Warning: Thar Be Spoilers
Let’s all give it up for Z Nation with a nice, meaty slow-clap, shall we? In the words of any kid who thought they were cool circa 1997: Dag, son. Remember all that meticulous set up in episode one? Where we thought we were seeing the arc of the season laid out for us? You know, bounty hunters chasing the gang along with zombies? Mack and Addy reconnecting? Murphy creating his own zombie army? Yeah. I was wrong about all of that, and never have I been so completely stoked to have a show make me the Charlie Brown to its’ Lucy with the football.
It’s a tricky thing, tone. Z Nation’s blend of grit, camp, and wit is something special, something (as I’ve said before) that distinguishes it from the pack, or should I say horde? The most striking thing about this episode is how a show known for its bizarre and extreme zombie deaths (death by stripper pole, anyone?) can dedicate an episode to the fragility of human life with such success. There weren’t any super-hilarious and gory zombie deaths this week. That’s because the real death, one of a central character who has become beloved over a season and an episode, would have lost weight juxtaposed against such — comparatively speaking — light-hearted slaughter.
Oblivious viewer that I am, I was fully prepared to write a review centered around each of the central cast’s near-death experiences. “What a cool device,” I would have written. “What a great and striking reminder of the stakes, to be given this glimpse into their minds and hearts at a moment when they think all is lost.” I would have been right. But I also would have been a dodo for not also adding that these peeks, mere seconds, into the pasts of our heroes was also some of the best foreshadowing I’ve ever seen on television. The stage for a massive loss was set: I just wasn’t ready for it. WAY TO MIMIC REAL LIFE, SCIENCE FICTION TELEVISION SHOW.
So here is where I talk about losing Mack. Because that happened. Much like ending the run of a successful series, it is almost impossible to kill off a character well. That’s because if you’re doing your job right from go, we won’t ever find your reasons for taking them from us sufficient. Z Nation handled Mack’s death by zombie with grace, almost tenderly. They return Mack and Addy to each other, they dangle this carrot of possibility before us, and then Mack is gone, leaving Addy alone to mourn, grow, and change. What’s that, you say? A dynamic female journey portrayed on television?! Sign. Me. Up.
Will I pine for Michael Welch’s layered, kind, and earnest portrayal of Mack from week to week? Absolutely. But thankfully, the series’ continued success hinges upon the rest of the cast feeling his absence bitterly. Welch’s stellar work on the show guarantees that. It already has. In the episode’s final moments, even Murphy is brought low and allows his friends to put him in binds once more as they continue their journey.