'iZombie' recap: 'Virtual Reality Bites'
Liv and the gang must solve the mystery of a shut-ins death.
Haters gonna hate, trollers gonna troll, zombies gonna eat your brain. Or maybe remodel your face with an electric jail. Depends on the day. The victims of those antagonized or triggered by the evil that the world’s miserable monsters do have some choices about how to respond. They can shake it off, or they can murder their villains with toxic birthday cards. I’m thinking iZombie favors the former over the latter judging from “Virtual Reality Bites,” which tracked the cost of letting lonesome, loathsome losers and damaged, despairing cynics get inside your head and mess with your worldview. Liv was nearly denied the joy that comes from connecting with a significant Other who truly gets her. Major was tempted to abandon the project of seeking justice for the missing street kids claimed by The Candyman and his boss, big bad Blaine, Seattle burgeoning Sweeney Todd, demon butcher of King Street or thereabouts. But how far is too far to go in the chase for fulfillment and the heroic quest to broom foul souls from our communities, be they real or digital? “Virtual Reality Bites” flicked at that question, too. Also in the thematic stew: The difference between hostility and hospitality; what it means to “love thy neighbor” in a world of digital citizenship; finding healthy ways to express anger; and the importance of a good Internet avatar. Like the guise Doc Ravi wears while playing “Warlock Forest,” the most popular MMORPG in the iZombie world. “I’m a were-terrier with healing abilities called Arf Vader,” he told Liv. “This is going to be epic!” (Ravi’s defense of videogames—so spectacularly dense and delivered so fast I couldn’t transcribe it—was simply the best thing ever.)
It was a solid episode of iZombie that nurtured all of its story lines, even if it did once again rehash some familiar thematic ground. Liv Moore—moving from the virtual half life of zombiedom toward rehumanization—once again learned a lesson in “sucking the marrow out of life,” a phrase that the show loves using so much that I’m beginning to suspect that it’s doing so to advance some storytelling agenda. (I’ll get to my “Lowell is really a vampire” theory in a few hundred words or so.) Is the show paring down its supporting cast? We said goodbye to Jackie, Blaine’s trendspotter bedmate and aesthetician hook-up. Liv’s roommate continues to be MIA. But Mom reappeared to help nudge her daughter forward… and bumble into the Meat Cute. Who knew Seattle was such a small town?
This Week’s Dead Meat: Simon Cutler, a.k.a. “SIM Reaper,” a world-class web creeper prone to Fascist ramblings and a hacker so skilled Ravi considered him “a troll with super-powers.” He certainly talked the part. “I am invisible! Intangible! Untouchable!” (So he’s… The Vision?) Pity the Fortune 500 company, hipster donut shop and poor customer service rep that doesn’t please him. If you do: No Yelp rave for you! “I will delete you like so much digital noise!” (The customer is always right, right?) My guess Cutler is also responsible for the Sony leak and poured gas on the GamerGate flame. Debate!
iZombie used some tired clichés in painting this vile gasbag. Basement dwelling. Donut-popping. Overweight. Socially inept. An alleged chicken choker. But he was also profoundly agoraphobic. He never ventured outside. He received meals and other necessities via delivery through a doggy door. The story didn’t offer much sympathy for this devil, but the shading of mental illness did invite some grace for his type: Behind every virtual troll there hides a real person who might be harboring some real pain that helps to explain his or her hostility. Simon used his virtual reality life to bite at the world, but his virtual life as an alienated shut-in was a biting reality, too. As Liv and Ravi loaded Cutler’s purpled corpulent corpse into the meat wagon, neighbors and lookee-loos crowded the sidewalks and pelted them with mean cracks about the dead. “Did he suffer?” asked one cold-blooded dude. “What the hell is wrong with these people?” Liv remarked. Ironic, given last week’s episode was all about her recovery from such glibness.
Ravi determined that Cutler died from a severe allergic reaction to nuts. Detective Babinaux speculated that a birthday card found at the scene exposed him to the allergen. It was one of those cards that flings confetti with a peanut-powder delivery system. Liv’s visions confirmed the hypothesis. Since it was nowhere near Cutler’s birthday, Clive suspected murder. He was right. The killer: Mister “Did He Suffer” was our killer. His life had been bitten by Cutler’s rude dog rabidity: His sister had been a customer service rep who failed to serve Cutler to his satisfaction. He responded by verbally ripping her to shreds with his scary SIM Reaper voice. She responded by posting a recording of the call online. He responded with a year of vicious harassment and hacking. Meddled with her tax records, gave her a criminal record, created photoshopped sex pics. The troll won. She despaired and jumped off The Aurora Bridge.* Her brother went batty with vengeance. He went online and found a nasty review Cutler had written about a donut shop in which he disclosed his nut allergy. He applied for jobs at three different donut delivery companies in Cutler’s area. He got one and brought him a pastry… and a confetti-flinging birthday card. In a chilly beat, Vigilante Bro had no regrets about the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars. “It was worth it,” he said.
*In an episode about trolls and trolling, a bridge reference was inevitable, and this choice of bridge was surely intentional: The Aurora Bridge has a famous troll underneath it, The Fremont Troll, a Seattle landmark. Rob Thomas and his writers definitely know their setting well.
