“Maternity Liv” kicked off the second half of iZombie’s rookie year with storytelling that continued the recent trend toward better integrating its various parts and a story that began the work of launching the season toward an endgame. This week’s murder mystery proved to be essential to stating and clarifying The Big Picture mystery—who or what is responsible for the zombie outbreak and why are they doing it?—and seemed to suggest that finding a cure for the zombie plague remains an actual going concern. Doc Ravi’s speculation that zombies are made from a toxic mix of Utopium and a secret ingredient in the Max Rager energy drink was proved correct in the episode’s grisly last shot, a lab rat under the influence of the lethal cocktail raging out on another rat. Now can he brew an antidote? If so … wither the premise of the series should Liv literally regain her humanity? TBD.
A vast zombie subculture is taking shape, one that tenuously or directly links law enforcement zombies to big business zombies to scuzzy underworld zombies of all seedy stripes, a complex, productive (un)life web that is precipitating a private, parallel zombie economy and food chain. I think. The villains of the episode—Mark and Margo Shepherd, alleged lunatics whose alleged self-invented belief system allegedly called for child abduction, child brides, and child sacrifice—left questions on the table. (Hence, all that “allegedly.”) Were they zombies? Zombie sympathizers? Were they connected to Blaine’s “Meat Cute” biz? Or were they just weirdos who made for convenient patsies for the intensifying 9 Trolls problem? Uncertainties and confusions, I’m more intrigued than ever.
I enjoy iZombie’s character-oriented stuff as much as its crimes, conspiracy, and crazy neo-grungy Seattle. This episode featured two really imagination-capturing riffs on the you-are-what-you-eat conceit, but failed to maximize the opportunities as much as I would’ve liked, a casualty, perhaps, of an episode with too many good ideas and too much plot to manage and not enough time to do right by everything. The case of the week required Liv to eat the brain of a pregnant young woman, a particularly heavy bit of business for a relatively light show like iZombie, but Rob Thomas and co. deftly juggled the tones, as Rob Thomas and co. usually do. Liv developed maternal instincts as a result, and it made for quality discovery and deepening. Example: I thought the story wrung just the right amount of poignancy out of Liv’s realization that being a zombie means she can’t ever have children.
Gaining motherly eyes was good for gaining greater appreciation for her mom and her family in general. That said, it didn’t leave me feeling any more invested in mom or her family as characters. And the comical expressions of Liv going full metal mommy—gags like hounding Ravi to eat his veggies or scolding her brother about getting a job—could’ve been more inspired. Meanwhile, Liv’s zombie boyfriend Lowell ate the brain of a gay egghead. It was good for complicating the developing romance between him and Liv for an episode—dig the sweet, chaste relationship-building montage, set to a sweet, chaste cover of “No Diggity”—but the idea that eating a brain could change your sexual orientation for a spell deserved a more elaborate, imaginative treatment than what we got here. I’d love to see the show return to the idea downstream.
This week’s dead meat was Emily Sparrow, another mirror twin for our re-humanizing heroine to reflect upon and learn from. Like Liv, Emily was what you might call an “overachieving pain the ass,” a 4.0 student and role model perfect, until danger boy party animal Dylan Munson dug his dirty claws into her and took possession of her heart, soul, and brain. Ah, love. It makes metaphorical zombies out of us all. (Speaking of doppelgangers: Munson even looked like Liv’s drug dealing zombie maker, Blaine.)
Emily got pregnant with Munson’s child, and that enraged and shamed her well-to-do parent. In fact, in a fit, Dad even threatened to keep his daughter locked up for the duration of the pregnancy. Emily went missing after attending a party with Munson, and the cops, thinking foul play, publicly tagged him as prime suspect. But Emily didn’t die. Yet. She was found many months after her vanishing by a quartet of teens playing spin the bottle in the woods as the story began. She was milky pale and decked in a dirty white gown, eight months pregnant and near death. The doctors couldn’t save her, but they did save her baby.
NEXT: What happens when you shoot a zombie? [pagebreak]
The cops immediately created a task force to aggressively investigate Emily’s disappearance. The showy investment of resources rankled activists and journalists bothered by the police department’s lack of action in the mystery of the vanished, presumed dead kids culled from the 9 Trolls skate park and surrounding area. Chief among them: Seattle Observer reporter Rebecca Hinton, superhero social worker Major’s new ally in his search for The Candyman and getting justice for the disappeared and their families.* Detective Babinaux’s boss—secretly a hot sauce-swilling zombie just like Liv—didn’t take kindly to the third degree about the department’s priorities and accusations of bias. (“So it’s all hands on deck for the upper middle class white girl?”) Just as he did in Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas elevates his genre fiction with an interest in issues of class. Still, Liv’s Seattle has a few more miles to go before it’s as vibrant a setting as Veronica’s Neptune. It’ll probably take a more diverse cast of characters from a broader range of socioeconomic backgrounds—there’s no Weevil here, for example—to be as effective. I don’t see that happening until next season, when the show has a chance to fine-tune and reboot its operating system.
*Major’s heroic quest continues to bring him more punishment, which both makes me like him more and makes me wonder if the show has mixed feelings about his vigilante crusading. Staking out The Candyman—real name: Julien DuPont (a name shared by a real-life extreme sports star who combines parkour with motor-biking)—and busting into his car got him arrested by the cops, who in turn sicced a bunch of brawler biker dudes on him while in the clink. It was payback for accidentally screwing Babinaux via Rebecca Hinton, who sandbagged the detective with a loaded question and got an impolitic response out of him which she published. Babinaux was demoted to desk duty for the gaffe, but I suspect his work in cracking the case got him out of the doghouse.
Under the influence of Emily’s brain, Liv burped up a flash of the pregnant teen trapped in the back of a truck, listening to barking dogs. The memory corresponded with new info from Munson, who said he lost track of Emily at that party and heard barking dogs somewhere when he went looking for her. Turned out Emily’s parents owned a bunch of dogs. Turned out they owned a cottage that that the cops didn’t know about. Turned out that cottage had a storm cellar, and inside that storm cellar, Liv and Babinaux found a hand-carved cradle. Did Emily’s parents really lock her up after all? Nope: All those “turned outs” added up to a red herring.
Emily’s true abductors were a dog catcher named Margo and her lunatic husband. The Shepherds lived in a rough, weedy part of town in a ramshackle house. Babinaux’s zombie cop boss would later tell the press that the Shepherds lived their lives according to the tenets of a “self-made religion” that called for teen brides and child sacrifice. Among the bones found buried on the grounds: The remains of Major’s missing friends Jerome and Eddie. We were left to wonder how much of that narrative was true, for neither Mark and Margo were able to explain themselves. During a raid on the couple’s property, zombie cop went on a solo mission inside the house, lapsed into full-on rage mode, and killed the Shepherds. Was it the monstrous blood lust? Or did he want to make sure they couldn’t live to tell their tales?
Liv played a role in the climactic violence—back in action after several episodes of leaving the collaring to Babinaux—by liberating a pair of child brides held captive in a tree house prison. She took a shot to the leg during the melee. Zombie cop took note about the lack of blood. Liv’s eyes clouded with confusion about his interest. Zombie cop’s eyes lit with knowing. She’s a zombie, too.