Robert Buckley (left), David Anders/The CW

Mixing comedy and horror is tricky business. So far, iZombie has danced around the edges of its more frightening elements, preferring to focus on both the comedic and personal aspects of Liv’s life as a zombie, with only occasional bouts of horror creeping in. “Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat” is the first time it feels like the show is going all-in on its more horrific elements, and the result is the best episode of the season—and an almost palpable sense of dread leading into next week’s finale.

One of the reasons the horror elements work so well in this episode is how varied they are in tone and scope. There’s the amusing opening, which takes its I Know What You Did Last Summer roots to the most hilarious, deadly place possible. There’s the increasing stakes of Major’s story, as his investigation into Blaine’s operation at Meet Cute leads to his capture, his fate hanging in the balance. There’s whatever is going on with the remaining members of the Asshats band, as the episode ends with the battered, bloody drummer dialing 911, the operator eerily echoing over the final credits. And finally, there’s the biggest horror: Liv’s fight to the death with the zombie she made, which leads to Peyton finding out her big secret. It’s a big, crazy, perfect blend of psychological, emotional, comedic, and physical terror, and a great setup for the end of the season.

There are a lot of plot-based things to deal with here, but the biggest development of this episode was far more emotional: Liv confessing to Peyton that she’s a zombie. All season, the big question hanging over the series was when Major was going to find out about Liv, but the misdirect of having Peyton find out first really works. Peyton has been the least visible and developed character throughout the season (likely due to the fact that Aly Michalka is a recurring guest star, while everyone else is a series regular) but the last two episodes have done a decent job of at least giving her a bit more weight as a character. Liv and Peyton’s bonding moment in this episode (due to Liv’s ingestion of a cheerleader brain) followed by Liv’s subsequent rejection due to the stoner brain she eats is something the show has done before, but was an especially effective beat to return to at this moment, because unlike earlier in the season it has more weight. At the start of the series, Peyton’s frustration over Liv’s ever-changing moods seemed more like a drag than anything else—especially when coupled with Liv’s mother’s concern—but now that we know a bit more about Peyton and Liv’s relationship, it’s far more heartbreaking. All Peyton wants is her friend, and for her friend to be OK, but Liv’s constantly changing moods let her down every time. When Peyton sees Liv go full-on zombie and kill Sebastian in their kitchen, it’s like everything makes sense and nothing makes sense, and it’s heartbreaking. Liv’s careful, halting confession and Peyton’s devastating disbelief is what Liv has feared ever since she turned. To have Peyton not immediately accept her is a perfect manifestation of that fear, and Rose McIver and Michalka are wonderful in that moment.

The episode doesn’t start quite so heavy, as it opens on a hilarious horror sequence of what happened to zombie Sebastian after Liv accidentally turned him on the boat. The setup of a car full of teenagers hitting him on the road and then burying him is dripping with references to I Know What You Did Last Summer—so much so that the show has one of the teens reference it themselves later in the episode—but by the end of the episode, it appears as if there’s far more going on with this group of kids than zombie Sebastian. Sebastian kills the cheerleader in the open (which leads to plenty of amusement when Liv has to eat her brain) but who killed the stoner boyfriend? What’s going on with the “money” Liv heard referenced in one of the stoner visions? Did Cameron really lead Bex Taylor-Klaus (I’d love to use her character name, but I don’t think they ever named her) to that hotel and attack her, or was it someone else? In a packed episode, this case of the week was great because not only did it ultimately drive Liv’s story with Peyton, but there are additional layers still in play that the finale will need to unpack. But the best thing about it has to be the end, with a bloodied Taylor-Klaus crawling toward the phone and dialing 911. The eerie echo of the operator not getting any response is a great capper to the end montage, and the increasing dread throughout was creepier than anything iZombie has done so far.

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A big part of the dread of the final montage was due to Major, as his investigation into the so-called Candyman reached its inevitable climax. Each episode, Major gets closer to the truth and each episode, this gets him closer to real danger. Once he found Meat Cute a confrontation was inevitable, but Major’s decision to scope out the place disguised as a health inspector is a smart one that seems as if it might just work. (Veronica Mars would be proud, I think.) The only hiccup comes when Blaine mentions the inspection and Julien immediately starts asking questions like “Did he have good hair?” that they realize something bigger is going on here, completely blowing Major’s surveillance operation and leading to Julien capturing him and tying him up for Blaine to deal with. Although this very scenario was inevitable from the moment Major set out on this path, it’s still devastating to see Major tied up and helpless at the end—and yet thrilling at the same time.

iZombie keeps teasing the showdown between Liv and Blaine as the ultimate season-ending conflict, but finding out exactly how Major is going to get out of this mess—either with or without Liv—is definitely the biggest question heading into next week’s finale. With a setup this strong, I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.

Stray observations:

  • The zombie fight between Sebastian and Liv was really, really great. Brutal and visceral and exciting.
  • Clive accidentally eating brains was hilarious. Apparently brains have the same texture as mushrooms to him?
  • I’m dying to know exactly what Major thinks about the conversation he overheard between Blaine and Evan. Did Blaine asking about Liv set off his alarm bells? Or does he think it’s a big coincidence? (Also, I knew the writers were saving that job stuff with Evan to deploy at the exact right moment.)
  • Ravi’s cured rat died, so he created a new one in order to tinker with the cure formula. This—plus Blaine’s increased interest in the cure—is definitely leading somewhere.
  • Ravi gets left waiting for Peyton in his hot suit just like Logan got left waiting for Veronica on the boat. Never reference a classic noir film in a Rob Thomas show unless you want to unwittingly torpedo your relationship. (Also, I’m pretty annoyed most of this relationship happened offscreen so far. Please fix this in season two, if possible.)
  • “I’m not going to prison. Have you seen Orange Is The New Black? I’m not taking a shower wearing tampon sandals!”
  • “Liv? Be aggressive. B. E. Aggressive.”
  • “Hope’s dead. How on the nose.”
  • “What the hell kind of questions do people usually ask you?” Ravi and Major’s relationship is great.

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