[This is a review for the season 3 premiere of Z Nation. There will be SPOILERS.]
When it comes to the quirky horror/comedy zombie apocalypse show Z Nation, absolutely anything is possible. From plant zombies and nuclear holocausts, to zombie babies and the head of a scientist kept alive in a box – there’s apparently nothing off-limits, too far-fetched or too silly for the Syfy show. That’s probably why the series, produced by The Asylum (Sharknado) has gathered such a loyal fan following during its first two seasons and why some viewers prefer it to The Walking Dead. (Though there’s no reason they can’t enjoy both shows equally.)
Quick recap: When season 2 ended, Citizen Z (DJ Qualls) was frozen in the Antarctic wasteland, while the remaining members of the group – Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), Addy (Anastasia Baranova), Warren (Kellita Smith) and a repentant Escorpion (Emilio Rivera) – were waiting on the beach for Murphy (who had just blown up a submarine). They watch helplessly as Murphy (Keith Allan), Dr. Merch and the boat’s captain are captured by some foreign soldiers. Meanwhile, 10K (Nat Zang), who was on the submarine for medical treatment, is nowhere to be found – leaving his status completely unknown. The final scene shows Lucy, Murphy’s daughter, having a tea party with the zombified Kettles.
If you were expecting to get answers to these several loose ends, then you might be disappointed in this two-hour premiere episode: “No Mercy” and “No Frackin Mercy”. Normal television shows follow a set of cliffhanger procedures, usually resolving many things at the beginning of the next season. However, Z Nation has never been a show to follow the norm, so father and son writing team Karl & Daniel Schaefer took a decidedly different approach for these first two episodes. These are flashback episodes and as such, the group is still on their mission to California to find the CDC and more importantly, Murphy’s lady friend, Cassandra (Pisay Pao), is still alive.
This week begins with the introduction of two new mysterious characters: The Man (Joseph Gatt) and someone we’ll call, Mr. Witheredhand. The story throughout both episodes is activated by one thing: The Man is tasked by Mr. Witheredhand to “collect” a scientist at the appropriately named Mercy Labs colony, Dr. Harold Teller. It’s during this time that 10K runs across a young feral boy (Holden Goyette), who managed to escape the clutches of The Man, and his sister Red (Natalie Jongjaroenlarp). Both are very enjoyable characters and breathe some much needed life and humanity into 10K’s story, which had become too serious.
After some debate about their mission and a keen reference to Apocalypse Now (“Never get off the boat!”), the team decides to help the community defend themselves against The Man and protect Dr. Teller. Turns out, Teller and his wife were research scientists attempting to develop a strain of super fungus that would kill the H1Z1 zombie virus. But when things got out of control, his wife and research assistance were left infected with both the strains – stuck between the state of being dead and the state of being alive.
Even though they can’t speak, Murphy is able to communicate with them and realizes that they are begging to be “mercied” – something no one in the colony has been able to bring themselves to do for four years. This is some of Allan’s strongest emotional acting thus far and it gives the situation a very real sense of dread and despair.
With The Man threatening to overrun the colony and take Teller by force, the group pulls a scene directly from High Plains Drifter (the first of two Clint Eastwood references) by painting everything red in an attempt to play mind games with their adversary. It’s a great throwback reference to a classic western, but as fun as it is to see, it doesn’t quite make sense in the grand scheme of their plan of protecting the town (not that it made too much sense in the original movie either). It’s nice to see the group still working together as a team to help those who need it – since it reminds us that there are still good people in a world that’s gone to hell.
The final showdown between the colony and The Man is quite entertaining and introduces a new threat, “The Krakken” – six zombies with steel plates bolted to their heads (making them “mercy proof”), attached via chains to a handler with a whip. It’s rather ingenious and The Man uses the fearsome creation to bust down the gates, bringing chaos within the walls of the colony. However, while he’s an unrelentless man, he’s not heartless and leaves anyone alone that isn’t trying to kill him or isn’t “on his list.” He’s going to be a fun character to watch develop this season, as this is surely not the last time the group will encounter him.
“No Frackin’ Mercy” ends with Warren delivering, what is easily, one of the strongest lines of dialog in the series. As 10K watches helplessly, Red runs towards a horde of zombies to exact revenge for the death of her brother: “Sometimes we forget the worst thing that can happen to you in the apocalypse. The worst thing that can happen to you isn’t dying or turning zombie. The worst thing…is surviving. But sometimes, that’s all we got.”
Right off the bat, it’s obvious that Engler and the Z Nation crew are having way more fun with this season than the previous two. There’s more witty banter, more putrid zombies, more character development, more humor and noticeably more cursing than any of the other episodes – these are all good things. Unlike other zombie-centric shows, the characters in Z Nation are constantly moving towards a singular goal (California) but each week has them sidetracked by different missions – sort of like Star Trek: Voyager but with zombies and less warp cores.
Overall, this double-episode premiere of Z Nation was a bloody great way to kick off the season. We’re not sure if all of season 3 will consist of flashbacks (it’ll have to if The Man continues to show up), but there’s definitely plenty of material to cover over the next 12-13 episodes. We’ll leave you with some of our favorite mouments from the premiere:
Best Zombie: Super fungus zombies
Best T-Shirt: Doc’s “That’s What Cheese Head” shirt.
Best Scene: The Man wrapped in plastic and duct tape busting through a wall.
Best WTF scene: Cassandra breastfeeding baby Lucy, prompting Addy to say, “How’s this even physically possible?”
Best Line: “It’s the apocalypse baby, roll with it.” – Murphy in response to Addy’s shock.
What were your favorite moments from the Z Nation season 3 premiere and what did you think about it overall? Tell us about it in the comments section.
Z Nation airs Friday nights at 9pm EST on Syfy.