Judging from the first episode alone, it looks like Z Nation is positioning itself as the outrageous, “anything can happen” answer to The Walking Dead’s serious drama. Exhibit A: zombie baby. You’re not going to see a zombie baby on The Walking Dead, at least, not a ninja zombie baby that hunts a guy down and eats him. That alone makes me want to keep coming back to see what they do next.
Tonight’s episode, “Fracking Zombies,” (Battlestar Galactica reference!) starts in the Arctic at Northern Light, with Citizen Z trying to communicate with the CDC center in Mount Wilson, California. The center is supposed to receive Murphy, the survivor whose blood might hold antibodies for the zombie virus. Citizen Z probably wants to tell them that Hammond, the guy that was guarding Murphy, was eaten by a baby but that Murphy is still on his way with other survivors.
Unfortunately he finds that Mount Wilson has been attacked by a swarm of zombies. He gets in touch via video with a scientist that says the Mount Wilson staff is trapped by an electric fence and can’t shut it off. Citizen Z, being the last remnant of the NSA, has the password to overload the base generator and thus the fence, but doing so will also fry all of the vaccine files, setting back anti-zombie research. As the zombies close in Citizen Z reluctantly makes the call and kills the generators, but the video blacks out and its not clear if the scientists escaped.
The survivors transporting Murphy are crossing the Tappan Zee bridge in New York in their three-truck convoy. Warren is driving the lead truck, a large military transport. She gleefully runs down zombies, or as everyone in the show calls them, Zs, with the truck. There are guts hanging off the grille and several zombies splatter in exaggerated gore effects as she runs over their heads and bodies. Z Nation does not hold back on the blood.
“Nice driving!” Garnett says after she mows them down and they pass the bridge, but then the truck runs out of gas and the convoy has to stop. Other trucks are low on fuel and one has a flat.
Two guys on motorcycles pull up to the convoy. The gang pulls their guns and the scruffy bikers go on by, but Cassandra, the mysterious survivor the group found in the cage last episode, seems to recognize them.
Doc and Warren get the flat tire off the rear truck and finds the remains of a zombie stuffed in the wheel-well, screaming and gibbering. It’s disgusting and hilarious.
“Well that explains the pull to the left,” Doc quips, and Warren kills it with a tire iron.
After that pleasant task the group take a moment to reflect on the beauty of New York and say goodbye. “See you in the next life,” Murphy says, sarcastically. Murphy is always either sarcastic, negative or hysterical.
Citizen Z is trying repeatedly to contact Mt. Wilson, the group with Murphy, anyone, on any frequency. He’s losing it in his isolation, alternating between laughing and crying.
He hears an alarm and sees what looks like a man being pulled on a dog sled on his monitor. Thinking it’s people, he’s excited and thankful and starts planning a welcome, but he is not that lucky. He gets a gun to go greet whatever it is.
The group is at at a mall (Dawn of the Dead reference!), taking in the aftermath of obvious carnage. “Black Friday sale,” Murphy jokes. They are not having any luck with finding gas in the cars.
In many of her scenes so far, including this one, Addy has recorded dead people and other things with a small camera. Now she explains to Murphy that they’re the last generation on Earth and someone has to make a record. Murphy ridicules the idea, which causes her to wonder aloud if it would hurt the antibodies if she kicked him in the nuts.
As Doc and the sniper survivor who saved him in the last episode are searching cars, Doc asks him his name. He says it’s 10 Thousand (which we’re going to abbreviate to 10K) because that’s the number of zombies he’s going to kill. He’s already killed 1,055. Doc asks him what will happen when he gets to 10,000 and he says he’ll change his name. Not 20 Thousand, as Doc jokes, but Jeff.
“I like the name Jeff,” 10K says. He sees a zombie stuck in a car and gets one closer to being Jeff by dispatching it with a knife.
As an explanation of why there are no other survivors around, the gang talks about Black Summer, which was some kind of famine. Cassandra says she was in Philadelphia during Black Summer and lost 30 pounds. When the gang asks her how she survived she just says “Did what I had to do.”
The group is surprised by one of the bikers, who says the other biker stole his motorcycle. He asks for a lift and says there’s a horde on the move south. To bargain he says he knows where some gas is, a place called Jersey Devil Refinery nearby.
