Monday, December 3, 2018

Z Nation, Season 5, Episode 9: Water Keepers

Today Z Nation is taking our merry band of misfits to a Native American tribe

It’s at this point my sense of cringe rises and I look for a way I can pass the episode to Renee and otherwise try to do anything I can to avoid the embarrassing awfulness that has a good chance of following.

I bit the bullet and… it wasn’t that bad? Exactly. Compared to my expectations

So 10k and Doc are captured and we’re introduced to a random captured Talker rambling incoherently about saboteurs. They’re rescued by George and Warren and then there’s arrows and Native American warriors in full war paint. And I’m duly wary that we’re going to go full woo-woo

But while several warriors do wear war paint, this is more something they’ve integrated into their culture as a separate tribe and people but not to become a full on stereotype: these 21st century Navajo (the language referenced) haven’t suddenly stripped back to some Hollywood impressed of what pre-colonisation Navajo.

All of this said from the point of view of a reviewer who is super not informed enough about Native Americans in general or Navajo specifically to say this is good or bad - just that it is much less awful than I anticipated. Because I expected worse

We also have several characters from the much much worse Grand Canyon episode, Kuruk and Ayalla. Ayalla spends lots of time with 10k, getting him a new antler hand with a little bit of woo-woo but mainly Ayalla mocking him for his adorable naivety and how easily she can confuse and trick him by referring to silly woo-woo which he takes seriously despite being ridiculous. It’s a nice send up of Native American stereotypes. And, yes, 10k is just impossibly adorable.

The rest of the gang meets Kuruk and she and Doc kind of circle around some very not there chemistry can we not. But Kuruk lays out the conflict - they are constantly being attacked by zombies and Talker saboteurs are attacking the dam cutting off power and water.

There’s another conflict with Kuruk wanting to leave to save her people while Eddie, her dad, insisting that they should stay with their ancestors (spiritual, Talker and Zombie) and their own homeland. Largely to draw upon lots and lots of references to Native Americans being driven from their lands which is grossly unsubtle but, at the same time, does it need to be? We don’t need to subtly weave in why these Native Americans may be invested in holding onto this land for big historical reasons - there’s no problem with it being overt. There’s a similar ongoing conflict between whether to trust Newmerica because, again, many many many betrayed treaties. When George tries to invoke the agreement between Newmerica and the Native Americans, Kuruk is quick to snap that no way is she to use the word “treaty”. Again, it’s not subtle and equally, subtlety isn’t required.

This links into survival again, though, because Eddie doesn’t just want to stay on their land but thinks they need to work with Newmerica because there’s simply not enough of them to go it alone. Which may be true - but this kind of feels like a lot of handwaving. Like, at the end of the episode Kuruk is totally in to George’s vision and supporting Newmerica which kind of feels like all that unsubtle but necessary references have all been resolved - rather than Kuruk being more “look we need this, we’ll work with you but we’re also totally watching you” which i think would both keep them on side while still preserving these messages of reasonable distrust of agreements and warily guarding their territory.

I think a lot of the problem with this stems from our expectation and tropes around episodic shows when dealing with something that isn’t metaplot. Z Nation is not a show that wants to focus on Native Americans or colonialism, nor does it want this to be a recurring theme and issue. By the rules of Episodic Television, this is a monster/issue of the week episode and needs to be resolved at the end of this episode. This happens a lot on television shows that decide to DEAL with any marginalised issue but don’t want marginalised issues to be a theme of the show. So you have a Very Special Episode which ends overly simplistically which resolves The Issue at the end of the episode because we really cannot allow nuanced ongoing issues that can’t be solved by the end of the credits.

Anyway that’s the conclusion but before we get there we have drug induced visions quests that Warren, Kuruk and Doc all go spiritual to enter the dam (which they can’t enter physically for… reasons… apparently) so they can find and kill a saboteur. He doesn’t tell them anything because 10k kills him with his new found returned shooting skills. This also involves Chief Eddie becoming a Talker and George being kick arse and Doc briefly possessing 10k and…

...yeah there was no way we were getting through this episode without woo-woo. Extremely dubious woo-woo. Vision quests et al were always going to happen, sadly. Oh and a guy apparently always getting insight from his dead grandfather which is apparently a thing? I mean, I wouldn’t snark so much if we were going to follow up on this and say like, yes, vision quests, magic, possession, ghosts etc are real not just zombies. But we don’t - we have Native Americans so we have woo-woo.

I’m not entirely sure what the point of this all was. Yes they kill a saboteur but they still don’t know who sent him so presumably more saboteurs will arrive threatening the people. They have more guards now because they accept Talkers as Warriors but there’s no real reason why they couldn’t do that before and they weren’t exactly shunning them? I don’t know why the action of this episode leads to the conclusion it does - the dam is not protected, the threat is not removed and the decision to accept the Talkers and/or agree with Newmerica