Tuesday, June 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'iZombie' - The Tragedy and Horror of Being a Zombie Takes Its Toil on Liv in 'Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat'

The CW's iZombie - Episode 1.12 "Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat"

A group of drunken teenagers take a late night joyride with disasters consequences. As they cover up the accident, the man mysteriously comes back to life and attacks one of the girls. After Liv consumes the girl's brain, she is taken back to high school as she and Clive investigate the case. Major believes Blaine's deli is not all it seems to be.

This has been a very impressive debut season for iZombie - with the penultimate "Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat" being the best episode so far. This hour is able to take all the carefully woven character dynamics and put them under extreme duress because everything is starting to come to a head. This hour leans into the horror and devastation that's inherent in the show's DNA to terrific effect. Everything about this episode works on a creepy but incredibly entertaining level. It sets the stage perfectly for next week's season finale - where literally anything could happen and the show will have earned it.

This episode starts off like any other episode of the season - with a new brain that Liv needs to consume in order to solve a case. And yet, things are different with this case from the very beginning. Sure, it's fun watching as Liv toggles between the brains of a cheerleader and a stoner. But that just adds to the comedy and levity of a really devastating and rousing episode. This episode is a continuation of what happened to Sebastian, the enforcer for Max Rager who took Liv out on the boat earlier in the year, after he has been turned into a zombie. He survived that epic confrontation with Liv - only to be immediately run over by a bunch of high school students. They freak out and do the only reasonable thing that they can think of: bury the body. Unfortunately, the zombie promptly comes back to life and kills the peppy cheerleader of the group. It's an investigation that the audience sees a ton of from the perspective of the killer and the victims. It should feel annoying watching Clive and Liv looking into this group of friends and trying to pin one of them as the murderer. And yet, it never is because the investigation is still shrouded with mystery as it relates to the much bigger story that is happening on the show.

There are so many unanswered questions as to what is happening to the members of the band, Asshats. Sebastian killed the cheerleader. But who killed the stoner? Why were the two guys arguing about money. Why was Bex Taylor-Klaus (I didn't bother learning her character's name) so fearful enough to go to the police but still willing to escape to the motel just because Cameron told her so? And what happened in that motel room in the very final minutes? There is still lots of mystery to these characters. And that adds to the overall horror that this episode is striving for. That final image of seeing a bloodied Taylor-Klaus reaching desperately for the phone to make the 911 call is chilling and tragic. The operator answers with the familiar lines but as the action cuts to black there is no response. That's a fantastic final sequence. It offers no real closure to the case of the episode but it still lends itself to the overall narrative of the season and how Max Rager is possibly connected to all of this. Answers need to come in the finale. But right now, it's just so impressive seeing how comfortable the show is putting this imagery of horror on display.

But that's not even the most devastating beat of the episode. That honor goes to the reveal to Peyton that Liv is a zombie. All season long Peyton has been an underdeveloped character. Her concerns for Liv felt redundant and didn't add all that much to the overall structure of the show. And yet, the show has always been willing to show that there is some bond of friendship between Liv and Peyton. Even though it's largely just backstory that gets told to the audience, it is still present. The trick of Liv's mood swings getting Peyton's hopes up for one thing only for Liv to be completely different the following day has been used before this season. And yet, it was a helpful reminder of just how much Liv's new zombie struggles have effected her relationship with Peyton. That needed to be on display if the show was going to get away with the tragic reveal later on.

And the show sure does deliver on that reveal in the most horrifying way possible. When Liv returns to her apartment after a long day at the office, it's like any other regular day. And yet, when she enters the scene, things are drastically different because Peyton is unconscious on the ground and Sebastian is busy cooking up a meal. It's devastating to hear what he has had to do now as a zombie. But Liv is still allowed strength and conviction in pointing out that he could have resisted those zombie urges. It leads to a fight that is much more nuanced than their previous encounter. Not only is Liv fighting to stay alive but Sebastian is a character with a legitimate reason to be angry with Liv (and not just following some orders from his boss). They both go into full-on zombie mode and it's a terrific action sequence unlike anything the show has done previously. Both of them are stabbed in several ways that gives the sequence a more creative edge to it. Of course, Liv is victorious in this battle by driving the knife through Sebastian's head. But things come crushing back to reality as Liv returns to her normal self and sees that Peyton has just witnessed everything that has just happened.

So much of this season, the audience has been worrying about how Major would react when Liv finally told him the truth. But that's what makes it so unexpected and great when Peyton is the first one to find out. All Liv wants is to tell her friends that she is a zombie and to have them be okay with it because she is still the same person underneath it all. That's what last week's hallucinatory reveal to Major was all about. Liv does her best to explain what has happened to her in the most rational way possible. She sees the value in just putting the whole truth out there and then just letting Peyton respond. And yet, Peyton just stands there in horror. She is scarred of what she has just witnessed and doesn't know what to think about her best friend anymore. Her only reaction is to get out of there as quickly as possible. That's what the rational mind does under these kinds of extreme circumstances. Liv wants to just walk to the other room and help Peyton. And yet, the true trauma of this scene happens afterwards. Liv can't treat this reveal as something that can rationally be explained. Peyton's reaction is the only acceptable one to have. That is completely devastating. And it's not only felt by Liv either. Ravi is hurt as well. His relationship with Peyton has largely been kept offscreen. And yet, it's heartbreaking seeing him standing there in the end waiting for her so that they can go on their romantic getaway. It is devastating and climatic in a way that is extremely satisfying for the audience - if not for the characters in the moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat" was written by Diane Ruggiero-Wright and directed by Mairzee Almas.
  • The buildup to the confrontation between Liv and Blaine will finally come to a head in next week's finale because Blaine has now kidnapped Major and possibly Evan as well. And yet, I'm curious if Major is able to connect the dots when he overhears that Blaine knows who Liv is.
  • It's great seeing Major trying to be proactive and investigate the Meat Cute. He actually pulled the health inspector bit off until Julian actually had a genuinely smart moment.
  • Apparently brains taste like mushrooms to Clive. That moment seemed like just another fake out with him almost discovering the truth and then not. Also, wasn't it just a few episodes ago where he thought it was gross that Liv and Ravi could eat in the morgue?
  • Ravi named the rat who he cured of being a zombie Hope. That led to a very fitting line when the rat died later from Liv: "Hope's dead? How on the nose!"