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With “Dead Lift,” false flags and fake news infect the final season of iZombie

Graphic: Michael Courtney (The CW)
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I know it’s only been two episodes, but I’m already struggling to understand what iZombie is trying to do with this final season. Not in terms of the bigger picture and how it’s all end but specifically why it’s doubling down on the parts of the show that make it look even less like its original form and why it’s tripling down on storylines that try to mirror current events (but with zombies). Veronica Mars understood class enough to make it the focal of the series from the very beginning, but iZombie—a lighter show with a similar charm but definitely did not start as deep—for some reason, attempts to go with an even bigger metaphor.

For the former point, it’s not that a series has to remain the same over the years, but one would think there would be a recognizable tone between the show now and the show in its first couple of seasons. The puns are still there (this week’s episode title has a better one than the premiere) and there are still jokes, but they’re not as sharp and the laughs aren’t as big. Partially because everything’s dulled by how miserable the show’s version of Seattle is now, not even in a stylistically grunge way. In a way where it feels like the purpose is just to pile up the misery until the hopefully cathartic series finale, like long darkness before the sun finally comes out. The Renegade plot is just that, and it (not specifically Liv’s part in it) of course gets its own focus here.

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For the latter, while iZombie has had plenty of moments in the past few seasons discussing zombies within the context of an oppressed class, it got more aggressive once the wall came up. In these first two episodes, it’s become even worse, in a way that doesn’t just come across as too much but as tone-deaf. In no way does the zombie/minority metaphor work to a point where a black character can earnestly say, “Blue Lives Matter? Eh eh. White Lives Matter.” Not even when another character calls it out immediately, because even then, the scene just follows it up with the fact that Dead Enders apparently call zombies “Whities.” And because iZombie isn’t the type of show that should have to bring up any version of “...Lives Matter,” especially not outside of Clive Babineaux and… Probably just Clive Babineaux. It’s not like the show doesn’t know better either, because it has a better race-related comment in this very episode from Clive, when he replies to Jimmy about his zombie sketch troupe (“So you paint your face and appropriate another culture.”) and he and Ravi (the only people of color in the game) cheers.

Speaking of that D&D game, that is where Ravi talks a lot about goose and gets the idea (other than getting rid of all the zombies or Major letting those dancers go on Dance Of A Lifetime) that will supposedly help fix Seattle’s zombie PR problem. Technically, this episode has Ravi and Peyton working together, but it’s more the two of them working separately with Ravi coming up with a “solution” to Peyton’s problem. And it’s all based on a sketch from Jimmy and his troupe’s “portfolio of sketches” about zombie-human relations. The pitch ends up being for a web series called HiZombie (or hopefully something else), and at no point is it treated like anything other than a good idea. The entire concept feels more like something that would happen as a parody within this show and yet it ends up a serious suggestion. Despite how lame it sounds from Jimmy’s original explanation and when Ravi tries to pitch it as something revolutionary to portray zombies as “folk next door” (which is not a bad idea on its own). The latter is funny—

Ravi: “Think about what Will & Grace did for gay people. What The Cosby Show did for—”
Peyton: “Let’s not use that example.”
Ravi: “Crazy Rich Zombies.”

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—but it’s funnier when it doesn’t seem like it’s an idea Peyton would like enough to grift people with the naming rights to the Space Needle (in order to get money to fund the project). Meanwhile, Major’s Dance Of A Lifetime offer for ad time is right there, and while I joke about how monstrous Major is for not letting people dance, it’s easily one of the bigger tools they have. Besides false flags, that is.

Then there’s the no body, no evidence case, which literally ends up being a whole lot of nothing. The episode-ending cliffhanger? Bix’s “missing” girlfriend Lisa really was on a work retreat—and cheating on him—setting Clive and Liv’s investigation even further back. So Clive and Liv continue to get nowhere in the case—despite unknowingly meeting the right woman, Mrs. Jones (Jackie Debatin), in a scene that sets up the later reveal quite nicely when she mentions her past drug-stealing—only for Dale and Cavanaugh’s offscreen police work to get a lead. This is one of two times Clive and Liv don’t actually help in a case, as they’re passed by the getaway car for the Warmbloods shooting when they’re on their way there, not suspicious of the car speeding by a police car in the opposite direction of a nearby shooting. But you know who figures it out (offscreen)? Enzo Lambert, in all his “French” glory.

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Unsurprisingly, given the domestic terrorist attack she caused (coming in hot for her first episode), Dolly Durkins was also responsible for the viral video. It was staged, and there was no murdered woman—just Mrs. Jones in a wig (with stolen blood from the hospital), with the help of Dolly’s creepy right-hand man Benny (Adam Bogen). And Benny is busy this episode, spending his nights sniping Fillmore-Graves zombies, killing Jordan just moments after she tells her squad that humans aren’t that bad. (R.I.P. Jordan, 2018-2019. You were more of a character than Baron.) There’s something inspired in having this unassuming woman be the human Big Bad of the season, but it’s all on top of material that continues to make this escapist world an even worse version of the real world.

