The animal apocalypse is upon us, so it's a good thing the Animal Avengers have a private plane
Credit: Katie Yu/CBS
S2 E1
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Oh, how I’ve missed this show — so ridiculous; so confusing; so many elephants charging (and keeping pace with) luxury aircrafts.

That’s right, Zoo’s back for the summer, but save a few lingering memories of rosé-guzzling bears and all the lingering leopard stuff, it’s almost like season 1 never happened. Mentions of the mother cell? Minimal. Droopy pupils? Not one. That guy who ran with wolves? Long forgotten, thanks to some new, freakier dude who gnawed his own arm off and turned into a real-life Ser Robert Strong.

No, those are all discoveries of the past now, but they were still a part of creating the situation we find in the two-hour premiere of season 2: The animal apocalypse has descended upon D.C. and in order to save the world, the Animal Avengers have to get to Jamie in Canada (where she was revealed to have slept for three-ish months in the season 1 finale), because (to quote Abraham with a line you’re just really not going to hear anywhere else on television) “Our only option is the leopards.”

And you have to hand it to Zoo. They showrunners are more than willing to barrel through some plot. I recap The Blacklist for EW — also a fun show, but it likes to draw out its serialized world-building, so we’ve been waiting to see if Red is really Lizzie’s father for, like, two years while searching for clues. But over on Zoo, from one season’s premiere to the next, we’ve gone from slightly creepy housecats to homicidal animal hordes with sociopathic tendencies swarming the streets of every major urban city in the world. On Zoo, there are no clues or hidden meanings; there is general science talk…and science talk leads to cures…and cures lead to not being killed by an evil pat of flamingos or whatever. Because ZooZoo is a summer show. And in the summer there’s no time to explain why the savior leopard has become as obsolete as your iPhone 4 charger; vultures are abducting human bodies — and they can fly! (Also, it’s raining blood.)

Animal Avengers: ASSEMBLE!

The season 2 premiere of Zoo picks up right where season 1 left off; in fact, it does a little overlapping. Jamie is in New Brunswick, Canada — with the leopard that holds the key to curing the animal mutations that are causing Jack Russel terriers to form gangs and kill their human-dads — while Jackson, Abe, Chloe, and Mitch have all reassembled in Washington, D.C., three months after surviving a plane crash. Now that they know Jamie is alive and waiting with the Jesus leopard at the home of a kind indigenous man, Chloe’s pals over at the International Animal Defense Group (IADG) have secured a ship (no air travel on account of murder-bats) to take them to the leopard and recreate the cure they tested out last season.

Quick problem: As Abe rounds the corner toward the harbor, they come Hummer-to-snout with a veritable zoo-load of animals and a bona fide nightmare for the Zoo’s CGI team; for us, it’s the first glorious animal shot of this season. Abe — former guerilla Uber driver — kicks it into reverse as the animals start charging. Unfortunately, they get T-boned by a rhino, the car crashes, and gas starts spilling everywhere. No problem: Jackson says he’s making a firewall, tells Abe to light him up, hops in the car, and starts leaking gas (in a circle around the animal gang) that Abe lights from the starting point. After he’s covered most of D.C. in fire, Jackson floors the car toward a building and tucks-and-rolls onto the street. And this is where things get interesting…

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When Jackson opens his eyes post pavement-dive, he finds one big-ass tiger prowling toward him. The tiger gives him a little sniffy-sniff, licks his arm a little, and moves on. Not the homicidal mutant, feline-style, we came to know last season. But we don’t see this happen immediately; we see it in flashback as Jackson meets back up with Chloe at the IADG headquarters and tells her absolutely nothing of note happened after he built his firewall. He just brushed his corduroys and came straight over after a job well done. Because, you see, Jackson has a dog bite on his arm that’s starting to look real nasty — it’s also the spot the tiger took a liking to before moving on. And after a doctor takes a blood sample to make sure he doesn’t have any internal injuries, Chloe takes a peek at the results and finds Jackson’s blood type has somehow changed. But we’ve been assured over and over that the virus — it’s not a virus! —can’t spread to humans. Definitely not.

NEXT: Save the leopard, save the world

While in the IADG, we’re reminded that Reiden Global is collaborating with the government on something called the Noah Project, a strategy to cull all animal life on the planet and start fresh. And, oddly, during most of our time at the IADG, Chloe is the brief-but-caring guardian of a baby whose mother was killed in the streets by bees. (Side note: Is there really time for baby-saving side plots? Haaaave you met the diverse gang of apex predators holing up near the Lincoln Memorial?)

