Graphic: Jack Rowand (The CW)
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While the thematic throughline doesn’t land quite as well as one would hope—even with the return of a Liv voiceover to wrap it all up—iZombie’s “Filleted To Rest” is all about family. Both biological families and found families, as well as the (extreme) ups and downs that go with both forms. Honestly, that speaks to iZombie as a whole, as found family became a necessity for Liv after becoming a zombie. It’s a dynamic that has often been lost in these later seasons, with the focus on Fillmore-Graves/Renegade/the cure/Seattle politics (storylines designed to isolate characters) and the writers’ desire to create a zombie epic. It’s why an episode like “Five, Six, Seven, Ate!” is so refreshing because it forces the dynamic that was once just a natural part of the show. A dynamic that is missing in this very episode, in favor of several other less interesting and less-written relationships.

“If we’re lucky, sometimes they lift us up. Most of the time, they end up doing a bit of both. We can rebel. Tell ourselves we’re nothing like the people who raised us. And end up being exactly the person they raised us to be. And never even realize it. I know I’m not a mom to these kids. We might lose faith sometimes, but we can’t give up on family. It might be the most important thing we’ve got.”

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This part of the voiceover comes as Liv prepares dinner for the kids, with Major joining along. The problem is, the emotion it and this scene are trying to evoke when it comes to Liv and Major as the de facto mom and dad to these zombie kids (a dynamic iZombie has played with a few times his season) ignores the genuine emotional connection iZombie has created with its already established found family. This scene means nothing, because even with episodes dedicated to or empathetic moments for them, these child characters mean nothing. This same scene, with Liv, Major, Ravi, Peyton, and Clive? That would make sense and be a solid end to an episode where these characters (minus Peyton) are just crushed by what’s going on right now. This scene as it is? iZombie could have replaced the child actors it has with other child actors, and I‘m not sure anyone would notice.

As for “real” family, after all these years of wondering, “Where’d Liv’s family go?” iZombie answers that question. Unfortunately, it does so in a “Let’s get it out of the way.” manner, clearly doing it just to feed the final season Big Bad narrative. While Liv is on a brain that could excuse any or coldness during this scene, she is conveniently able to fight the brain in this instance. This very peculiar instance. Because from the moment Liv goes on about all the efforts she made to reach out to her mother and brother, it’s like the series is gaslighting the audience who wanted to see Liv’s family again; because there’s never been any indication since the characters were written off that Liv cared enough to contact her mother or brother—not even after the wall went up. Of course, that would be uncharacteristic for a character like Liv—it makes sense she would keep trying—but that’s just how it’s looked every episode since their last. Until now.

The scene itself is competently acted by Rose McIver and Molly Hagan, but it’s really a matter of telling instead of showing, right to the Uncle Art stuff that leads the way to Liv learning who her father is, which is what Chelsea Catalanotto’s script uses this uncomfortable reunion for. It’s an underwhelming version of a long-awaited scene, all because it exists to move along a plot with far less investment but more importance for the final season.

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I should also note, this episode is held afloat by every main cast member’s acting, as well as supporting performances by actors like Molly Hagan, Quinta Brunson, and Tongayi Chirisa. That’s key, as this episode leans heavy on the relationships between main cast and recurring. And at the very least, this is a straightforward episode in a season that has had some head-scratching plotting in its setup.

Liv’s family not forgiving her even after the zombie outbreak thankfully doesn’t end up being another bigotry issue, but it’s a choice to have them not forgive her at all. It’s not that Liv’s family was ever a strong part of the series, but with their very existence during all of this, it’s natural to question how they’ve handled the new world order. And it’s a question that’s been asked a lot more than who Liv’s father is. But that question’s actually asked and answered here: Martin Roberts aka “New Boss” and most likely aka Beanpole Bob (“Roberts” leads to “Bob”). It’s a very soapy reveal for iZombie, and I’m willing to see where it’s going, but it feels like a plot pulled out of a hat.

