Tag Archives: iZombie

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.

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.

iZombie: “Dead Beat” and “Salivation Army” were an amazing end to a great season

Wow. Just. Wow. iZombie sure knows how to end a season. It would probably be impossible for a show as sprawling and juggling so many concurrent plots as iZombie to wrap everything up to everyone’s satisfaction, and I do have some issues with the finale, but mostly I’m just blown away by how overall excellent it turned out to be. Between “Dead Beat” and “Salivation Army” there was enough resolution to feel some closure at the end of the season, but there are still a few loose ends and a potentially great setup for next season’s big bad.

“Dead Beat” is all about the fallout from Major’s arrest at the end of last week’s episode, and it brings all of the Chaos Killer stuff to a satisfying, if heartwrenching, close. It’s legitimately great television, possibly the best episode of the season. Dale and Clive struggle to build their respective cases against Major while Ravi and Liv try to find a way to get Major the brains that he needs to stay human, and it’s so tense. The episode opens with the FBI showing up to search Ravi and Major’s house, which totally blindsides Liv and culminates in Ravi’s arrest as a possible accessory to murder.

Things get worse before they get better, though. The show is a little hand-wavy about exactly how Ravi avoids charges, but he’s soon out of police custody and able to work with Liv and Peyton to try and find solutions to Major’s problems. With Ravi and Liv both cut off from the morgue, they go to Blaine for brains, only to be denied by Don E, who is still taking advantage of Blaine’s amnesia in order to take over the business. Next, Ravi and Liv decide to unfreeze one of Major’s “victims” in order to weaken the case against him, only to find that someone else has already found Major’s storage space and removed the bodies.

This whole episode is an exercise in creating just the right amount of tension for the characters so that it’s believable and the stakes feel truly high, and it’s proof that iZombie isn’t afraid to go dark. Things get seriously harrowing as Major’s condition deteriorates, and the sense of urgency that pervades the episode is marvelously crafted and makes Liv’s eventual confession to Clive about all the zombie stuff—and Clive’s reaction—a great scene of high drama. This drama is further heightened by the amount of time “Dead Beat” dedicates to Clive and Dale’s police work. These two work really well together, and though their relationship hasn’t gotten a ton of screen time in the back half of this season they have an easy chemistry and a lived-in dynamic that feels real and makes the fallout from Clive’s decision to drop the case against Major hard to watch. I’m not entirely thrilled with Dale being gone—though I think we can still hope to see her next season—but at least she didn’t die tragically.

Dale’s confrontation with Clive is only topped in this episode by the penultimate scene in the morgue, when Liv is attacked by Vaughn’s hired gun, Janko, and Ravi comes to the rescue. It’s not often that we see Rahul Kohli do such physical work on the show, but he pulls it off. I loved that he was so quick on the uptake and didn’t even pause before rushing out to retrieve Liv from the assassin. Kohli also really sells Ravi’s trauma after killing the man, and his shell-shocked reaction felt natural to the character. My only quibble here is how quickly he seemed to recover at the end of the episode. I always enjoy the Liv-Major-Ravi-Peyton friend group hanging out together, and their final get together here is in some ways a nice way to end an overall extremely dark episode, but Ravi’s quick recovery after killing a man in self-defense and Major’s similarly speedy rebound from his time in jail both felt a little too sunny. That said, the moment passes quickly, interrupted by Liv’s vision of the rest of Major’s abducted zombies, who are still alive in Vaughn Du Clark’s basement laboratory.

“Salivation Army” (which is an amazing episode title) opens the morning after Liv’s vision. Peyton is upset because the mayor has called off her investigation of Mr. Boss’s crime ring, and the whole gang has to figure out what to do about the zombies locked up in the Max Rager basement. Fortunately, Major has a plan, albeit a shaky one, to infiltrate the upcoming party that Vaughn is throwing to celebrate the sale of the company to some obviously shady military contractors—Fillmore Graves Enterprises, which is an excellently silly name.

