iZombie has really hit its stride this season, taking the time to create a solid mythology while quickly zinging multiple plot points, a balance that’s hard to master. In a good show, mythology building is organic: You’re so transfixed by the storytelling and the characters that all of a sudden, you find yourself immersed in a world that didn’t exist 10 episodes before. And yet it makes total sense. In “Max Wager,” we get a perfect example. You barely register that you’ve just learned that zombie-ism is potentially transmittable through s-e-x — you just notice that the leads are so hot for each other they’re rebuilding lost intimacy and playing Skype strip poker. (You also notice that Liv says that Major is wearing a G-string, but we never get to actually see it.)
When Liv slurps up compulsive sports-gambler brains — Clams Casino, very clever, Team iZombie — she’s willing to take risks on everything from competitive donut choosing to horse races. But as tempted as she is to sleep with Major, she doesn’t take the ultimate risk in her own life: turning him back into a zombie just so she can get her groove on. So despite the fact that the brains a zombie eats control her, somewhere deep down, her own neurotransmitters are as undead as she is, sparking when there’s a personal decision she has to make.
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The cold open is downright sitcom, as new roomies Ravi and Peyton, sitting at the breakfast table, watch a re-energized Major bop around like he got laid the night before. “Body snatchers,” Peyton suggests. “If that’s Rihanna coming downstairs, it would explain so much,” deadpans Ravi. Of course, it’s Liv, clad in one of Major’s shirts (the lady in a rom-com couple doesn’t own PJ pants). As Ravi and Peyton ponder the meaning of their own Ross and Rachel, Major and Liv smooch. “It won’t always be this nauseating, right?” Ravi asks. “Suffer, bitch,” Major says.
For a cutesy premise, his mandate is oddly prescient; the first casualty is Harry Cole. Last week’s killer is this week’s victim, mowed down by machine gun fire after scoring a plush plea bargain. Things are starting to get interconnected as cases carry over from one show to the next. It’s nice to shake off the procedural structure, though with great power comes great responsibility. As iZombie forgoes a linear, case-of-the-week structure, it becomes more complicated to navigate its twist and turn storylines. But it’s succeeding. Cole’s debt and death lead us to his bookie, the office “fixer” Mr. Thronk, and ultimately, his killer, his college BFF turned pro-basketball player.
Meanwhile, Clive’s love life is heating up as he and FBI agent Dale sit on a park bench eating Chinese takeout and discussing life, liberty, and the pursuit of brains. When Major and Liv roll up hand in hand, the group has the awkward encounter couples have when one is not really a couple and the other is mixed up in a (Utopium) Huffy the Zombie Slayer murder mystery. We’ve all been there, amirite?
NEXT: Blaine gets knocked down, but he gets up again
With everyone trying to figure out their own relationships, Blaine seems more lonely, and his life feels more antiseptic — right down to the color palette of Shady Plots Funeral Home. After an “I own you, bitch” visit from his vile, zombie father, Angus, and a surprisingly-protective visit from Liv — “Are you ever happy you’re a zombie?” he asks her — Blaine rebounds.
Liv reminds Blaine that the worst part about brains is the visions of watching people suffer, and he goes to visit his poor, sick grandfather. In a devious, heartbreaking, tender, and very, very hard-to-watch scene, he takes his grandfather’s life. I know it’s an evil plan to make his father suffer and experience that anguish, but I can’t help but feel it’s a bit of a comfort, putting the old man out of his misery. And to be honest, I’m kind of rooting for Blaine at this point. I don’t know what he’s trying to do with the tainted Utopium, but what harm is he doing really? Feeding the city’s zombie pop from the already dead? Hell, he’s doing it a service! And yes, watching him place his grandfather’s brain in Tupperware, I half expected him to produce some fava beans and a nice Chianti. He’s hella creepy. But damn if I didn’t wake up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and find that I’m Team Blaine.
Speaking of creepy, hello Stacey Boss. The scene where he cheerfully details the perfect crime is chilling. Although Peyton’s run-in with him was perfectly written: If you watched your BFF zombie rage and slaughter a dude trying to snack on your cerebellum, would you really be scared of an elfin little mob boss?
There’s definitely less silliness in this episode. Sure you get a wisecrack or two from Liv “Philly Cheesesteak” Moore, but for the most part, the only over-the-top behavior is lovey-dovey nonsense between Major and Liv. And Ravi really gets to play it up. Back in the morgue, he discovers that zombie-ism eats through condoms (but not, it seems, heavy petting) and races home in time to burst in on his naked friends and demand that they don’t do the nasty (they didn’t).
One of the things I’ve loved about this season of iZombie has been discovering Rahul Kohli’s comedy chops. From the slapsticky roll around in the morgue with Blaine to his shtick with Liv to the deadpan sarcasm, the spectrum of his humor has proven to be a real linchpin of the show. Interactions where he’s onscreen crackle with an improv feeling that you rarely see on a drama. (In fact, he and Liv could easily sub in for Lindsay and Edgar on You’re the Worst, in a pinch.) Early on, the writers decided he wasn’t a sidekick, and it’s the best decision they could have made.
With most of the verve coming from Ravi, the majority of the episode vacillates between heartwarming and creepy. Watching Blaine suffocate his grandfather is akin to watching Major kill and freeze zombies. They’re both doing it for loving reasons, but man, creep city. And just as Liv is holding back from what she wants to protect Major, so too is Major holding back on confessing what he’s doing for Max Rager to protect Liv. It’s interesting to see how they’ve turned Major from zombie hunter to smooshy little love bug. You can see the distaste in his face every time he has to kill. He should feel at least somewhat vindicated by ridding the world of evil zombies. But like that glimpse into his life that we saw in the last episode — where he’s stalking a zombie, but gives up when he sees the man with his little kid — we see Major has a softer side.
Which brings us to The Twist. Instead of re-dead-ing all the undead, Major, it seems, has been storing zombie popsicles in order to:
- Collude with Ravi on finding a cure to he can truly get back together with Liv?
- Cahoot with Blaine on finding a way to cure and feed the zombieverse?
- Spoil Max Rager’s evil scheme and bring down the company?
- Create a zombie army to rule Seattle — and then the world?
- Ball so hard, mofos want to fine him.
It’s probably some combination of the above — and definitely “5” — but I can’t help but wonder, though: How long can everyone’s softer sides last?
Other choice cuts:
- Major’s abs have to have their own rider at this point, right?
- SHADY PLOTS Funeral Home. How did it take me this long to get that?!
- No Gilda in this ep. No Max Rager at all, actually.
- Shout out to Ravi for testing all the condoms to see if they can protect against zombie-ism (they can’t), but restraining himself from making jokes about trying them out with Peyton (although the balloon animal was a nice touch).
- “I have proven that when you purchase boxes of every single condom available — at once — the lady at the drugstore looks at you funny.” —Ravi
- It’s so weird that all of the friends know about zombie-ism and nobody really talks about it anymore. Peyton seems to just accept it and…hey, let’s move on and talk about other things!
- Dale: It’s nice to get a name. In my head you’ve been Girl From The Morgue Who Sometimes Makes Goth Work.
Major: That is her Native American name. Hi, I’m Barely Employed Arm Candy.
- Liv: Slow down, make it a show.
Major: Don’t make me feel cheap.
Liv: Come on, everyone knows this is how you put yourself through college.