Saturday, October 17, 2015

Z NATION's Absentee Zombie Baby Daddy

Can't win 'em all, they say. Z NATION has been on such a winning streak lately it was starting to look like it could win 'em all but the streak came to an end last night. "Zombie Baby Daddy," written by Z NATION's own zombie baby-daddy, co-creator Craig Engler, just didn't work. At all.

About last week's awesome "Zombaby," I wrote that I had two reservations:
"The major one is that five eps into this season, Cassandra still seems to be lost in the transformation she's undergone. She snarls and moves around like an animal but we're still getting very little indication of how much of Cassandra is left in her. Tonight, 10k, with whom she'd grown quite close last season, was infected by anthrax and became quite ill. This would have been the ideal time for her to show some concern or at least some sort of reaction but none was forthcoming and its absence was palpable. My second is one I almost hate to mention. Pie Girl has been a joy in her every appearance and while I forthrightly acknowledge the impressive guts it took to wrap up her story as this did--that's why I'm loathe to complain--I can't help but imagine the stories that could have been told if she'd been kept on for a while. It feels as if she's gone too soon and the series has lost a significant asset. A ballsy move but part of me wishes there had been a different outcome."
"Zombie Baby Daddy" left me revisiting these but with Cassandra as the focus of both. And I'm not feeling at all charitable about the second one this time around.

Lucy the "zombaby" has her father's ability to interact with zombies. She draws them to her wherever the team goes and even as an infant, her powers are apparently greater than those of her father; he can't control the zombies she's attracting. As "Zombie Baby Daddy" begins, our heroes have to fight their way through a gaggle of the creatures. After, Warren observes that Lucy could be humanity's savior or a significant menace and that they must discover which. To that end, she tasks her companions with getting the baby away from Murphy for a moment. Herein is the conflict around which the ep is built but it's a phony conflict, because whether Lucy is a savior or a menace isn't something they're going to be able to settle right away or probably for years to come and certainly not by temporarily separating Murphy from the tyke. Worse, Murphy senses ill intentions from them and leaves, ordering Cassandra to prevent anyone from following him.

The others, following that we-gotta-get-Murphy-away-from-the-baby premise, plan to confound Cassandra by running in different directions. After all, she can't stop all of them. Addie is sure Cassandra won't really hurt them but when they run for it, she ends up being the one Cassandra tackles and chicken-wings. The others return to her aid and Cassandra resumes guard-dogging them. So much for that plan. 10k says he'll talk to Cassandra, and we finally have the set-up for the conversation viewers have been waiting six episodes to see. These two had become very close in the first season. How much of Cassandra is left in the animal-like creature we've been watching? Can 10k reach her?

And ZN blew it. Big time. The big conversation never emerged, nor did any part of Cassandra. Instead, the others just ran away again, which led to another fight and this time, 10k was forced to kill Cassandra.

No way to sugar-coat it, it's impossible to see this as anything other than a spectacularly stupid waste of a character with all sorts of potential, a character whose humanity had been taken and whose struggles to regain it could make for fascinating drama. Cassandra had been particularly well-chosen for this role. Before encountering our heroes, she'd been enslaved by a brainwashing cult who had forced her to eat human flesh. She fought back and managed to overcome them. Her situation under Murphy's thumb was a direct parallel, which would seem to make it a particularly personal form of Hell on Earth for her. Could she fight back again and reassert her individuality? Leaving her a growling monster then killing her in this way not only wasted a rich potential subplot full of great material, it rendered her entire season 2 storyline pointless. She, in effect, ceased to exist as a character and became merely an element of Murphy's story. Cassandra deserved better. So do viewers.

When Murphy learned she'd been killed, he says he "gave her life" and angrily moved on 10k, mocking the kid's running count of zombie kills and squaring off to fight. Warren put herself in Murphy's path and diffused the situation but essentially took his side in the matter while 10k just stood there, never really reacting at all. Nothing about this made any sense. It's 10k who should be furious with Murphy for essentially stealing Cassandra's soul. Murphy turned her into a marionette who, when he pulled her strings, rubbed his feet and vanquished his enemies and was otherwise barely even there. Murphy gave her the order to keep the others from leaving, which is what ultimately forced 10k to kill her, and it's entirely likely Murphy could have, at any time, allowed her free will as well. Murphy may be pissed his pet was piked but if there's going to be a fight, 10k needed to be the one seriously ready to throw down and it's hard to imagine the others wouldn't be in his corner.

Also in the wasted potential category but far more excusable is the resolution of Lucy's story. It isn't really over, of course--it's just a plot thread this conclusion left hanging for a later installment to pick up--but happening so soon, it can't help but feel somewhat wrongheaded. What was the point in introducing this entire storyline if ZN's creators are just going to kill the mother then immediately write the baby out of the show? Admittedly, the proximity of this to the Cassandra debacle probably influences my feeling here. It's logical for Murphy to want to stash the baby away somewhere, given that every nutcase in the world is after him and after the horror-show in Colorado, he has to be suspicious of what awaits him--and would probably await Lucy--at that lab in California.