Meanwhile, Mr. Boss is making his move against Don E, sending a couple of his hired guys to take out the competition. Poor Chief takes a bullet between the eyes, but Don E manages to only take a couple to the chest, while also deflecting attention to Blaine. The ensuing B-plot is by far the weakest part of the finale, unfortunately. After apparently getting back together with Ravi early in the episode, Peyton finds herself kidnapped by Mr. Boss’s guys in order to draw out Blaine based upon Don E’s claim that Blaine was in love with the DA. This leaves Ravi and Blaine to work together in order to rescue Peyton—they play the damsel in distress trope pretty straight—and leads to a bizarre sequence in which Blaine (still supposedly suffering from amnesia) rushes in like John McClane to save Peyton, and then Ravi walks in on Blaine comforting Peyton and feels jealous. It’s a subplot that borders on nonsensical, utilizes stupid sexist tropes, and doesn’t actually resolve the Mr. Boss storyline, Blaine’s amnesia, or anything else at all. I’m fine with having Boss carry over into the next season since I like him as a villain, but I could have done without literally everything else that happened regarding him this episode.

On the bright side, the Max Rager plot works really well, and I loved getting to see Liv, Major, and Clive work together to deal with the zombie outbreak at the party—obviously this was a thing that was going to happen after all the teasing and threatening of the zombie apocalypse in the last couple of episodes—and, ultimately, deal with Vaughn Du Clark. The final sequence in the Max Rager basement is for the most part really well-done, if a bit rushed-feeling. It’s basically just an emotional rollercoaster as Liv and company find the imprisoned zombies, encounter Rita, are separated by Vaughn, figure out that Drake has been damaged by the “cure” that was tested on him, have to fight their way free of it all again, during which Liv has to kill Drake to save Clive, then Major abandons Vaughn to Rita… It’s a whole lot of climax to jam into just a few minutes in a single episode, but they manage to pull it off, leaving me with just a couple of quibbles.

First, I would have liked to see Liv get a little more time to mourn Drake and process her having to be the one who killed him. Sure, I get the feeling that really this whole thing is more about Liv’s friendship with Clive than anything else, but still. Drake played a relatively significant role in Liv’s life this season, and it seems like his death was about everything but him and his relationship with Liv—especially since getting Drake out of the way opens the door to Liv getting back together with Major again. I’m not a huge fan of love triangles, but this is the second time that Liv has had a love interest killed off in order to make room for Major. If they’re an endgame couple, fine, but simply killing off other guys when they become inconvenient is lazy writing, and it diminishes any emotional investment the audience can even have in Liv’s love life if we know that her boyfriends are disposable.

Second, I’m a little bummed out about Rita dying. Her time as a zombie, and especially her final interactions with her father, made her a somewhat more sympathetic character, and I would have loved to see what she would do while under the influence of Vaughn’s brain. She would have made a great sidekick to Vivian, even, if she could have ingratiated herself to the new boss. Alternatively, she could have been an interesting frenemy for Liv if the show would ever seriously consider dedicating some time to Liv’s relationships with other women. It just seems like a missed opportunity, is all. There’s a certain sense of justice to the way that Rita and Vaughn met their ends, but I just really liked Rita and could see other potential uses for the character even in the absence of her father.

Of the two episodes that make up the finale, “Dead Beat” is definitely the stronger one, focused as it is, really, on just barreling towards bringing Clive in on the zombie secret and doing a last little bit of final setup for “Salivation Army.” The final episode of the season is sadly weighed down by a frankly ridiculous secondary plot. It wasn’t awful, though, and Vaughn’s ending in particular was a pretty much perfect way to wrap up this chapter of the show. Passing the villain torch to Vivian and her zombie army creates a ton of new and potentially interesting storytelling opportunities, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Brant Stone is exactly the sort of delightfully sleazy lawyer I would expect to be friends with Vaughn Du Clark.
  • “We now take Bitcoin!” Oh, Don E. Never change.
  • I can’t wait until Blaine gets his memories back, if he hasn’t already. Amnesia Blaine is just not that much fun to watch.
  •  “…as a friend.” Clive is generally so undemonstrative about his friendship with Liv, and his pleading with her to think about her decision to stand by Major is genuinely touching and represents a real evolution of the character.
  • Major and Liv are definitely the biggest Peyton and Ravi shippers of all. Major’s “Sup!” and the looks of delight on both their faces might have been the single funniest moment of the night.
  • “A prison theme. White people.”
  • “Who knew that this evil underground lair gig would have actual perks?”
  • “A massive zombie outbreak means never having to say you’re sorry.”
  • Vivian Stoll is already a fascinating character, and she basically steals every scene she’s in. The Matchbox 20 cover at the end while Vivian and her people snack on Rob Thomas’s brain helps to create an absolutely perfect final tableau to end the season with.

