Liv eats an artist and hungers for beauty, jazz, and Major.

By Jeff Jensen
March 25, 2015 at 02:01 AM EDT
Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW
S1 E2
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Even before she died and revived as a brain-eating zombie, Liv Moore needed more life in her diet. She was a go-go-go aspiring heart surgeon who had bought into the great American lie that work-work-work was everything, and that producing a daily report card straight with A’s and shiny with gold stars was the be-all and end-all of a purposeful, productive existence. With eyes focused on the prize of a successful career, she had no eye for beauty, art, and the small ball intimacies that get us through the day. That one time she went to The Louvre? She was trying to get out of the rain, and instead of strolling its long halls and admiring what was on their walls, she sprinted them for exercise. Jazz? Please. The indulgent bleating of “narcissists.” (Her word.) She’d rather listen to “cutlery crashing.” (Her phrase. Seriously. I like jazz!) She even found it easy to rationalize not spoiling her fiancé, Major, with casual hang-time. She had the rest of her life to invest in their relationship; now, she needed to invest in work-work-work. So it was go-go-go…

Until becoming undead popped her eyes to the truth: Swaths of her soul had been dormant or dead all along, like fallow ground, or like limbs gone gangrene, crumbling from necrotic fasciitis, and cracking with crepitus, and oozing with rank bile, and… hmm? Oh, right. Recapping.

iZombie is the saga of Liv’s rehumanization. As such, the show surveys the vast expanse of humanity, one drive or quality at a time. In the pilot, Liv regained one of the positive features of her “overachieving pain in the ass” personality, her heroic agency. Episode 2 wasn’t about recovering something lost but redeeming some deficiencies and neglect. Liv’s bohemian rhapsody—part artistic awakening; part sensual/sexual re-awakening—brought our zest-challenged heroine as much pleasure as a heavily hot-sauced bowl of ramen topped with shrimp-shaped purloined noggin noodle. It also proved anew the wisdom given to us by the Irish bard Bono: Every artist really is a cannibal, every poet, a thief.

But “Brother, Can You Spare a Brain?” was ultimately a bittersweet little symphony. Liv—spiritually impoverished by present circumstances (I, Zombie! Ay, Caramba!) and bad past choices (see: Major Neglect!)—learned you can’t get enriched quick or make up for squandered opportunities with simple epiphany and one single grand romantic gesture. I loved the point made by the ending, with Major, feeling used and confused, turning away Liv, pushy with need: Like many artists, and possibly some jazz musicians, The Redemption Quester can be a real narcissist. They may think their actions are atoning, but they can be read as selfish by the very people they are trying to love. It was one of those you-can’t-always-get-what-you-want-but-if-you-try-sometime-you-just-might-fine-you-get-what-you-need stories. Along the way, some drug dealing dopes got brained, the flavor of gray matter was debated, the vitality of pop culture’s zombie trend was considered, and a major new player made his presence known by playing head games with our heroine.

This Week’s Dead Meat: Javi Abano, a hotshot artist, known for his “vibrant abstract nudes.” Someone rammed the pointy end of a paint brush through his eye and deep into the medulla oblongata, killing him instantly. Javi enjoyed an unconventional, open marriage with his wife, Lola. I mean really enjoyed it. He slept with many of his model subjects, including his most recent, Tasha. Lola claimed she was cool with her—“my favorite of all of Javier’s lovers”—but Tasha’s jealous ex-boyfriend wasn’t too hot with it. Javi was also secretly sleeping with the daughter of his cash-strapped art dealer, named, ha-ha, “Artie.” He got her pregnant, too. So many suspects, so many motives. What I enjoyed most about this murder mystery was that it was basically a gag played out over the entire episode: We were told in the opening minutes exactly who did it, and the story that followed was about making us doubt it until it delivered the punchline that nope, “Not Really As Cool With It As She Let On” Lola really did brain her husband, because as Detective Babineaux insisted at the start: “It’s always the spouse.”

You Are Who You Eat. Munching on Javi’s brain—she scraped gooey cerebellum off that paint brush and into a pizza roll-up—basically lent Liv his artistic eye, as well as Javi’s deeply felt appreciation for physical beauty. And by “deeply felt,” I mean somewhere down near the loins. And by “loins” I mean wee-wee adjacent. Reading a “woman’s magazine” and article promising “Hotter Sex Tonight!” teased loose a memory embedded in the Javi stuff slowly moving through her sluggish blood stream, some steamy “late night premium cable” whoopee with Tasha. Suddenly, Javi’s sensualist perspective washed over Liv like a hot flash. “Her skin was like butter,” she said, recalling scantily clad Tasha, “and the way she moved, it was like watching a flower bloom!” Soon, Liv herself was blossoming as she discovered the life-giving joys of painting, Chet Baker, and the distinctive cheekbones of a certain type of indigenous peoples she couldn’t quite place. When she asked Tasha’s strapping ex-boyfriend if he had some Native American in him, he replied: “I’m a quarter Cherokee.” She, turned on and flirty: “Yeah you are!” Fun for her; fun for us.

