A Series of Unfortunate SyFy Events: Z Nation – Pilot “Puppies and Kittens”

Z Nation (Photo: SyFy)

The pilot of Z Nation is everything you should expect from a SyFy original series: improbable coincidences, unexplained occurrences solely there to move the plot forward, terrible CGI, and small pockets of greatness.
Z Nation opens with a news broadcaster explaining far too calmly via voiceover that all world governments have fallen1. So what else have the zombies achieved besides dethroning The Man across the entire world? Why, given us a new way to measure time! One writer, let’s call him Kenny, must have turned to another writer, Dave, and said, “You know, we restarted our year counter when Jesus showed up and that guy came back from the dead… and these zombies are coming back from the dead… dude, let’s restart the counting of years and start calling it A.Z.!”2 That’s right, folks, the series opens on May 5, 02 A.Z.

This first episode was filled with “Hey! It’s that guy from that thing years and years ago” moments.3 Harold Perrineua4 is set up as our hero, Hammond. Even while saying lines like, “I give you mercy” before shooting a zombie in the head, he’s still likeable. Those are acting chops. Anyway, Hammond is trying to save a research doctor and her staff from Portsmouth Naval Prison5 that is being overrun by zombies. A research laboratory at a prison was set up where researchers are testing live strains of the zombie virus on unwilling inmates.6 The doctor insists on injecting three inmates with three different strains before leaving so she will know if her research paid off. Surprise, the first two inmates die and reanimate immediately7. The third inmate is completely fine once injected. However, the zombies are coming so Hammond and the doctor make a quick get away, even as the inmate screams to be released or shot so he is not left as zombie chow. Too bad: they leave him strapped to the table. The zombies get in and begin chomping away. Hammond gets the doctor to the roof where their evacuation chopper is waiting. He tells her to wait 2 minutes, and if he isn’t back, leave without him. And with that, he goes back to save the screaming inmate because… reasons.8

During all this, DJ Qualls9 has been talking with Hammond over the radio from the NSA Emergency Command, which is also evacuating. Radar 2.0 stays on the radio long enough to tell Hammond how far away the helicopter is and the coordinates for Hammond’s team to fall back to. Where is their new safe haven? California.10 Once he gives all this vital information, Radar 2.0 runs for the evacuation plane – which is taking off without him. He watches as the plane ascends into the clouds and then promptly falls back to the ground where it crashes because… reasons.

Flash forward one year to upstate New York: a lot has changed in the last three years. Apparently, “I give you mercy” is now something you say when you execute someone.11 One survivor camp is living like hillbillies: perpetually covered in dirt and cramming into shabby log cabins. Thankfully, our other hero, Tom Everett Scott12 – I mean, Garnett – hasn’t let the apocalypse get in the way of him looking like he’s only on the second day of a camping trip. Hammond and Garnett meet when Hammond and Murphy, the inmate he went back to save, drift up in a canoe to the shore Garnett is defending near the survivor camp. But wait, didn’t Murphy get munched on by about a dozen zombies? Si. Guess that third viral strain was the charm.

Hammond convinces Garnett and his other National Guard homies to help him and Murphy make their next rendezvous so they can get Murphy to California where his blood can be used to create a cure for the zombie plague. While Garnett and his (girl?)friend are escorting Hammond and Murphy to the rendezvous point, their ex-National Guard survivor camp is overrun. There are no survivors.  A group of three travelers13 alert Garnett via radio to the carnage. Garnet & Co. didn’t get too far in their mission because they roll up just in time to save our merry band of 3 travelers from the now reanimated survivor camp.

The new group makes it to the rendezvous point to find it overrun. What else do they find? A tough-as-nails woman locked in a cage outside and a baby in the backseat of a crashed car. I think the writers of Z Nation binge watched the last two season of The Walking Dead before they started writing. The Z Nation writers should’ve binged some Sesame Street instead so they would’ve been reminded that it’s okay to be yourself and that being different can be a good thing.

Unfortunately, the best character so far, Hammond, dies14 at the overrun rendezvous point.  After bickering and then speaking with Radar 2.0, who confirms how important this mission is, the now-slightly-smaller gang ultimately decides that they all have to get Murphy to California.  The new ragtag group of survivors head out in a caravan.  They stop a few dozen yards out as they pass a young man walking with a sniper rifle.  Stranger Boy was hiding on a roof and shot a zombie that was trying to attack Doc earlier when the group was scouting for supplies. Doc thanks the kid for saving him and asks if he wants a lift.  Without a word, Stranger Boy jumps in the back of the truck, and the caravan is on its way again.  Thus we have our main cast, at least until the next episode.

Nailed it

At one point, Garnett grabs Murphy and slams him against a door. Hammond pulls his pistol, aims it at Garnett’s head, and says, “Let him go, or I will send you to walk among the dead.” as he lowers his pistol so it’s aimed at Garnett’s chest. There’s a very short list of actors who could say that line without incurring guffaws from the audience. Harold Perrineua is on that list. Rather than even thinking of laughing, the audience is almost about to put their hands up.