There’s a moment where Clive asks Liv (on “fitness nut brain”) if she’s having a vision, only for Liv to reveal she’s doing kegels. Which instead of landing comedically, serves as another reminder of how the brains have largely stopped functioning to solve cases—this is a Scratching Post brain, as there is no case brain… and there is no case—only serving the zombie character-of-the-week. But in not using brains for case visions, cases only become less compelling altogether, and it takes away a large purpose of the show. That’s a big reason why it feels like the show is meandering, but instead of simply fixing that, iZombie spends more time on Fillmore-Graves and… orphans talking about how cool being a zombie is going to be.

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After last week’s bus bathroom bust, this week sees Baron and the kids engage in grand theft auto with a Boss Hog type, sit by the rails but not ride them, and make their way to the wall, only for Baron to get gunned down by trigger-happy Dead Enders. (R.I.P. Baron, 2018-2019. You were in three episodes.) The kids do make it to the safe house, and Oliver gets his scratch… then of course gives the scratch to his sisters, when the adults are all not watching. Because even when she’s literally feet away from them, Liv has no control over the strangers she’s scratching and turning into zombies. Especially when they’re kids with no impulse control and no thought about the bigger picture. Even after encountering people that shot first and asked questions never.

As for the zombies with guns, the current Fillmore-Graves story can be boiled down to the scene where they’re arguing over the concept of them being “part of the community” or “an occupying force.” While Major’s entire leadership strategy attempts to run it like the former, they are the latter. Fillmore-Graves came to Seattle and eventually took over this whole mess. As much as Major wants to them to be considered authority figures that are part of this society, these are just a bunch of mercenaries being told they need to stop being that. That’s the job, as much as he’s trying to change it from within.

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The other thing about Fillmore-Graves is, even though there is no more happy Major Lilywhite to be found—even the dinner with Liv just has him on the lower side of miserable—Robert Buckley’s doing a great job with this story and the material he’s given. (Surprisingly, the dinner—as a “thoughtful gesture”—is part of the episode synopsis.) He’s not a reluctant leader, as he’s certainly not trying to pass up responsibility, but it’s clear the only reason he doesn’t have a chance to question his own ability to do the job as Commander is because everyone else questions it. But I’m torn between praising the first moment in the locker room when he starts to cry over Jordan and adding it onto the list of misery iZombie wants to add to the pile no matter what.

The rest of the scene—where Major tries to talk some sense into the squad—works, even if the message doesn’t get through their heads. Because while Major may be soft, he does care and definitely uses his brain much more than they do. However, by the end of the episode, his false flags on top of false flags decision only ruins morale and gives the Dead Enders fake martyrs (a pair of brothers and the woman who Major previously refused to let out of Seattle) and something to celebrate with zombies seemingly killing their own. If anything, instead of calming more rational humans, he only emboldened the zealots.

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When I look at everything I’ve written about this episode, I have to squint to find the fun. Clive reads The Five P’s Of Pregnancy. There’s the D&D game, but it’s a pretty long scene. Liv on fitness brain isn’t even a top 20 character for Rose McIver, although it does allow Clive to say he doesn’t want to be the Hans to her Franz. The “thoughtful gesture” scene between Major and Liv ends with a reminder that Major’s stuck in a job that consumes his life and a large part of this show. The Peyton/Mort/Zed sequence could work better in an episode that pops more, but it’s taken down with the rest’s downer tone. There is also notably no Blaine or Don E anywhere but the opening credits this week.

After a weak premiere, this episode doesn’t improve upon that and also lacks so much of what made iZombie great in the first place. But even last season, it was still able to be great, and I don’t assume it won’t be able to be great again. I’m sure there’s a quicker, slogan-y way to say that.

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Stray observations

  • Ravi and Peyton’s sex song is “Without You.” Hmm. Also, the most unbelievable part of this episode of a television show about zombies is fitness Liv’s sex advice working. There’s no way that brain fucked.
  • There are only two council members left—human Mort and zombie Zed (Veronica Mars writer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)—because the rest skipped town before the wall went up.
  • Major: “It’s the worst. My job is pretending to be RoboCop—but knowing the Buzzfeed quiz explicitly told me I’m a C-3PO.”
  • Liv: “Bro, don’t you wanna be Ravi Rockhard Body?”
    Ravi: “No.”
    Liv: “Oh.”
  • You’d expect border patrol not to shoot at anyone without zombie confirmation, as their entire point is that they want to kill zombies. But they’re super willing to murder actual human children.
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About the author

LaToya Ferguson

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.