To paraphrase William Shakespeare, if poetry be the food of post-apocalyptic survival, maybe take a hard pass on it. Lured in by the sound of a woman reading Poe’s “The Raven,” this week Doc enters the land of deranged organic ladies, harvesting human flesh for all their needs in a self-contained garden of eatin’. Before all is revealed, however, the trap is set to the sounds of poems. When Doc tries to go to bed that first night, he’s entreated to stay and smoke pot, as Camilla reads Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “I Will Put Chaos Into Fourteen Lines.” It’s apt verse for the situation, as it speaks to the effort to keep a man twisting and writhing in a situation beyond his control. Ironically, it was the search for a way to communicate that ensnared Doc in the first place. Fitting, too, that bringing down the very radio tower that attracted him would be the means of his escape. Never let it be said that Doc doesn’t appreciate the absurdity of his situation.

Despite the appeal of the setup, “Doc’s Angels” is another way station en route to the season three finale, one that can’t help but feel inessential in a narrative marked by more formidable efforts by Z Nation’s creative team. There’s been a lot of discussion in these reviews about how the third season has set a higher creative bar than in years past: Whereas before it was sufficient to drop the team into a strange new situation and let the hijinks ensue, now that more complex and aspiring storytelling has been embraced by the show, falling back on the old routine rarely has the same effect it used to possess. This installment had a memorable-enough scenario—three evil women capturing and cutting up people for their own enjoyment—but it still lacks any depth or narrative grace notes. Not that watching Doc fleeing through shrubbery in a pink nightgown isn’t fun in and of itself.

I spoke last week about the huge burden Russell Hodgkinson is being asked to shoulder this year. Doc was already the MVP of season three, being given the lion’s share of screen time and having multiple episodes largely revolve around his side missions, be they with 10k or Addy. And now, he gets yet another showcase, this time wholly his own, and it’s again demonstrating the limits to which you can push this character without giving him a cohort or comic foil to play off of. His amiable nature makes him the logical choice to plunk down amid cuckoo plot curveballs, but the show has gone to that well so many times now, it’s becoming just a lazy way to get from point A to point B (or point Z, so to speak) in the quest to set up the final confrontation. Sure, he made contact with Citizen Z and was able to transmit the message about The Man kidnapping Lucy, but that’s the whole issue: Everything else that happened was nothing but a mild diversion from establishing radio contact. Again, in earlier seasons that might’ve been enough. But now we know the show is capable of more.

But credit where credit’s due, because the actors playing Camilla, Linda, and Sarah certainly did their best to make this detour memorable. In part, the languid nature of this story actually helped the episode rather than dragging it down, because it gave the women time to really sell their respective versions of crazy. Sarah may have been the most overt lunatic of the bunch (it’s no coincidence she’s the one feeding the pet Zs, leading Doc to make his “crazy cat lady” analogy), and Linda the most menacing, but Camilla’s faux-sensuality actually held the most promise; unlike the other two, she didn’t telegraph anything of a threat, instead exhibiting qualities that wouldn’t be out of place among any garden-variety earthy hippie type. True, it wasn’t long before she donned her human-skin mask alongside the others and made with the bonkers act, but the three of them meshed well, their personalities playing off each other in ways that demonstrated how they could’ve gotten along all this time.

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The unusual structure also helped build this little world—for the first half of the episode, anyway. The lengthy acts made the feeling of descending into this hazy palace of mystery feel more natural, just as much a heart of darkness journey in its own way as Warren’s version two episodes earlier. But it became awkwardly paced in the back end, as the deliberate unfolding in the first half forced the series to shoehorn in a couple rapid-fire act breaks, hurting the momentum. One act, in which Doc is attacked by the trio (only to be rescued by the other humans he helped to free in the basement), is barely a minute long, or at least feels like it.

There were enough entertaining beats in “Doc’s Angels” to save it from the clumsy vibe of installments like “Doc Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” The bedazzled Zs, the weed being grown in a guy’s head, Doc’s campy “peace out, bitches,” as he toppled the radio tower and ran to freedom—all nice Z Nation touches. But it’s time to get back to our heroes. Doc is best as part of a team, and when he’s just a handy way to kill time while filling out the season’s mandated number of episodes, the seams begin to show. Just like the furniture made of human skin in the women’s home, it’s garish enough to get us to look at it, but it also doesn’t merit much consideration, beyond a ghoulish gawk. We’re trying to save the world here, people.

Stray Observations:

  • Honestly, the most unsettling moment was that guy with the pot growing out of his skull, right? That was Hannibal-level icky.
  • It’s a good thing they have so much space in their encampment, because at the rate Linda was chewing the scenery, it’s not going to be around long.
  • Of course Doc was the bassist in a Pink Floyd cover band, before disco came along and ruined his life.
  • Interesting to hear there’s a Kazakhstan guy data mining old vaccine trials. We’ve been getting tiny hints about the wider narrative beyond Murphytown, but it’s still coming in these fragments and snatches of dialogue.
  • Speaking of which, we’re running out of time to get to the most intriguing element this season set up in the premiere, then dropped: Those weird Aryan model types lounging in a pool and abducting scientists back to their Frank Lloyd Wright-esque hideout.

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