December 6, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Z Nation”


As zombie shows go, Z NATION exists very far in the shadow of The Walking Dead in every way, from ratings to quality.  And yet Syfy’s good-humored rip-off can be seen as the show Walking Dead fans sometimes wish that blockbuster would be:  pulpier, faster and more singlemindedly splatterific, with little interest in existential angst or debates on what it really means to be human.  Z Nation simply lurches from one lurid incident to the next, and on its own dumb terms it delivers the man-vs-zombie thrills it promises.

Even more than Walking Dead, Z Nation has been willing to prune its leading characters, and in the course of 13 episodes, not one but two apparent leading men have bitten the dust, Harold Perrineau in the pilot and Tom Everett Scott along the way.  By tonight’s season finale, written by series co-creator Karl Schaeffer and Co-Producer John Hyams, and directed by Hyams, the heroes were down to four:  grizzled pothead Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), former National Guard soldier Warren (Kellita Smith), sharpshooter 10K (Nat Zang), and Cassandra (Pisay Pao).  Their mission was to ferry ex-con Murphy (Keith Allen), who has gradually become the focal point of the series, from the east coast to a lab in California, since the ill-tempered Murphy was the only known human to be bitten by zombies and survive, thanks to a mysterious vaccine, and his blood could in theory save the rest of the world.  The group is more or less watched over by “Citizen Z” (D.J. Qualls), a North Pole-based NSA operative who can tap into all of the world’s miraculously still-functioning communications and internet lines to keep track of “Operation Bitemark” and occasionally guide them on their journey.

The finale unusually included a bit of backstory, as we were shown some pre-plague glimpses of a shadowy doctor, initially identified as (heh heh) Kurtz but later named Kirian, who was traveling around the world and drawing brain matter from the afflicted, apparently weaponizing the zombie virus.  He showed up at what was supposed to be the end of the group’s journey, in the Colorado lab where Patient Zero had first contracted the virus, and was of course duplicitous and evil.  By the end of the episode, Doc had been repeatedly shot but was still alive, and Cassandra, who had been near death before a few minutes alone with Murphy, now had some of his super powers, which for Murphy includes the ability to mind control not just the zombies but weak-willed humans.  It also apparently led to his shedding all of his skin, although we didn’t get a good look at what that left of him afterward.  The season ended with as complete a cliffhanger as one could imagine, with every still-living character in the path of a nuclear missile, then a sudden cut to black.

Z Nation doesn’t score well when judged on conventional terms like dialogue or performance, which are all barely functional (although Allan has made Murphy an intriguingly dark-humored character).  The show is best at cheap but energetic action scenes, and in its balls-out attitude toward its genre, which it treats as deadly but not necessarily serious.  (The zombies on Adderall and Viagra in last week’s pharmaceutical warehouse episode were particularly amusing.)  On its own how-are-they-gonna-get-outta-this- one? terms, it’s moderately entertaining.  The series, aided by a WWE lead-in, has been fairly successful for Syfy (although, once again, at something less than 10% of Walking Dead‘s ratings), and has already been renewed for Season 2, so we’ll find out what happened with those nukes.  Even though Walking Dead is based on graphic novels, it’s Z Nation that feels like a 12-year old’s gruesome comic book come to life.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."