So close

Murphy refuses to bring Cage Girl and the baby along with them.15 Garnett states absolutely that he won’t leave the baby with Cage Girl.16 Hammond intercedes and says that they will all go to the next checkpoint together where Cage Girl and the baby can be left in the safety of others. Hammond then adds, “I hate moral dilemmas.” You know what’s better than showing? Telling. No, not just telling, explicitly stating. This exchange was so good at the beginning because it felt like a real conversation that could happen in a situation like this: one person doesn’t want to bring along a tiny person who literally does nothing except sound one continuous dinner bell17 while another person cannot abandon a helpless human being, thereby essentially committing murder. Calling attention to what this situation is (a moral dilemma) completely undercut the great setup the first part of this scene built.

Prediction

My prediction came true before the end of the first episode: Harold Perrineua did not last long on this series. I can’t fault him. An actor as gifted as him couldn’t stay on a show where his character wandered through an abandoned building hunting a zombie baby while saying “Here, baby, baby, baby. Come to papa.”18 I just wish they’d given him a better exit. Being eaten by a zombie mom and zombie baby was just… sad. Not sad sad, but more “you deserve better than having to pretend to be eaten by what is very clearly a puppet” sad.

I guess my new prediction is that Murphy is going to become a fan favorite character. He blames the other characters for Hammond’s death saying that Hammond should not have had to go kill the zombie baby: a zombie is a zombie, move away and move on. It sounds cold, but Murphy is the most logical character so far in this series. Anyone mildly familiar with survivalist storytelling knows that logic keeps you alive and emotions get you killed… usually. That being said, I won’t be surprised if Murphy dies at some point in the series by sacrificing himself to save a person or group of people, just to cement that the audience wasn’t cheering for an emotionless monster to survive.

I love you, SyFy

The baby they found and that Garnett was so adamant about protecting turns into a zombie for no explained reason. One second it’s fine, and the next, it’s a zombie. The best part is the terrible CGI of an animated zombie baby running around.  The baby is clearly not even a year old and looks as though maybe, maybe it could take one or two shaky steps alone. In zombie mode though? Forget about it.  This thing is like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Zombie Baby: it sprints around and even hides behind some boxes before charging Garnett and his (girl?)friend, who run outside rather than killing it.  I was cackling so loudly throughout the entire thing. Only one thing to say about this scene: I love you, SyFy.

On a semi-serious note, I love that they outright call the undead “zombies” in this series. So many people think the godfather of zombies, Romero, never used the word “zombie,” but he did, my friend.19 I also like that the fresh zombies can run.20

  1. Direct quote: “The president is dead. This is an extinction scale event. Do not panic.” Actually, I think panicking would be the correct reaction.  
  2. And lo, the year change was agreed upon as Kenny didst pass the bong to Dave.  
  3. Although, that could be said for 80% of SyFy original programming.  
  4. who you should know from 28 Weeks Later if you’re a zombie fan, Lost if you enjoy annoying shows that never get to the point, or OZ if you were that kid who fried ants with a magnifying glass in elementary school…  
  5. Did you know this is in Maine? I didn’t; I had to Google it. This will be important later, and it would’ve been nice for SyFy to throw up more location info  
  6. The president gave the order that this was legal before she died  
  7. See “I give you mercy” reference above  
  8. The doctor said the third inmate was their last chance at a cure. Hammond responds with, “Now you are.” If he believed that, it makes no sense why he would go back for the inmate being eaten alive  
  9. The super skinny guy from Road Trip, The New Guy, and an awesome guest role on Breaking Bad. [And ‘The Core’!! Have you forgotten all about ‘The Core’?! – Mooch]  
  10. I think Radar 2.0’s experience from Road Trip might come in handy for this mission  
  11. It seems to be quasi-religious as the second time it is said in the series is right before a dying grandmother gets capped in the head “as the eighth sacrament” in a somewhat religious ceremony.  
  12. If you don’t know him from That Thing You Do, stop reading immediately and go watch that movie. If you want to hear the whole soundtrack, you can’t borrow my CD, but I can and will sing the entire thing for you  
  13. Doc, an old white guy, Mack, one of the kids from Twilight, and Abbey, or Generic McPlainwrap as I think of her so far.  
  14. To quote Don McLean, “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”  
  15. But somehow he’s okay with the five other tagalongs  
  16. The fervor with which he refuses to abandon the baby and the ease with which he handles the baby seem like a setup for a future episode where we’ll learn that he was a dad before the world went to hell.  
  17. Baby screams are the Meow Mix jingle for zombies  
  18. You’re kidding me. Really? Oh gawd. – Mooch  
  19. I’d tell you which parts of Dawn of the Dead to watch to verify this, but you should just watch the whole thing  
  20. Read Mira Grant’s Newsflash series [Feed, Deadline, and Blackout] for an amazing take on zombie evolution that is grounded in years of virological and physiological research Grant did  

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About Becca Marshall 36 Articles

Becca has been writing about film and television since convincing her junior high English teacher that comparing and contrasting the film and stage versions of Romero and Juliet was a good idea for a term research paper. After getting her BA in English and film studies, she doubled down on liberal arts and got an MA in television, radio, and film from Syracuse University. Becca is incredibly proud to be an Aggie and entertains her non-Texan friends with Southern colloquialisms. Her hobbies include watching Golden Girls and her interests include all things zombies – she’s simple, not basic. Email: becca@whatelseison.tv