iZombie: “Reflections on How Liv Used to Be” sets things up for a great season finale

After last week’s slightly frenetic episode and with a two-part finale scheduled for next week, I rather expected “Reflections on How Liv Used to Be” to have a lot more going on than it turned out to. Instead of another frantically-paced hour of setup for the season finale, however, this episode actually slows things down considerably and takes its time dealing with the fallout from last week before ramping back up and ending on a significant cliffhanger.

Probably the biggest event of last week’s episode was Ravi’s confrontation with Major at the end of the episode, which was further complicated with Major’s return to zombie form, and these two get a good amount of screen time this week as they work through their situation. When Major wakes up, Ravi is waiting for an explanation about the Chaos Killer stuff, and that part of things is sorted relatively quickly, though both men agree that they won’t tell Liv, at least for now. This makes their most pressing issue Major’s rezombification and possibly impending death. Major’s immediate need for brains is filled with the last of the happiness brain from a few episodes ago, which is great on several levels, and it’s interesting to see how Major, the guy who at one point would rather have died than be a zombie, is handling it now—better, obviously, than when he’d just had the whole zombie thing sprung on him, but also, importantly, better in a way that seems to indicate real character growth on his part.

The bad news, of course, is that the zombie cure that Ravi has currently developed has some very negative side effects. Blaine still hasn’t gotten his memories back, and is struggling to just make it through his days. On the one hand, this generates one of the best scenes of the episode, when Ravi tells Blaine all the evil shit he’s done and then Major walks in and introduces himself absurdly cheerfully. On the other hand, it’s starting to be actually difficult to watch as Blaine goes through the motions of his life and is shamelessly taken advantage of by Don E and Chief. I mean, there’s no way that this is going to end well for either of those two, because surely Blaine’s memories are going to come back sooner or later, but it’s tough to watch in the meantime.

The case of the week is somewhat forgettable, functioning primarily as a way to give us a look at something like Liv’s pre-zombie normal. Unfortunately, that character work is overshadowed by the ways in which all the show’s various storylines are being systematically tied together. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Drake, but his colleague in Vice plays a major role in this episode and provides several important pieces of information. He even mentions the z-word in connection with the Utopium trade, though he scoffs at the idea. Clive is so close—and yet so far away—to putting it all together, but this weeks’ award for good detective work has to go to Dale, who finally gets a break in her hunt for the Chaos Killer.

The bait and switch ending of this episode is a masterful piece of high tension television. Major is planning to purposefully infect Vaughn with zombieism, but Vaughn is being tipped off about Major’s failure to actually kill any of the people he’s been supposed to murder. Just as that situation is about to erupt, Dale makes her move, and the episode ends with Major facedown on the floor being arrested. There are several things going on at once here, and all of them are exciting. The last couple episodes have been steadily chipping away at various characters’ secrecy and connecting all of the show’s numerous plots to each other. Next week, we get to see just how much everyone figures out. It seems as if the only way out of some of these situations is going to be total transparency and honesty, but that literally never happens on television. I can’t wait to see what happens instead.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • “Can we play hooky and follow him around all day?”
  • Don E and Chief playing bluegrass was delightful.
  • Peyton is back to hassle Blaine about flaking on helping her nail Mr. Boss for doing so much crime.
  • Vaughn has Rita locked up in the basement, and she looks like she could cheerfully murder him, which I consider a likely event by the end of next week’s finale.
  • Robert Buckley has teased a character death next week. My money would be on Dale or Drake, but this could also be a good time to off Major, who has had a great arc this season and is probably at his most likeable since the beginning of the show, making his death the most potentially impactful. Major’s death could also have been foreshadowed this week with his blithe attitude about the cure and his seemingly sanguine feelings about being a zombie.

iZombie: “Pour Some Sugar, Zombie” strips away almost everyone’s secrets

iZombie just gets better and better as it works its way towards the end of its second season. Like pretty much every episode these days, “Pour Some Sugar, Zombie” is jam-packed with important events, and that’s even without Drake, Mr. Boss, or Vaughn around to distract from the main characters. Smartly, this episode focuses primarily on Liv, Ravi, and Major, a nice change from last week which was very close to being entirely overstuffed.

