Throughout iZombie’s first season (which Carrie has covered brilliantly, and I’m getting to swoop in and reflect on this week), its central conceit has been that Liv Moore is a zombie who eats brains, helping the Seattle Police Department solve murders. It’s a great procedural engine for a television show, right down to the personality traits Liv picks up from the deceased—over its concise first season, the show managed a wide variety of stories, inflected and grounded by Rose McIver’s performance.

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And yet there is also a clear thematic purpose to Liv’s transformations. On a weekly basis, her shifts in personality altered her relationship with her friends and family, already changed forever by the fact that she became a zombie to begin with. However, for the character herself, becoming someone else was a constant reminder of who might never be again: Liv Moore who is not a zombie, who doesn’t eat brains, and who lives what one would call a normal life.

Liv will never be this person again because the basic conceit of iZombie does not allow her to do so. There would be no show if Liv were cured, a fact that Rob Thomas seems acutely aware of when crafting this finale. Although the season liberally used the quest for Liv’s cure as an anchor for serialization throughout the season, and offers hope for that cure in the form of another zombie rat returned to its former condition in Ravi’s experiment, “Blaine’s World” presents a far more complicated vision of the world created when Max Rager inadvertently created zombies. It’s a vision that offers incredible promise for the show’s second season, and which raises only the moral questions the show is willing to follow through on with real consequences.

“Blaine’s World” opens like any other episode of iZombie, but it doesn’t stay one for long. Picking up on the loose end of the teenagers who ran over Sebastian, it starts what you imagine to be an episodic tale of Cameron’s peril, which transforms into Cameron’s duplicity and the acquisition of the infamous Max Rager memo. It’s a nice take on the procedural genre, twisting and turning in meaningful ways. I kept getting things wrong: I thought the milkshake was going to kill Cameron when the real danger was the car bomb, and I thought it would be Max Rager finding him at the border instead of Liv and Clive. But you eventually realize that for this finale to work, Max Rager can’t win—they are not the real threat here, although we get plenty of exposition on their plans for Super Max and the blurred lines between beverages and pharmaceuticals. This just isn’t the episode the story is telling, as evidenced by the fact that outside of a single vision, and Liv being slightly snarkier than normal, Theresa’s personality is gone almost as soon as it arrives.

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Instead, “Blaine’s World” focuses its attention on Major, who has occupied a really intriguing place in this season after starting out in a less intriguing one. In the beginning, he was a tie to Liv’s pre-zombie existence, a constant reminder—sometimes through genuine emotional connection, sometimes through abs—of what she could have had if she hadn’t become a zombie. But as the season progressed, Major’s story started to take on a life of his own. His work with troubled youth brought him into contact with Blaine’s brain harvesting operation, and his investigation became an important recurring storyline not dissimilar to Liv’s search for a cure. It drew in Ravi as his roommate, Clive as a friend with the police department, and of course Liv, who watched as her ex-boyfriend sought to eradicate the very thing she has become.

Perhaps the best comparison I can offer—in part because David Anders’ Sark looms large over any other character he plays, for me—is Alias’ Will Tippin (which at least one other person has raised, per Google). Will was another character who unknowingly investigated the very secret being held from him by our central character, and whose efforts endangered the entire “mission” by placing himself in the line of fire. That plays out here initially as a classic emotional mistake, with Liv turning over their collateral on Blaine—the astronaut brains—without realizing she was being tricked by a decoy Major. It’s a weak bait-and-switch, right up until the point the show reveals it to be nowhere close to its endgame when it comes to Major’s involvement in this story.

The Meat Cute sequence set to After The Fire’s “Der Kommissar” is a tour de force, even if I have questions about Major’s competence with firearms in light of only recently acquiring his own personal armory. When the sequence begins, it’s immensely satisfying: here is a character we like, having just been held hostage trying to remove a man who is murdering at-risk teens and astronauts for their brains and profiting from a zombie population he created, kicking ass and taking names. As the sequence progresses, and the camera artfully finds blood spatter as opposed to gore itself to meet broadcast standards, it’s thrilling to see so many morally reprehensible people meet their timely ends. And when Major makes the crucial mistake of forgetting about Blaine after using a grenade to finally fell his iron-pumping tormentor, I reacted as though the proper course of events was being interrupted—this isn’t how it’s supposed to go! Blaine is supposed to be stopped! Did Lowell die for nothing?!

