Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Malcolm Goodwin’s iZombie directorial debut focuses on those men (and monsters) at work

TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Yet again, Blaine DeBeers has to learn to adapt. His old tricks now have a case of diminishing returns, since he’s finally been revealed to the public as the scumbag murderer he is. That means Seattle needs a new pipeline’s needed for brain smuggling. So by the end of this episode, it’s onward and upwards for Don E.

As Blaine calls this his story, not Liv’s (despite another subtle brain for Rose McIver to play), there’s the question of whether “The Scratchmaker” is looking to provide sympathy for the devil. As much as Blaine believes it does and tells the story as such, instead, the sympathy in this episode goes to his sidekick, Don E. Yes, Don E is offered the “chance to be a hero” by Fillmore-Graves (by taking over the brain smuggling duties), but that’s not even why he eventually does it. Still, he graduates from sticking up for “Blaine’s brains” to sticking up for himself and becoming the anti-hero Blaine sees himself as.

Advertisement

Blaine’s actually pushed out of his own story throughout this episode. In fact, Blaine’s been pushing himself out of the narrative even before he was the most hated man in Seattle. When the season began, Don E was already frustrated with Blaine about how he was shirking his responsibilities while living the life. So it makes perfect sense that Blaine would be cut out from a large chunk of the story, ultimately to be cut out from the brain business.

This is Don E’s episode, a showcase for Bryce Hodgson to play up the character’s conflicted feelings over wanting to remain loyal to Blaine—the most disloyal man “alive”—and wanting to keep the business afloat—with the knowledge that Blaine is the one sinking it. Through all the demands and verbal abuse, through all the offers from Major and Mr. Boss, Don E remains fiercely loyal to Blaine… until Blaine shows no loyalty himself and kills Tanner right in front of him. Tanner was a simpleton right to the end, but he was also Don E’s friend. And unlike Blaine, Tanner put in effort at the Scratching Post when he was around. (The episode has Don E utter the meta line, “Tanner, where have you been?!?”) The moment Blaine kills Tanner is the moment Don E realizes that all it takes is one mistake to be considered disposable by Blaine. The moment Blaine forces Don E to dispose of the body himself is the moment he makes up his mind.

Plus, there’s the fact that Blaine murders again, which is the exact thing people are protesting outside the bar. Don E isn’t a simpleton like Tanner, and he isn’t the brightest—a point Candy clearly realizes and Al manipulated—but when given the alternative of Blaine as the brain smuggler and owner of the Scratching Post (which is clearly Don E’s baby), Don E is perfect. He finally stands up to Blaine—even asking why he had to keep the mask from the Baracus murder—which is almost as major as Blaine living in Don E’s parents’ basement.

Advertisement

There’s a confidence in Malcolm Goodwin’s directing from the moment the episode begins. In fact, the shots from the jail cell to the Scratching Post in the beginning are exceptional, promising high standards for this unconventional episode. Moments like Mr. Boss and Don E leaving Major’s office (while “The Gambler” plays) and Blaine’s dark reflection in the pool at the very end stand out, just like the very empty Scratching Post. There are a couple of beats in the episode edit that suggest a lack of coverage at certain moments, but Goodwin clearly knows how to frame and block a shot well. It also helps that Goodwin is able to focus mostly on directing seasoned pros like David Anders, Ken Marino, and, Eddie Jemison; but he also gets to do the unexpected in highlighting Bryce Hodgson here as well. That’s with a lack of Liv and Ravi (and there is no Peyton), but that’s also an understandable choice that Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy’s script makes. And it leads to the moment where, because of the shift in perspective—and because Blaine has already called it boring—Liv has a vision, but the audience doesn’t get to see it this time.

But despite the interesting concept and shift in perspective, “The Scratchmaker” has some issues when it comes to every piece meshing well to form one major story, despite the strong framing device of Blaine waxing excuses about being a monster. In Buffy terms, I’d say this episode is supposed to be Blaine’s “Passion”: Not every scene needs to necessarily feature Blaine, Don E, and/or Boss, but every scene should have their presence looming over it. Most of the Fillmore-Graves scenes fall under the umbrella of that trio’s business, while the Liv stuff (from the case to the brain to the Renegade scene, including the mole meet-up before it) simply don’t. Actually, I’ll throw the brain a bone: It’s important for Don E.

Advertisement

The episode is certainly on to something by not focusing on the case-of-the-week, but considering what this is, it doesn’t make sense that this is the same episode where we get Dale going on bed rest and “acting Lieutenant” Babineaux, although doting husband/expecting father Clive is cute. As is the final scene between him and Liv, where she asks him to use his power to get her a raise or a gun, etc.; it’s one of those friendship scenes that usually gets lost in the partnership (and brains-influenced).

The biggest issue with this episode is that the ticking clock of Seattle running out of brains in three days isn’t as tense for the audience as the writers would like it to be. Not even where it’s an expectation that the heroes will save the day but in the sense that, halfway through the season, Seattle losing its brain supply would finally lead to the catastrophic firework factory the show keeps teasing.

Blaine (voiceover): “Let’s just admit it. We’ve all got a little monster in us. … Am I a monster? Maybe I’ve crossed a few lines. But, does that make me a monster? … Without monsters, what would people even talk about? The case of Carol Barbara, the murdered matchmaker these two are working on? Seen it. … So am i a monster? Maybe I am. Because sometimes, they just don’t leave me any choice.”