This bit is important, though, because it reveals the mutation has now spread to insects — and therefore, the plan to administer the cure via mosquitoes is out. In addition, as Mitch informs us, of the five species proven essential to human survival — bees, bats, butterflies, primates, and plankton — only plankton is left. They really need to get moving on this leopard cure! The one person left on their non-Noah-Project side in the IADG gathers a team to head to Canada, and the Animal Avengers insist they ride along.

When they get there, Jamie is nowhere to be found. You see, it’s time for Jamie’s character transformation from intrepid conspiracy-theory blogger to lost-love martyr. And it kind of works! At least, I enjoyed her story more in this episode than I ever have before. Five people is a lot to keep together, and it seems the writers have no problem splitting up the crew this season. After Jamie and her kind, generous host crate their furry third roommate, the man goes outside for something and returns covered in claw marks. The animals circling them have apparently taken down the gate, and Jamie has to protect the leopard (i.e. the cure). So she quickly drops him down the effin’ stairs, and the future of the human race spills into the basement like a scared kitten.

But Jamie isn’t just going to hide down there with him, she’s taking one for humanity on this one; she crawls out of the window, heads towards the woods, and shoots a flare to lure the animals away from the house. And indeed, they chase her through the woods — and by “they,” I mean a BISON. Probably my favorite part of this absurd show is how they introduce the least-expected animal and somehow make it terrifying. I wouldn’t want to get bunted to death by a bison, and Jamie doesn’t either, so she finds a little hidey-hole and takes cover until the wolves, bears, and bison stop prowling.

Unfortunately, this means her pals can’t find her, save the leopard, and escape to Canada with their lives. It also means Abe has to force Mitch, who doesn’t want to leave without Jamie, into the helicopter for what I felt was a little unnecessary inter-Avengers drama. More bison with dead eyes, less “I hate you for this” drama, please.

And ya know what? It was all for nothing’! A couple of scientists whip up the concoction Mitch previously used to cure that dog in Zambia, toss it into a different mutated dog, and it doesn’t do anything. So Mitch storms in, does it himself, squirts the “cure” into the raving dog’s mouth and…nada, zilch. So Mitch, heartbroken about Jamie and mad about the inevitable extinction of his species, briefly quits the Avengers. That is, until it’s revealed there’s a new Avengers mobile…

Their IADG ally brings Chloe, Jackson, Abe, and Mitch aboard a plane the size of a skyscraper, decked out in luxurious science gear and midcentury armchairs, and tells them it’s a gift from “an interested third party who has a lot to lose if the Noah Project goes forward,” It totally sounds like someone who can’t entirely be trusted, but whatever, this thing has a grand staircase. And it’s just in time, too, because Jackson has figured out why the leopard juice didn’t work: The cure hasn’t changed — the animals have. The mutation is mutating, says Mr. Oz: “Everything that we have seen so far could just be the beginning.” So, worse than the hotel full of rats with a queen the size of an armadillo that was reproducing asexually, then?

NEXT: Go ahead and cry for this guy, Argentina

In fact, the answer’s yes. Their IADG boss has heard someone say something like that before, so she sends them the way of Dr. Mark Vickers, currently on a research expedition in Argentina and looking for an animal with a “phase-two mutation.” Cut to Vickers and the unit of Rangers protecting him in Argentina; they stumble across a village of locals that’s been decimated by what Vickers is convinced is the phase-two mutant, but there’s not enough daylight left to look for the offending creature. So the team sets up camp in an abandoned hostel, where a mutant HUMAN man with super strength and gnarled zombie-features jumps them, killing all but one lieutenant who manages to shock him (with what I think was a defibrillator) and drive a fire poker through his torso. All set to the tune of “Spoonman” by Soundgarden, of course.

That’s how the Animal Avengers find their Argentinian destination: short one Dr. Vickers, with one mutated human, and one fearsome lieutenant who reeeeeally wants to kill the monster. But he hasn’t always been a monster — his name was Kovaks, a doctor from Hungary who was on his way to the village Dr. Vickers’ team had come across earlier. As far as Mitch can tell, his metabolism and healing are heightened, his heart rate is steady at twice the “regular” human average, and his respiration is off the charts — in other words, the mutation seems to be turning him into the perfect predator. Also, it appears he’s gnawed one of his own arms off, leaving behind a pre-adamantium Wolverine-style bone in its place, which is a style even apocalyptic mutation can’t buy.

