The second episode of Z Nation provides plenty of ham-fisted dialogue and illogical behavior while advancing neither the characters’ journey nor the plot. Prepare yourself for some quality Syfy in this semi-bottle episode.
Our ragtag gang has run out of gas in New Jersey. Considering the pilot ended in New York, I’m going to assume they spent the time between the end of episode 1 and the beginning of episode 2 driving around in circles looking for a Subway that was still open1. Thanks to a helpful/evil stranger, the gang learns of a refinery nearby where they can get gas. They come up with a plan to fill up a tanker truck at the refinery so that they will be set on fuel for their entire journey to California2.
To no one’s surprise, the plan goes bust. Murphy flips out when the car he’s hiding in is surrounded by zombies, and he crashes right near the tanker truck Garnet and Warren have just completely filled. Garnet pulls Murphy out of the Suburban right before it explodes and causes some oil on the ground (and on some zombies) to catch fire. The tanker truck explodes and, magically, everyone who had been near the tanker truck earlier are all at a safe distance now.
Speaking of magic, a phone booth that was in no other previous shot pops up like a crappy American TARDIS. The phone starts ringing. It’s Radar 2.0! He saw the refinery explosion on NSA satellites and is calling to see how things are going. Garnet and Radar 2.0 exchange just enough lines to drive home the point that the gang has to get Murphy to California3.
Radar 2.0 is great in this episode. He’s been stranded by himself for over a year now, and it’s showing. He spends hours, if not days, trying to reach survivors at different outposts. Going from calm to bored to giddy to sarcastic to angry to controlled fear all in the span of a minute perfectly conveys how shaky his grasp on sanity is. This scene does a lot to establish that while it seems no time has passed since he was stranded for the audience, Radar 2.0 has indeed been suffering from his solitude and this might impact his future actions4.
While waiting in the Suburban5, Murphy tells Doc that he was wrongfully convicted and that’s why he was in prison. Murphy then says that he volunteered to be experimented on because he knew that the salvation of humanity was more important than the life of one person, even if that person was himself. He adds that he passed out before the zombies got to him and bit him. This dialogue is intercut with shots of Murphy being dragged down a hallway, strapped to a table, injected while he screams that he was wrongfully convicted, begs to be let go, and that he was fully awake when he was bitten.
Pitting dialogue against visuals is a classic zombie trope 6. This scene would’ve been Romero-levels of great, if not for the beginning of the conversation: Murphy explicitly states that he has a phobia of zombies, to which Doc offhandedly replies he’s been meaning to ask Murphy about his bites. The conversation then gets derailed by Murphy asking Doc what kind of doctor he is, to which Doc admits he isn’t a doctor at all, but instead an “amateur pharmacologist” 7. Finally, they get back on track and Murphy delivers his great speech.
Murphy has done a great job these past two episodes of accurately portraying someone with PTSD by his mannerisms around zombies. His blatant “I have a phobia” statement was not only superfluous, but undercut the nuanced performance the actor has been giving these last two episodes. Had they started the scene with Murphy’s speech, the impact of the speech and cutaways would have been far more powerful. This scene was, in the words of Frankie Valli, “so close, so close and yet so far.”
I love you, Syfy
When the gang arrives at the refinery, Garnet instructs everyone to use handheld weapons only. Why? Because, as he explains, “The undead and gasoline, both [are] highly flammable. So no firearms of any kind.” Apparently, in the world of Z Nation, you immediately become embalmed or your blood turns into gas when you become a zombie. Dialogue of this caliber delivered with over-the-top gravitas is set to make this show Syfy canon.
Someone in this gang has got to be Texas Chainsaw Massacre levels of evil with the way they keep trusting random strangers they meet. If I were three years into the apocalypse, I would not keep adding people I met on the side of the road to my group – not unless I knew someone in my group was more dangerous than any stranger I might meet and that that person would protect me from any new stranger. Fingers crossed Generic McPlainwrap8 turns out to be some deranged CIA ninja. I’d start rooting for her then.
- Subway sponsors Z Nation, including a promo spot where the cast discuss what it takes to survive the apocalypse. Subway also sponsors Talking Dead. Is Subway trying to get everyone to Eat Fresh because they think the zombies are going to rise and we need to be in good shape to outrun shambling corpses? I’m not saying they are, except that they totally are ↵
- so long as they stop searching for Subways ↵
- Having shoehorned in some interaction between the gang and Radar 2.0, the writers must have realized it was after 5 and just called it a day for this episode’s script. ↵
- Luckily, a survivor on a dogsled arrived outside the base. The man and most of his dogs froze to death, but one of the dogs survived. The best part about Radar 2.0 gaining a four-legged companion was when he considered naming the dog The Dude after The Big Lebowski ↵
- Garnet gives Doc instructions to stay away from the action and to leave for California with Murphy if things go south with the mission ↵
- Romero did it best in Dawn of the Dead. Watch this clip. Starting at 2:11, close your eyes [yes, I’m serious] and just listen to the dialogue. Then rewatch from 2:11 to the end with your eyes open. The audio and the visual are at odds with each other because [SPOILERS] the audio is telling you how to logically deal with zombies while the visual is showing why the logical plan will never work: you can’t act logically as fast as you should when your best friend reanimates as a zombie right in front of you. Brilliance. ↵
- newbie meth cooker, got it ↵
- or Abbey, as the writers insist on calling her ↵