The apocalypse does strange things to people. That sentence could be the tagline of Z Nation, a show predicated upon the myriad ways the human race went a little bonkers following the end of the world. From survivalists to enders to every kind of cultist imaginable, the series has demonstrated time and again a somewhat pessimistic view of humanity, one that sees the fragile netting of the social contract as all that stands between civil society and a Mad Max-esque lawless carnival wasteland. And if there’s a main thesis hiding among the sham elections and the followers of alien-worshiping prophets, it’s that we’re all looking for someone to follow, to believe in, during times of trouble. We want someone to convince us they’ve got a plan, and everything’s going to be alright. People’s entire personalities will shift, based upon whoever is promising them a way out of the insanity. Except for our heroes, and their steadfast devotion to both one another and the mission of saving the human race.

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Until now. Becoming the leader of the Red Hands did something none of the various life-threatening crises or crazy-making encounters of the past three seasons managed to do: It changed Roberta Warren for the worse. The woman who used to insist nobody should die unless they had to is now a cold-blooded hunter who thinks nothing of beating 10k silly, or murdering all the misguided folks who signed up to become blends. “I think this isn’t about the mission for you any more,” Sun Mei says accusingly, and an exasperated Warren cuts her off, saying she’s tired of all of it. “I’m only interested in one thing, and that is Murphy’s blood,” Warren flatly declares. “Nothing else matters. Nothing.” That’s a far cry from speeches about caring for one another and trying to shore up what’s left of their dignity. But more than that, the change is in her mannerisms, her speech, her way of moving through the world. It’s an aggressive, fuck-social-niceties transformation in her very being, and it’s unsettling to witness, especially the abruptness with which it happened. While we were off watching Doc reenact an erotic fairy tale, the leader of our heroes became someone else.

Murphy’s actions in “The Siege Of Murphytown” are perfectly understandable, the culmination of a smart and thoughtful arc that not only made the character blossom from the sour yet pained existence he muddled through for the first two seasons, but gave him genuine depths and a pitiable perspective formed from his insecure worldview. After that long cross-country road trip, Murphy is willing to give himself over to science for the good of humanity, only to discover it’s just another ploy by the elite to screw over everyone else. What do you do when the supposed last hope turns out to be illusory? Your create your own hope. And that’s just what he did, building Murphytown and giving genuine optimism to an entire group of people. “Giving them peace—isn’t that the very definition of a savior?” he asks Warren, and it’s not an unreasonable question.

It’s also one that Murphy desperately wants to believe is true. Since “Little Red And The Wolfz,” the man with the magical blood has been arguing with himself, trying to convince his own mind that everything he’s doing is for the best, that security is better for people than free will, that a world where a new version of people can live in peace is a fair trade-off for his dominion over it all. And his own followers have reinforced those feelings, telling him over and over just how grateful they are, and how much he’s doing the right thing. But Murphy knows he can’t trust them. He’s seen them laugh too long and hard at his lame jokes; there’s no validation to be gained from respect offered by someone whose mind you’ve taken control of. Plus, the one thing he can’t admit is the lodestone that brings his whole argument crumbling down: He’s eating brains, and that’s no path to safety for anyone. Warren has him there.

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But that doesn’t make his critique of her any less incisive. It’s fascinating to see the show set up these former frenemies as bitter antagonists, and do such a solid job making both points of view seem legitimate, even if we know Murphy is ultimately in the wrong. Warren is rendered silent multiple times in the face of his withering assessment, for the simple fact that he’s not wrong. “At least 10k kept count” of the zombies he took out, Murphy sneers. “How many people have you killed?” And later, in his hideout, he takes this logic even further, wondering what she hopes to achieve. She did complete the mission; they both agree that survivors need help. It’s just a question of means, and Warren’s position would look a lot more morally upright were she not leading the very group responsible for slaughtering so many people. (Though even that isn’t a completely one-sided argument, as we learned.)

Despite all that, he still respects her, and wants the validation of the person who spent so long keeping him alive. By the end of season two, they had achieved a grudging mutual respect and trust. Murphy looked to Warren to provide the ethical standpoint he knew himself to lack all too often. It’s why, even when they seem ready to kill one another, and Murphy has her people surrounded, he doesn’t want her dead. He wants her to say the one thing she’ll never utter—that he was right, and becoming a blend is the right thing to do. “I need you on my side,” he tells her, and that moment of vulnerability cuts through a hundred arrogant blusters.

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Central conflict aside, this episode delivered a moment the series has been teasing since almost the pilot: Simon, a.k.a. Citizen Z, finally meets Warren in person. DJ Qualls spent most of the first two seasons as a kind of interventionist Greek chorus, watching from above and periodically helping to set our protagonists on the right path. Meeting Kaya and her family this year gave him some comic foils, and allowed the character to start growing and moving forward in ways previously denied. Having his plane go down outside Murphytown was a great moment, as Warren and Murphy put their argument on hold and rush out to meet him. It’s been a long time coming, and it was genuinely touching to see Simon run up and embrace Roberta. His news then did the next best thing: It forced Warren and Murphy to team up for the greater good, saving Lucy from the clutches of The Man. Both characters, it seems, were looking for a reason to not follow through on their threats. Neither one can admit it, but they like each other—they make good friends (or frenemies, depending how you define an intentionally combative relationship), and any opportunity to put this unpleasant showdown aside is a win for now.

Then came the strangest reveal of the week: Red and 5k are alive! There’s no explanation given yet, and it’s a very weird reintroduction of the two (showing up in the middle of a struggle between 10k and a couple Zs is quite the coincidence—though not quite as eye-rolling as Kaya’s “crucial” message to Warren and Sun Mei cutting out right in the middle of the sentence), but anything that pulls 10k out of his lifeless and dazed state is a good thing. It’s yet to be determined where things go from here—there’s a showdown with The Man brewing, and who knows how many of the gang will head out together to stop it—but the end of the season has a lot of ground to cover. This week’s story was sometimes sloppy, and Warren’s abrupt personality shift better have some layers to it, but everything moved forward in believable and emotionally rich ways. There’s brains behind this season, and they haven’t been eaten yet.

Stray Observations:

  • Opening up the safe in Murphy’s lab was a great bit. “Murphy’s password is ‘password’?” “It’s Murphy.”
  • Similarly, seeing Murphy’s powers develop throughout the season pays off several times here, from parting the Zs in the moat to taking control of first Will, then the other blends, during the firefight.
  • Simon’s meeting Warren face to face was executed quite well. “This is so…this is weird!” Good old Citizen Z, saying what we’re all thinking.
  • Zona is finally brought up again. For being teased as the big bad for so long, this season really put that story on hold to focus its attention on Murphytown instead.
  • Addy is on The Man’s trail, but the only relevant piece of information came in that last shot, when she sees the Z body pointing the way. Lucy’s doing her part to help.
  • Hope’s final moments get awfully dark, on the winch controlled by the Red Hand and then slowly devoured, while screaming, “Murphy, help me!” It’s fairly unsettling, and something I hope the show acknowledges next week.

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