But not fun for Major. Showing up at her apartment to return a box of belongings from their dating/engagement days (lingerie, hair products, textbooks, a symbolically loaded “I left my heart in San Francisco” T-shirt), Major was baffled to find Liv exhibiting sudden onset artiness. The painting didn’t flummox him as much as her newfound jazz appreciation: He’d only been trying to convert her for years. He was even more unnerved when she gave him a lingering touch on his shoulder or a peck on the cheek, affection she hadn’t given him since she since broke off their engagement following the transformative trauma she’s never explained to him. (Was she ever this casually PDA?) Weirder still: The blasé way in which she gave it/took it. As if five months of disengagement hadn’t happened or hadn’t disqualified her to such liberties. Pretty thoughtless for a brain-eater. (Wah-wah.)

The final sequence brought this tension to a head. With the murder mystery solved and the lessons learned eating at her, Liv turned frantic as she realized what she had lost by pushing Major away, and/or as Javi’s influence began to wear off and as she sweated the potential loss of what she had gained via zombie-style transubstantiation. She barged into Major’s home and insisted that she sit with him… though when he sat, she decided to take a seat on his lap, straddling him. Major tweaked: WTH? I am not some bootie call assuagement for your existential terror! He kicked her out. Bad form, Liv. And she knew it. She also realized she could do something else: She could internalize the wisdom she had acquired by ingesting Javi’s brain, even if she couldn’t retain and sustain his buzzy spirit. Something to build upon as the rehumanization and re-education of Liv Moore continues.

NEXT: Meet the man with the historic chin.

Meet Blaine DeBeers. Predator. Zombie dope dealer. Aspiring underworld kingpin. Bad influence incarnate. He’s the zombie with the “historic chin” and the thin but substantial lips (“like a secret he just can’t keep”) who’s been haunting Liv’s dreams ever since she gobbled some mugger-hobo John Doe. She put her Javi-acquired temp art skills to produce a sketch of the man and out the word out she was looking for him, and just like that, Blaine showed up at the morgue one night, rising from the slab with the creepy cool of an awakening vampire.

Honestly, I didn’t quite glean how Blaine found out that Liv was looking for him, but no matter: The scene that transpired between them crackled with wit, chemistry, and series-defining import. When I first watched this episode several weeks ago, it was this meet that sold me on the show in general. Fave part: The bantering over zombie terminology (what to call what happens when they snap with red-eyed ravenousness: “Raging out?” “Full-on zombie mode?” Vote below!) and the commiserating over the crap texture and flavor of brains:

Blaine: “It’s the consistency that bugs me.”

Liv: “I just can’t get around it! And there’s that weird metallic taste—”

Blaine: “Is it metallic? I don’t even know. I used to be a serious wine guy—like Sideways crazy about it—and now everything I drink is like iodine.”

Liv: “I saw a kid eating a peanut butter cup last week and I almost died.”

I haven’t said enough about Rose McIvers so far in these recaps. She is very good as Liv; she captures your imagination for the drama of character growth expressed via the spectacle of one zombie’s slow regeneration back toward humanity, with twinkling eyes and coy smirks, great energy and great line readings. David Anders as Blaine takes the whole enterprise up a notch whenever he’s on the screen: The charisma that flows out of him is as pure as that premium grade Utopium Blaine peddles. When they’re together? Electric. Are we shipping these two? Should we?

Of course, they had met once before: Blaine was the blonde turd on the boat who first tried to push drugs on Liv, then scratched her while “raging out” during his zombie turn and made her a zombie, too. (“How do I even apologize for something like that?”) He tried to convince her that he was no longer the bad man he once was by parroting rehabbed addict jargon, but other scenes exposed the truth. We know he’s making a play to usurp the drug lord he once slung for. We also know he’s trying to set up a side business selling brains to other zombies, many of them made by his own clawed hands. Just like a corner-lurking clocker, cultivating a market. Pity the poor professional trend-spotter that he picked up at the bar and infected during a night of boot-knocking: She became a pilot test for his awful enterprise. He teased her with a nicely packaged bean; she salivated and had the help fetch her checkbook. Hook, line, sinker, sunk. We’ll see more of her in the weeks to come.

Savoring The Chicken Fat. Celebrating marvelous marginalia or casually tossed-off brilliance.

Doc Ravi, on why he digs Javi’s nudes: “Blue is my favorite color, and I’m a bit of an ass man.”

Detective Babineaux calling Liv “50 Shades of Psychic.”

Will we ever get to meet Liv & Peyton’s irritating neighbor, “Zooey Deschanel in 7b.” (“There is nothing more annoying than an entitled chick in a skater dress!”)

The chapter headings—“Love Is Blind”; “Die, Fidelity”—which put puns and sharp points to the episode’s critique of Javi & Lola’s phony bologna allegedly progressive non-traditional marriage.

The implied Sliding Doors reference from the police sketch artist.

“I thought you said it was soft and gradual like a sand hill?” “But with an alertness!”

Blaine claiming he’s a “Tears Of A Clown” kind of guy. He’s more like a scorpion trolling for frogs.

“I’ll be at Mutt-Bowl Surfers, just writin’ my screenplay, live-tweetin’ it’s progress.”

“First rule of Brain Club: You don’t talk about Brain Club.”

Blaine to the trend-spotter: “Zombies: I heard we are finite. Is that true? Has oversaturation buried us? I think we can surprise some people.” With episodes like these, iZombie surely can. What did you make of “Brother, Can You Spare A Brain?”

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