After last week's premiere took the show in a dramatic new direction, Z Nation season 4 made good on its portending tone. Awakening from a two-year coma, Warren (Kellita Smith) discovered that Murphy (Keith Allan) was an instrumental part in the vaccine that has saved countless lives. However, plagued by horrific visions, Warren ultimately comes to the conclusion that the seemingly idyllic community of Zona -- and its mysterious Founder (horror icon Michael Berryman) -- has something sinister in store for the world beyond its walls. This week, Warren and Murphy learn a bit more about how Zona isn't all that it seems.
In the aptly titled 'Escape from Zona,' the two characters initially take more passive roles, as Teller (Frank Boyd) explains that the peaceful community is about to devolve into madness, courtesy of a degenerative brain disease that is a side effect of Murphy's vaccine. Viewers learn this in a most unsettling way, as a man and a woman run down a pedestrian with their car. Cut to the gathering crowd devouring the poor soul whole, leaving nothing but a stain in the pavement behind them, and it suddenly becomes clear what Z Nation is doing.
The season 3 finale saw the showrunners at a crossroads. Either the series could reinvent itself or rinse-and-repeat the same plot points over again. In giving the characters a new crisis to face, it has decidedly gone for the former. The devolution of the citizens of Zona and their still-mysterious plans for a "reset" present a smart way to revitalize Z Nation's core premise. As some similar series have struggled to find new ways to keep the concept of zombies alive (pun intended) for one season after another, Z Nation has essentially found a fresh route to introduce an entirely different outbreak.
In addition, the rapidly fraying Stepford nature of Zona gave way to some deliciously funny sight gags revolving around demented golfers and all manner of upper-crust mayhem. As Warren, Murphy and Teller (RIP) desperately try to make their way to the helicopter, the show gets plenty of juice out of both the ticking clock of suspense throughout the episode as well as the out-of-control lunacy that Z Nation has made its trademark.
Moreover, the two-year time jump introduced last week gives viewers and the characters themselves the chance to reorient themselves to a new status quo. After Warren's front-and-center role in the premiere, it is Murphy who has the most pivotal arc in 'Escape from Zona.' Allan is always a hoot to watch, and his character's evolution from whiny man-about-town on the verge of losing his newfound celebrity to his realization that Teller may be accurate in his revelation about Zona was easily the best part of the episode. We can only imagine how Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), Addy (Anastasia Baranova) and the rest of the group will react to Warren and Murphy's news.
Speaking of the rest of the main cast, the season is already clearly building toward the inevitable reunion of everyone, during which time we assume that even more details about their current predicament and, of course, the planned trek to Newmerica will come out. This hour focuses on the missing convoy of supplies that the group needs to make the journey, with Doc and 10K (Nat Zang) ultimately volunteering to investigate it. While their adventure doesn't necessarily come across as filler, it is very much a setup for something bigger to come an episode or two down the line. At least 10K got the chance to show off his markmanship skills, even unknowingly taking on Addy herself.
Though 'Escape from Zona' moves the show's pieces a bit further down the board, there is still so much we don't know about the main plot of this season. The beacon of Newmerica could very well turn out to be false, the zombies themselves appear to be evolving and, of course, there is the matter of that "reset" the Founder is so fixated on. No doubt Warren's visions will tie into all of the above, perhaps even holding the key to humanity's survival. It's a real Sarah Connor journey that Warren finds herself on. Here's hoping that the group can unravel all of the latest goings-on in Z Nation before it is too late.
That being said, this second episode reaffirmed what its predeccesor already indicated. Z Nation season 4 feels like the start of a second era for the series and its characters, providing a launchpad for a brand-new set of mysteries. How much we'll learn this season and where the Zona and Newmerica threads will take us remains unknown, but if we know Z Nation, things will certainly get a lot worse for our heroes before they get better.
Z Nation season 4 continues next Friday with 'The Vanishing' @9pm on SYFY.