Zombie Island isn't just a cool game show idea.
Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother
Credit: Katie Yu/The CW
S3 E1
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If you think TV’s other dystopian realities are bleak, try this one on for size: iZombie now exists in a world without Rob Thomas.

Last season’s finale was a pun-tastic bloodbath: Two Rob Thomases entered (the singer and the showrunner); one Rob Thomas left (guess which one!). It’s been a long year without this charmer of a show, which left us on the image of a private military contractor feasting on the brains of the Matchbox Twenty frontman while one of her guys played “Unwell” on guitar. No other series is going to scratch that itch. But here we are at last, as starved for wordplay as Liv is for brains, on the threshold of a new world order.

iZombie’s third season premiere is primarily concerned with fleshing out Vivian Stoll (Andrea Savage), private military contractor with a heart of… gold? Steel? It depends on your angle. Vivian’s a take-charge kind of gal: As soon as the victims of Major’s Chaos Killer kidnappings are evacuated from Max Rager’s HQ, she’s crafted a cover story and bombed the place, burying the evidence of a zombie outbreak in the rubble. Fare(un)well, Max Rager. This is the dawn of Fillmore Graves.

What, you didn’t think you’d be sympathetic to the cause of a mercenary firm called Fillmore Graves? Neither did Liv. But when she, Clive, and Major pay Vivian a visit to ask what exactly she means when she says Seattle is going to be “the capital of a zombie homeland,” the woman makes some surprisingly fair points. First, there’s her origin story: A zombie scratched her husband to extort him for brains, so Vivian, “more willing to live as a zombie than to live without him,” took his hand while he slept and scratched herself. But their tragic romance came to a downright Shakespearean conclusion when her husband was killed for trying to get out from under his extorter’s thumb.

Vivian’s still waiting to get revenge on the zombie who did it (Blaine? Probably Blaine). In the meantime, prepping for war against all humankind will have to do. In anticipation of what Vivian calls D-Day, or Discovery Day — the day the general population learns about zombies — Fillmore Graves has amassed a well-armed and well-trained militia. They’ve got the formula for Super Max to give them added strength. They’ve even got an island (called Zombie Island… their creative resources obviously went elsewhere) where they’ll be able to self-segregate once construction is complete. And it’s all based on one guiding principle: the belief that humans aren’t going to take the news of zombies very well.

Now we’re cooking. iZombie’s previous Big Bads caused trouble so they could monologue about it; Vivian is just out to protect her own. She doesn’t even seem like a Big Bad so much as a catalyst for a bigger debate about human nature, especially the human tendency to fear and persecute what we don’t understand. Liv wants to believe that people are better than that, but Major — who’s been cleared of the Chaos Killings but lost his reputation in the process — is already buying what Vivian is selling. When there are more zombies in the room than humans, the paradigm shifts: It takes Vivian to point out that Liv talks about zombies as a “they” when she could be saying “we.”

Even the décor on the Fillmore Graves campus puts this fight in a new perspective. The walls are lined with posters that play like WWII home front propaganda: “Waste not, want not” over a picture of a brain, “Don’t be that guy, tan and dye,” “Clip your nails, no epic fails.” The coming war will affect civilians as well as soldiers. Which leads us to a segment of the zombie population we’ve never met before — zombie kids — likely because if you think about zombie kids too long, you want to cry. It’s not just the fact that they eat brains. It’s the fact that they probably mainly eat adult brains, so who knows what’s been in their little heads. And they have to get weekly tans and dye their hair like unwitting pageant children! Anyway, go hug a kid.

One of the students in Vivian’s school, Wally, spots Clive and runs into his arms. (“Are you one of us now?” he asks. There’s more than one way to take that.) Wally and his family used to live in Clive’s building, and Clive promises he’ll get his info to Wally’s mom so they can all hang out soon. It’s a doomed promise. By the end of the hour, Wally, his mom, and his uncle have all been gunned down (thankfully, we’re spared the sight of Wally’s body). Based on the Max Rager cans stuffed in Wally’s uncle’s pocket and the fact that he’s missing his scratching nails, it seems they were killed because they were zombies. Humans aren’t ready for the truth.

And whether Liv likes it or not, the truth is leaking out. Our old pal Billy, the security guard at the Max Rager massacre, saw some stuff, and he’s ready to talk. Chuck Burd, an Alex Jones-type conspiracy theorist, gives Billy a mic, and despite Liv and Clive’s best efforts to shut off the broadcast, Billy manages to tell the world (or at least the 100 or so fringe nut jobs listening in) that he saw red-eyed people eating brains. Chuck figures it was a government super-soldier experiment gone wrong, but his cohost guesses zombies. He’s even convinced his neighbor is one. And then there’s Ravi’s old boss, CDC Dr. Katty Kupps, who finds a body from the massacre in the trunk of a car — and bits of brain in that body’s digestive tract.

