Aly Michalka, Rahul Kohli (The CW)

The first two iZombie episodes of season two were practically bursting at the seams, attempting (and mostly succeeding) at fitting in a tremendous amount of story that serviced both the procedural elements of the show and the more long-term storytelling it is trying to achieve. This is a tricky balancing act the show spent most of season one figuring out how to execute, settling into a nice groove in the final third of the season. Season two brings its own challenges, as the show must now expand on the work it did in season one, all while holding on to the procedural elements it obviously holds dear. For the first two episodes, this balancing act worked, but “Real Dead Housewife Of Seattle” makes for the show’s first slight stumble of the season, tipping too far towards Liv’s personality-of-the-week to make it all hold together.

The biggest stumbling block of Liv eating the brain of a Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills knockoff and then subsequently acting like a shopping-and-wine-obsessed, nouveau riche, gossipy snob, is that that stereotype isn’t all that interesting (or funny). There’s something to be skewered in this sort of comedic send-up of type, but that skewering likely needs to be far more barbed than it ever gets to be here. The case itself—rich guy has a mistress who hires a contract killer to take the wife out—is also fairly by-the-numbers, even if ultimate culprit, stylist Bethany, did come as a bit of a surprise. That the episode involved a lot of people calling women “skanks” a lot didn’t really help matters much.

The case of the week wasn’t all a bust, however, at least where it intersected with other stories. Having the husband of the murdered woman be Terrence Fowler, Max Rager board member and Vaughn Du Clark’s current biggest enemy, was a great way to bring Liv and Clive back into the Max Rager orbit on official business, which then led to Liv seeing Major there. It also allowed us to really get a good glimpse at how twisted Vaughn’s operation truly is, as he even has his own secret lair below ground (with a secret elevator and everything!) where he is undergoing some kind of secret zombie tests. That the doctor who we last saw at the end of season one is now a very gross and non-human looking zombie seems to imply that Vaughn is using him to see exactly how the disease progresses is gross and twisted and also just plain interesting, since the only less-than-human zombie we’ve seen was Marcy in the hole. Also, it’s just fun to watch Steven Weber be comically evil, because he’s having a great time.

When this episode works, though, it really works, and most of that has to do with the return of Peyton. Peyton’s return is also tied into the case of the week, at least thematically: Liv spends the entire episode basically begging people to be her friend, which we later learn is because it’s her birthday and she’s lonely without Peyton around to celebrate it with. Liv tries to fill this hole with stylist Bethany, which immediately gets ruined when she is revealed to be the murderer. There is some nice sadness for Liv clinging to the edges of everything that happens here, so when she and Ravi see that Peyton has returned to head the Utopium Task Force for the District Attorney’s office, they are both delighted and a bit scared to see her. Peyton shares a great, comfortable scene with Ravi where they discuss the end of their relationship and attempt to move on (but the longing hug might say otherwise). The best part of Peyton’s return, though, is what she does for Liv. On Liv’s birthday—which she spends alone—she returns home in a funk only to find a birthday cake for her in the refrigerator, left by Peyton. The sad, ecstatic, hopeful look on Liv’s face really lands how important Peyton is to Liv, and to the show. It’s great to have her back.

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Then there’s the Major storyline, which is officially in “wait-and-see” status right now. Major is really killing these zombies, he’s really doing a whole lot of Utopium, and he’s really just essentially leaning into the self-destructive nature of it all, even having some hate sex with Gilda. This episode is obviously just a quick stop in the road of what is a much larger story for him, but unlike the first two episodes something about it felt a bit off here. The point of Major’s storyline is that he’s completely alone, isolated from his friends by the choices Liv made in last season’s finale, trapped by Max Rager into doing something that disgusts him so much he would rather do more disgusting things to take his mind off of it. Everything about it tracks, but what is missing is Major’s fight. Major’s defining story arc in season one is that he was a fighter, and although it makes sense he would be lost after everything that happened, seeing no fight in him whatsoever now feels underexplored on a character basis. This is mostly because Major has no sounding board or confidante on the show to give the audience at least a little peek into how he’s processing everything. All audience cues come from his actions. The nature of episodic storytelling almost inevitably leads to moments like this; this is by no means a fatal flaw. Just a momentary hiccup.

The biggest thing that felt missing here, ultimately, was Blaine. There could be a multitude of reasons why he wasn’t in this episode, from storytelling needs to logistical ones, but where iZombie needs to be careful is making the episodes where he doesn’t appear feel as alive as the ones where he does. A good villain is essential, but he can’t be so essential that it feels like there’s a hole without him.

Stray observations

  • “That belongs to someone. A long time ago… we used to be friends.” And…now I miss Lilly Kane.
  • Gilda is Du Clark’s daughter? Did I understand that correctly? This just got a whole lot creepier.
  • Liv seeing the vision of Vaughn having sex with, well, her (via the brain she ate) was simultaneously hilarious and so, so gross.
  • Hello, Dick Casablancas Sr.! Rob Thomas might be typecasting you. At least in Veronica Mars you didn’t get eaten by the undead.
  • “There’s a reason I’m not getting hitched.” “Because you can’t legally marry your own reflection?”

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