Z Nation, Season 1, Episode 8: “Zunami”
Written by John Hyams
Directed by Jennifer Derwingson
Airs Fridays at 10pm EST on Syfy
There is always room to play with clichés in zombie features. If the choice is deliberate, using clichés can act as a good-humoured nod between the filmmakers and the audience, because there is an understanding that what is occurring is passé or predictable and instead of trying to pass it off as original, the film or series celebrates the fact that it is overused and has some fun with it. With that being said, there is a very fine line between using a cliché as a clever and knowing jab, and tired and lazy writing that lacks self-awareness. The latter unfortunately occurs in Z Nation’s latest installment, “Zunami”, which is even more disappointing, because the show is otherwise laden with originality.
The group of survivors face yet another road block along the way during their mission to California. Strong winds, bad weather, and even worse luck have combined to create a literal tidal wave of zombies, making the monsters even more dangerous than they were before, because hundreds of them are hurtling towards the ground. The gang hides in a morgue, but it slowly becomes more and more overrun by zombies. They take drastic measures to survive, including putting their trust in Murphy, because in spite of how historically unreliable he is, he is also the only one who can walk past the undead without getting attacked. Meanwhile, Citizen Z receives a visit from an astronaut named Yuri and their encounter goes from weird to life-threatening after a couple of drinks.
Although the premise that a tsunami of zombies has struck the path of the survivors is funny and suits the sensational universe that Z Nation dwells within, the sub-plot with Citizen Z weakens the overall episode. It succumbs to easily expected twists and has glaring foreshadowing that hits the viewer over the head with what is clearly to come. This is an episode that will have audiences figuring out the ending within a few minutes, which is greatly disengaging, because there is no promise of an astonishing conclusion. Instead, it becomes a forty-five minute wait for everything to wrap up. The unsurprising arc with Citizen Z is made all the more disappointing by the episode seeming as though it is trying to be serious and dramatic, which is not something that frequently occurs on Z Nation. The entire universe is loud and cheesy, and although melodrama is certainly welcome, an immature plot twist that can be likened to “it was all a dream” is not.
In spite of the fragile script, this episode remains a great showcase for the skills of some of the main actors. DJ Qualls has consistently presented Citizen Z as eerily lonely yet redeemable, which is intensified in “Zunami” with the extreme conditions that he faces with his unexpected visitor. Also emerging as a standout is Kevin Allan, who plays Murphy, the man who is immune to the zombie virus. The character has subtly grown throughout the series, first being depicted as a relatively shady and untrustworthy man, but now showing the audience a dichotomy, where one half of him has an unsettling sociopathic gaze in the sight of gore, but the other half has a stable set of values with his new ‘family’. With Murphy’s arc primarily concerning his life-saving biological quirk, but being within the bounds of his occasionally despicable or cowardly actions, there is potential to present interesting dilemmas in the future. He has had multiple mental breakdowns or moments of fogginess and if or when he is finally brought to California and has to undergo the heroics that are to come, it is not unreasonable that he could break under the pressure. The writers have effectively created a cast of interesting and dynamic characters and if the future scripts can play on this strength and become more character-driven instead of concerning themselves with wobbly plots that do not really drive the overall story forward, Z Nation has the potential to become a really cohesive and smart show.