Malcolm Goodwin, hockey guy, Rose McIver
Photo: Bettina Strauss (The CW)

iZombie might be packaged like a zany comedy, but episodes like this one prove that it is also sneakily one of the darkest shows on television. On its face, “Goon Struck” is teeming with funny, silly hockey jokes and overwrought Canadian stereotypes, but all of that serves merely as a palate cleanser to wash down some seriously complex and twisted themes. A simple, one-note zombie comedy this is not.

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Structurally, this episode is one of the more interesting of the season because it throws a lot of different storytelling styles at the viewer and just expects you to keep up. The biggest example of this is Major and Don E’s big road trip, which the episode does not explain throughout the entire trip in order to preserve the surprise at the end. It’s purposely disorienting: Why are Major and Don E together? How are they outside the barrier walls? Who is that woman screaming in their trunk? Why are they meeting with smugglers? The mystery builds and builds, until the woman has to be turned into a zombie in order to save her life, and we find out the whole thing was a plan by Chase and Fillmore Graves to bring the daughter of the General who most wants to nuke New Seattle into oblivion into the city, so he will back off of his stance. It’s evil and gross, and perfectly fitting of the precarious place Fillmore Graves operates from in this new world. They can’t seem to find a way to feed all their zombies, but don’t say they’re not committed to doing whatever they have to in order to pretend to the outside world that everything is going just fine.

As for the case of the week, what starts out as a fun hockey goon goof (complete with brain poutine and Clive and Ravi’s absolute delight at everything about Liv the hockey player) quickly turns into the turning point of the entire season to date when Liv’s hockey player brain makes her see visions of Blaine murdering Mama Leone’s cohorts at the laundromat. This allows Liv to put together all of the pieces of what happened to Mama Leone and finally have a way to take down Blaine for good, but just when Clive is ready to arrest him the Fillmore Graves brass steps in and forces the mayor’s office to free him because they “caught” the murderer on their end. So to sum up, in this world Fillmore Graves can blackmail Blaine into finding Renegade—during which he murders several zombies and a human—and then cover up his crimes and their involvement by declaring the crime against the zombie victims solved and forcing the human police to set their own suspect free. And therefore justice for no one is served.

Liv’s disgust at this injustice is only compounded when, under extreme pressure from his own internal faction, Chase decides to execute Renegade for her crime of turning humans into zombies. This is an execution done purely out of a militaristic need to show control and consequences to the masses, and the spectacle around it is brutal. Is this supposed to keep people in line, or will it simply create more dissenters? The episode did a lot of work to make Chase Graves a more complex character and show his own moral conflict about what he thinks is right versus what he thinks he needs to do to make New Seattle work, and Jason Dohring does a good job with that conflict. In the end, though, he is the one who calls for zombie guillotine to drop on Renegade’s head, while a mass of humans and zombies look on in both horror and pleasure. He is the face of that decision, for good and for bad.

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Looking back, it’s extremely easy to connect the dots between everything that has happened during this season to where we end up: with an angry, horrified Liv poised to step up and continue Renegade’s operations after watching her die. If I’ve had one consistent issue with Liv’s characterization over these four seasons, it’s that her stories often have to take a backseat to being a plot-and-comedy device due to the show’s case-of-the-week format. This often causes her emotional arcs to never fully get a chance to develop or land, because her personality for most of the episodes are usurped by the brain personalities she inhabits in order to solve cases. That action in itself is Liv putting herself out there to help people—and her drive to do that is something that’s been covered in previous episodes—but whenever she faces off against another character in a battle of morals it always feels like there isn’t quite enough there to back up her side of being on the morally righteous. With her stepping up and taking over Renegade’s operations, there is a real chance for Liv to have a very well carved out point of view in the midst of what is a very interesting, morally gray, murky quagmire of a story.

What this also does is make Liv’s conflict with Major much more compelling, in that they are now literally on opposite sides (instead of being sort-of, mostly on opposite sides in an esoteric way, like they were previously). Major’s ascent into the rank and file of Fillmore Graves was set up a bit feebly at the end of last season, and he still hasn’t quite gotten the showcase in season four to fully make his argument to Chase that “we do what we have to” is what he actually believes is best in this situation. As Angus pointed out last week, Major’s journey from zombie hater to zombie military lifer is a huge swing, and it has been maybe the most complex character arc on the show. In order to make his moral juxtaposition with Liv really land, the writers need to do a little more fleshing out of who Major even believes himself to be at this point. All the pieces are there to put this together into something great. Now they just need to get them all to fit together.

Stray observations

  • Casting Dawnn Lewis as Renegade/Mama Leone was a brilliant move. She puts so much humanity into the character and it made her immediately sympathetic. You can see why Liv would be inspired to take over and continue doing good in her name.
  • Is that annoying French inspector actually French or did he just eat French brains? He sounds like Lumière from Beauty And The Beast and I don’t care for it.
  • It was nice to see Peyton get a bit more visibility in this episode, but I’m still waiting for a bigger story for her this season surrounding her role in the mayor’s office.
  • The tooth makeup was bad. Let’s just come out and say it.
  • Don E and Major popping out of crates filled with iced brains was amazing. It’s these little touches and flourishes that make this show great.

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