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But then Liv shows up, and everything gets turned upside down. Blaine, shot in the stomach by Liv upon her arrival, welcomes us into his world, which I’m willing to accept as the real one. Earlier in the episode, Ravi carefully lays out the state of the cure: there is a limited supply, enough for maybe two doses, and they don’t have the materials necessary to recreate it. It’s Chekhov’s Cure from that point forward, and draws our attention to the tension in Liv’s search for a cure: it isn’t just Liv. It’s everyone Blaine infected, and the people those people could infect, and those who may have been infected as part of further Max Rager testing, or perhaps even others like her who attended the boat party and are “surviving” in secret. The cure is all that’s standing in the way of a zombie apocalypse, or at least it is right up until the point where Blaine points out that he’s equal parts cause of and solution to a pending outbreak depending on how things play out from this point forward—he knows who the zombies are, and is keeping them stable, and if he were to disappear, who knows what could happen?

I love this idea, as it argues that the biggest threat to the public in this episode was Major, who I was busy rooting for earlier. As much as Blaine was a threat to the public in terms of his harvesting of brains for his clients (I don’t want to understate how terrible that is, so we’re clear), he was a criminal element that was ultimately staving off a larger outbreak by serving the needs of these zombies. Without Blaine’s entrepreneurial spirit, it’s likely that many of those who turned to his services would have turned to murder, creating more zombies and creating problems larger than the occasional murder of a high schooler in the woods. While some control measures were perhaps required to keep his greed and megalomania in check, Blaine is crucial to this ecosystem, and Major killing him could well have done exactly the opposite of what he had intended.

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Major never stopped to think about this because he had no idea what he was getting himself into, but Liv should have known. And yet she didn’t because this situation was so intensely personal for her, and for those around her who understood what was happening. Her approach toward Blaine was framed by Lowell’s death, and Major being in danger, and how do you overcome those feelings to suddenly think about the “many” when you have spent months of your life in the midst of an existential crisis?

This question becomes the crux of iZombie’s final moments, in which—in a rare case for a finale, honestly—Liv is given almost pure agency. There is never any threat that Blaine could kill her, nor are there any other threats operating against her. Instead, she is made all-powerful, brandishing both the cure to the disease as well as the ability to pass it along to anyone she pleases. And thus begins a series of events where mortal peril is replaced with moral peril, and where Liv Moore makes some incredibly difficult decisions that barely have time to register before she’s forced to make even more.

The final sequence moves too fast, although I think that’s its intention. There’s no hesitation with any of it. Liv moves instinctively to give Blaine the cure (as I predicted in my notes when Ravi first explained its scarcity), without any lengthy monologue about how it reshapes the ecosystem referenced earlier. You’d swear the show would linger on Liv considering making Major into a zombie to save his life, but she does it almost immediately after the idea springs to her mind. The show fastforwards to his recovery soon thereafter, and then moves right into the heart of the issue through a tense conversation: did Liv turn Major into a zombie because it’s what he would have wanted, or because she wanted him to be like her? And then before you can even blink, Liv is making the biggest decision of all, using up the remaining cure to right her wrong and rid Major of the disease.

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It’s all a tremendous amount to unpack, hence the need for a bit more description in this review than I would normally like. It ultimately creates a situation where Liv chooses the few over the many, saving Major and her own conscience, and in the process risking that Ravi will be unable to recreate the cure that could potentially save the rest of mankind from a zombie outbreak. It’s an incredibly risky and arguably reckless position, and one that I fully expected the show to hold her accountable for. However, the logical way to hold her accountable for this would be to cut to Blaine’s clients losing their cool and started to expand in number, or to offer a more explicit glimpse of how Max Rager—so skeezily embodied by Steven Weber—intends to push their research further despite being outed by Liv to the press. You show the cost to the many in order to show Liv the consequences of her decision—it’s screenwriting 101.

