Sunday, September 14, 2014

Z Nation, Season 1, Episode 1: Puppies and Kittens

I like the opening, flashes of zombies and chaos, the world falling apart while a voice over tells us that all government has fallen all is pretty broken and there is no cure – and we’re now 3 years after the outbreak. Move on to an “Infection Control Laboratory” which sounds nicely ominous. Soldiers are running through the facilities being chased by running zombies (definitely scarier than the lurching kind).

To add to these soldier’s fun, they get new orders relayed by Simon, someone who works at the NSA, telling the soldiers (Hammond and red shirt) to rescue some people and take them to California, just as soon as the helicopters there. Which will be soon. Honest.

Hammond leads the other guy to hold the fort and fights his way to where scientists are conducting some human experiments on prisoners (chief scientist takes the time to formally explain the law that basically says their consent is unnecessary and they’re going to be tested on for a zombie cure including zombie exposure no matter what). The prisoners are, unsurprisingly, not thrilled about this but being tied down they don’t have much choice. The “cure” is given to each inmate, one by one – killing each in horrible, gruesome ways. Which is when Red Shirt can’t hold off the zombies any more and knocks on the door all zombified (they change quickly) followed by a lot of his rotting fellows.

Hammond and the doctor run, leaving the last living inmate tied down and helpless for the zombies. The Doc gets to the roof where the helicopter is waiting (arranged by Simon who definitely said his name was Simon but the credits call him “Citizen Z” so we’ll run with that) who delayed to arrange it – and missed his own evacuation from what looks to be an arctic base. Turns out to be lucky for him though since the evacuation plane crashes.

All of that was just the prologue – because we’ve now leaped forwards a year and we’re in New York (the state, not the city). Everyone is having a beautiful little goodbye ceremony for a sick 65 year old grandmother, singing songs, saying goodbye – and then everyone leaves just Nana and Roberta Warren who formally gives her the “8th sacrament”. A bullet to the brain saying she gives her Mercy; it’s a formal rite and fully known about and agreed to by Nana.

Warren leaves Nana’s family afterwards (hugging her daughter as she goes) to join Charles Garnet at the lake where some strangers are arriving; they plan to talk nice to the strangers – and be ready to shoot them if necessary. The stranger is Hammond, still following his mission to get to the medical lab in California with Murphy – the surviving convict who they left to the zombies. The cure they injected him with apparently worked, he wasn’t zombiefied.

They take him to their camp where they have a small settlement – Garnett and Warren are ex-national guard and Warren makes it clear that the whole “government orders” doesn’t mean much to her with the government being gone and everything; but they agree to help him get part way after Hammond stares down a guy who is more concerned about their truck than a zombie cure.

Up in the arctic base Citizen Z is there, still getting messages from the bosses asking after Hammond’s team (does it count as a team when he’s the only one left).

And we cut to a little trading camp where a group of people have gathered to play with weapons, trade medicine, bullets, meth and kill a few zombies (all of them seem to be pretty unphased and pretty lethal). One of them makes a point of recording it and calls killing them “given mercy”.

Back at the lake, the guy who was so concerned about the truck and his friend find hundreds of zombies floating in the lake – and they’re not dead. Which is probably why Warren, when she radios the camp, gets no answer, everyone has been eaten. Warren and Garnet want to go back and check so Hammond pulls a gun because his mission is so super-duper important. To prove it, he has Murphy show the multiple wounds – multiple zombie bites – on his torso; proof that he’s immune to zombieness.

Tense moment made tenser by Doc  (with Addy Carver and Mack Thompson, 3 of the people at the trading camp) calling Garnet to confirm that the camp has been destroyed. They do see a bus full of children escape the camp – but they also see a zombie inside. By the time they get to it all the children have been turned (people turn really really quickly when bitten). Zombies pour out of the bus and they run – managing to jump in Warren and Garnet’s truck that arrives at just the right time. In the truck they realise the camp and all the people in it are dead and they couldn’t even give them Mercy (which seems to be majorly important to them).

They also learn that Hammond hasn’t actually been in touch with the rendez-vous he’s heading for in a month. Unsurprisingly when they arrive they find it empty, except for zombies (classic zombie-split-in-half-but-still-moving trope). Hammond quickly organises them to search the building and check for survivors and supplies. Among the wreckage they find a live baby locked in a car and a living woman, Cassandra, locked in a cage and surrounded by zombies who is rather aggressive and for some random reason, scantily dressed.

Lots of arguing and debating what to do follows. Hammond finally agrees to take the baby to the next safe outpost (I guess he’s drafted everyone else – and I love his “I hate moral dilemmas” clearly this show is not interested in complexities). Hammond dishes out orders because there are zombies coming though there is some push back over Hammond ordering everyone around.

