Spoiler alert: This gives a brief overview of Z Nation’s first season. If you haven’t seen it yet and prefer your surprises fresh, watch it now. Seasons one and two are on Netflix.
The Z Nation writers’ room must so much damn fun.
By now, I’m more than halfway through season two of Z Nation, the SyFy Channel’s ode to zombie lore in the form of a batshit-crazy TV series. The show started on a semi-serious note in the first season (2014), when a convict named Murphy says fuck you to his bite-rite as the savior of humanity — he’s the only human to survive a zombie bite during a zombie apocalypse — and sets off the U.S. government’s atomic failsafe warheads while escaping CDC headquarters after a small, scrappy band of zombie-apocalypse misfits spent 11.5 episodes transporting his ass from New York to Fort Collins, Colorado in hopes that his blood can be tapped for a vaccine. Did I mention that Murphy was part of a CDC prisoner experiment just months after the outbreak, and so he’s none too happy about those douchebag federal scientists prodding and poking his decaying, bluish skin after four years of roaming the apocalypse? Just let a Christ figure chill, man.
Back to the writers’ room. First off, those horrorshow deviants came up with an entire season of zombie apocalypse storytelling meets dark savior tale that’s part ode to George A. Romero, part ripoff of The Walking Dead, part counterpoint to Zombieland and, somehow, more inventive and frustrating than all three. In the grand canon of zombie lore, Z Nation is oddly familiar but just different enough to be entertaining as hell. In the first season alone we get zombie stoners, zombie bears, zombie boners (yep), outhouse zombies, a zombie tornado and something known as a “Zunami,” the name of Ep. 8. It’s like they start each writing session with a question — “What kind of zombie haven’t we seen yet?” — and then write an episode to answer it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and the writers can’t hit an emotional note to save their lives, but more often than not I tagged along for the ride. Fucking zunamis are a force of unholy nature.
Who knows what happened behind the scenes after season one, but apparently Z Nation was entertaining enough to get a second season (and most recently a third, which premiered this fall). In the final episode of the first season, just after Murphy set off the nuclear apocalypse, the writers left us with a close-up of Citizen Z, the NSA agent played by none other than pro goofball DJ Qualls (good ol’ Kyle from Road Trip), as warheads descend on his remote base in the arctic…or Antarctic, it’s never clear. Anyway, the bombs are dropping on he, Murphy, the misfits and everyone else across North America. Boom, show done in a blaze of mushroom clouds after one wild and weird season.
Only the writers had to come up with a second season. It was sort of apparent they were running out of ideas near the end of the first — not a diss, just an observation — and I had no idea what was in store in a post-nuclear zombie apocalypse. The sci-fi universe just implodes at that point, right?
Naturally, the writers embraced the campy-comedy side of zombie lore and turned Murphy into an apocalyptic icon, known to all fallout-zombie-hell survivors as “the Murphy.” He wears a fedora and dresses one of his zombie minions (because he has those) in a feather boa and white knee-highs. Somehow, when she’s finally mercy-ed by one of the few remaining misfits, it’s almost poignant. This show crept up on me that way. Who knew I would suddenly feel for a zombie hooker and her zombie pimp?
This approach also means the second season goes up and down like a cracked-out roller coaster, sort of like the later episodes of True Blood and later seasons of American Horror Story: It’s never unwatchable — just not always good. But it also led to one of the best and most bonkers episodes of TV I’ve seen since X Files. Damn right that means aliens.
Ep. 9 | “RoZwell”
Remember the writers’ room? After 20 episodes I’m sure they were running out of “What if…?” ideas that could survive an hour on TV. Thank god for lucky No. 21 (aka Ep. 9 of season two) and “RoZwell,” when the misfits track Murphy to Roswell, New Mexico and a band of UFO believers who have taken over the old Air Force base there. Somehow, these crackpots have manged to survive years of zombie apocalypse and yet still believe aliens will come to beam them away.
Until then, the Murphy seems like a reasonable alien Christ figure — and so they treat him like one. The misfits are skeptical, the Murphy enjoys some celebrity, and an alien believer named Bernadette, played by Missi Pyle of Galaxy Quest, is pretty damn sure she’s been in contact with a xenomorph. They just gotta wait for them to return with more ships, duh.
At some point, one of the misfits wonders what would happen if a zombie bit an alien. Not an unreasonable question given the circumstances, and as a viewer, I couldn’t WAIT for the writers to make good on their promise. I mean, come on, this episode was building up to that before the title card even disappeared. You’ve gotta deliver the Alien-esque goods, right?
Oh, and do they ever. After 40-some-odd minutes of X Files plotting and possible alien sightings, including two or three exploding aliens, the Murphy steps onto the tarmac at Roswell…AND GETS BEAMED UP BY A FLYING FUCKING SAUCER. Well, not exactly beamed up — more like he and Bernadette step into a light that looks like a beam — but right as the saucer and aliens are about to steal (or maybe preserve?) the sole human with zombie immunity, the misfits’ sharpshooter, 10K (so named for his goal to kill 10,000 zombies), gets a direct shot in the flying saucer’s cockpit. The craft blows up once in the air, and then spirals down in flames before blowing up again when it hits the ground.
I won’t give too much plot away, but even if aliens don’t exist, I couldn’t help but wonder where the flying saucer came from. It wasn’t a joke or a prop or anything else — it actually exploded twice when 10K shot it, leaving very convincing alien rubble on the tarmac at Roswell.
But that’s just all logistics. What about the most important question: Does the episode deliver on a zombie alien as promised and expected? Watch and find out, but if I’ve learned one thing about this series, it’s that even a zombie alien isn’t the weirdest thing to show up and get blowed up.