Last season, Z NATION ended with the central cast in disarray and about to be incinerated by incoming nuclear missiles (along with significant portions of the U.S.). Tonight, the series roared back for an extended second season. This installment cut some corners and cheated a bit but set up what promises to be another run of keeper episodes, if not exactly being a big keeper itself.
That's what "The Murphy" mostly did, resolve last season's cliffhangers and set-up what's to come. It didn't have much of a story of its own--it's a bridge. The opening sequence, in which the characters in the path of the nukes all manage to avoid being blown up, is rather poetic--somewhat striking for Z NATION--and quite good. Warren, Doc and 10k narrowly avoided their nuke but their vehicle was nailed by the blast-wave from it as they drove it into a tunnel. Murphy, who jacked the group's van and fled, escapes the blast entirely. On his way out the door last season, he shed his skin and his flesh is now a bluish color--insert "Smurphy" jokes here. Citizen Z's arctic base, it turns out, is defended by an anti-missile system, one of which he was apparently entirely unaware, but while this system prevents a direct hit, the resulting explosion damages the facility and unleashes a horde of zombies who had been stuck in the wreckage of a nearby plane crash, the very flight Citizen Z missed when he ended up stranded there.
Elsewhere, Mack and Addy, separated when Addy had chosen to live with a man-killing, all-women cult, are reunited. Last season, it seemed as if Mack, desperately lovesick and not wanting to leave Addy, had been shot and killed by the cultists. Off camera, of course. How that particular confrontation actually played out remains unexplained. Tonight, Mack finds the cult compound in ruins and Addie one of the only survivors (a boy the cult intended to exile to his death torched the place and unleashed the dreaded zombie bear on the population). Having nothing better to do, they go off in search of Warren's group.
When Warren, Doc and 10k climbed out of the wreckage of their truck, radioactive fallout was already landing around
them, which means they should get sick and die. But they don't. Doc had been shot in the chest last season. Probably a hit to the lung. He'd had to be resuscitated, was bleeding from his mouth and was clearly on his way out. In one of tonight's cheats, this is downgraded to a shoulder wound. He receives no medical treatment but seems to recover just fine. How much time passes during the course of the ep? It isn't clear.
Another matter that raises that question: A second survivor of the women's cult is the Pie Girl, an as-yet-unnamed character quite memorably essayed by Sara Coates. Last season, she, uh, gave Murphy some pie and now she's quite pregnant. Quite a bit too pregnant, really. It isn't clear how much time passed between her first appearance and the last episode of season 1 but it couldn't have been very long--Cassandra, who, at the time the group encountered the cult, had been suffering a progressive infection from a leg injury, made it to the end of the season. There's also an unclear passage of time between tonight's opening and the first time we see Pie Girl but when we do see her, she's clearly ready to pop. It's impossible it's been the 8 months she would ordinarily require to be that far along. Ordinarily is a pretty important word here though. This is Murphy's child, definitely a one-of-a-kind mutant and its gestation may have been freakishly short. Last season, in fact, Pie Girl seemed to know she was pregnant only a short while after they'd had sex. Something else to be explained. In an amusingly ghoulish moment, we learn that the baby-to-be is drawn to Murphy--Pie Girl can ask it "where's daddy?" and it will let her know.
Cassandra offers another mutant tale. She was actually in the lab that was nuked. She's been bitten by
Murphy and turned into some sort of human/zombie hybrid. She climbs out of the smoking wreckage, finds Murphy and
takes up with him. Her brains
appear to be a bit scrambled by what she's undergone. She has trouble
forming words. It's unclear the extent to which she's under Murphy's control. Another interesting story for the new season.
Doc and 10k find Mack and Addie then this group finds Warren (who had gone off alone to try to find help) and the search for Murphy is on again, a quest now complicated by the fact that Citizen Z, not knowing what has become of the team, has sent out a message via every possible functioning means of communications explaining that Murphy's blood holds the key to solving the zombie virus and falsely asserting there's a massive bounty for anyone who can successfully deliver Murphy to the California CDC lab. So now, everyone is after him. Murphy, meanwhile, acquires a new and very Murphy-like wardrobe and holes up at a former strip joint, where he's working down to a science his ability to control zombies. I'm not particularly fond of that turn of events. Murphy has always been an asshole and the serum in his body has made him take on various predatory characteristics of the zombies but his behavior here--he seems to have spent several weeks hanging out around brainless, ambulatory rotting corpses and teaching them to swing around a stripper pole, perform lesbian make-out sessions on stage and so on--suggests someone with a serious screw loose, an impression made even worse when Warren's team appears and he insists on MCing a zombie stripper show for them. Doesn't seem very Murphy-like.
In the end, Murphy flees again--after all that's happened, he's intent on not going to California with anyone. And dealing with that will be the A-plot for the season.
Lots of other noteworthy bits of business: Plenty of ZN's usual funny dialogue and moments. Murphy does some shopping with zombie porters then amusingly deals with a tough-guy bounty hunter whose efforts to kidnap him don't go so well. Warren gets to
do some asskicking, something she does particularly well.
It's still Z NATION and it's still a romp. Even conceding the obvious need to, within an hour of television, resolve last season's cliffhangers and set up the new season, I'll confess I was hoping for something more tonight. It's been my impression that a lot of people who missed ZN the first go-'round discovered it in the off months. I've led a lot of people to the show myself. Going by my anecdotal impressions--admittedly, one of the worst ways to judge such a thing--I've been predicting a significantly larger audience for the 2nd season opener than the show has, to date, managed. I guess I'll know if I got that right on Monday (the ratings should be out around noon). I was hoping that larger theoretical audience would be met with something closer to one of last season's steady stream of knock-your-socks-off eps. This wasn't of that caliber. An entertaining ep, to be sure--I hate that I must sound like a wet blanket, because I did think it was a blast--but ZN has done better. I suspect it will do better and hope the dreaded sophomore jinx that plagues so many other series doesn't touch this one.
 The damage wrought on the rest of the U.S. by the nukes is an item to be explored in the future.
 Still another question of time: Citizen Z's facility is significantly damaged by that explosion. Holes ripped in it. Snow visibly pouring in. His sequences seem to go out-of-sync with the rest of what we're seeing. Some time, probably a few weeks, pass over the course of this ep, yet by the end, when we cut back to Citizen Z, he's still hiding behind a barricade he constructed in his control room moments after the explosion. With the facility that badly damaged, he would have frozen to death his first night there unless he was able to deal with the damage or otherwise come up with a shelter from the cold. He certainly didn't sit in that control room without food or shelter for weeks. Time seems to have passed for everyone else while we're seeing events in his segments that occurred right after the missile.
 She was in the facility when the nuke hit and survived but if the facility's underground construction affords protection from a nuclear blast, why would the government use a nuke to try to destroy it?
 They find Murphy as if by magic--just drive into Cheyenne, Wyoming (when Murphy could actually be anywhere), see a strip-joint and decide that's where he must be. More corner-cutting.
 Throughout the first season, as Murphy became more and more zombie-like, he persistently argued for much more humane treatment of the creatures, as if he saw them as brethren. Here, he just uses them as his toys.
 Warren saves a child from being eaten by a horde of zombies and is taken in and nursed back to health by the girl's family. When she's on her feet again, they helpfully map out radiation zones of which they're aware, so she can avoid them, and provide her with supplies for her trip. This being Z NATION, one expects, all along, the seemingly wholesome family will turn out to be some group of crazies, but, this being Z NATION, that turns out not to be the case at all.