While you were still wondering who Negan bludgeoned with his somehow already-famous baseball bat on The Walking Dead, some of us die-hard zombie fans were watching Syfy’s Z Nationseason 3 premiere.
For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the show thus far, here’s the broad strokes:
Season one saw a team of rag-tag heroes in a zombie apocalypse fail to get a man to the CDC that survived being bitten thanks to an experimental vaccine. Season two saw most of the same rag-tag heroes succeed in getting said man to the CDC in California, which was actually a nuclear submarine. There, they’re told of an island in Hawaii in which civilization’s top scientists and businessmen built a utopia to restart the human race called Zona. Yatta, yatta, yatta, the vaccinated man, Murphy (Keith Allan), uses his newly-acquired powers of mind control to sink the sub and capture its lead scientist and captain. Meanwhile, the rag-tag heroes are accosted by a military faction of unknown Asian-descent. BOOM, you’re caught up!
May I be the first to welcome you to Z Nation Season 3.
The Season two finale ended with so many cliffhangers and threads to pull that the showrunners were clearly daunted by the prospect of getting into them. Really, the two-hour season premiere didn’t even try. Instead, it opted for a flashback episode that chronologically takes place in the middle of season two. We know that because Cassandra (Pisay Pao) is alive and well.
We open on a new villain with absolutely no hair. From here on out, we’ll refer to him as Evil Mr. Clean. Evil Mr. Clean has seven captives and he confronts a colony of survivors taking refuge in an abandoned pharmaceutical factory. He needs a Dr. Teller to reveal himself as he’s the last name on his list of people to capture. He threatens all of the survivor’s personal safety and kidnaps a boy to use as collateral. It’s at this point that, despite the lack of zombies, I found myself thinking of this as a grittier and more-brutal version of the campy Syfy series than I’m used to.
Eventually, the kid escapes the trunk, because everyone knows that trunks are actually really easy to escape, and rushes headlong into the wilderness where he encounters our intrepid gang of heroes: Warren (Kellita Smith), Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), 10K (Nat Zang), Addy (Anastasia Baranova) and Cassandra. They battle a horde of Zs over a pretty badass wild-west-themed opening credits and rescue the child.
Obviously, their good-guy instincts kick in and they agree to help. With Warren at the helm, the stage was set for a battle… Then the show spun its wheels for about a half hour with typical Z Nation nonsense. The peak ‘what the hell’ moment came when the zombified Cassandra breast fed Murphy’s hybrid zombie baby. There’s a lot going on folks.
There was a lot of posturing and back and forth between Evil Mr. Clean and Warren, with another failed kidnapping thrown into the mix. It’s revealed that the bad men are with Zona. Eventually the rubber met the road in a big battle sequence that sees Evil Mr. Clean, who the show wants us to refer to as “The Man,” but I’m not over my bit yet, attack. Although the episode opened with some gritty realism, the fight wasn’t necessarily steeped in reality. However, this led to some pretty interesting set pieces such as a handful of zombies on a leash that had steel plates bolted to their heads. As Doc eloquently says:
“They’re mercy proof? That’s not fair.”
It was cool to watch, but a mental step backwards allows us to realize that zombies with steel over their mouths are essentially just non-dangerous invaders of personal space. Still, if that action sequence didn’t unlock the place where you keep your sense of fun, there’s just no hope for you.
However, it does reveal a larger problem with this show. It obviously isn’t interested in making a show that takes itself too seriously. That means when it does make an attempt at something innovative in the long-tired zombie genre, it’s done with an underlying layer of irony that just gets in its own way. I really believe that this could be a good action/drama if it just abandoned it’s lame-brained attempts at humor (like that pun). If you want to show zombies’ heads getting blown off, I’ll watch. You don’t also need to go up your own backside with “Sharknado-esque,” in-on-its-own-joke-so-you-can’t-make-fun-of-it camp.
The end result of the chaos was that Evil Mr. Clean won. He captured Dr. Teller in the battle and managed to kill everyone that wasn’t a main character. He takes them via helicopter that he apparently had the whole time to Zona. Because of its format, it’s hard to feel like this episode was really a season three premiere, despite its two-hour runtime. Season two dropped some pretty big cliffhangers that this episode made no attempt to answer and, other than revealing that Zona actually is full of bad guys, nothing else came from it. Plot-wise, it was a two-hour waste of time. We even knew which characters would make it out alive. Sure, we met a handful of new friends, but they’re already dead so why bother? I have a feeling we’re not done with The Man (bit over), but I don’t quite care about any arc having to do with him just yet.
Obviously if you’ve stuck with Z Nation this far, you’re not about to stop just because the premiere didn’t answer our lingering questions. After all – there’s always next week.