On the bright side, the ep featured a very funny bit wherein Doc encounters the zombified remnant of an Abraham Lincoln lookalike contest and a great scene wherein Warren has been shot and Vasquez is sewing her up that shows, once again, why Warren is the most badass goddess of a woman on television.[1] When she, in turn, was sewing Vasquez, he filled in some of his background, including his connection to the Zero Cartel. I haven't developed much of a feel for Vasquez yet. He's a fairly bland outsider who doesn't seem to add much to the group's dynamic, mostly because he's an unknown who hasn't been given much to do. Hopefully, this is the start of making him more interesting.

Overall, though, this one was a loser, like a course correction for a course that didn't need correction. It didn't add anything to the series and took a great deal away from it. Oddly enough, it felt, in many respects, like an episode of THE WALKING DEAD. The underwritten conflict, the wasted potential, the poorly-motivated characterization, the death of a major character used solely for shock-value[2]--all of these are TWD trademarks. ZN has carved out its own niche and it's a great show. TWD isn't, and the last thing in the world ZN needs to do is emulate it.

You are better, ZN.

Do better.



[1] Not long ago, a question was asked on the Internet Movie Database ZN board about who would win in a power-struggle between Warren and THE WALKING DEAD's Rick Grimes. My response: "Rick would be his usual emotive, irrational, idiot self and Warren would kick the sh!t out of him, take over and deal with whatever problem has emerged while he was still crying over it and soliloquizing about what Coral will think."

[2] And ZN has been on a bit of a killing spree lately--Mack, Serena and Cassandra in a span of only 5 eps. Cumulatively, that feels uncomfortably like Glen Mazzara-era TWD.


  1. Last night's episode doesn't surprise me, honestly. There have been good episodes. But the episodes that have been less than stellar have made me suspect that ZN is already running out of gas.

  2. I feel like Cassandra's death has been wasted and agree on the 10k vs Murphy dynamic. Warren's taking Murphys side by saying 'not now' when he threatens to attack 10k was severely out of character. Maybe this is the problem with so little budget and so many crazy ideas (plant zombies, radio active zombies, viagra zombies etc etc), sometimes the creators have to take shortcuts and sometimes that doesn't work very well. At least this show is really serious when it implies no one is safe. TWD also says this but they're not really serious and deaths are telegraphed weeks in advance. No death on TWD's last 4 seasons has been as unexpected as Cassandra's was in this weeks' ZN.
    I can't feel too bad about this given the exceptionally strong second season we've had so far. A wasted opportunity perhaps, but Cassandra wasn't really fleshed out as a character anymore after her bite so maybe this was just a mercy kiling to get the story flowing again. Still, I would have loved to see pie girl replace Cassandra as a regular on the show. We were shortchanged there.

    1. I would have preferred that both Serena and Cassandra remain with the series. There was tons of great story potential in both. I don't think budget is the reason they were whacked. I just get the idea there are some competing visions for the series at work, the sort of thing that usually works to ZN's advantage. And yeah, Warren's reaction was way out of character.

  3. I actually disagree with your take on 10K and Warren's taking Murphy's side. First of all, Murphy was upset. In his eyes, he saved Cassandra who was left to die and zombify. She was like him, one of the new, if you will. She could talk, and zweed made her more cohesive and like before.

    10K's argument was she wasn't human, and that was brewing in him for a while. I think subconsciously, he wanted to kill her if she wasn't at least 80% the old Cassandra, because that meant she was something else.

    Warren wanted to end the dispute then and there, and knows she still needs to get Murphy to CA. The others didn't seem too okay with Cassandra being killed.

    Now if Murphy is the beginnings of a new breed that will potentially take over the world, an 'evolutionary step', if you will (think of I Am Legend - the book's outcome), then who is wrong about what Cassandra was? Was it 10K's right to kill her? If he'd left it alone and they'd not run off, then no one would have been hurt.

    Cassandra was also a new breed. She wasn't zombie. She could clearly think. Anyway, food for thought is all.

    I will say since she was able to climb out of a basically ground point zero nuclear explosion, would the knife to the base of the neck kill her? She just might be back. She might not, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me if she did reappear down the line.

    1. Cassandra attacked and was on the verge of killing 10k--that's the point at which any ephemeral arguments about killing off a potential "evolutionary step" end. Murphy didn't create some new step in evolution; he merely turned Cassandra into a slave who had no will of her own, putting her in a situation that, as I noted in the article, would seem like a particularly hellish one to a woman who had been through what she had.

      Cassandra survived several wounds that would have killed ordinary people. There's no coming back from having one's brain piked though. Bringing her back at this point would be a bigger mistake than killing her in the first place.