The first and most exciting big news of the week is that Peyton is moving back in with Liv. I love that this wasn’t rushed, and the scene with Major and Ravi having drinks with the girls after helping Peyton carry boxes is just the beginning of a whole series of scenes this week that serve double purposes. In this case, it’s good to see the gang together and being friends—which is, incidentally, a great way to work in a somewhat dated reference to Friends—and the scene also introduces this week’s murder victim and sets up the case that Liv will be working on for most of the rest of the episode.

The case seems to be a pretty straightforward one to start with, and Liv isn’t even planning on eating Cassidy’s brain until Peyton shows up at the morgue to put in a special request. Unfortunately, the idea of Peyton hanging out with stripper brain Liv is much better than the execution of it here. There are elements of this sequence that I like, but it relies more than a little too heavily on stereotypes about dancers, made especially uncomfortable to watch by the fact that all of the dancers that appear in the episode are women of color, which adds a weirdly racialized tone to the stereotyping. Liv giving Peyton a lap dance could have been really funny, but instead it was just awkward, and not in a particularly fun way to watch.

The most compelling part of the episode actually ends up being Ravi’s journey to figuring out that Major is the Chaos Killer. This storyline is paced perfectly over the course of the episode so that the logical end of it, when Ravi finally confronts Major with his discoveries, feels organic and earned, a perfect dramatic payoff after a season’s worth of letting this hidden tension fester in the background. I like that Ravi doesn’t immediately go to Clive or Dale (or even Liv) when he figures it out, but instead confronts Major about it directly, and that it triggers Major’s reversion to zombie form makes it a great visual moment as well as a great emotional one.

In other news, after taking Ravi’s newest zombie cure last week, Blaine is no longer a zombie. However, he’s also no longer quite himself, either. There’s a lot of potential here for new directions in Blaine’s character growth, but I’m also somewhat concerned that this could be a prelude to writing him out of the series somehow, especially with Don E and Chief likely picking up the reins of Blaine’s business. That said, it seems much more likely that Don E and Chief’s move against Mr. Boss is going to fail spectacularly one way or another. My guess is that they are going to screw up big time in a way that helps to bring the conflicts between the show’s various factions to a head, and Blaine—either with his memory restored or not—will save the day somehow.

Also this week, after spending most of the episode bemoaning how she misjudged Drake, Liv finally finds out that he’s not a crook at all, but an undercover police officer. This is nicely seeded early in the hour when one of Drake’s handlers from vice shows up to ask Liv about him, but she ultimately finds out when she goes to visit Drake’s distraught mother. What remains to be seen is whether or not Liv actually does anything about this, especially in light of Major now being a zombie. As much as I, for the most part, dislike Liv and Major together, it’s a foundational fact of the show that the only reason they aren’t happily making little Livs and Majors now is because Liv is a zombie. Surely, this Chaos Killer business will get sorted out somehow, and then I expect Major and Liv to be interested in each other again, which makes Drake’s place on the show a little tenuous. I only hope he doesn’t go the way of poor Lowell.

With three episodes left in the season, there’s still a good amount of very tangled story left to unravel, but this episode has made some real headway in getting things set up for a wild ride of a season finale.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • It’s good to get an update on zombie Rita, though I was hoping for something a little bigger from that development.
  • I know I complained about the stereotyping of the dancers, but “Helvetica” was a legitimately surprising and funny stripper name.
  • “Does he remember that he’s a dick?”


iZombie: “He Blinded Me… With Science” is full of almost-revelations

I’m pretty sure I had a permanent look of delight on my face throughout this entire episode, which managed to squeeze an enormous amount of story into its 43 minutes—including a ton of set up for the final four episodes of the season, which I can already tell are going to be a wild ride. “He Blinded Me… With Science” might be my favorite episode of this show to date, to be honest; it’s certainly the best episode of this season, and it included some of everything I love about iZombie except for Peyton. There was even a somewhat minimal amount of Major this week and signs that all of Major’s chickens will be coming home to roost very soon. Of course, it looks like everyone’s chickens are coming home to roost, so it’s not exactly like Major is exceptional in this. There’s just a bonkers amount of plot this week, with an equally bonkers amount of character work, all leavened with liberal amounts of wry humor.

