Robert Buckley, Rose McIver, Malcolm Goodwin (Photo: Katie Yu/The CW)

In its first two seasons, iZombie spent its time mainly focusing on the ways being turned into a zombie directly affected Liv’s life. Yes, there were bad guys (Blaine), then bigger bad guys (Mr. Boss, Vaughn, and the Max Rager fiasco), and an increasing sense of impending doom, but the show always smartly pivoted those concerns directly back to how they affected Liv and the other people in her life. The end of season two brought about the end of most of the previous bad guys, while at the same time signaling the beginning of a welcome new era for the show, one where Liv’s personal concerns expand to encompass the idea of the zombie race as a whole.

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Max Rager biting the dust leaves a big, villain-shaped hole where Steven Weber’s glorious scenery chewing used to be, but that hole is immediately filled by the introduction of Vivian Stoll, CEO of Fillmore Graves Enterprises. Vivian is an interesting departure from the show’s past antagonists because she straddles the line between friend and foe; a zombie who has devoted her entire post-zombie life to ensuring the survival of the species should the general population find out about their existence, and who is willing to use her trained zombie militia to go to war with the humans if it comes to that. She’s hyper-focused on her goal in a way that hints of danger to come if and when things don’t go her way, but at the same time has reasonable ideas about building a pseudo-utopia on something dubbed “Zombie Island” and is openly affectionate toward the zombie children in her care. All of this to say that in a very short amount of screen time, iZombie has sketched out a very good portrait of this new character and her world, whether Fillmore Enterprises turns out to be friend or foe.

What Liv and her friends do eventually end up agreeing with Vivian and Fillmore Graves on is that nothing good can come of the general population finding out about zombies, and thus the overall narrative tension for the season is established. The Max Rager massacre opened Liv’s own mind to the scale of the disaster if the zombie secret got, and in turn refocused the whole show on a larger goal than just Liv’s week-to-week survival that we’ve seen in the past two seasons. Rob Thomas’ script cleverly sets up the future threat to come from anywhere, using an Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theory radio show host (the same character from the season one episode about a morning radio shock jock, now dabbling in conspiracies instead) to reveal eyewitness testimony from the Max Rager security guard about the massacre, thus announcing the idea of zombies to the conspiracy nuts who listen to his show. The caller we hear on the radio as Liv and Clive drive away from the station who insists his neighbors are zombies is the brutal foreshadowing of the end of the episode, when a zombie child we met earlier in the episode as a friend of Clive’s winds up murdered in his home, along with his zombie parents.

It’s this moment that the season three premiere cements itself as the setup for what is promised to be a very complicated, emotionally conflicting season for all its characters. The episode itself is a classic “wrap up last season and set the stage for what’s to come” premiere, and does both remarkably well. The main narrative arc is the most tended to, with Liv and Clive spending a lot of their time wrapped up in Fillmore Graves, the cover-up of what happened at Max Rager, and the decision that keeping zombies a secret is going to be their main focus going forward. Giving Clive a direct emotional connection to the three murdered zombies at the end—and therefore a direct emotional connection to the main story arc, beyond simply his respect and affection for Liv—allows Clive to be woven into the fabric of all of the stories in a way he never could when he was kept in the dark about Liv’s secret. Clive is in a good majority of the episode, and he slides right into his spot as new confidante and ally perfectly.

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Also promising is how all of the main ensemble’s stories (including Peyton, and let’s welcome Aly Michalka to the ranks of season regulars, finally) get almost equal time to play out here. Most of this is because there’s no case of the week, and therefore there’s simply more time to devote to the characters. But more than that, there’s a definite intentional focus on giving each character an arc they can play out in the episodes to come. For Peyton, it’s obviously going to be her weird love triangle with Blaine and Ravi, and the possibility of something nefarious from whoever is sending her threats via Twitter. For Major, it’s adjusting to life as the person identified publicly as the Chaos Killer, leading him to join the zombie militia folks. For Ravi, it’s dealing with his conflicted feelings for Peyton.

And then there’s Blaine. At the end of last season, I expressed concern with how the show was handling Blaine’s character after having him lose his memories. There was something almost over-corrected about his shift from pure evil to innocent, and the abrupt nature of the shift made it sometimes hard to reconcile. In this premiere, however, something has shifted. Whether it’s a conscious effort by the writers and David Anders to bring back a little of his edge, or a conscious effort to throw some doubt about whether or not Blaine’s amnesia is faked, but he was far closer to his original character here than at the end of season two. Would amnesia Blaine sing Rob Thomas while sneakily tending to a brain in his mortuary basement? Or is he hiding something? Of all of the character trajectories set up for season three, this one is by far the most intriguing after only one episode.

One of the things that makes television so exciting is its ability to evolve and change, both on a micro level within an episode and a macro level in the context of an entire series. iZombie reveled in the micro in its earliest iteration, and ever since those early episodes has slowly been expanding the macro of the series as a whole into encompassing larger and more ambitious stories and themes. By turning the overall focus of the show to the idea of what would happen in the world if zombies were discovered, iZombie once again moves to expand the show’s world on a macro level, and judging by the premiere this is definitely a good thing.

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Stray observations:

  • The right wing conspiracy radio show and the caller’s discomfort with his neighbors (with a zombie family actually ending up dead) definitely at least accidentally echoes what is happening in some circles right now with the immigration discourse. If these echoes become more overt, there will likely be at least some mild discussion of the parallels here.
  • The way ingested brains affect a zombie’s personality has always been one of the more flexible things the show has established, rules-wise, but it seemed especially off a few times in this premiere. Liv and Major didn’t seem affected by the military brain much at all, except for in a small scene outside of Fillmore Graves. Liv’s dialogue (and later breakdown when the brain supposedly wore off) indicated she was being affected, but there was far too much “tell” and not nearly enough “show” to make that emotional moment land. Clive kindly taking Liv to get outrageously drunk was a nice moment, however.
  • So when children become zombies, do they keep growing up? Or are they like vampires where they’re stuck at that age forever? I am behind on my zombie development mythology.
  • A fun wrinkle in the Vivian storyline is the reveal that her husband was turned by Blaine, blackmailed, and then eventually likely killed by Blaine when he tried to escape the blackmail. How long until Vivian finds out Liv and her gang associate with him?
  • Don E sticking around is a good thing, I think, especially if he and Blaine’s father are going to team up to snark together and do evil things. I mean, what’s one more plot to keep track of on a Rob Thomas show? Welcome to the plot party.
  • Speaking of the plot party, Ravi’s former CDC boss turns up in Seattle and is potentially in danger of discovering the big zombie secret. The idea of discovery coming from multiple angles is a fun one.
  • The cure is still hanging around, all 17 doses worth. Just something to keep track of for the future (in that I already forgot there was a Cure 1.0 and a Cure 2.0, so I need to keep track of this stuff somewhere).

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