People talk. As the existence of the undead starts to feel less like a secret, the death of Wally and his family serves to warn other zombies not to step out of bounds — and that’s enough to get Liv talking about zombies as a “we.” At least for now, she’s on Vivian’s team. So is Major: Seattle’s least favorite suspected serial killer finds acceptance (and a bunch of leg day buddies) in Fillmore Graves’ militia.

But since we don’t know how much we can trust Fillmore Graves’ endgame, I’m still more excited by Liv’s team-up with Ravi and Clive. As much as he might miss being in the dark, Clive’s introduction to the world of zombies has been spot on. He’s taken it just well enough, which is to say that he still makes that how-did-I-get-here face but complements it with jokes about killing people to get his friends new brains. It’s a win for everyone. Clive is a good friend to Liv as she works through having shot Drake, and since his connection to the victims means he can’t officially work Wally’s case, Liv and Ravi vow to help him on their own time. Our trio’s going rogue.

Ravi’s in a lot of trios right now. Whether you missed it or not, the Peyton-Ravi-Blaine love triangle is still happening. In the wake of Peyton’s kidnapping and Blaine’s cowboy-style shoot-‘em-up rescue, Detective Cavanaugh — the same guy taking over the Wally investigation — wants to know why Peyton made good Blaine bait, forcing both to admit that Blaine developed feelings for her. Peyton insists they’re unrequited, but Ravi is spiraling anyway.

I like — nay, love! — all three of these characters, but this plotline doesn’t do them any favors. Peroxide hair be damned, Blaine is not the Spike to anyone’s Buffy, and Peyton is entirely too smart to fall for his charms (use him for sex, sure, but lean on Blaine for emotional support? Blaine?). On the flip side, Ravi’s too self-assured to fall into this kind of self-pity and too nice to play the Nice Guy card. At least Liv calls him out on it. (“You called her ‘my precious.’ You don’t plan on throwing her in Mount Doom, do you?”)

Of course, most romances would pale in comparison to the threat of a zombie apocalypse. There are bigger fish to fry. Ravi has a cure to engineer, but since he can’t make more, he’s focused on reversing the side effect — you remember, the whole retrograde amnesia thing. He might even be close. But there are some (Don E., me) who think Blaine’s amnesia is an act. Don E. had something of an epiphany while he was lying on the cold morgue floor not bleeding out, and he wastes no time taking his theory straight to Blaine, suggesting the memory loss is just Blaine’s ploy to keep everyone from taking the cure, which would drive him out of business. He found a way to make the cure undesirable and make himself desirable to Peyton all at once.

When Don E. quits and takes the opportunity to rummage around the morgue freezer for the Lucky U money he’s owed, he finds Blaine’s dad instead. Light bulb. Don E. defrosts Angus (how’s that for a meat cute?) and offers him a business deal: They start their own brain enterprise. There’s really no second part to that plan; that’s as far as Don E.’s gotten. But Angus, a literally captive audience, is in, and he urges Don E. to think bigger. Was the zombie apocalypse not big enough?

Killer Cuts:

Vivian’s cover story seems to involve pinning everything on Vaughn, which is fine by me.

Blaine keeps singing when no one else is around. This is also fine.

Radio deejay: “This tweet just came in from Carlos Santana: ‘Heaven just got a little bit smoother. #StoptheViolence.’”

Natalie, the zombie Major connected with before he froze her, might not be as dead as she seemed at the end of last season; as far as Major is concerned, she’s just missing. And probably a midseason love interest.

Don E.: “You’re so good. You deserve an Emmy. I mean, you’re TV good. Let’s not get carried away. Daniel Day-Lewis ain’t shakin’ in his boots.”

The more people tell Liv to tan and dye, the more I wonder if she’s headed for a makeover this year.

Angus: “That was Kautilya in Arthashastra.” Don E.: “Pretty sure it was Kirk in Star Trek.”

Only someone with zombie taste buds could double-fist coffee and orange juice.

So far the No. 1 sign that Vivian will eventually go full villain is the fact that she says, “I’m mother to them all” about people who aren’t her own children.

Who wants to bet Clive’s thinking about Dale when he suggests they tell someone they trust — someone high up — about zombies?

Clive: “Just so I understand, if we can find you two some new, non-soldier brains, you won’t be like this?” Liv: “Depends on the brains.” Major: “If we ate the brains of a train conductor, for example? Similar issue.”

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