This episode is dominated by its villains, however. Both Blaine and Vaughn get significant amounts of screen time and some big developments in their respective plots. After an excellent cold open that introduces Liv’s case of the week and contains more than one great Ravi line, Liv leaves with Clive just in time for Blaine to show up covered in dirt and wrapped in a blanket. Blaine needs brains, clothes, and an Uber, all of which Ravi helps with, but not before delivering some more bad news about the progress—or lack thereof—on the zombie cure front. The rest of the episode sees Blaine dealing with this information and essentially making his final arrangements, from giving his henchmen the keys to the business to picking out a casket. Ravi does come up with another untested version of a possible cure that he gives to Blaine, and our final shot of Blaine this week is him injecting himself with it.

Vaughn, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly erratic and crazed under the influence of copious amounts of his own energy drinks. This episode sees him try to attack Major after giving a positively manic speech in which Major learns that Rita is Vaughn’s daughter. Vaughn manages to mostly keep it together when he’s interviewed by Clive and Liv about their dead woman, and he’s even more or less normal when he catches a disguised Liv snooping around Max Rager’s labs later on. However, things get weird when Vaughn and Gilda are down in the not-technically-secret basement after hours. Vaughn harasses one of their zombie test subjects until she breaks free, kills a scientist, and then comes for Vaughn and Rita. Vaughn manages to escape, but only by abandoning Rita to her fate. When his daughter manages to fight her way free of the zombie, Vaughn has locked himself in his office and refuses to let her in. He’s clearly shaken by this experience, but it’s pretty much impossible to feel bad for him. Rita, of course, is slightly more sympathetic here, but I’m much more excited to hurry on to next week or whenever we find out what zombie Rita is going to be like.

Liv actually has a lot going on herself this week, but she almost fades into the background in the face of all the Blaine and Vaughn stuff which is much more interesting than the case of the week. Still, the case—with a twin twist!—isn’t bad, and it leads Liv much closer to figuring a whole lot of things out. I don’t love her slightly creepy stalking of Drake, though. Liv’s love life has been a common thing for the show to explore this season, and the show always seems to tie her bad relationship behavior to the brains she eats, but at some point I feel like we have to start to accept that Liv just isn’t great with relationships. The thing is, I would be fine with that just as a part of Liv being a complex and flawed character, but the show seems to want to play this stuff for laughs and consistently shifts all responsibility away from Liv instead of really examining how kind of messed up Liv’s trust issues are and how they are negatively impacting her life, which could be really compelling if the writers would spend some time on it.

Overall, though, “He Blinded Me… With Science” is a top notch hour of television that leaves things nicely set up for the rest of the season. The show is juggling an awful lot of stories right now, but it’s managing, and we’re seeing all of iZombie’s scattered threads starting to converge. Next week, Peyton is back and I expect that we’ll see even more connections made and possibly even a couple of things made clear after this week’s string of near-revelations. I can’t wait.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Loved Blaine and Liv on the same brains.
  • “In case you haven’t noticed, our popular culture is quite inundated with zombies.”
  • I wish we could have seen Rita fight off that zombie using just her high heel.
  • Could have used more of Stacey Boss, but what little we got was very good.

iZombie: “Eternal Sunshine of the Caffeinated Mind” takes some very dark turns

“Eternal Sunshine of the Caffeinated Mind” has the best case of the week so far this season, which is good because it’s able to carry an otherwise overstuffed and scattered-feeling episode. It’s not a bad episode. In fact, it’s quite good. It’s just that there’s an enormous amount of story here and several big developments, not all of which are satisfactorily resolved by the end of the hour. What’s most interesting about this episode, though, is how overall dark it is. It’s not uncommon for a comedic case of the week to lighten up the show, but this week’s case is as grim as anything else in the episode.

