(Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Syfy)

I’m 99 percent convinced that, if Z Nation had anywhere near the budget such a move would require, this entire episode would have been set to Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around.” The series is finally setting this season’s Big Bad loose in Murphytown, and the results are eye opening. (Or head opening, if you’re unlucky enough to be standing next to The Man when Murphy requests brains.) The arrival of The Man was overdue, but now that he’s in play, the stakes have already been elevated from where they were just a week prior. And it’s especially impressive when you consider how much of ”Welcome To Murphytown” is given over to setting the table for future installments. It’s enough to make you hungry for a nice plate of cooked crickets.

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The Man is a creepy nemesis, and watching him take on the persona of a humble servant somehow ended up making him more, not less, unsettling. It was pretty clear from the moment the camera cut to the bulldog tattoo on his arm during the inoculation slash that our heroes’ nemesis wasn’t on the up-and-up, and despite a fairly convincing performance in front of Murphy (he actually comes across weirdly humbled during his playacting, which was likely what made Murphy lower his guard long enough to at least demand some brains from the new recruit), The Man was never going to take a knee to some blue-skinned pretender to the savior throne. He’s got a future living forever in Zona, after all. But his entire arc this week was great: Using the fake arm, making himself vomit, all to get close enough to earn Murphy’s trust—and the murder of young Cassidy, Will Chaffin’s daughter, was a bold and brutal move. This show has never shied away from death, but having Murphy devour the brains of the very same little girl he had saved just a few weeks prior made for an especially potent scene.

Farewell, Cassidy Chaffin. At least your brains were delicious. (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Syfy)

The rest of the team is also blessedly back together, after the unjustified separation story last week (here waved away with a one-line excuse, followed by Addy’s shudder-inducing elaboration: “Spider zombies.”). The efforts of 10k to keep his condition a secret were always doomed to failure, but it’s gratifying to see just how long Warren was willing to let him pretend. She knew something was up, and she trusted him enough to give him the space and time to make the right decision. Unfortunately, 10k had convinced himself he couldn’t reveal the truth, no matter how obvious it was to everyone else that Warren was willing to grant him some leeway on the honesty front. She lets it go not once, but twice, and despite Doc’s urging, 10k keeps lying up until she gets tired of the wait, and confronts him. It’s a good example of the kinds of flexible patience we develop for people we’ve come to care for; but 10k, his head and emotions all messed up from the influence of Murphy’s bite (not to mention whatever all the other drugs flooding his system might be doing), would rather run from his problems—quite literally, in this case.

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Still, a plan is taking shape, and it involves the team splitting up yet again—but at least this time it’s for a good reason. Sending Doc and Addy to get to Murphy’s daughter Lucy before he does, while the rest of them prepare to infiltrate Murphy’s camp and bring down his hopes for creating a race of blends, is sound tactical thinking, the kind of proactive strategy Warren always chooses over defensiveness. They’re going to need 10k, though, and right now, he’s escaped. Doc and Addy, on the other hand, draw comfort from the knowledge that Citizen Z is still out there, broadcasting, and now with a little assistance. They’ve got a long drive ahead of them, but it’ll be leavened by knowing they aren’t alone in this struggle.

And holy hell, what a radio broadcast. Having Kaya perform some freestyle rapping over a beat was the kind of absurdity Z Nation used to play around with back in season one. It’s not great, but at this point it’s sort of comforting, a weirdly nostalgic reminder of a simpler kind of silliness from the show’s adolescent phase. Citizen Z (or just “Simon,” these days) and Kaya’s uncle get the power back up in the military outpost, which is the cue for some presumably awkward canoodling between Simon and Kaya. (Seriously, that ground must be freezing.) He’s been absent for a few weeks, so it’s good to get DJ Qualls’ character back in play, and now that he’s paired with a family, it radically expands the scope of what the show can do with him in that remote base.

But, as has been the case all season, the big issues come back to Murphy, and not just because he’s the key to so many plans. This season has finally delved into the character in a big way, and it’s paying dividends, story-wise, giving heft and intensity to plots that would feel forced or reductive in earlier years. Murphy genuinely thinks he’s doing the right thing, and is surrounded by people eager to give him valid grounds for that belief. But it’s also starting to take its toll on him. The brief moment early in this episode, when he ventures outside to meet the new military recruit, and his two assistants (Will and Mr. Soon-To-Be-Missing-His-Brain) laugh too long and hard at his joke, is telling. Murphy doesn’t want supplicants, no matter what he may tell himself. He wants genuine respect and connection, from free-thinking individuals, not this ham-fisted sucking up to him, and it’s eating at his conscience. The slowly disappearing blue from his skin isn’t just symbolic of his changing nature, and the progression of his condition; it’s a shift in who he is and wants he wants.

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“Power, then industry, then civilization.” When the lights go on at the end of “Welcome To Murphytown,” it’s a signal flare, not just of how much Murphy and his followers have accomplished, but an alert to all around that there’s value in what he’s promising. Winning hearts and minds has never been Warren’s strong suit, but it’s going to be tough for the team to walk in and convince these people it’s in their best interests to shut it down. This town is alight with potential, it has followers nearly religious in their devotion, and a one-handed nemesis on the loose. Warren’s right: They’re going to need backup.

Stray Observations:

  • It’s good to see the show back on track so quickly after last week’s stumble. The series has such a solid foundation for storytelling at this point, and feels like it’s hitting its stride so often, that “off” episodes are more of a bummer than they used to be.
  • The Escorpion plot continues apace. They’re going to have to run into this guy pretty soon, not just his anonymous Red Hand gang.
  • Doc: “If you close your eyes, it tastes just like…cricket.”
  • I wasn’t exaggerating about the faith of Murphy’s people. “Have you heard the good word of Murphy?”
  • Similarly, having his recruitment truck driving around, spouting his voice from a loudspeaker, was as funny as it was stupid.
  • I would’ve liked to see that “spider zombies” episode!
  • Honestly, at this point, I’m just wondering what Anastasia Baranova could’ve done to piss off the show’s producers. She had, what, four lines tonight? We’re seven episodes in, and Addy’s probably gotten roughly three minutes of screen time, half of which was her thrashing around with an abscessed tooth. Something’s amiss.

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