Driving to the refinery Murphy’s bad attitude is getting on everyone’s nerves. We get a hint of Doc’s past as he says the apocalypse is a lot like rehab. “Just take it one day at a time and do the next indicated thing,” which in this case is get more gas.
“We’re doomed,” is Murphy’s cheery response.
At Northern Light, Citizen Z goes outside and finds the frozen stiff sledder. Z puts one between his eyes, then hears a dog whimpering in the snow and checks to see if it’s still alive.
The group arrives at the refinery, which is predictably overrun. We get two zingers in a row!
“That’s not a refinery, that’s a zombie factory,” Murphy says.
“Frackin’ Zombies!” 10K says.
You decide which is cheesier.
The zombies seem to be drawn to a rhythmic sound in the refinery. They’re walking up a multi-story catwalk, it looks almost like they’re workers there. A plan is made to shut off the sound, with a warning not use firearms because the whole place reeks of gasoline.
Cassandra says that Zs like high-pitched, musical sounds. She distracts them with a windup music box she keeps on a chain, apparently expressly for this purpose.
Garnett sends her and the biker away to be the decoy, Mack and Addy are sent to shut off the sound, 10K bugs out on his own somewhere, Warren and Garnett plan to take a tanker truck to carry the fuel, and Doc is left to guard Murphy, with instructions that if everyone else dies he’ll have to continue on alone with Murphy to California.
The sled dog Citizen Z found looks very much alive and he takes it inside and pets it, but there’s another one that’s so, so very not alive. He shoots it but doesn’t get the head, so it just runs away.
Cassandra and the biker move up the catwalk. She is intentionally outrunning him in the hope that he will be killed by zombies. They do know each other, and he says that Tobias and the rest of the “Family” will never let you leave “Sunshine.” But she says she’s never going back, and says “Sunshine,” which sounds like a hippy cult name that would fit well in a Manson-style “Family,” died a long time ago. She starts he music box to distract the zombies, then kicks a zombie at him but he dodges it.
Addy and Mack move up the other side of the catwalk, slaughtering Zs while having a discussion about how fishy Murphy seems. Although both think Murphy is crazy, Addy is optimistic that he might hold the cure while Mack says “you don’t get a do-over on the end of the world” and that the hope he offers is a lie.
“Well then I’d rather die believing in a lie than live believing in nothing,” Addy says.
Addy and Mack find the source of the noise, which valve device that rhythmically belches flame. They need to jam it, but Addy won’t sacrifice her Z-Whacker, the spiked baseball bat she obtained in the first episode, for the cause. So Mack uses his shovel. Addy ominously notes that zombies have been going up the catwalk, but not coming down.
When the sound is off the zombies freeze, but Cassandra starts her music box and they head that way. A Z sneaks up on Mack and Addy but accidentally falls into a large pipe, and when they look down they see that the zombies have been falling into an oil tank. There are hundreds down there in a big pile writhing in oil, it’s quite disturbing.
Mack’s shovel breaks, should have used the Z-Whacker, and the machine starts back. It also flings broken shovel parts at his face and makes a deep cut. Abby finally sacrifices her favorite toy and they make a run for it.
At Northern Light Citizen Z is following the barks of the living dog, with a gun out in case he runs into the dead one. The need to have contact with another living thing is clouding his judgment and he catches up to the live dog and offers it water, but it hears the dead one and runs off.
Addy, Mack, Warren, and Garnett all pile on the fuel truck to go get the gas. Cassandra starts the music box and all the zombies come running for her. Cleverly, she plays the sound into a pipe to make it louder and so they don’t come straight to her.
While the crew is fueling the truck we cut to Murphy and Doc and what passes for a bonding moment. Murphy says he has a phobia of Zs, which makes sense considering they almost ate him. Doc says he’s not really a doctor, more of an “amateur pharmacologist.”
Murphy tells Doc he was wrongly convicted of whatever he was in prison for, but he also says he “volunteered” for the zombie vaccine experiment while we cut to scenes of him begging for his life, so it’s clear you can’t believe anything he says.
The biker catches up to Cassandra on the catwalk. She says she’ll do whatever she has to do to stay away from the family. He threatens to tell them what they are.
Zs surround the truck and Murphy has a panic attack, so Doc heads out to “mercy” them. Murphy rewards this bravery by locking him out of the truck.
