Z Nation, Season 1, Episode 12, “Murphy’s Law”
Written by Michael Cassutt
Directed by Tim Andrew
Z Nation, Season 1, Episode 13, “Doctor of the Dead”
Written by John Hyams
Directed by John Hyams
Airs Fridays at 10pm EST on Syfy
Throughout the duration of Z Nation there have been some gaping flaws and shaky plot turns, and the culminating two episodes suffer because of this, despite being stronger installments in the series. We follow the survivors to the end of their journey, after narrowly escaping another group of foes in “Murphy’s Law”, to the government laboratory where Murphy’s antidotal blood was to be rendered into a vaccine to save the human race, and as to be expected, nothing goes according to plan. It is immediately discovered that instead of a team of good-natured scientists awaiting them, there is a group of deranged mad men lead by the maniacal Dr. Kurian.
These final two episodes are excessive and sensational, which is exactly on par with what the tone of the show should be, but because the writing has been frequently weak throughout the course of the season, there is a lack of tension built up that makes the finale feel anticlimactic. It is because of the minimal foreshadowing and lack of an effective narrative structure that overall, the series feels rushed and inconsistent instead of being the fun, exploitative, and ridiculous show that it tries to be. After the finale, there are still several plot developments that remain either untouched or hastily fastened, such as Citizen Z’s fascination with Addy, Warren’s struggle with the death of Garnett, or confirmation of Mack’s fate. With so many turns in the story being left open, or closed in an unsatisfying manner, it remains difficult to feel bonded to Z Nation in any capacity. This hinders the success of “Murphy’s Law” and “Doctor of the Dead” because viewers begin these episodes with minimal emotional involvement or excitement for what’s to come.
The saving grace throughout the series has been its use of humour. Keith Allan’s depiction of the snarky but loveable Murphy gives multiple moments of honest laughter and in a series that is so laden in profound absurdity (re: Viagra), Z Nation’s flaws are made slightly forgivable because of its inherent silliness. Although the series can be aptly described as “zombies + punch-line,” the use of comedy does remain consistent throughout the entire series. It is outrageous occasionally, but it never becomes obnoxious or overbearing.
Another aspect worthy of kudos in Z Nation is its purposefully cheap visual and special effects. Using very minimal practical effects is normally a flaw in the horror genre, but here this adds to the schlocky tone that the series is trying to establish. In “Doctor of the Dead”, after the nuclear weaponry is deployed, there are multiple moments of obvious stock footage that look clunky and out of place, but like the science fiction B-pictures of the sixties, instead of taking the viewer out of the experience, this is charming and funny. Z Nation makes no attempts or promises to be an example of stunning CGI or special effects, but it works perfectly with the universe that the narrative exists in. Everything should be ludicrous, cheap, and exploitative looking or else the series would appear as yet another unremarkable addition to the zombie sub-genre instead of identifiable and unique.
“Murphy’s Law” and “Doctor of the Dead” are two of the few examples of episodes throughout this series that feel cohesive with each other. They are both Murphy driven episodes (mainly because of the fact that they have to be, as he is the main plot device in the show), and work towards an ending which puts the government’s questionable decisions on display. If the show’s creators had put Murphy on an antihero-esque pedestal while keeping the other survivors as secondary characters with as much attention as secondary characters are regularly given, it could have been a much stronger first season. These two episodes solidify this, primarily focusing on our antidotal anti-hero and how the situation affects him. This makes these episodes feel more on target and less like the writers are floundering in trying to expand too many plots or character arcs.
Although season one is laden with great moments (lest we ever forget the zombie bear), its flaws became too gaping and the continual shifting attention in the large cast of characters greatly hindered it in the end. If the show’s creators can manage to make a tighter and more focussed second season, Z Nation has grounds for enormous potential. By using the fact that it does not attempt to be a regurgitation of any zombie story in the past, and harnessing the strengths in use of humour and consistently enjoyable characters that are easy to root for, the show could be one of the better series’ currently on television, but if it remains as inconsistent as it did this season, it will only barely be worth returning to.