And so I was shocked—but pleased—to see iZombie’s first season end by punishing Liv Moore for being a zombie herself. There was nothing she could have done to protect Evan from being caught in the explosion that Lieutenant Suzuki sets off at the Meat Cute. Yes, Major’s attack on the store ultimately led to the explosion taking place, but at the end of the day Evan was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, as likely as to have been a red herring as a central part of this finale. But when he ends up in a hospital without the necessary blood to help save his life, and Liv is singled out as the donor who could step in, the situation punishes her for not being more selfish—if she had just used the cure on herself, or if she had never become a zombie to begin with, she could save her brother’s life. As it stands, Evan is (potentially) going to die because she has gone from all-powerful to helpless in the blink of an eye. Such is the curse of being a zombie.

We see a whole range of potential setups for next season in these final moments. There’s the show where Liv doesn’t save Major and must work alongside his killer for the sake of society; there’s a show where Liv and a reluctant Major are zombies together, struggling with the complicated resentments of how they became a team; there’s a show where the cure doesn’t work, and both Blaine and Major die and leave Liv picking up the pieces. But what we end up getting is something much smaller than one might have imagined: Major is still alive and not a zombie, Blaine is cured but still at large to run—if not grow—his empire, and Liv’s existential crisis manifests as a deep personal tragedy rather than a crusade for revenge.

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And that’s perfect. iZombie is never going to be a large-scale zombie apocalypse show, regardless of the generic forebears of Major’s siege of the Meat Cute. It is about how people drafted unwillingly into a brave new world of genetic mutation respond, whether in the form of Max Rager and Blaine’s opportunism, or Liv and Ravi’s deployment of the zombie powers to contribute to the greater good. When the dust settles on this action-heavy and thrilling climax, we’re left with the philosophical underpinnings that were present all season long, the show stripped of both its procedural structure and its serialized accumulation—it is just a woman who used to be normal, became a zombie, and is forced to live with the consequences as best she can.

And as long as Thomas and the writers continue to approach this conflict with episodes like this that don’t pull punches and make slight adjustments to the status quo feel monumental, that simple premise has the potential to take iZombie a very long way.

Stray observations:

  • I do have two small issues with the finale. The first is that I don’t buy that Suzuki’s all-clear would have cut off all further investigation—wouldn’t neighbors have seen the carnage walking by (or out their windows)? Did no one walk by like Evan did, or drive by even? Was there an argument being made about what kind of neighborhood it was in? The restaurant needs to remain uninvestigated for the timeline to work, but it’s a definite contrivance.
  • The second is more of a question than a concern—what was Ravi doing in the back half of this episode? He is notably absent when Liv arrives at the morgue, and while his phone call alerts her to Major potentially being in danger he doesn’t follow up on it? I get why Liv wouldn’t call him to tell him what she was doing, but I was surprised he was so disengaged.
  • Suzuki’s plan to kill himself but leave the police behind Blaine’s information was compromised by the explosion removing Blaine’s last name—we’ll see how Liv handles this half-finished clue, similar to how we’ll see how Clive handles his suspicion Major was responsible for the attack.
  • No O- blood kicking around? This is why you keep a spare universal donor blood bag caged up in the back room, Seattle-area hospitals. Come on, now. That’s no way to prepare your journey to Valhalla on the Fury Road.
  • Where do we stand on Peyton’s future with the show? Aly Michalka was never a series regular, and while I liked her easy chemistry with the rest of the cast, she never got the same integration Major did, and quite literally ran away from the show’s premise. I say she’s gone for good.
  • There’s this terrifying head dance that Steven Weber does in his conversation with the researcher after their meeting with Liv and Clive that is going to haunt my dreams tonight.
  • “I take it by your silence we’re not going to play the “What Brains?” game. I appreciate that.”—I missed snarky David Anders so much that I am just going to quote Blaine for a while now. You’ll understand, I’m sure.
  • “I’m the Mick Jagger here. Time is on my side.”
  • “Daddy issues. Megalomania. Greed. Wow that felt really good to get off my chest.”
  • “Just what we need—a noise complaint!”
  • “You got the slow and agonizing death thing under control, right? Great. Hope it hurts.”
  • “Blaine’s World” ends with the requisite montage laying out the state of things heading into next season, in this case set to Okkevril River’s “Your Past Life As A Blast,” which, fitting.
  • My sincere apologies that Carrie couldn’t be here to offer her thoughts on the finale—my thanks to her for giving me the chance to step in, and thanks to all of you for reading. This turned into one of midseason’s most engaging series, and I’m always happy to see those shows get noticed, get renewed, and have a chance to grow.

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