This Z Nation review contains spoilers.
Z Nation Season 3 Episode 4
Here we are at Season 3, episode 4 of Syfy’s Z Nation and already it’s clear that the high-concept zombie series is having a bit of trouble getting up and running for a third time. After an impressive TV movie and a stage-setting premiere, “Escorpion and the Red Hand” was the second low-stakes, yet perplexing, adventure for the members of Operation Bite Mark.
The episode opens with our intrepid heroes discovering a group of zombies hanging from an overpass having been gutted. Someone has written “Thieves” on the wall and tagged the area with their calling card, a blotch of spray paint with the outline of a human hand in the middle. Some of the thieves friends arrive on the scene to cut their allies down and explain that the mysterious Red Hand faction – yes, we’re dealing with yet another post apocalyptic faction – is led by someone calling him or herself Escorpion. Fans will note that this happens to be the former alias of the group’s new member.
Escorpion (A.K.A. Hector), played by Emilio Rivera, was introduced to us as a principal villain of Season 2. He was the main muscle for the Zeros drug cartel that was bent on distributing the cure through… Santa Muerte? It was never quite clear. He was initially established as the antagonist to Vasquez (Matt Cedeño), the former DEA agent who boned out into the woods immediately after the big finale battle. It turns out that Escorpion, in addition to being an assassin, person who tortures innocent people and all around bad guy, was also responsible for the brutal murder of Vasquez’s wife and young daughter.
Vasquez beat the ever loving hell out of him in the penultimate episode, only for him to return without bruises or bites at the eleventh hour in the finale to save them all. Without even batting an eyelash, Warren (Kellita Smith) accepted him into the gang as their newest member. Tonight’s episode sought to justify that decision… Just to be clear, the decision in question was whether or not to let a child murderer sulk around with them for the rest of his life talking about how the past he gave up two days ago haunts him.
So how did they do? Poorly.
The group gets cornered in a warehouse area by The Red Hand, who never actually show their faces, but make a lot of noise outside to attract Zs to the location. While garrisoned inside, the two thieves who they met on the road slowly put together the fact that Escorpion is the man supposedly leading The Red Hand. We as the audience know it’s not Hector, because he’s been sulking around this whole time. So, it’s someone using his name. Sounds like a great mystery, but apparently we’ll have to wait until later to figure it out as, after Hector has his “good guy moment,” which still ends in the death of the thieves, The Red Hand just vanishes for literally no reason.
Warren explains that, despite his past, she needs a killer around her. She tells him that he is in a fortunate position to use the skills that made him a brutal monster to help get a vaccine together and save the world. It was the best pro child murderer speech I’ve ever heard, but it was still a pretty tough pill to swallow. They’re going to have to sleep at night with a man who has definitely dismembered people for pleasure – not to mention the obvious rage issue that’s been hinted at every time he gets his hands on a zombie.
So, while Warren was being stupid, Murphy (Keith Allan) was actually driving the plot forward.. When last we left him, he’d become the Messiah for the people in Spokane, where he planned to build his army of mind-control zombie/human “blends.” He plans to use Dr. Merch (Lisa Coronado) to synthesize a cure that will allow him to rule the world, but it turns out she has other plans.
In secret, she’s developed a vaccine that will make her immune to Murphy’s powers. She gives it to 10K (Nat Zang) who was revealed last week to be one of Murphy’s bite victims. Temporarily free of his control, they hatch a scheme to take off with the research in the night while Murphy is none the wiser. However, it turns out that when the blue man leans into becoming a villain, he leans hard.
Listen, I’m aware that the mind-control through-line of this series is its most ridiculous part, but I have to say I’m captivated by it this season. Yes, I want to see a show about people fighting off the zombie apocalypse, but if this episode’s focus on Escorpion and this new faction are any indication of what it’s capable of showing in that regard, I can only say “woof.” If the mind control aspect is our Trojan horse into dealing with the moral implications of life after the end of the world, I’m in for now.
10K goes to Dr. Merch to escape, but it is revealed that Murphy had caught on to the plan and bitten her again. He attempts to inject 10K with something that would put him back under his control, so the young sniper leaps out of a window and takes off into the woods. He looks pale and sickly, but when it comes time to take on one of Murphy’s henchmen, he proves he’s still able to throw down. For real, is there anything that looks more painful on TV than a swift punch to the throat? I’ve always been a fan of 10K, I think his dry wit and methodical approach to efficiently exterminating zombies makes him both interesting and badass. As a result, I’m not in love with messing with his character any more.
The chase ends with 10K jumping into the mighty Spokane River, placing yet another question mark over his alive or dead status. Is it possible for him to have survived? If so, is he going to try to reconnect with Operation Bite Mark or go head first after Murphy? It’s becoming more and more clear that the show can’t continue with both of them alive and I’m starting to worry that if it has to pick between someone with as much plot armor as Murphy and a character that’s now as broken as 10K, we might never see him reach his coveted zombie kill number.
The episode finishes on a grim note as Dr. Merch, in a final desperate attempt to be out of Murphy’s control, walks herself into a crowd of zombies, forcing Murphy to watch his last and only hope at making a cure out of his blood be savagely picked apart. Where do we go from here?