[This is a review for season 3 episode 5 of Z Nation. There will be SPOILERS.]
The episode of Z Nation this week had some hit and miss moments (mostly hits) but it did some really good things in terms of production quality that we will definitely discuss. The story, written by Steve Graham (his first venture into the world of script writing), is an interesting journey with a powerful ending (perhaps the most emotionally driven of the series) that changes quite a bit about the season, if not the series itself. As great as the story is surrounding five of the show's major characters -- Hector, Warren, Murphy, 10K and Dr. Merch -- it has some issues handling the other characters -- Doc, Addy and Dr. Mei -- who are relegated to an odd sidestory that doesn't quite fit with the overall Z Nation universe.
For fans looking for more information regarding The Man (Joseph Gatt) or the exploits of Citizen Z (DJ Qualls), Kaya (Ramona Young) and her Nana will be disappointed, as both storylines are absent this week. Instead, the show turns its focus onto the newest member of the group, Hector. We're given a slightly deeper look into Hector's (Emilio Rivera) life before he found repentance, changed his ways, and joined Warren's band of z-pocalypse survivors. 'Escorpion and the Red Hand' can be broken down into two major plots -- Haunted by a Past and Fearing for a Future.
Before we break the episode down, we need to talk about two of the best things about this episode: The Direction and The Music. Jason McKee returns to the director's chair for this episode and he brings the same unique visual style and creative camera angles that made the other episode he directed, 'Roswell' a standout. McKee uses the camera to tell Graham's story in such a fantastic way it's a shame he hasn't directed more episodes. The chase between 10K and Chaffin along the rooftops is a particular favorite.
Jason Gallagher has been composing the music for the series from the beginning and this week he turned in possibly his greatest work to date. Everything he does in this episode with tone and atmosphere fits solidly with the scene with which it is paired. The music isn't just background fodder (which can often be the case with TV show music in general), but rather, it enhances and arguably completes the scene, turning the moments into something more significant.
Haunted by a Past
Other than being a (very) bad guy during season 2, not much is known about the man formerly known as "Escorpion" -- Hector. He's been a solid character addition thus far, as the group was in need of a badass to replace Vasquez (Matt Cedeño) who left after last season. At some point, we'll need to see the journey that took him from feared villain to repentant saint, but for now his past catches up to him as the team confronts the faceless members of a vigilante group called the 'Red Hand.'
As they stroll into a new town, they come across a gruesome scene -- bodies hanging from a bridge with their entrails dangling to the ground. Spray painted in red across the bridge is the word 'Thieves,' with hand marks painted in red across the faces of the dead. After three survivors get the drop on them, they learn about this group who viciously killed the rest of their tribe. When the Red Hand attack, the group gets split up as they take shelter in a Hopper's Novelties warehouse. While there, they run into an injured Red Hand member who reveals they attacked the men for stealing food. It's not really clear at this point whether the Red Hand good or bad (possibly more chaotic neutral) but they're obviously going to play a bigger role in the series going forward.
After everything plays out and the three men are killed, Hector humbles himself to Warren and tells her of his struggle between doing the right thing and his instinct to do harm. In the most Warren-way possible, Roberta tells him she doesn't need a saint or a lover... she needs a killer.
Fearing for a Future
The second half of the episode involves Murphy (Keith Allan) and his grandiose plans to build a new world of human/zombie blends. The stories of his healing bite has started to spread amongst survivors and they're starting to show up in droves. Most are sick, injured or dying but all are begging him to "heal" them. As a narcissist, Murphy loves the attention and worship but on a personal level, he can't stand being around the "dregs" of this new society. He's made Mr. Chaffin (Aaron Trainor) his Lieutenant enforcer and built a zombie moat around his new castle.
Murphy has been giving Dr. Merch (Lisa Coronado) lots of blood to make his blend vaccine, so he's unable to heal everyone with his bite. While Dr. Merch has been working on this cure, she's saved some of the original H1Z1 vaccine that turned Murphy into a zombie-mind control freak in the first place. She injects 10K (Nat Zang) with it to counter Murphy's control. However, Murphy becomes aware of her plan, rebites her, then sends Chaffin after 10K when he escapes with the original vaccine.
With Dr. Merch back under his control, he forces her to make ten thousand doses of the blend vaccine and begin injecting the survivors at the camp. This is something she can't allow herself to continue doing, so she makes a difficult decision. In one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the entire series, Dr. Merch walks into the zombie moat and injects herself the original vaccine. No longer zombie-proof, she is quickly overrun, then killed as Murphy watches helplessly from behind the fence. This is, hands down, the best scene in the entire episode. Not only was it emotionally devastating to watch, but it significantly alters Murphy's entire plan going forward.
While this episode of Z Nation has some really great moments, it had one major problem: The side story consisting of Dr. Mei (Sydney Viengluang), Addy (Anastasia Baranova) and Doc (Russell Hodgkinson). It's not a poorly executed plot, it's just rather meaningless in the grand scheme of the show. Without showing any previous symptoms, Addy suddenly has an abscessed tooth, which Dr. Mei pulls out with pliers after choking her unconscious. It's possible Graham wasn't sure what to do with the characters (seeing how the focus was on the other members of the group) but this sidestory stands out like a sore thumb.
Overall, this is another great entry into a, so far, fantastic Season 3 for Z Nation. We'll leave you with some of our favorite moments in tonight's episode:
The Good - Dr. Merch's sacrifice, Jason McKee's direction, Jason Gallagher's score
The Bad - Addy's bad tooth and extraction scene
The Z - Bomb zombies covered in dynamite chasing a Musical Jolly Chimp
Z Nation continues next Friday with 'Little Red and the Wolfz' @9pm on Syfy.