Malcolm Goodwin, Rahul Kohli
Photo: Jack Rowand (The CW)

After a string of strong episodes, this is the first time in season four iZombie feels like it falls a bit flat. Part of this is due to the brain of the week—which is uninspired at best—but the rest lies solely in the hands of the weird place the show finds itself in regards to Fillmore Graves. Add in awkward developments in both the Clive and Dale and Liv and Levon relationships and the result is basically a stew of bad decisions.

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The brain of the week is what kicks off the episode’s issues, and the decision to center an episode on a pick-up artist is one of those ones that probably sounds great in development but turns out to be not so great in practice. The show has gotten mileage out of “sexed up” brains in the past (see: the dominatrix and the erotica author), but something about the slimy, negative energy of a pick-up artist isn’t as easily translated into harmless laughs. For once, the most amusing thing about the murder story isn’t Liv’s antics but the murder method (killed by poisoned condom!) and Ravi and Liv’s delight over the clap-enabled sex music. Otherwise? It was mostly just filler.

The other story that tangentially (and sometimes directly) tied to Liv’s brain of the week was Clive and his continued quest to have sex with someone who is not his girlfriend. At this point in the story arc it’s almost become an obsession or obligation for Clive rather than something recreational, as he doesn’t seem to be having any fun using Tinder or going to bars or engaging in any of the actions necessary in order to meet a compatible human. After a disastrous night at the club—which, luckily for us, leads to some of the funniest sequences in the episode—Clive ends up calling an escort as a sort of last resort. It’s only then that he finds out Dale hasn’t slept with anyone herself, and their open relationship might have just started crumbling. When this storyline first started, it was exciting to see Clive get an expressly romantic story and interesting to see it so wrapped up in the emotional complexities of this new zombie reality. This week, however, I simply found it frustrating. Do Dale and Clive simply not talk to each other? We never saw any of the emotional negotiation that lead to the decision to have an open relationship; it was presented to the audience as a bit of a narrative trick. Now, to know none of that emotional negotiation likely even happened feels like a bit of a cheat, for the audience and the characters themselves.

One of the things this episode was also burdened with is having to minutely advance multiple stories that don’t have much of a payoff yet. This is always a tricky thing to pull off, and it’s much less of a noticeable downside when the main stories are strong enough to carry the weight. When they falter a bit like they do here, the little breadcrumbs that get placed for future payoff become more obviously out of place. The biggest examples of that here are both tied in with the Angus and Blaine story. First, with Don E holding the traitorous bodyguard headless for late questioning by Blaine. And finally, Liv visiting Brother Love’s church and learning that Blaine’s dad is a zombie supremacist preacher who threatens New Seattle’s very delicate social balance. Both are scenes that probably need to happen, but definitely don’t happen very gracefully within the narrative of this particular episode.

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The biggest issue in the episode, however, and one that is troublesome going forward is how the show is dealing with Fillmore Graves. On a moral level, this season is probably dealing with the most complexity of themes and nuance of any season to date. Up until this episode it felt like the season was doing a decent, if not perfect, job of balancing all the warring moral factions coexisting in New Seattle and demonstrating why they are all at least somewhat necessary. Fillmore Graves not completely being a black-and-white “bad guy” is a compelling angle, and the dilemma Chase faced in executing Mama Leone was interesting, if a bit heavy handed. Here, though, is where things tipped too far into some sort of cartoon cosplay of real life to still be interesting. Major storming into an alt weekly newspaper and shutting it down for printing “fake news” that damages their cause is simultaneously far too close to what real life feels like right now, and far too obviously evil to resonate within the world of the show.

At the same time, it also feels like a stepping stone to something else to come in the future more than an actual developed story within the narrative of this episode. If all this episode turns out to be is a building block for future stories, in hindsight it will have done its job. But that doesn’t help much in the present.

Stray observations

  • Are Liv and Levon kind of a thing now or was that whole thing an elaborate fake out for the audience? Playing with our expectation that they will date would be a pretty good trick.
  • So Liv masterminds an elaborate scheme to steal an ID maker from the zombie registration office—complete with Pharrell’s old hat he wore to the Grammys—and then is dumb enough not to lock her door when she’s using stolen equipment? I know Peyton had to find out about Liv being Renegade sometime, but come on. That’s silly.
  • Major’s new rank at Fillmore Graves appears to be “Vice President of Getting Stuff Done.” I hope that comes with a pay rise. And business cards.
  • Did we know that zombie heads could live and talk after they are separated from their zombie bodies? That was disconcerting. RIP, sorta, bodyguard guy.
  • I seriously cannot even identify what food Liv cooked this week. Some sort of steamed pudding?
  • Clive, I also think This Is Us is emotionally manipulative. I’d swipe right for that.

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