Advertisement

What exactly is a monster in the world of iZombie? Zombies are literal monsters, while humans… are also shown as monsters. There’s always the argument about a few bad apples because even in the real world, bad humans exist… but they’re not naturally armed with the predatory advantages that zombies have or all the guns and ammo the humans of Seattle now have (one hopes). Is Al a monster for working with her uncle, Mr. Boss—who is a monster—to get take Blaine—definitely a monster—down? Because she’s still a character who has no problem absolutely reading Blaine like a book—to his face—and she’s barely a character. As Blaine tells his story, trying to prove something about being a monster and keep from losing even more (when he’s already lost everything), he’s just proving Al right that he’s nothing more than a homicidal thug with daddy issues “who thinks he’s unique.”

Blaine does have a point when he asks, “Without monsters, what would people even talk about?” though. Just look at Dolly Durkins and her rants.

Advertisement

I find it interesting that, for bursts of confusion in and frustration with this season, iZombie continues to put intense thought into setting certain things up with seemingly throwaway lines. A couple of episodes mention Dance Of A Lifetime, and then it’s at the center of “Five, Six, Seven, Ate.” Last week, Don E said he had no idea where Mr. Boss was, a point I took as the show saying it wouldn’t have Eddie Jemison for the final season. But he’s back, baby. And after Al mentioned Ty Griss, CEO of UFreightEze—the other fictional character she profiled—in “Dot Zom,” he’s now technically part of the brain smuggling business. I also noted last week how, in just one scene with Al, it was apparent just how much Don E needs companionship, which is a thread this episode follows up on. A thread that iZombie surprisingly keeps dangling, an interesting choice for the final season (“Will Don E find love?”) but also more intriguing than the heavier stuff . These beats are more world-building than New Character #105. As is Don E’s need for “a fresh start.”


Stray observations

  • Liv: “I can live with Blaine living the high life, as long as he kept this city from coming apart.” Our hero.
  • Blaine: “The rec room TV is just repeating the edited-for-television version of Snakes On A Plane.”
  • Blaine: “Strike three, monkey fighter!”
  • Brandt: “Okay. Fun fact: No one in the history of the criminal justice system has ever gotten off as a result of a witticism or zinger. Don’t. Speak.” Does this make Brandt the only Rob Thomas character who knows that? Ken Marino’s return Brandt is great, as he simply has no time for Blaine’s douchebaggery—he has his own to worry about—and his advice is actually sound. His very loud sex scene set to “Afternoon Delight,” on the other hand... is definitely a choice.
  • It’s good to see Gage Golightly have more to do than expected as Al (and as Mr. Boss’ niece), and I will say I buy the plot twist that she was playing Blaine the whole time. Looking back at the mask scene, I can see it now.
  • This is a standout episode for Bryce Hodgson: The Scratching Post has no booze, so Don E ends up pouring water into vodka bottles.
  • Don E lost his virginity to the One Tree Hill premiere, and his mom wears cat shirts. How did things go wrong?
  • Don E: “Why, because of all of the fights?” I can’t believe Candy’s “Cold Cocks” line got in, probably because of this follow-up line.
  • Don E’s alternate bar names before he settles on the ridiculous “Don E Be Goodz”: “Paleface McGee’s,”“The Corpse Pride” (the best one), and “Cocktails & Nightmares.”
  • Other than for the ghost pepper bit, why’s Ravi at the Renegade house? If this is a regular occurrence, Liv should’ve told him about the drink, since Graham knew about it and all coyote protocol. How many coyotes have they enlisted since Baron’s death that Graham was able to learn all this so quickly? And when you know brain supplies are low, why plan to bring in more humans to turn into zombies? (The obvious answer to these questions is: “Renegade was a mistake.”)
  • Beanpole Bob—“the da Vinci of Utopium”—is 100% New Boss, right?
  • I noted the Tigris/Euphrates line in “Dot Zom,” but how was I to know iZombie’s love of puns went so deep it was actually “Ty Griss” and “UFreightEze”?
  • We’re supposed to note UFreightEze branding brain tubes now, but considering Liv not eating tubes is a thing, it sticks out. This episode also denies us brain cooking, which is perfect—Blaine wouldn’t care.
  • This show just named a character “General Mills.” And Blaine’s Freylich girl is named “Darcy Bennett” (Valerie Tian), a combo of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride And Prejudice.
  • Major: “Hi! Cute shirt. Does it say on the back what zombies get, or is it the same dead fish idea?”
  • It’s true to life Dolly would be so one-note, but as a character, it’s increasingly less interesting to see her and the hate the character brings each episode. This week, it’s familial hate, as she disowned her son after he became a zombie. It makes sense that Murphy (Rohan Campbell)—who we’ve never seen until this one scene—wouldn’t tell anyone that Dolly is his mother. Well, it makes sense until right before the moment the squad goes to Dolly’s food truck. The time to say something was before the food truck scene happens, instead of for a “shocking” reveal from a character we don’t know.
  • The people at the brain tube plant are humans. That seems like a bad idea, but zombies would also be bad. The solution is obvious: robots.
  • Despite checking in with D.C., there’s no check in with Peyton, who’s in D.C., begging them not to nuke Seattle. (And the joint chiefs consider Fillmore-Graves a terrorist organization.) Meanwhile, the UFreightEze billboard (“WE’VE GOT YOUR BRAINS!” with a zombie child on a slide) and brain initiative (though it’s just appearances) look like the kind of PR human-zombie relations could use. So Peyton has no part of it, as Aly Michalka is not in the episode.
Advertisement

Share This Story

About the author

LaToya Ferguson

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.