iZombie: Brother, Can You Spare a Brain? Review

iZombie improves on its pilot with a more complex (and comic) exploration of Liv's zombie identity...

While iZombie’s first episode suffered from over-exposition, its second installment — “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?” — was charming, thematically-cohesive, and much more organic (no brain pun intended). Much of this had to do with the exploration of what it means to be a zombie — both for Liv (Rose Mciver) personally and for any zombie logistically within this fictional world. 

That larger context was explored through the introduction of a second zombie character: Blaine (played by Alias’ David Anders). Though we briefly saw Blaine in the pilot — he was the zombie who turned Liv into a zombie during the booze cruise from hell — he gets actual plot here, filled with clever dialogue and smarmy charm. Blaine is still something of a mystery. He claims to want to change his skeezebag ways, but is seen knowingly turning yet another woman into a zombie just so he can charge her exorbitant prices for brains. He plays nice with Liv, exchanging suggestions on zombie terminology and lamenting the loneliness of death, but later kills without remorse. (Sure, the victims in question are drug dealers trying to strong-arm him back into the drug-dealing business, but still.)

The logistics of zombie-dom are further explored in Liv’s latest turn as a fake-psychic, helping Detective Babineaux to solve the murders of the people’s brains she’s eating. iZombie is doing something smart with its crime procedural components in not trying to make the murder plots about shocking the viewer, but rather about developing character. We don’t see Babineaux find some of the key clues in this crime, but we do get to see him work hard, demonstrate his intuition, and punch out the creeper who comes after Liv. (Something Liv first does herself while in full-on zombie mode.)

For Liv, the crime-solving builds character in the sense that she cares enough to hunt down these killers, but — more subtly — in the way we see her try on the personas of the people whose brains she’s eating. For me, this aspect has the potential to be the most interesting part of the show. This week, it is used for both comic effect as Liv, having taken on the victim’s lust for life (and hot people), makes heart-eyes at all of the attractive people she and Babineaux question. But it is also used for more dramatic effect as a way to Liv reflect on her pre-zombie life. In the pilot, we got the impression that Liv’s transition into a zombie was completely a negative one. This week, Liv reflects on the appreciation of beauty and life her latest snack has imbued her with. She doesn’t want to let it go, and there’s something tragic, but hopeful about that.

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I can’t help but keep seeing iZombie as a Millennial fairy tale of sorts. Liv ends the episode with an introspective voiceover musing on the importance of a life that balances passion and reason. In her pre-zombie life, she was all about the latter, “building a resume for a life I’d never have.” Now, she wants to be remembered for “something more than impressive report cards.” Interestingly, she doesn’t see her zombie-ism as an obstacle to that path. Though it may screw up her love life, it has also given her the chance to reflect: “There were parts of me that were dead even before I became a zombie. So maybe that means it’s possible for parts of me to spring to life, even now that I’m dead.”

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4 out of 5