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The case-of-the-week is solid but nothing special, and the brain—and how terrible it supposedly is—has its ups and downs. The brain allows for moments like an intimidating Liv getting a uni to make her a cup of coffee, the hilarious “You lie!” outburst at the vending machine (“Tasty Coffee”), and even just the looks on suspects’ faces when they realize Liv is on their dead boss’ brain. But the brain stays dormant during Liv’s argument with her mother, then it supposedly reaches its worst and most inconvenient timing when Liv yells at the kids to “keep it down.” As someone who was yelled at a lot worse as a child, I’ll admit I don’t see the problem in her telling them to stop screaming when she’s trying to focus on life-saving work. The scene treats it like she just said, “Fuck them kids,” but it’s not even close to as mean as she is to adults while on the brain.

There’s nothing wrong with this episode or iZombie, in general, wanting to stretch its definition of family, but it, unfortunately, does a poor job of selling these new dynamics this season. With Dale on bed rest and Clive as acting Lieutenant, Michelle gets Clive’s detective spot. The episode introduces the concept of him giving her easier cases because she’s pregnant, but that only lasts one case (as she gets hit in the head with a hockey puck, which is terrible… but pretty funny). Then it wraps up the mystery of whether Clive is her baby’s father: most likely not. Michelle’s behavior is supposed to be excusable because she admits how great of a guy Clive is, how he’s “the man women want as the father of their child.” Her literal “sorry… not sorry” certainly doesn’t make up for it either, because she admits to using him for support. As I’ve mentioned before, Michelle has never been a fully-fleshed out character, and while this scene at least gives her motivation, it doesn’t make her any better or more interesting. It’s just proof Clive dodged a bullet.

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As for a character who doesn’t dodge a bullet, I’ve wanted to mention it for weeks, but he hasn’t been around: When the season began, Justin went from having a personality to being the guy that fully backed and supported Major as Commander. He already struggled to continue to be an actual character after he and Liv broke up, the downside of being a non-Major ex that actually got to live. And now he is dead. It’s not a heroic way to go, as yet another Fillmore-Graves traitor and the one zombie Major actually has the guts to kill. Again, it’s the series stretching the definition of family, as Major and Justin were brothers in arms, and if not for Ravi, you could easily call them best friends. In fact, before Major offs Justin, Justin even tells him he loves him, as, at the very least, iZombie still has an underrated ability to write male friendships without fear of allowing them to actually have emotions. As much as Justin’s betrayal and death are arguably supposed to show that the stakes are higher this season and you just can’t trust anyone, instead, the betrayal does more of a disservice to the Justin character. Because for the most part, who is surprised if anyone—hell, everyone—at Fillmore-Graves betrays Major? Justin is the only character who can do it and have it matter for the audience, and as such, he has to be the one to go here.

This episode highlights one huge issue with this season: Emotional situations (really, manipulation) without any emotional connection are empty and meaningless. They just don’t resonate. We’re supposed to care about a coyote we saw once in a previous season (and mostly only cared about because the actor was on Veronica Mars) when he’s gunned down, despite knowing nothing about him. We’re supposed to care about kids who only turn into zombies because they think it’s cool, not because they have a life-threatening disease. We’re supposed to care that nameless mercenaries are killed. We’re supposed to care that zombies we’ll never see again have parents who are anti-zombie. We’re supposed to care about a character who’s only been in one other episode’s struggles with her estranged twin sister and mother with Alzheimer’s.

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In that last case, Charlie is a likable character, but she’s only appeared in one episode prior to this… in the beginning of the season… via Skype. And as the show doesn’t do the work to actually make the audience care and react appropriately—it just expects them to feel a certain way—it’s no surprise that Ravi’s grand gestures to reunite Charlie and Laila happen offscreen. I’ve noted how talented both Rahul Kohli and Quinta Brunson are, but the way this plot is executed: Who cares? Why is this story the focus of a last season episode? Actually, it’s not even really the focus of anything, so why is it even here? There is more for the episode to work with when it comes to Liv’s interaction with her mother and Justin’s betrayal, but both are instead harmed by a lack of screentime and the lack of attention paid to them prior to this episode (with the former having it the worst).

