Friday, September 18, 2015

By White Light Burneth Z NATION Most Bright

"White Light," this week's installment of Z NATION, jumps in with both feet. Murphy is in Cheyenne, our heroes are on his tail and now, because Citizen Z spilled the beans on their mission before the entire world and falsely claimed there was a large reward waiting for whoever could deliver him to California, so is every bounty hunter and greedy nutcase in reach. In the previous ep, Warren and co. discovered that many of these hunters had, like themselves, descended on the town. Murphy charged out of the strip-joint in which he was hiding and, tonight, right into what very quickly became a war-zone, everyone trying to catch Murphy and trying to kill everyone else trying to do the same.

What follows is a relentless, riveting, balls-to-the-wall action epic that carries on for the entire hour leaving barely a moment to breath. In the course of it, each of the major characters come very close to death and each has a momentary vision, the white light of the title. Sometimes, it's some memory from their past. For 10k, who gets flattened by a blast from a rocket, it's merely the sight of Cassandra pausing to make sure he wasn't dead before fleeing the scene, something that actually happens. Doc gets into a hardcore brawl and loses and as he's being strangled to death, his spirit seems to leave his body and notice a way he can save himself--a very well-shot sequence that managed to convince this viewer ever so briefly that the character had reached his end. Doc makes it but Death is clearly closing in and won't leave without exacting a toll. By the end, it claims Mack. Last season, the leader of the "Sisters of Mercy" cult warned Addy that is she continued with our heroes, she would one day have to put down Mack when he eventually fell and returned. This, the cynical machinations of a master manipulator, was also, it seemed, prophecy.

I've described Z NATION as a crazy blender of ideas and influences that embraces all manner of wild, unorthodox storytelling. Some of what went in the blender for tonight's show were 1940s serial adventures,[1] silent movies,[2] Three Stooges comedy, MAD MAX-style post-apocalyptic tales and Hong Kong action pictures. What came out was a ballet of violence punctuated by highly emotionally-charged moments that should forever silence both ZN friend and foe alike who so often reach for the convenient cliche in assessing that the series doesn't take itself seriously. As I've noted in the past, ZN can do "seriously" just fine. Here, there was more "seriously" than we've ever gotten from a single ep, with the comedy elements so strongly associated with the series radically toned down. High action content aside, one could, in a sense, see this as ZN challenging the always-ever-so-serious, no-humor-allowed WALKING DEAD on its own turf. And, TWD's pilot excepted, it managed to not only top but rather handily put to shame anything we've ever gotten from TWD.[3]

Back in May, ZN showrunner Karl Schaefer offered TV Geek Talk a preview of the coming 2nd season. Among other things, he said:

"A lot of our directors this season are also writers. So, you have a lot of really strong writer/director filmmakers getting to make their own episodes of Z Nation, and so, they put everything into it. So, every episode is going to have its own signature spin a little bit too."

"White Light" was the first look at this auteur-ist approach this season, written and directed by John Hyams, ZN's most prolific director who also both co-wrote and directed ZN's spectacular season 1 finale. If tonight was any indication, it's an approach that's going to work very well for the series. Fast-paced, action-packed, thoughtful, heartbreaking, exhausting and free of any of the sort of cheats and corner-cutting of "The Murphy", this was, in every way, a remarkably good episode, easily one of the best-executed of the entire run.

Next Friday can't get here fast enough.



[1] Not just via the constant action and cliffhangers; at one point, Doc bursts into a room and tries to shoot a villain, the gun jams and he throws it at the guy--an old serial trope I can't remember seeing in anything made in recent decades. It made me laugh.

[2] I've written before of my reservations about the restricted color palette of ZN's cinematography. I just think a robust, vibrant, expressionistic use of color would better serve the material. For tonight's ep, the palette was as restricted as it ever has been, bleeding out that color and tinting the footage like a silent film. Sepia-toned for daytime, blue for darkness. When Mack is killed, the white light suddenly throws bright color on the scene, progressively highlighting the blue of his eyes and the blood from his mouth, a striking and effective moment. I don't  know that I'd want to see this color experiment very often but I find it impossible to argue with the results here.

[3] TWD hasn't been blind to what the ZN gang is doing. Toward the end of its last season, its writers suddenly turned Carol into a blackly-humorous comic figure, pretending to be a mousy housewife in public while, in private, tossing out wicked wisecracks and one-liners. It was a very entertaining turn but one that, like so much of what happens on TWD, had absolutely no basis in the character's history and was so out-of-place it looked as if it was being phoned in from an entirely different show. Those eps were shot after ZN had been airing for a while and it's very unlikely that's a coincidence.


  1. Have to agree on all points. Doc's gun seemed a bad choice to me, antique looking. Not reliable... so it wasn't a surprise it didn't work at the critical time. But throwing the thing... priceless!
    Murphy seems manic depressive to me and this episode, it showed. Why try to save humanity when in the face of apocalypse... everybody still tries to kill off other survivors for selfish reasons?
    Doc seemed right last week too... Murphy does not look good and may become an unintentional threat (new worse offshoot of thinking zombies) or actively trying to eliminate the human species.
    They got my attention for another few episodes at least.

  2. I felt a little cheated when Doc escaped death, especially with Murphy in the room, letting it happen. I love Doc and in no way think the character has earned death or run his course. But it was turning out to be a very powerful death scene, a la "Saving Private Ryan". Mack's death wasn't as strong as Doc's would have been.

    Overall, I thought this was a weaker episode. I loved the hispanic bounty hunter chasing Murphy through the backyards. Very "Point Break". But like last week, it seemed a little too easy for the heroes. Murphy escapes and they split up to find him. And then everyone conveniently converges on the building Murphy happens to be hiding out in. I'm actually a little surprised this isn't mentioned in the review, considering it was called out last week when the group saw the strip club and declared, "Murphy's in there".

    1. One of my fave parts of this ep? Doc proved to be a far better fighter than he looks.
      That was a great scene.

    2. I don't think Doc has "run his course," as in, there's no further use for the character. I mean it as in, I thought he was about to be killed. I'm glad he wasn't.

      They didn't all magically converge on the building in which Murphy was hiding. They knew which direction Murphy and gone and Warren split them up and directed them into a pincer movement in hopes of flushing him out. They would have all converged on the same point whether they found Murphy or not.

      As it played out, Mack and Addy found a truck that had been left idling beside the street, its passenger door open to a back entrance to the building; they took the same entrance, apparently assuming that whoever had just jumped out of the thing may have followed Murphy inside. Doc and 10k were around the front of the building, saw zombies (which had been following Murphy) and thought he may be in there but Doc only ended up inside because he was attacked by a zombie in the parking lot and ran in to avoid getting shot by the sniper--he then went upstairs to take out that sniper. Warren followed the new guy, who was following Cassandra. There may be more to it--this is just from memory--but I didn't have the impression there was any magic involved.

  3. What an amazing thrill ride this week. Non-stop edge of your seat action and some genuine drama when Doc almost had it. Relentless is the right word for this episode as it just didn't let up. And in true Z nation style they introduced a new end boss in the form a mysterious bazooka toting mystery man. A man I expect we'll only be seeing glimpses of in the next few episodes as the group is distracted by other crap.

  4. What I loved about this episode was non-stop action while still progressing the story. It wasn't two minutes of action followed by twenty minutes of conversation between characters on events the viewer has already seen. Often the same conversation ad nauseam, a la Walking Dead.