showpiece of several of the show’s general race/gender problems. I suspect it’s a writers’ room (more like Whiteness room) problem, to be honest. Still, it manages (though not impressively) to be a solid episode with some enjoyable moments. Clive gets some much needed, albeit extremely belated, backstory; we learn some more about what’s going on at Fillmore Graves; there’s a decent-but-not-stand-out case of the week; and for all that there are significant flaws in the execution of it, Liv and Major on father-daughter brains still delivers some humor if you don’t think too hard about any of it. I’d like to see the show do better, but this episode could have been worse.

**Spoilers below.**

The episode opens with Clive being questioned by Detective Cavanaugh, which seems to have taken place the night before the events that make up this week’s case. Cavanaugh wants to know more about Clive’s relationship with Wally. Clive at first tries to downplay the relationship, but he’s forced to spill when Cavanaugh pulls out a photo of Clive with Wally and his mother, Anna (Caitlin Stryker), in which they all look very cozy. Clive’s answer to Cavanaugh and his memories of Wally and Anna are metered out over the course of the episode, and we learn that Anna’s husband was abusive, which landed him in prison. While the husband was in prison, Clive grew close to Anna and Wally, almost becoming romantically involved with Anna before he went undercover and Anna and Wally moved in with Anna’s brother, Caleb, and somehow got turned into zombies, at which point Anna sent Clive a letter telling him they didn’t want to keep in touch.

This is the most we’ve learned about Clive since the show started, and it’s by far the most real Clive has ever felt. It’s just unfortunate that Anna and Wally had to be fridged in order for Clive to develop as a character, especially when we see how wonderful Anna is and especially especially considering how few women of color have been featured on this show in any kind of positive capacity. And listen. I get it. I understand that this is all about Clive’s regrets and doubts and what-might-have-beens. It’s meant to give a previously enigmatic character some more depth and shape, and there’s nothing like a tragedy to make that happen. However, this is the same show that screwed around for months having Clive date that Dale woman last year only to have nothing ever come of it. They could easily have introduced Wally and then Anna as a love interest for Clive, given them basically the same backstory with the abusive husband and zombification and lost contact, and written a story about Clive reconnecting with Anna and coming to terms with her being a zombie as he comes to terms with the whole zombie thing in general. Instead, we get a pretty much textbook fridging leading to what is moving towards revenge quest territory.

Anna deserves better, and the audience deserves better than this kind of lazy, cliché nonsense, no matter how cleverly the story is told in intricately woven together flashbacks.

The case of the week concerns a father and daughter, Stan and Cindy Chen, who are killed in an obviously suspicious hit-and-run. When Cindy’s friend Winslow sent Cindy a photo of Winslow in bed with her step-dad, Cindy showed it to her father, who insisted that they had to tell the authorities, which turns out to be a motive for murder when Winslow’s mom finds out. There are a couple of interesting twists and turns here, and even a nicely done red herring moment—when we see Major’s flashback to Cindy showing her dad the image on her phone and exclaiming “gross,” the context suggests (briefly) that it could be something zombie-related—but the truth is that this whole case just seems like an excuse to have Liv and Major eat these brains for humor reasons.

Literally as soon as we meet Winslow’s mom it’s obvious that she’s the murderer and the case is solved without much more trouble. Much more time is spent on Major and Liv being entertainingly effected by Cindy and Stan’s brains, which is definitely funny, and it helps to lighten things up since Clive’s story line this week is so dark and sad, but it’s a bit of a cheap laugh. Robert Buckley hamming it up stereotypical teenage girl style loses its charm quickly, and dad Liv isn’t much better. The problem with both of these is that they rely on only stereotypes for their characterization this week, and they’re positively archaic stereotypes at that. Teen girl Major could have been based on the teen daughter in any movie from about 1975 to the present, and Liv’s dad brain seems straight out of the 1950s. Neither of them give us any insight whatsoever into who Cindy and Stan were as individuals, though we know that they were killed on the way to an ice skating practice at 4 am and that they surely had complex internal lives that weren’t boring clichés. That Cindy and Stan were Asian American is entirely ignored in favor of playing with the lower-hanging fruit of “jokes” that are more “relatable.” I suppose it’s for the best that they didn’t go for mocking Asian stereotypes, but I don’t think what they did do, just ignoring the individuality of the characters altogether, is much better.

The worst effect of this is that it makes it difficult to become emotionally invested in the murder victims. Instead, the audience is encouraged to identify more with rich white girl Winslow. Even though Winslow isn’t painted as a particularly sympathetic victim, she still gets significantly more screen time than Cindy and Stan Chen together. We never even learn if Cindy has a mother or if Stan has a wife, and we certainly never meet her if she exists. However, we meet Winslow’s mother and step-dad, we see their business, we learn their history and see something of their family dynamic. It’s a lot of information about them and a lot of attention paid to Winslow’s victimization—we even get to see her skeevy step-dad’s booking on screen—but we don’t meet a single other soul who’s even met Cindy or Stan. I doubt this is maliciously intended, and it’s common for the show to focus on suspects and the main cast rather than on its murder victims, who are often simple plot devices, but still. They usually do better than this at giving us an idea of who their murder victims are and why we should care about them, at least for forty or so minutes.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Clive’s flashback mustache is surprisingly hot.
  • Liv’s “King of the Grill” apron might be my favorite thing about the episode.
  • Ravi’s angst over Peyton is already boring, and it, frankly, makes him seem like kind of an asshole.
  • Speaking of Peyton, she’s absent this week, as is Blaine. They’re missed, but I don’t know when they could have been squeezed into the hour.
  • The Fillmore Graves zombies eat a mash of different brains that keeps them from having the personality shifts and flashbacks that Liv and Major experience.
  • While much of dad Liv fell a little flat for me, “In this house we eat brains and solve murders!” made me laugh.
  • I’m not sure about the creepy IT guy. His role here seems like a new character introduction, but he’s weird and unfunny and bland enough that I can’t even remember his name. He’d definitely be an unnecessary addition to an already large cast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s