This was a week for adventurous camera work, which is neat. iZombie has always been a show with a distinctive visual style, and it’s good to see it trying some new things. The murder that kicks off the case of the week happens outside a coffee shop, and it’s filmed from inside where we can just see the air conditioner drop like an anvil on top of Leslie when she walks outside to see some chalk art. Later, while Clive and Liv are investigating the murder, the discovery of a clue is filmed from inside a toilet, which is another very cool shot, subtly funny (because toilet) but not too clever and not silly, either.

For most of this season, the cases of the week have seemed to fade into the background while Liv dealt with other things going on in her rather hectic life, but this episode finds Liv pretty much fully engaged in an actual investigation, and most of her time (until about the last five minutes of the episode) is spent actually working on solving the mystery. It’s the most she’s interacted one on one with Clive in ages, and I’d forgotten how much I love them together. They’re complemented in “Eternal Sunshine” by a great guest cast that includes Kacey Rohl (Hannibal and The Magicians) as the daughter of the murdered woman and Oscar Nunez (The Office) as Leslie’s ex and the owner of a much grumpier coffee shop across the street from Positivity. The only black mark on this little saga is that one of the first persons of interest in the case is Pam, Liv’s cellmate from her brief stint in jail earlier this season. Sadly, Pam is still basically a borderline racist caricature who is used primarily for comic relief in a way that is just uncomfortable to watch now as it was a few months ago.

The actual murder mystery, as it unravels, isn’t particularly complex, but that’s a good thing. What’s really important about it is the way it supports the thematic tone of the rest of the episode and seems to foreshadow darker times ahead for Liv and company. Liv and Clive are a great team, but sometimes the bad guy gets away—or, in this case, gets her boyfriend to take the fall for her. This case of the week isn’t breaking any new ground or upending any expectations, but it’s a good piece of solid storytelling, and it’s one of the most compelling cases Liv has worked on in a while and it just manages to hold together the rest of this episode which works at varying degrees of less well than the murder mystery.

Blaine is making good on his agreement to pay back Stacey Boss the eighty grand Boss said he owes, but things change when Boss’s henchman remembers Blaine’s old nickname, “Chinatown”—and more importantly, how Blaine earned that moniker. Boss is understandably furious and decides to take Blaine out once and for all, which ends with Blaine’s throat slit and his lifeless body buried in a shallow grave. Of course, this isn’t the end of Blaine, who has been exhibiting zombie symptoms for a little while now, and we don’t even have to wait until next week to see Blaine burst from the ground and terrify a group of birdwatching girl scouts. I can’t wait to see Boss’s face when he finds out Blaine is still alive.

Meanwhile, Drake turns out to be an undercover cop, which is something I did not see coming. On the one hand, I’m happy to know that Liv’s new love interest isn’t really one of the bad guys. On the other hand, I’m now concerned that he’s going to end up going the way of Lowell—especially in light of Major’s continued presence (and newfound commitment to honesty) in Liv’s life. I also hate that so much of the episode was spent dealing with Drake stuff. This could have been about a two-minute-long reveal, but instead it was dragged out over much longer than that, and several scenes. It’s not the worst use of time this show has ever exhibited, and I’ve seen a lot of folks excited because Drake’s handler is played by the guy who I guess played the dad on Veronica Mars. Having never gotten into that show, though, I didn’t even make that connection until I read it elsewhere, and I still can’t bring myself to care enough about it to make it worth all the screen time this stuff was given.

The penultimate scene of the episode starts with Major showing up at Liv’s place with the intention of telling her all about the Max Rager and Chaos Killer stuff, but he bails when Gilda/Rita shows up—but not before calling her Rita, which tips Liv off to her roommate’s identity. Although Liv doesn’t know about Rita’s relationship to Vaughn Du Clark, yet, it’s still a small catharsis to see Liv punch Rita in the face and kick her out of the house. I’m not thrilled that this essentially amounts to them fighting over a boy, especially when that boy is Major, and especially when it had started to look like Liv might be moving on, but (and maybe, probably, I’m being overly optimistic) maybe this means that Peyton will move back in with Liv and we’ll get to see more of her in the future.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • “…the crown jewel of our empire…” Oh, Ravi, you beautiful man.
  • There was a piece of sidewalk in Leslie’s brain.
  • Gary Derryberry.
  • I love Don E.’s reaction when he sees Candy eating brains, but Candy’s reaction to his reaction is equally hilarious.
  • David Anders needs to sing more often on this show. Total sploosh.
  • Stacey Boss is a genuinely scary villain, and his D&D speech to Blaine was amazing.

iZombie: “The Whopper” continues the show’s trend towards generalized excellence

Since returning from the winter break, iZombie has managed to really hit its stride. It’s always been a good show, but the last few weeks it seems to have settled into a comfortably consistent excellence that makes it a joy to watch, but not a whole lot of fun to write about since all I want to do is incoherently and excitedly flail about how much I’m loving the show right now. I haven’t liked iZombie this much since the second half of season one, and it seems to only be getting better.

