Rose McIver (Photo: Katie Yu/The CW)

When The CW released the episode description for “Spanking The Zombie,” Liv taking on the traits of a dominatrix seemed like it could be a dicey situation. Would there be cringe-worthy depictions of BDSM? Could the show accidentally (or on purpose) kink shame someone? Thankfully, the execution of this idea avoided almost all of these pitfalls and instead turned out to be a hilarious and satisfying case of the week, with barely a kink shame in sight.

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First things first—Rose McIver was absolutely fantastic doped up on Sweet Lady Pain brain, and sold every one of even the most questionable moments. The case itself was fairly straightforward—dominatrix gets murdered, Liv sees visions of her clients, and Liv and Clive track down the murdered and get him to confess—but the writers smartly use this case as a way to bring back some of their most colorful minor characters from the past. Between D.A. Baracus, weatherman Johnny Frost, and double-talking lawyer Brandt Stone, there wasn’t a semi-notable person in Seattle who wasn’t on Ms. Pain’s client list, and luckily for us every single one of them is hilarious. Bless this show for giving us Daran Norris and Ken Marino in a room together. Plus, it had a sting operation where Ravi could not act like a human being and Clive wore an ice cream man uniform. Joyful, all around.

Fillmore Graves also got to weave back into the narrative of Liv and Clive’s investigation into who killed Wally’s family, as they get more clues that Harley Johns (last week’s zombie message board poster from the gun range) was casing Wally’s house the night before the murders. Since Liv and Clive have to keep their distance, Vivian offers to bring Harley in under the guise of compensating him for his brother’s death. They use this to interrogate him about his faction’s plans, and then bug his car for more information. The key part of this story going forward was definitely Fillmore Graves’ willingness to kill Harley until Liv reminded them that she actually works with the police. If Harley and his cronies start to sound like a threat, will Fillmore Graves go to Liv and Clive, or will they just take matters into their own hands? This tightening of the screw makes Liv and Clive’s investigation feel like it has much greater stakes than just catching a zombie murderer.

The satisfying case of the week and continued entrenchment of Fillmore Graves in the overall story weren’t the reasons this episode packed such a punch, though. I talk frequently here about the sheer amount of plot iZombie shuffles around on a weekly basis. One of the main reasons the plot overload works is because when there is a meaty emotional story to dig into, the show gives it the weight it deserves and the room to breathe a little. Perhaps nowhere has this tactic been better deployed than in Major’s storyline in this episode, which started as what looked like a peek into his new life as a zombie mercenary before quickly devolving into tragedy.

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The sneaky thing about the way the writers ended Major’s story in this episode is that it wasn’t really sneaky at all. The precedent for Major having to take the cure and therefore losing all of his memories is one of the longest-running plotlines on the show right now, and each episode in this season has slowly revealed that Major didn’t have much time left before the cure was necessary. What made it feel particularly brutal was how deftly the first three quarters of the episode maintained a light and entertaining tone, only to drop all those pretenses at the end once we realize that everyone is about to lose “their” version of Major forever, thus turning a cheeky, fun episode into one that packs a serious gut punch.

Another thing the show got exactly right was emphasizing Major’s two most important relationships on the show as he heads into the unknown. Ravi is so reluctant to leave Major’s side that he falls asleep in his chair, and Liv? Well, Liv is there to break our hearts. iZombie started with Liv being devastated that her new zombie status means she had to leave behind the man she loved, and throughout these two plus seasons the writers have mined great emotional mileage from the connection that remains between these two characters. Whether it be friendship or something more, their affection for and comfort with each other reads loud and clear in every scene they share, and all of this emotional subtext becomes text again in the most devastating fashion as Major prepares to not remember any of this shared affection.

It’s a perfect “say what you feel because you’ll never be able to again” TV moment, and the writing, directing, music choice, and acting of Robert Buckley and Rose McIver all absolutely hit a home run to create one of the most emotionally affecting sequences on the show to date. All the plot in the world—fun though it may be—means nothing if you don’t have the necessary connection to the characters that populate those stories, and the entire end sequence of this episode proves just how deep those character connections run (both to each other and to the audience). So, it seems this is where we say goodbye to Major Lilywhite as we knew him. Your loss is devastating, yet I can’t wait to see who New You turns out to be.

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Stray observations:

  • The Scratching Post is open, and Don E is recruiting. It’s fun that Tanner the stoner is the recruit instead of a totally new character, but the story development and general purpose of this club is very confusing right now.
  • When the cold open started, I completely forgot that Fillmore Graves uses those zombie mercenaries in actual combat missions and was very confused about what was happening. You’d think they could somehow invent better bullet-stopping headgear, since that’s the only thing that can really kill them?
  • The wrinkle that Ravi’s blue brain potion makes brain visions more clear and potent is an interesting one. Setting up for future blue brain potion uses, perhaps?
  • “Now be a good little sketch bitch, and pick up that pad.” The return of sketch artist Jimmy, who likes the dominatrix version of Liv, was delightful.
  • Vinnie Van Lowe as Cliff McCormack’s lawyer is everything I’ve ever wanted, frankly.
  • “Once I’m New Me, keep reminding me of what we meant to each other. And give me a new name. One that’s less silly.” Major, nooooooooo.

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