Whatever that valve was it must have been pretty important, because the whole refinery starts shaking like it’s going to explode. A cover pops off a pipe at the bottom and oily zombies start pouring out like the bottom of the world’s worst waterslide.
At Northern Light Citizen Z is being hunted by the zombie sled dog through a maze of crates. The matter is made a lot more confusing by the live dog, which is running around. Citizen Z climbs on top of the crates and takes shots at the brief flashes of fur he sees.
The oily zombies attack the gang at the truck. Unlike other zombies we’ve seen, these are slow shamblers. Walkers if you will.
Doc is about to die as Murphy and their truck are overrun, but we find out where 10K went. He’s up in one of the building and snipes the zombies surrounding Doc with a deadly accurate slingshot. 10k sometimes counts off the zombies toward his goal as he kills them, and does so here, start with 1,057.
Unfortunately, a panicked Murphy gets the truck started and drives crazily through the refinery, leaving Doc behind.
The oiled up zombies are advancing on the tanker truck and the gang. Very slowly, they’ve moved about two feet since we last saw them. The gang is getting ready to leave when Murphy crashes nearby. He freaks out and the truck starts to smoke. Garnett tells the other to leave, that he will save Murphy.
Cassandra is being chased by the biker, whom she calls Travis. She stops and says she doesn’t want to have to kill him. But he pulls a taser and says “It’s time to go home, Sunshine.”
He tasers her twice but it doesn’t incapacitate her. “You forget, I’m used to it,” she says, hinting at some very dark stuff going on with the Family. She kicks Travis off the catwalk and zombies start snacking on his twisted but very much alive body. She drops the music box on him and walks away.
At Northern Light the live dog is fighting the dead dog, which traumatizes Citizen Z. “You’re not going to kill the only living thing I’ve seen in a year!” he says, and jumps down from a crate to try to hit the zombie dog with a pointed stick.
Garnett clears the Zs off Murphy’s truck and pulls him out. Because Murphy is hysterical this involves punching him. He punches him three times before calming him down, saying “This works easier in the movies.”
The fire from Murphy’s truck catches the tanker and blow it to hell. Now we’ve got flaming zombies, and since everything is already on fire the gang feels free to shoot them.
Citizen Z wakes up and the living dog is still alive and the zombie dog’s head is impaled on a stick. He laughs and cries, repeatedly saying “we’re alive.”
After a commercial break Citizen Z is feeding the dog rations, which he says he has a 10-year supply of, and trying to come up with a name for it. He sees the refinery explosion on his satellite feed.
Everyone’s bummed that the gas exploded. Cassandra just tells the group that Travis “didn’t make it,” avoiding the whole cult and murder conversation.
At this point Citizen Z, no kidding, calls the group on a nearby payphone, which is still working. For some reason. Garnett is surprised but answers. Citizen Z tells Garnett that he needs to drop Murphy off in California, and that there is no closer drop point.
Garnett asks if the California team is even still alive, which Citizen Z says he’s working on confirming that. Garnett, disgusted, drops the phone as more zombies attack. Warren refers to them as “more puppies and kittens,” which is a a funny reference to an early scene from The Walking Dead’s second episode “Guts.”
It’s the scene where the group is smearing guts on themselves to blend in with zombies.
Rick:”Think about something else – Puppies and kittens.”
T-Dog: “Dead puppies and kittens.”
It has dawned on me that the people in this universe know about zombie movies and have even possibly seen The Walking Dead, so when they seem to be making Walking Dead references they probably are.
Citizen Z, alone with his dog, puts on a record. As the refinery begins to explode Abby’s Z-Whacker flies out of the explosion and brains a zombie.
“Awesome. Never thought I’d see this thing again,” she says, and picks it up.
10k has found two cans of fuel and they drive away in their one surviving truck. 10K and Cassandra are riding in the back of the truck.
“Excuse me ma’am,” 10K says, “You have a finger in your hair.” She in fact does, and she flicks it away in disgust.
At the refinery two more bikers find Travis, who is horribly burned and zombiefied. They put him down and take the music box. We get another shot of Cassandra looking pensive and worried, and then end of episode.
Zombie fans who jumped off before, after, or during the ridiculous zombie baby in the first episode may be missing out. This second episode was much more polished, a lot less cheesy, and presented characters and situations one might actually be convinced to care about. It also delivered on non-stop action, gore, inventive zombies and fun references to other zombie works. It sure ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s a fun way to kill an hour.
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