Saturday, October 22, 2016

Z Nation, Season Three, Episode Six: Doc Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Strong trigger warning for abelist discussion as well as medical butchery. 

Since the beginning of this season, 10K has been separated from the Roberta co, thanks to the machinations of Murphy and his desire to populate the world with his Blends.  Last week we watched 10K's daring escape.  When we last left 10K, he had just injected himself with Merch's serum and had collapsed while hallucinating of Red. 

Now that 10K is free, obviously, his top priority is to meet up with Warren and Co but Z Nation's way of accomplishing this actively had me wondering why the hell I'm still watching this show?  Look, we've seen Viagra Zs and various unlikely combinations, as well as the liberty bell rolling down the street but Doc's little visit to Serenity Falls Institution For The Criminally Insane was beyond inane and ableist. Z Nation has heavily relied on humour to differentiate itself from The Walking Dead but there's a line between funny and outright offensive.  If the joke is all about laughing at marginalised people, then you've left funny far behind. 

So, it begins with Doc using the bathroom in the woods and becoming separated from Warren and Co. He calls out for them and gets no response but he does attract the attention of Nurse Ratched and a mentally ill patient who believes himself to be Elvis.  Elvis, on the orders of Nurse Ratched, clocks Doc in the head with a guitar.  When Doc awakes, he finds himself in a straight jacket inside a mental institution in the middle of a group therapy session.  Doc convinces Nurse Ratched that he is in fact a doctor by doing a quickie diagnosis of all the patients.  Nurse Ratched then asks for a consultation on another patient who is too dangerous to interact with the others and it's then that we learn that 10K has been held captive at the Serenity Falls Institution For The Criminally Insane.

I'm not going to do a rundown of Doc Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest because other than reuniting 10K and Doc, the entire purpose seemed to be to ridicule people living with mental illness.  We are absolutely meant to laugh at one patients delusion and predilection for conspiracy theories.  Then there's Winona Ryder, who Z Nation spoofed on this episode.  This is where they crossed the line from let's laugh at the fictional disabled people to real life.  It's been years since Winona was convicted of stealing 5,560 dollars worth of clothing from Saks 5th avenue but the fact remains that this was absolutely a painful time in the Ryder's life.  Winona has gone public about her struggles with depression, and anxiety and yet, Z Nation found it appropriate to spoof her.  To be clear, a woman of Ryder's wealth could well afford the items she stole from Saks and the way in which the clothing was ripped in order to remove the tags made it clear that she wasn't stealing the clothing to wear them but because she's a kleptomaniac.  Turning this difficult impulse into a punchline as the character stole watches and in fact the get away bus, was absolutely an act of blatant ableism. To then have Winona institutionalized in a place which houses the criminally insane presents someone living  with her various conditions as a threat to society.  This isn't funny, and it represents a direct attack on a disabled person.  

Doc is a particularly bad character to place in this situation. No matter what happens to Doc, or what his surroundings are, his character is always in a permanent chill which makes him appear to constantly be nonplussed. Nurse Ratched has performed lobotomies on patients which was a practice that cut away connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain. To be clear, a lobotomy is butchery and left those subject to it infantalised for the purposes of making them more manageable. Doc, with his education, is well aware of the negative side to a lobotomy but because of his Laissez-faire attitude towards life, he didn't reflect upon the horror right before his eyes and consequently, the audience isn't encouraged to see a lobotomy for what it is. Bob, Nurse Ratchet's lobotomized patient is a joke and can only blink to acknowledge what he understands.  He's no longer a person, he's a weapon and this is made clear when Bob kills Nurse Ratchet. Doc only wants to ensure that 10K doesn't receive a lobotomy and shows little to no real concern for Bob. He doesn't even check to see how Bob is doing after Nurse Ratchet experiments on him. So, not only is the audience encouraged to laugh at the so-called crazy people, they are also encouraged to ignore the serious implications of medical butchery and the history of how this particular procedure actively harmed disabled people in the United States. 

Then we have 10K himself who is obviously not functioning like himself, having not had the medication he needs to combat the bite for days.  When Doc and 10K make it outside of the hospital, Doc sees 10K's bite for the first time.  10K actively pleads with Doc not to tell Warren and co, because he doesn't want to see pity in their eyes, nor does he want to be associated with Cassandra.  It's a heartbreaking moment and the only genuine moment of the entire episode. Doc is caught between his loyalty and love of 10K and his loyalty and love of the rest of the group.  Can he actively keep something like this from them?

The problem with this entire situation of course dates back to Z Nation's original treatment of Cassandra, which was both racist and ableist.  There are so many ways in which Murphy's control could have manifest but of course, being Z Nation, they had to go for the lowest hanging fruit possible.  Yes, 10K is away from Murphy now but him telling Doc how Murphy has changed, even as he protests that he doesn't want to be blue, heavily implies that there's no quick fix for this.  10K in the eyes of the audience, thanks to the writing of Z Nation, is damaged. That this this revelation happens on an episode in which the mentally ill are heavily focused on creates a link which suggests that those who are negotiating a mental illness are hopelessly damaged. Way to go Z Nation, you win the prize for most offensive shit I've seen this week and that's a tough one in a week where Trump is running for president.