Tuesday, April 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'iZombie' - Liv, Major and Clive Battle Against Full-On Zombie Chaos in 'Dead Beat' & 'Salvation Army'

The CW's iZombie - Episode 2.18 "Dead Beat" & 2.19 "Salvation Army"

Liv and Ravi need help and find an unlikely ally in Blaine. Clive and Dale pursue a new lead on an old case. When Major finds himself in trouble, attorney Brant Stone (Ken Marino) comes to his rescue. Vaughn's evil side reaches a new level of mean. Liv, Clive and Major crash Vaughn's Super Max Rager party. Blaine reaches out to Peyton for help, which does not sit well with Ravi.

This has been a completely crazy and entertaining season of iZombie. It built on everything that worked in the first season. At times, the storytelling got a little too complicated to make a whole lot of sense. But this show has such a strong sense of itself and its characters. It is always having fun with its premise and makes sure the situations are always entertaining. With that being consistent, the plot doesn't always have to make sense. More importantly though, this two-hour finale wonderfully brings to a close all of the various plot threads of the season in compelling and thrilling fashion. It also sets up a number of really exciting things for Season 3 - which The CW has already officially ordered.

"Dead Beat" kicks off with everyone reacting to Major being arrested for the Chaos Killer murders as well as his return to being a zombie. So much of this story works because of the massive amount of guilt Major feels for the crimes he committed for Vaughn while trying to protect Liv. The Chaos Killer story always needed to have major consequences. Major may not be guilty of murder but he's still guilty of kidnapping. Not everyone he took chose to be in that freezer for months. And now, they are essentially pawns in the pursuit of answers and chaos in this finale. But the much more pressing concern about Major being in prison is the lack of brains to keep the ecosystem intact. If he doesn't get some soon from Liv and Ravi, he will go into full-on zombie mode and unleash the apocalypse on Seattle. The stakes are raised early on in this finale and the show does not let up until the very end.

Liv, Ravi and Peyton try everything they can to get Major the brains he needs to survive in prison and keep the zombie situation contained. The only other solution would be giving him the cure - with the possibility of wiping his memory completely clean. The show has left it very ambiguous as to whether or not Blaine really has amnesia or is just faking it. That plot point has really muddled a fantastic character over these last few episodes. He lost some of his spark because he wasn't able to be the fun bad guy who Liv sometimes has to work with. However, most of that was because of just how pressed for time so many of the plots have been during this final stretch of the season. That's understandable and still makes the stakes genuine when Liv and Major are faced with that choice with the cure.

And yet, the show does something much more engaging and tantalizing. Liv finally tells Clive that she's a zombie. He has pursued answers as to what's been going on in Seattle this entire time. And now, Liv is finally opening up to him because she's left with no other alternative. It's a fantastic scene between the two that really should strengthen their dynamic moving forward. Clive has really developed into a great character. He's wonderful at being the straight man to the various antics happening around him. He can also be really funny. Plus, his romance with Dale this season has been really sweet and meaningful. But him learning Liv's secret now only further opens him up as a character. Now, he's aware of the true danger that's present in Seattle. He's risking a zombie outbreak just to get justice for the Meat Cute massacre - which he has also been able to arrest Major for. It's a little questionable why Clive gets all the charges against Major dropped and doesn't just get brains to him while still having him pay for his actions. That's largely because Major needs to be a part of the action that happens in the second part of the finale.

Elsewhere, Mr. Boss has learned that Blaine's Utopium operation is still cutting into his business. Over the course of this season, the Mr. Boss and the drug trade storyline really hasn't been that great. It was largely the story that became too complicated during the middle stretch of episodes. It was thrilling seeing Blaine's life in danger. But it was difficult to understand where Drake's allegiances lied until it was revealed he was an undercover agent - and even though it was suspicious of whether or not he was loyal to Blaine. So, it's not that surprising that the Mr. Boss story gets reduced a little bit in the end. It still has a major presence in this finale and is able to keep the tension high throughout the final hour. It just doesn't forgive all the previous shortcomings with the story. And yet, it is thrilling to see Mr. Boss' henchmen invade Shady Plots to kill Chief and seriously injure Don E. His body isn't shown later on. So, it's likely that he's still alive and will live to see Season 3.

This story does become a bit more complicated because it takes a turn into developing a serious love triangle between Blaine, Peyton and Ravi. That just really seems like a forced dynamic throughout this story that happens solely to keep tensions high. Peyton's investigation into Mr. Boss is shut down by her superior. She's upset and decides to sleep with Ravi again. Their romance is genuine. It just suddenly reappears here without much purpose other than to give weight later on when Peyton is kidnapped in order to get to Blaine. It's still thrilling to see Blaine take on Mr. Boss' operation just to save Peyton. But it's also problematic that it's just building to a love story about the good guy (Ravi) versus the bad guy (Blaine) for the girl (Peyton). Now, Blaine has seemingly changed because of the cure. It shows that he is willing to take the good actions in order to protect the people he cares about. It's just a little too clunky to be all that effective.