Lots more ruthless zombie killing fallows (Garnett seems to be quite the anti-zombie berserker). And the baby turns – zombie baby! Oh dear gods that’s the worst thing ever and it runs around and has demonic little eyes! It SKITTERS and HIDES BEHIND THINGS!!! Nope nope nope nope. Despite killing a whole rookm full of zombies, Warren and Garnett decide to run like hell rather than face the horrible skittering Chuckie-meets-the-Walking-Dead thing and I do not blame them. As they gather to leave, Hammond gives Garnett a brief peptalk on “holding it together” and he goes to kill the zombie baby since they don’t want to leave it like that (I would leave so damn fast). We then get a ridiculously long and just plain horrible scene of Hammond hunting the hidey baby – gah, let’s have some more “nope!” there!

Anyway zombie baby is joined by friends and Hammond got himself eaten. The gang comes in and slaughters all the zombies which are chewing on his body.

This leads to more arguing (“I didn’t tell him to get eaten by a baby!” oh dear gods them dialogue) and really bad dialogue and terribad acting about what to do and whether to give up on the vaccine instead of doing the other oh-so-important-stuff they have when they get a convenient radio contact from Simon. The gang quickly decides Garnett is in charge and he talks to Simon and gets his orders to go to California – Garenett is kind of emotional, panicky and really terribly acted. Anyway, they decide to take Murphy to California and he better obey or Garnett is going to throw down his radio again – and he did it so badly the first time that we just don’t need to see that.

As they leave they also run into a sniper who happened to save Doc earlier. He joins them because…  I have no idea, Doc offers him a lift and he gets on board without saying anything. Just because.

And Simon – now calling himself Citizen Z – decides to use all these NSA computers to broadcast as a weird DJ. Because… yeah I think we’ve established that reasons are optional on this show.

Everyone on this show goes by their surnames. Not sure why, but it’s a thing. Occasionally switching between them or women called “Warren” doesn’t make it easier to keep a track of all the characters. But I think while there are a lot of characters, they’ve quickly made it clear who is relevant (mainly by not having much characterisation), who is with the group and a rough idea about them so I’m not actually feeling that overwhelmed as I would generally be by so many people introduced so quickly – it was decently done and they made them into a group quickly

I also like how they’ve laid down the setting – not just the zombies but the people; little things like the trading camp where everyone, no matter how inept they appeared or how out of place it seemed, was competent and lethal, quick and ruthless. This is 3 years after the zombie outbreak and it shows in the survivors – even like realising the kids had been bitten and turning and running without any hesitation. It’s a pretty different dynamic, I guess.

And there was a zombie baby. A zombie baby. (Which made no sense though –which kind of brings me to the bad. This zombie baby just happened without any indication of death then it skitters and hides? Why? Why would it hide? And why would it be able to move when they actual baby couldn’t? It kind of emphasises both the good and bad of this show – ridiculous in both a good and bad way)

Ok and the bad – firstly it’s cheap. The acting isn’t stellar (which is an understatement), the writing is terrible, the characterisation and dialogue truly awful. And the make up and effects are pretty cheap compared to its big competitors. And it’s going to suffer from a lot of comparisons on that with The Walking Dead. I’m sure the show runners already hate the comparisons not just because they don’t come off well but because they’re kind of right, it isn’t the same show. The Walking Dead is all about survival and terrible decisions and despair and high emotion. A dead baby on the Walking Dead is a matter of utter, indescribable horror, of Carol telling small children to look at the flowers and us all feeling deeply horrified and in awe of the writing, directing and acting. On Z Nation we get zombie Chuckie. When Rick finds a zombie cut in half it’s full of pathos and sadness, Z Nation just has it shot.

Z Nation is a completely different dynamic – the 3 year survivors, the mission; but so far it lacks the emotional drama (the closest we have is Garnett and he’s really not selling it to me), the pathos, the pain and horror of the apocalypse and I wonder how 13 episodes are going to go without that human element to it and if they can introduce something powerful enough to replace it that will let it escape the inevitable, and detrimental, comparison to The Walking Dead? Because so far they don’t have that heavy character drama, but other than zombie squishing they don’t have much else either

But, then, does it have to compete? Can it not be a show that is less emotional, less well acted, less well produced, less deep, less meaningful and less impactful than The Walking Dead – but, perhaps, be more fun? I have a feeling that’s what we’re getting here – B-movie junk food – cheap, poorly put together, not very satisfying or good for us, yet still strangely addictive.

I think I’m going to complain mightily about this show while secretly (and shamefully) loving it. But can you really make 13 episodes of junk? Really?

Also – I briefly thought we were going to have a Black leader in one of these dystopian worlds. Hah, silly me. Not only does Hammond die but the very next scene when asked “who’s in charge” we’re all completely not shocked when Garnett is the one – there’s not even a debate or question about it!

I’m left feeling this show is awful – but is it so awful that it’s worth watching because of that?