Robert Buckley (Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW)

In the season premiere of iZombie, the show set itself up with a difficult task: Giving Clive enough of a connection to the murder of a previously unmentioned zombie family to make his obsession with finding out what happened to them feel emotionally grounded. The premiere itself only did the most perfunctory job establishing this connection; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene of Clive and the adorable zombie child Wally reconnecting, before he later turns up as a victim of a zombie extermination in his home.

At the time, that meeting seemed far too convenient and much too neatly tied in a writerly bow to be fully narratively satisfying in setting up Clive’s investment in solving these murders, beyond it being important to the season-long narrative arc of the show. Thankfully, “Zombie Knows Best” dives deeper into exploring the backstory between Clive and Wally’s family, and in the process strengthens not only Clive’s personal connection to the murders but also deepens his characterization as a whole.

It does this through carefully deployed flashbacks, which writer Diane Ruggiero-Wright (who also wrote “A Trip To The Dentist,” one of the best flashback-heavy episodes of Veronica Mars) uses pretty much perfectly here. These are a different type of flashback for the show—more naturalistic than the brain-induced zombie flashes—and Ruggiero-Wright, along with director Jason Bloom, do a great job of dispersing the flashbacks throughout the episode for maximum emotional impact and also visually differentiating them from the brain-induced flashbacks to establish them as their own separate thing. Clive’s connection to Wally’s family was much more complicated than it appeared in the premiere, with him coming close to being both romantically involved with Wally’s mother and a surrogate father to Wally himself, and Clive’s sadness and feeling of regret that if he had made different choices he could have saved them from their fate is palpable. Bringing Clive into the fold on the zombie secret was not only key to opening up the show’s zombie plots, but it’s already also been incredible for allowing Clive to be a more central character in the action since he isn’t relegated to only appear in the case of the week.

The episode isn’t all heavy-hitting emotional moments, though; it’s also incredibly funny, thanks to the first dual brain-induced personality change of the series. Now that Liv and Major are both zombies at the same time and everyone is in the know about it, the show can play with different ways to do the brain personalities. Turning Liv and Major into a stereotypical square father/mortified teen daughter combination is a lively choice, especially because it allows Robert Buckley to just go for it as he plays Major under the influence of the aforementioned teen girl brain. He gets to hit every typical teen girl touchstone—whine, sing along to Taylor Swift (I think?), take selfies, and be embarrassed by his authority figures—and Buckley proves once again that comedy is his sweet spot as an actor. Choosing a scenario where Liv gets to needle Major as a pseudo-authority figure also adds to the hilarity, as Rose McIver clearly relishes in the chance to play off of Buckley as a comedic pair. The case itself doesn’t ever evolve to more than fine (the moment the mother is introduced, it’s not hard to figure out she’s the real culprit), but really, the case here is just an excuse to get Major to seriously use the phrase “I can’t even” and sometimes, that’s all the case of the week needs to be.

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Clive’s story and the case of the week take up most of the space in the episode, leaving very little time for Liv or Ravi to get many character moments of their own. They do get one scene together that hits the right emotional notes, as Ravi confesses all of his Peyton and Blaine fears and Liv uses her Dad-influenced brain to give Ravi a very sweet emotional pep talk about the situation. It’s moments like that—ones that straddle the line between Liv-the-character and Liv’s-zombie-brain-the-other-character—that lets the conceit of zombies being influenced by ingested brains so much more than a simple gimmick.

Another notable thing about this episode, and about this show in general: It is always, always working. Almost every scene that seems like a throwaway is actually working on percolating some sort of plot in the background, building up little scraps of clues that will later add up to something much bigger in respect to the overarching season’s narrative. The best example of that in this episode is the casual mention of “brain tubes” in Major’s story—which are mashed-up, mixed-up brains that don’t give a zombie any personality traits of who they are ingesting—a term that shows up again when Ravi discovers that the Chuck Hurd caller who complained about having zombie neighbors mentioned these tubes in the neighbor’s garbage cans. This clue leads them to the caller, which leads them to learn about a conspiracy message board where people are posting about suspected zombies around them, creating what amounts to a potential zombie hit list. Fillmore Graves’ concerns about what happens when the humans find out about zombies just got a bit more immediate.

Stray observations:

  • Clive Hilariously Reacts To Things is always one of the show’s secret weapons, and the increased screen time for Clive thankfully means even better reactions. The best here were his disgust at the brain food preparations and his face while watching Game Of Thrones for the first time.
  • Clive’s mustache is far more flattering than it has any right to be, though, honestly.
  • Do you think they named the murdered dad Stan just so they could make the Flat Stanley comic book panel joke?
  • Ravi needs something better to do than moon over Peyton. I have faith it’s coming.
  • The most tenuously laid plot so far this season is Major’s search for Natalie. It really needs to get a full A, B, or even C storyline in an episode soon, because Major casually mentioning his search for her in one throwaway line a week isn’t quite going to cut it for much longer. With this slow-burn story, and Major’s impending memory loss, plus his new job as a zombie mercenary for Fillmore Graves, a bigger plotline for Major is inevitably coming soon.

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