But at least the show finally wrapped the whole Liv/her estranged family thing.


Stray observations

  • I like the walk and talk when Ravi and Liv show up at the crime scene, but I’m confused about the shaky cam in the scene right after the opening credits. This isn’t Southland, and it doesn’t happen at any other point.
  • Ravi: “More like someone wanted her to go. He gets it.”
  • Clive: “I want to remember you like this, Liv. Pre-total nightmare.” Aww.
  • Liv (re: figuring out recipe while on brain): “It doesn’t quite work like that.” Except, it does.
  • Michelle is a uni, right? Would she actually be able to get promoted to Detective because of the spot left by Clive, even though it’s temporary?
  • It’s funny that Liv on chef brain insults brain cuisine, considering the elaborate recipes she whips up, this week especially.
  • Jake: “It’s hard to prepare gourmet meals when your taste buds are shot.”
    Liv: “Beethoven was deaf. Suck it up.” Sorry, Ravi. This is the line of the episode.
  • After just one scene as Herbert Cassal (Jason Gray-Stanford), I now feel the strong desire to rewatch Monk.
  • Laila: “Have you ever seen the movie The Notebook, by the way?”
    Charlie: “Everybody’s seen The Notebook.”
    Laila: “I hadn’t. I was perfectly happy. Now Ryan Gos-ling is ruined for me. See? I almost just cried when I said his name.”
  • Other than the fact he threatens people’s lives and loved ones, I don’t see why anyone (like Enzo or Justin) would willingly join Roberts’ cause—he doesn’t scream charismatic cult leader, not with that toupee. I also don’t understand why soldiers keep defecting from Fillmore-Graves instead of just trying to stage a coup. Justin, especially, could’ve had a legitimate gripe in terms of getting passed up for Commander over Major, someone with less experience and less desire to actually do this job.
  • Lady on TV: “I don’t see why zombies and humans can’t live together. Some of my best friends are zombies.” On the long list of why the zombie/minority thing doesn’t work, there’s also this. It’s supposed to be like the “Some of my best friends are black people.” line, but it’s not even used in the right context. This isn’t someone trying to prove they’re not a bigot—this random, no-named character is the rare example on this show of someone not being a bigot.
  • The one problem with this case is the murderer’s motive, as iZombie chooses to conflate zombiedom with homosexuality, leaning hard on the phrasing of “coming out” and “closeted” during the confession. (Happy Pride month?) This zombie analogy is where iZombie once again stumbles. Making it a stand-in for homosexuality—and then making the murder victim simply irredeemable by revealing she was going to “out” her employee to his bigot parents—is something iZombie could technically handle... if it didn’t make being a zombie a stand-in for everything else. (I don’t even want to go down the rabbit hole of what a scratch symbolizes here.)
  • Enzo has direct intel about what Major did to Justin. I imagine Hobbs is also a mole, as I spend every episode he’s in wondering if it’s finally the episode where he reveals he’s working against Major.
  • It was mentioned in the comments last week, but I’d honestly forgotten General Mills was mentioned last season in “Goon Struck” (despite enjoying that episode). Which explains why he didn’t want to nuke Seattle, as his daughter Sloane is still here, as a zombie. The van she’s loaded into leads me to believe it’s Roberts’ crew, which I think continues to suggest Hobbs is a mole.
  • Based on the story her mother told, Roberts definitely knew Liv—aka Renegade, as it’s public knowledge—was his daughter before she came to his door. However, it doesn’t appear that he had a plan to turn her onto his side in the war because it’s not like he sets up the scenario for her to find out about him.

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