There’s no Peyton this week, which is a bummer, but there’s really no space for her in this slightly convoluted episode and I’d rather do without her than have her shoehorned in when so much else is going on. Likewise absent are Vaughn and Gilda/Rita, but with so much Blaine and Boss drama happening I didn’t miss Max Rager drama.

Of course, it helps that all of the show’s villains are getting increasingly and more entertainingly intertwined every week. In “The Whopper,” Liv is investigating a murder that has occurred almost at the intersection of all the show’s various villainous schemes. Meanwhile, Blaine’s henchmen have captured Major, who let’s Blaine in on what the “Chaos Killer” is up to, though he doesn’t tell Blaine that he’s working for Vaughn Du Clark. While that’s going on, Stacey Boss is busy promoting Liv’s new boyfriend, Drake, from henchman to hitman.

It’s a solid episode, with a lot of laughs in spite of dealing with some fairly serious material and including a lot of setup for what is being built up to be a major three- or four-way conflict by the end of the season. All the show’s significant players—Liv and company, Blaine, Stacey Boss, Vaughn Du Clark, and the FBI—are getting steadily closer to figuring out how they’re all connected, and it’s obvious that shit is going to get real very soon. The only question is who is going to put all the pieces together first.

I can’t wait.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I loved everything about the scene with the girl they brought in to identify that two-month-old corpse.
  • Blaine’s henchmen are the best. They have such a fun dynamic, and I could watch a whole show just about them.
  • I was glad to see Clive finally point out Liv’s dramatic personality shifts. It’s about time.
  • RIP New Hope.
  • This show has some of the greatest musical choices. That last number was perfect from start to finish.

iZombie: “Physician, Heal Thy Selfie” is the best episode of the season so far

“Physician, Heal Thy Selfie” is by far my favorite episode of season two, and maybe of the show so far. There’s just so much great stuff going on here, with Peyton playing a big role, Blaine in the same room as Stacey Boss, more Vaughn Du Clark, and basically all the story lines being tied together in a big way. While I generally enjoy iZombie, it’s been a while since the show has had an episode that is this close to perfect.

This episode gives Peyton so much screen time, you guys. It’s the first time that she’s felt this much like an integral part of the show, and I wish we could get this much of her more often. One of the episode’s best scenes is when Peyton and Liv confront Blaine together, and it’s a display of solidarity between the two women that does more make their friendship feel real than a season and a half of verbally being told that they are best friends. Peyton’s scenes with Ravi are also wonderful, and should give Peyton/Ravi shippers plenty to fantasize about this week.

It’s a great week for villains, and all of the show’s baddies get things to do. Major is dealing with Vaughn, who uses his time this week to reassert his dominance over Major when he finds out that Major hasn’t been as diligent in his zombie-killing as Vaughn wants. This is the one story line this week that still seems somewhat disconnected from the rest of the show’s events, but the scenes work well enough on their own that they don’t need to be particularly tied to everything else just yet.

Meanwhile, Blaine has bigger problems than Peyton not wanting to bang him again. When Blaine’s funeral home is handling the funeral for Stacey Boss’s nephew, Boss realizes that Blaine is still alive and takes some time to calculate the interest on Blaine’s debts. Fortunately for Blaine, Boss hasn’t realized yet that Blaine is the new major drug dealer in town—although Liv does by the end of the episode. In any case, Stacey Boss and Blaine in the same room together is one of the best things that could have happened on this show, and it’s everything I imagined it would be.