Chloe and Jackson notice that Kovaks’ scars look a lot like Jackson’s gnarly dog bite, so it’s really time to get to the bottom of this whole thing. Abe, Jackson, and Lt. Marzan head to the village where Kovaks was supposed to be heading to scope things out. What they find: feathers covered in ice, acid blood rain, and a man named Tomas who asks if they’re the ones who have been taking the villagers’ bodies. Nope, that would be the giant vultures flying dead bodies out of the village, much like you’d help your friend move an Ikea couch…y’know, if you had wings. It is a particularly disturbing site, made all the more troublesome when Abe and Marzan follow the birds and discover they’re stockpiling the bodies.

Jackson, on the other hand, goes off with Tomas to follow a lead on what looked like an elephant bite. And wouldn’t you know — they find a damn African elephant in the damn Patagonia Mountains. Very near to that mutated elephant is a phone with a video of a non-mutated Kovaks sending a goodbye message to his family. As this elephant seems like the key to Dr. Kovaks’ Hulk-y turn — and as Jackson has a vested interest in what might prevent that kind of turn from happening again — he decides he must take a sample of the elephant’s blood, using a syringe fit for…well, an elephant, I guess. New local friend Tomas doesn’t seem too into the idea, but Jackson goes for it anyway.

And then, y’know, the elephant charges them, because what would you do if someone stuck a needle in your butt when you were high on mutant DNA (and also an elephant)? Luckily, they make it to the road before the elephant catches up with them, just in time for Abe to pull up in the Suburban. Jackson is also aided by a brief pause when the elephant tramples the very helpful Tomas, but it’s enough time for Jackson to jump in the car, call Chloe and Mitch back at the plane, and tell them to ready it for takeoff. They’re driving a car at full speed with an elephant hot on their tale… so ready the cargo hatch, they’re driving right in.

NEXT: What came first, the elephant or the man?

Of course, if they had called just 10 minutes sooner, that would have been a much harder task to accommodate. See, scientist Mitch tells Chloe that Kovaks’ biochemistry is all off. His brain is only lighting up around the most primitive part, and all the other advanced areas are more or less switched off. Secret-agent Chloe is all, “Uh, could we just switch them back on?” And Mitch is like: Pretty solid plan, actually. But while they’re readying the mostly sedated and strapped-down Kovaks to stimulate his neocortex, his eyes start leaking a substance (that I thought, for just one moment, might be a Snape-style memory-tear) that then begins spewing from his mouth. They begin unstrapping him so he won’t choke, and you know what happens next? He escapes, because he’s a mutated predator person.

They quickly get him wrangled back into a cage, though, and are on their way in their private plane to rescue their friends from a mutant elephant. Well…most of their friends. Don’t forget about Jamie over in Canada, who was able to wait out the animals in the woods and head back to the now-empty house, gather supplies, and start a voyage toward Caraquet, Canada, where she thinks she might find shelter and other people (and hopefully, no bison). She’s not exactly equipped for a long voyage through the mutated-animal-infested woods, but she does her best, and by the end of the episode she’s even found a friend: some guy named Logan who doesn’t explain what he’s doing in the woods by himself, but just thanks Jamie profusely for giving him a coat. She tells him they’re headed to Caraquet, and I tell you to keep your eye on Logan.

As for that elephant blood Jackson risked his life for… Mitch tells him it’s unremarkable, just your average mutated elephant signaling the apocalypse. But that’s also good news, because that means Kovaks’ change wasn’t about the animal — it was about the man. And the bad news? Lt. Marzan, fresh from reading an emotional note written by one of her dead team members, storms in and shoots the man who might hold the key to a cure in his head.

And a few loose ends:

  • Clementine spotting! She’s safe at a government checkpoint; unfortunately, Henry — the cutest yellow lab there ever was — is in quarantine.
  • The scene of Jamie getting ready to leave her safe house of the last three months and head into the danger of the woods was actually really lovely, especially scored to Elenowen’s “For the Taking.”
  • Best line: “This is how, out of anger, you characterize me? As a man who has been taking bubble baths?!”
  • By Zoo’s logic, at the beginning of a run, a human can outrun an elephant; as it gains speed, the elephant can outrun a car; and when it’s at full charge, a plane can just barely escape it.
  • Make Learning Fun Again with Dr. Mitch: Apparently the neocortex is “the part of the brain that makes us human—language, self-control, empathy, putting the toilet seat down.”

What did you think of the two-hour premiere of Zoo‘s second season? Does it promise the campy summer fun of season 1? Or has it taken too hard of a left turn toward Fear the Walking Dead territory? As always, sound off in the comments with your favorite mutated-animal moment of the night!

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