The finale also rightfully knows that Vaughn du Clark has been the true supervillain of the season. Mr. Boss escapes to live another day and cause problems for the future. But Vaughn gets much more of a conclusion in this final episode of the season. He is throwing an epic party at Max Rager headquarters to celebrate a private military contractor buying the entire company just for Super Max and the effects it can have on soldiers in the field. It continues the prison theme of this two-hour event in ways both good and horrifying. It's a fantastic party complete with an appearance by Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas - not to be confused with the Rob Thomas who created this show. But it only serves as a pretty vicious containment unit once a couple of scientists mix Super Max and Utopium and become full-on zombies. It's chaos and pandemonium on a scale this show hasn't done before. And yet, it is completely fantastic to watch without getting rid of the charm and personality of the characters and the storytelling.

Liv, Major and Clive only crash this party in order to break into the Max Rager basement and free all of the Chaos Killer victims. Instead, they walked into this chaos that forced a couple of really emotional realizations to the forefront of the action. Liv and Major are on soldier brains so they can handle themselves against the zombie army. But they still find themselves trapped many times because of their personal connections to humanity. The zombies aren't attacking them but they still need to protect Clive. At one point, it seems like the only way to do that is to scratch him as well. It's the same kind of choice Liv was forced to make in the first season finale with Major. This time though she isn't forced to do it. Clive is still adjusting to this radical world and he is still able to maintain his humanity. The same cannot be said for Vaughn though. Even in the end, he proves himself to be an egomaniacal narcissist who only cares about himself, money and power. He forces Liv to choose between saving Clive and giving up all hope that Drake can come back from his full-fledged zombie state. It's a pretty rushed moment but effective nevertheless. It's also so satisfying to finally see Vaughn get what was coming to him while paying off the fantastic submarine metaphor he previously used with Major. Major closed that elevator door to protect the rest of humanity from the evil that Vaughn had created in his lab.

It's a celebratory moment for all. This night has gotten so chaotic - to the point where Clive doesn't believe any kind of story can accurately portray the brutality on display here. And yet, it only teases that it's going to be much harder for Liv and company to keep a lid on this whole zombie thing. That's especially true when Vivian, a representative from the private military contractor buying Max Rager called Fillmore Graves (another funny pun name from the show that previously gave us Meat Cute and Shady Plots), lands on the scene. At times, she feels like a plot device to help Liv, Major and Clive out of a jam. She saves them before Liv has to turn Clive into a zombie. But that only further sets up the big reveal in the end that Vivian and her unit of soldiers are zombies hoping to turn Seattle into some kind of capital for the next stage of this apocalypse. It's a daunting and really exciting tease for next season. So much of the appeal of this show comes from the episodic storytelling and the relaxed dynamic between the characters though. The show is more than capable of pulling off these big events like it does wonderfully here. This final twist teases even more zombie antics in the future. That could change the foundation of the show. But over the course of two seasons, iZombie has earned my trust. So, I believe it can handle anything it wants to do with this universe.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dead Beat" was written by John Enbom and directed by John Kretchmer.
  • "Salvation Army" was written by Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero-Wright and directed by Michael Fields.
  • So many great Rob Thomas jokes throughout these episodes. It's fantastic. He also happens to be killed during this big massacre which leads to one of the military guys singing "Unwell" after eating his brain. Also, did Rob Thomas the writer purposefully kill off Rob Thomas the singer as payback for being the more famous Rob Thomas?
  • Ravi is attacked for the second time in the morgue and is more than capable of putting up quite the fight. This time though it's much more lethal. He actually kills the guy - and that's how Liv and Major get soldier brains. The weight of killing a human being does get lost in the shuffle of plot later on though.
  • How in the world did Utopium even end up in the lab in the first place? That just seemed like a plot device to cause the later chaos. The fun and destruction of the aftermath is enough to overlook it's problematic and forced beginning though.
  • Ken Marino also pops up in the first half of the finale as the lawyer Max Rager hires to represent Major. He's a pretty amusing character who largely just serves as a way to keep Major from getting the brains he needs. And yet, he doesn't die. So, he should definitely become a recurring character in this world.
  • So many great Clive reactions in this episode. The best was probably his face as he watches Liv grab a knife and stab herself in the chest to prove that she's a zombie. That's what makes that moment work so well despite how brief it ultimately is in the grand scheme of things.
  • Also, Clive dropping all charges against Major in order to protect the entire human race basically implodes his relationship with Dale and his chances of becoming an FBI agent. That's devastating because of how great that partnership has been this season. But again, she's not dead. So she can always find a way back to Seattle next season.
  • It's somewhat disappointing that Rita also winds up dead during the chaos in the elevator. She was great all season long but perhaps a little too connected to the Max Rager of it all. It seems like the show wanted to end all things associated with that story here.
  • Liv doesn't know it but Drake was sentenced to a life as a full-on zombie by being the good guy she always wanted to believe he was.
  • All of the Chaos Killer victims recognized Major immediately. That should also have some serious repercussions next season. What will happen if they are allowed to return to society? A pretty good cover-up story is going to be necessary.