(Photo credit: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Syfy)
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Murphy has every right to feel a bit burnt out on the idea of saving humanity. After all, he just barely managed to escape from the submarine where Zona was planning to use him as a human blood bank, after spending all that time desperately being kept alive in hopes of getting to the CDC—a plan that turned out to be a pipe dream. And now, mere hours after escaping one group of blood-hungry humans, he’s being asked to do it all again? And not only that, but on another damn boat? It would be strange if he wasn’t trying to avoid such plans.

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But then, there’s his solution. And it’s just as Murphy-esque as you might expect—namely, it’s all about him. Becoming the demigod to a new race of zombie-human hybrids holds a lot of appeal for the self-centered doof, and in a backwards way, his idea has a twisted kind of logic to it. If the zombies are devouring themselves from lack of humans to eat, and the human population is fading away without any defense against ravenous killers, maybe bringing them all under the docile control of a semi-benevolent (and mind-controllng) dictator could bring about a measure of peace. Assuming, of course, you don’t care about any of that “free will” or “liberty” stuff. We know Murphy hates experiencing the second-hand pain of the Zs, so a strategy that could put such discomfort to bed makes sense, as long as you’re the one calling the shots.

“A New Mission” is a solid return for the new season of Z Nation—frankly, it should’ve been the first episode back, even though it’s obvious that entire two-hour premiere was just an excuse to retroactively insert an already-established antagonist into the new storyline. This pivot in the narrative—the CDC plan failed, so now there‘s a new task at hand—is a fresh and welcome development for the show, which could’ve easily descended into repetition, had the gang just continued onwards in an eternal search for the elusive CDC center. Instead, we get a relaunch of sorts: Warren announces the new plan, and our cast of characters get a couple new faces. “Stop Murphy from creating his race of blends,” she says, right after that “pick yourself back up” speech that gave Doc goosebumps. He‘s not the only one invigorated by this turn.

The new cast, however, is still a little green. Hector we already knew, in his now-former life as “El Scorpion.” But already he’s pulling his weight, saving Addy from that hulking behemoth in the hangar where the supply drop landed. All we really know about his new mentality is the speech he delivered at the end of last season, thanking them for leaving him in the zombie-filled tunnel to realize the error of his ways. (Or his “road to Damascus” moment, as Murphy calls it.) He’ll fit the bill nicely as the resident badass replacement for Vasquez et. al, but it’s too early to tell how he’ll gel with his new family.

Dr. Sun Mei, on the other hand, has a clearly established motive and sense of obligation to her rescuers. The Beijing-by-way-of-Laos scientist doesn’t have the firmest grasp on combat (maybe don’t fling yourself on injured comrades in the middle of a firefight), and it’s unclear what all skills she brings to the table. But if she’s a scientist with the talent to help concoct a cure, that makes her as invaluable, in her own way, as Murphy. Learning that there’s a stronghold of resistance in China is interesting, as is the knowledge there’s an aircraft carrier somewhere out there, waiting for her to return with humanity-saving cargo in tow. Too bad they’ll be waiting a while, now that her military escort fell for the whole “don’t get killed by your own laser-targeted nail-gun ball weapon being thrown back at you” stunt. R.I.P., these guys. (Lt. Mong, we learned your name just long enough to have your throat ripped out, so bonus points for hanging on to two extra minutes of life.)

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But the more interesting introduction to the Z Nation universe this week is the idea of “Enders,” humans whose brains have been fried. When the various groups of them first appeared in the forest, watching the supply drop wafting down from the plane, it looked like something out of The Warriors—competing bands of aesthetically individualized gangs. It gives the show another way to have waves of animalistic enemies for our heroes to fight, without having to come up new looks and formulas for the Zs every single week. Instead, you can have a bunch of cavemen-looking grunts going head-to-head with rejects from Class of 1984, and everybody wins.

We also learn the fate of Simon, a.k.a. Citizen Z, tonight. It seems DJ Qualls’ schedule on The Man In The High Castle isn’t going to interfere with his duties here. (It probably doesn’t hurt that he can film his scenes whenever, given the lack of overlap with the regular cast.) Everybody’s favorite communications specialist (everyone’s only communications specialist, really) is saved by a young woman willing to hop into bed naked with him to stop the hypothermia, even if it means he’s forced to endure an extremely awkward naked moment in front of her nana and uncle. Really, she’s a delight—the flat vocal affect of an Abed from Community, combined with the emotional intelligence of someone who can read other people and not be too bothered by how they respond. (Plus, when she does smile, it lights up the damn screen. How often do you see a smile on the show not at least partially threatened by imminent doom?)

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(Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Syfy)

Not everything worked, however, and much of that was just the problem of spending the episode reshuffling the deck. By the end of the story, we’ve got our new team and mission, and we’ve re-established where everyone is (including The Man, hot on the heels of Warren and the gang), but the route from being captured and knocked to the ground to those final moments was uneven. The nameless soldiers barely made an impression, and the transition from prisoners to armed collective was strangely abrupt, even if Warren’s speech about the meaning of “mercy” seemed to cut through a lot of the mutual mistrust and animosity. (Addy’s new bat-spike is pretty awesome, though.) And the 10k subplot is weirdly underdeveloped. Yes, it was clear early on that Murphy had gotten him under his control, so the last shot of the bite mark on his back felt like gilding the lily, but Murphy’s range of powers—not to mention the varying degrees of “possession,” for lack of a better word, that he induces in his subjects—is going to need investigation. Presumably the show will deal with it in the coming weeks, but it still felt off in this initial outing.

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But the band is back together, or rather, most of them are. It’ll be fun to see how long Murphy can lead his own team without Warren catching up. Their relationship has always been combative, but this fracture felt earned, after the almost-lab-rat fate Murphy avoided in the season two finale. They care for each other, but they don’t trust each other, not any more. I want Murphy back in the fold, along with 10k, but I’m intrigued enough to see how this plays out. You won me over with a strong sophomore season, Z Nation; don’t go getting sloppy on us now. That’s the Zs’ job.

Stray Observations:

  • Absolutely loved seeing how Warren’s initial attempt to turn the tables on their captors in the first minutes went: She and Addy just immediately kick ass, and Doc and Hector fail completely.
  • Not sure how you spell the name of Simon’s rescuer, yet, but her line: “I’m a huge fan. …Not in a Kathy Bates with a sledgehammer kind of way. Though I do love Misery. So scary. Do you?” Killer.
  • Another good Warren moment comes when the laser-ball first takes out that group of Zs; her grudging half-nod of respect was the epitome of Warren.
  • Here’s the show doing narrative right: After Warren announces, “Let’s go find the blue son of a bitch,” and Murphy immediately rolls up in the supply drop vehicle. More of that cut-to-it fun, and less of the predictable, “You’re ok?” to Lt. Mong, seconds before he is then unsurprisingly killed.
  • Most meaningful moment of the week goes to Murphy, cluing in 10k that he’s stopped counting zombie kills. That’s huge for his character.
  • Crazy image of the week: The rolling, self-consuming ball of zombies.

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