The case of the week in this episode is used really cleverly, and it’s good to see the show mixing things up a little in the way it handles Liv’s brain-eating. Three headless bodies means that the brain Liv eats this week has nothing to do with the case, but she still has to deal with having some of the personality traits of a social media-crazed Millenial. I only wish that the few jokes that this generates were as clever as the general idea of showing that Liv has skills that can help her solve cases even without the unfair advantage she gets by eating the brains of murder victims. I might have chuckled a little when Liv Instagrammed her sushi (#BrainFood!), but the concept quickly wore thin.

After a lot of episodes this season that seemed dedicated to pushing all of the characters and stories farther apart from each other, I’m happy to see things coming back together. I won’t say that a resolution to anything is in sight, but after this week I do feel like everyone is in the same story instead of in two or three different ones.

Great lines in this episode:

  • “Looks like a no brainer to me.”
  • “The violent soundscape of nature is making my ears bleed.”
  • “Like Starbucks. Or the eye of Sauron.”

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Not really related to this episode, but I love that viewers were so concerned about Minor.
  • Speaking of Starbucks, it was pointed out in The Mary Sue’s episode recap that Liv is somehow getting pumpkin spice lattes in February, and now it’s really bothering me.
  • I hope that Peyton moving into her own place again doesn’t mean she’s going to disappear for another extended period of time.
  • I had almost forgotten that Gilda/Rita was still Liv’s roommate. I would have been fine, though, if the show had just quietly retconned this so that Peyton could move in with Liv.

iZombie: “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter” could have been great, but wasn’t

iZombie is an almost frustratingly consistent show, and this second season has been one long line of good-but-not-great episodes. With the magnificently titled “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter,” we can add another one to that pile.

This week’s murder victim is an actual sexy librarian, murdered practically on the eve of the publication of her first novel—a delightful piece of erotica about a sexually adventurous flight attendant titled Upright Position. As much as I love everything about this premise, I was terribly disappointed to find that the show had wasted Kristen Bell’s “cameo” on having her read the Upright Position audiobook. This is somewhat redeemed by having Kristen Bell read the phrase, “I’m going to show you why it’s called the cock pit,” but still. Considering how much the show was using this as a promotional tactic, it was kind of a letdown.

As with most of season two’s murder mysteries, this one takes a decided back seat to the show’s overarching storyline, and the murdered woman, whose name actually completely escapes me, she was so irrelevant, is much less interesting than literally everything else that happens this week. This isn’t helped in the end by the revelation that the husband did it. Because of course he did. Frankly, there’s so much else going on that I barely even noticed.

The biggest news of the week is that Peyton was back, still working on building her case against Stacey Boss, still depending on Blaine as her primary source of information. This gets complicated when she decides, for some reason, to sleep with him, and then it’s even more complicated as Clive and Dale make a move to arrest Blaine as a suspect in the recent spate of high profile murders in town. Peyton manages to get Blaine off the hook for that stuff only to find out via Liv that Blaine really is a pretty villainous character. This is surprisingly devastating stuff to watch, considering how little of Peyton we’ve seen this season. I never know how much to care about her, since she floats in and out of the narrative pretty randomly and never stays for long.

Elsewhere, Major has to dump Minor to avoid being caught because of the dog’s gps tracking implant—which isn’t an implant at all, so he gives the dog up for no reason. My only hope is that at some point Ravi is going to realize how increasingly bizarre Major’s behavior has gotten and figure things out.

Now that I’m actually breaking things down, I’m forced to admit that not a whole lot actually happened this week. The sexy librarian brain led to a couple of funny interactions, and it was nice to see Peyton back. Liv and Peyton both get laid, but then they’re both sad about it, and Liv doesn’t even know yet that her new boy toy is working for Stacey Boss. There’s no progress on the zombie cure front, and we don’t get to see Gilda/Rita or Vaughn du Clark.

Still, it’s a solidly entertaining hour that does a lot of what iZombie does best. Namely, coming up with truly clever puns and keeping all its characters mostly miserable. We’re now halfway through the season, though. It would be nice to see a little more forward movement in all of the show’s plots.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Dale and Clive are very cute together. I’m glad they’re happy.
  • Whatever happened to Liv’s mother and brother? Are they just gone forever now?
  • Liv’s sex life, or lack thereof, has been a recurring theme this season, but it never does manage to be really fully examined. In that way, this episode felt like a huge missed opportunity with it’s very shallow messaging.