NEXT: Liv’s in for a sick brain smoothie
You Are Who You Eat: Liv couldn’t stomach the thought of eating Cutler’s rancid brain as it had grown literally rotten—almost liquefied—because his dead body went undiscovered for a week. In that time, the foul gasbag had become a real foul gasbag. (There was so much explicit and implied irony in the episode, and it reminded me of the film Reality Bites, with its famous discussion of the proper definition of irony and how often we misuse the word.) But Liv sucked it up for the team. Gulping down a Cutler shake immediately made her sick to the stomach and sick in the head. An attack of agoraphobia sabotaged her first date with Lowell; she couldn’t go out with him because she couldn’t literally go out. (See what I mean with the maybe-I’m-misusing-irony irony?) So instead, Lowell came to her, and made a night of sitting with her in her SIM-sloshed brokenness and in the ashes of her existential zombie tragedy, and in doing so, modeled the spiritual value of hospitality, the opposite/remedy to Cutler’s corroding hostility. “You’re … the girl who had this freakish thing happen to her and you’re discussing it with probably the one guy who would understand,” said Lowell. Liv fell for that hard… but pulled away when Lowell moved in for a smooch. That was too much intimacy, too much hospitality for Liv. Or was that Cutler’s lousy loner brain getting the best of her?
Liv reconsidered her position after working the case with Babinaux and Ravi, which included an extended stay in “Warlock Forest,” playing the part of “SIM Reaper,” chowing down Cutler’s unhealthy, insufficient, shut-in life. After Mom beheld the sad sight of Liv parked behind a laptop, stuffing cheesy chips in her mouth, and spoke wisdom into her life (“I worry that you’re letting your life pass you by”), and after Cutler finally passed through her system (in a scene not seen, Liv left the bathroom and said “Do NOT go in there!”), Liv unplugged from her Ready Player One digital daze, fled her apartment, and tracked Lowell down on the street—one of only a few scenes in this episode that didn’t take place within an interior, mediated space. A deliberate choice, I think, in an episode about hospitality and hostility, about shutting people out, shutting yourself in, opening up, opening out. Liv planted a kiss on Lowell, and the smile on her face said: It was worth it. And with that, the love triangle with Major is on.
+We learned Lowell’s zombie origin story. Kinda. He was at a mate’s bachelor party. He passed out. Woke up with a monster scratch and a hankering for brains. Quite similar to Liv’s zombie spawn. The rocker gets his brain food from a funeral home. He can’t play live anymore because the adrenaline rush causes him to rage. He’s basically a studio musician now. So sad. Lowell’s too good to be true. He must be lying about something. Why do I suspect he’s a vampire? Because it would be a nice twist. Because I think it’s inevitable for iZombie to expand its storytelling possibilities by blowing out its mythology this way. And because the comic book iZombie was a veritable monster mash. Zombies, ghosts, vampires, even werewolves. Which reminds me…
+Anyone else thinking Ravi might be a werewolf? That our noble medical examiner is a literal “were-terrier with healing abilities?”
+Did we know Major was a social worker? This must have skipped my attention. Regardless, Major continued playing the role of white knight good guy, shaking off the cynicism of the very kids he’s trying to keep safe. One razzed him about his “messiah” complex. Another teased him with this line: “Your optimism is tragic.” Ravi voiced his own concern after Major asked him to stitch him up* after last week’s beat-down at the hands of The Candyman. He exhorted Major to let the cops do their job and cool with it with the “full vigilante Batman” routine. Liv seconded the motion. Major told her he could handle himself. “I was an all-conference strong safety for the Washington Huskies, baby,” said Major, before tacking on an implied zombie joke. “A head-hunter. A dangerous man.” (This made me briefly consider the possibility that Major’s scrape with The Candyman last week turned left him zombified, too. The twist ending of the season finale: The revelation that everyone on the show is a monster!) Major’s story line is feeding this emerging critique of vigilante/superhero justice in iZombie. Yes, Liv is a heroic crime-fighter, but Detective Babinaux keeps her well leashed, and for the third episode in a row, Liv didn’t participate directly in the physical collaring or cuffing. No fight scenes, either.
*In last week’s recap, I mentioned how I thought the end of the episode was walking us up to the revelation that Major didn’t survive his fight with The Candyman, that the body bag that was getting delivered to the morgue in that climactic scene would have Major inside it. So it was rather jarring for this episode to open up with the fake-out with Major lying on the slab in the morgue. Is this iZombie’s way of messing with us? I’m half-entertaining the notion that the original master plan called for Major’s death, but they… changed their mind… at some point? The theory is falling apart in my head as I type it. Anyway.
+The themes of hostility and hospitality were played out to the negative extreme by Jackie and Blaine. Jackie—starved for brains that were late in coming to her—invited her Meat Cute delivery boy into her apartment, brained him, then ate out his head. She tried to cover her tracks with a misguided call to Blaine. He didn’t like her reaching out to him; he’s a “don’t call me-I’ll call you” kinda guy. He got suspicious and made like Lowell by surprising Jackie with a drop-by. He came with a drill, and she let him in, thinking he wanted to fix her broken doorbell. Nope: He just wanted to drill her. And not in a sexy, White Stripes-y, “I’ve been thinkin’ about my doorbell/Are you going to ring it?/Are you gonna ring it?!” kinda way.
+Liv and Ravi now know that Blaine is connected to The Candyman and the skater park abductions. Where do we go from here? Is Liv about to become more proactive—maybe dangerously so—in her example of heroism? Are we headed toward some tragedy? Because I’m thinking it’s about time for the season to rack up a casualty. Theories! Opinions! Complaints! The message board is yours.