This Z Nation review contains spoilers.
Z Nation Season 3 Episode 6
Say what you want about the campy Syfy series Z Nation, it’s having more fun with the zombie apocalypse trope than anyone else in the business. The show has put the zombie spin on nuclear disasters, aliens, postal workers, corporate retreats and the military surprisingly well, albeit with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek mentality. The latest episode, “Doc Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” added another creative zombie setting to the list, a mental institution.
Before we dive deep into the crazy’s craziness, some set building. Last week’s episode was an emotional romp that focused heavily on 10K (Nat Zang) escaping Murphy’s control and fighting his way to safety. It took everything he had physically, and we were all a little worried about him since his usual allies in Operation Bite Mark believed him to be dead. That is, with the exception of Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), who always has faith in the kid’s ability to survive the impossible.
Perhaps it’s this character’s faith in the impossible that made him the perfect candidate for a standalone episode. While Doc was relieving himself behind a tree, the one good perk about the world being over, he gets separated from his group. He’s calling out for them when he’s come upon by an Elvis impersonator – if that sentence seemed like it took an abrupt turn, we’re just getting started.
Doc gets knocked out and finds himself in the zombie version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He wakes up in a circle of a bunch of stereotypical crazy people that are being “treated” by a nurse that seems like she’s not necessarily her med school’s finest example of a caretaker. She welcomes him to Serenity Falls Institution for the Criminally Insane, where patients have run and operated the place since 1905. So, maybe she’s not a nurse? Frankly, that never becomes clear. What is clear is that her solution to everyone’s problems is simply to lobotomize them. Her next lobotomy is scheduled for a young man in a padded cell who she says they found muttering about blue people and a secret vaccine that protects him from mind control. That’s right, 10K and Doc are reunited, although the former is in really rough shape without his anti-Murphy (Keith Allen) booster shot.
The episode took a big risk here by putting its crazy characters in a room with people that were supposed to be more insane. However, it did two things right that made this bold juxtaposition work. First, it was a Doc-heavy episode rather than a team outing. It was previously established that Doc got by as a psychologist before Day 1. Hodgkinson has a way of playing the character like a hippie, but also as a man that cares. He talks to the insane people on their level without patronizing them, and they all seem to find a gentle calmness in their discourse with him. It’s believable too. It’s the kind of moment that only a show like Z Nation is capable of showing, something surprisingly tender and warm in a setting that’s top-to-bottom loony.
The second boon this episode had going for it was the meta winks to how off the rails the series’ larger plot has become. Besides 10K being thrown in an asylum for his crazed banter, Doc, at one point, has to let the group know that he’s not lying. He lays things out plain and simple – he and 10K are part of a secret mission to get a blue man named Murphy to the CDC because his blood contains the antibodies to cure the entire zombie apocalypse… Nothing crazy about that. Still, the patients, one of whom legitimately believes he’s the King of Rock’n’Roll, laugh him out of the room.
If you’re not able to let out a genuine laugh at a show being that in on its own joke, then you should probably be watching the news instead of Syfy, it’s usually Channel 5 on your remote, Godspeed.
Obviously, since this is Z Nation, the hospital was eventually overrun. This forced Doc to lead the pack of crazies outside to a bus that was meant to act as their escape route. That was, of course, after they killed the lobotomy-happy nurse, who was about to send a really big needle into Doc’s nose. Once outside, 10K collapses and Doc rounds everyone else onto the bus. When he goes back for his intrepid friend, the lunatics get confused and drive off without him. It was a tense moment, made all the more emotional by the fact that Doc discovered the bite Murphy left on 10K. It all hits him at once and he vows to track down Murphy, punch him in the face and develop a cure himself.
It’s no secret that Doc is the father-figure of this show. However, his groovy and carefree nature have made it hard to motivate him past simply wanting to keep safe his people that are already pretty good at keeping themselves safe. Seeing his most beloved member of the flock injured by Murphy gave him some real motivation to mush on and be an active participant in the fight to stop Murphy and his new world order in Spokane, Washington. Like that, a wacky episode was surprisingly bookended with an heartbreaking scene that saw 10K beg his friend not to tell their cohorts about his bite. Even in his withdrawal-crazed state, he knows that it would be the height of embarrassment for them to look at him the way they did Cassandra, Murphy’s first zombie flygirl.
So here we are, at the end of a fun, albeit low-stakes, episode of Z Nation with an important cog in the machine, Doc, spoiling for a fight. It’s unclear if the big showdown that’s being foreshadowed between Operation Bite Mark and Murphy will come to a head early in the season, but if the plan is to host a bunch of self-contained episodes like this that result in our heroes getting bought into the conflict, I’m happy to tune in next week.