Two words: Sabre-toothed. Tiger. (Sorry, Mitch...sabre-toothed CAT)

By Jodi Walker
August 17, 2016 at 06:21 AM EDT
Shane Harvey/CBS
S2 E9
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Now that’s what I’m talking about. Tonight, as I watched the precap at the front of every Zoo episode, I found myself mourning for the lion attacks, the wolfy prison breaks, even the calculating house cats of season 1. It’s not that I’m not intrigued by an immortal mutated jellyfish that got in a fight with an X-ray machine 120 years ago and lived to strip the decay off an extinct animal’s bones another day. It’s just that keeping up with all of it kind of lacks the wow-factor of a sauvignon-blanc-guzzling grizzly bear.

The recipe for this show achieving just the right amount of ridiculousness is very simple: Make the animals big, make the animals scary, and give us only as much human plot as necessary to fill most of an hour with those big, scary animals hell-bent on causing an animal apocalypse.

And just in time to stop me from losing all hope we’d ever get that again, Zoo gave us the good stuff tonight! There were mutated moms; there were organized horse attacks; there was the triumphant return of the droopy pupil; there was a CGI sabre-toothed tiger, for goodness’ sake! Excuse me — sabre-toothed cat.

The best part? With the Animal Avengers getting so close to a cure, the mechanics of how they’re going to find it are getting a little simpler. There’s one triple-helix animal left to find, and once they have it, Mitch can hammer out the cure (details on what exactly happens from there feel a little unnecessary). Anyway, when we last left Jackson and Abe, they had just discovered Mama Oz’s violently murdered travel group and learned it was Mama Oz herself who had done the murdering. That’s right; the mutation Jackson has been waiting to overtake him had already come for his mother. Apparently, she’d been self-medicating while trying to travel to doctors who could help her, but went full-on mutant before she succeeded. And you guys, there was a lot of blood in that campsite.

I know Kovaks only had one arm, but Mama Oz seems a much more violent predator than she was. Jackson and Abe head into the woods to track her down and find a heard of lions fleeing for their lives from a middle-aged woman in a tank top. She also happened to have talons of some kind, in addition to possessing super speed and enough strength to instantly put Abe on the ground. Jackson tries to reason with her by calmly appealing to her maternal instincts and asking her to stop, but given that she is a monster, she just raises another clawed hand to kill Abe apex-style, forcing Jackson to shoot his own mother in the heart. Given how absurd she looks, what with rubber muscle-man arms and a bee-sting mutation face, it’s actually a pretty powerful moment: Jackson stares down at his dead mutated mother, seeing both his past and his future, and it all equals doom.

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But hey, Mitch always has the answer! Except this time… He’s having some trouble piecing together the bones for the seventh and final triple-helix mystery animal. See, it has the size of a really big lion, the feet of something like a bear, the mandible range of a snake, and the leg balance of a hyena. Plus, there are a bunch of leftover lego-bones for which he has no idea what part they play — that is, until Jackson comes in with his dead mother’s body. He now knows his father must have infected her with the ghost gene, just like he did to Jackson before they left for Africa. Mitch helps him look for old scarring with a special scar-finding light (um, sure), and he finds the same three-point scar his father’s injection left on him.

NEXT: Take your dad to work day

Jackson’s pretty miffed about his dad injecting him and his mother with something that would eventually cause them to mutate into monsters. He flips a few lab tables and Allison’s all, I’m not sure how much longer we’re going to be able to manage him, but I’m kind of like, Hey Allison, I’ve done worse damage when I find out my recording of The Bachelor ended before the “next week on” segment, so I think the dude grieving the death of his mutant mother is handling this pretty well, all things considered. Not to mention, his freak-out jostles Mitch’s mystery bones just enough to make Mitch see them in a different light — an insane light, in fact.

Mitch says if he’s right, somebody is going to owe him a giant martini. Because if he’s reading the bones correctly, they could only equal one thing: an animal that’s been extinct for 14,000 years. A SABRE-TOOTHED TIGER. Or, according to Mitch, a sabre-toothed cat. Despite the fact that sabre-toothed cats went extinct during the Ice Age, it seems Pierce somehow experimented on one just a little more than 100 years ago. With a mystery like that, there’s only one person to turn to: the world’s greatest cryptozoologist, a.k.a. a person who researches animals that may or may not exist (à la Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.), a.k.a. Mitch’s dad and Allison’s ex-husband.

As season 2 of Zoo is not a great look for dads, Mitch’s dad turns out to be a total doucher who stole and then married Mitch’s girlfriend 12 years ago. That woman would be Allison, resulting in me filling my notes with lots of “ewwws” that would only grow in volume as the episode progressed. But it’s worth bringing Mitch’s creepy dad into the mix, because at least the man provides some answers. They track Max Morgan down in Helsinki, where he’s hiding out from the animal apocalypse in a mansion. He agrees to board the plane he and Allison apparently used to share, mostly to waggle his eyebrows at the women on board and annoy his son, but also to help Mitch figure out how old the sabre-toothed bones from Pierce’s grave really are.

And it’s a good thing they have an extra hand, because Jamie’s watching a news report (from seemingly the world’s only remaining reporter) that says the Noah Objective is officially launching in four days. And would you look at that: The network’s running a countdown clock, really upping the pressure for anyone who might have just learned there’s only four days left to create a cure to the animal apocalypse, lest 2.2 million people (and all of the earth’s animals) die.

Or is 2.2 million actually a best-case scenario? You may have been wondering what’s going on with Animal Avengers: The New Class‘ inaugural member, Dariela. Well, we find out this week she’s still leading that group of villagers to safety over in England. When we see them again, they’re only a mile from the safety checkpoint, but they’re out of ammunition — also, there’s a bunch of crazy horses charging straight for them. Oddly enough, the horses seem to let the villagers go: They’re aggressively whinnying and stomping only at Dariela. She makes it inside a building with the rest of the group, but it’s clear the horses are targeting her specifically. When she arrives at the safety checkpoint and relays this weird fact to Jackson and Abe, they wonder if the horses were really targeting her — or if they just weren’t targeting the villagers, in the same way mutated animals avoid Jackson “Ghost Gene” Oz.

NEXT: Where’s the Etsy page for handmade sabre-tooths?

Jackson and Abe think it’s one of two things: Either the villagers have the ghost gene, or the mutation is changing — and it’s probably the latter, given that someone exclaims, “The mutation is changing!” in just about every episode. If the mutation really is changing, then going by Dariela’s experience, they’re not looking at 2.2 million casualties when the Noah Objective drops in three days and 22 hours. It’ll be more like billions of casualties.

At least there’s good news: Mitch’s dad has helped them determine the sabre-toothed cat bones are, in fact, only 100-ish years old. Further, the bones show traces of a synthetic bioactive compound, meaning somebody made this animal — and Max is the one man who might have an explanation for how this could be possible. Years ago, when he was researching some Chilean sea monster, he heard rumblings of a secret research facility off one of the Juan Fernández Islands that developed a synthetic bioactive compound that somehow allowed them to recreate extinct animals. Animals, presumably, like this triple-helix sabre-toothed cat?

CUE THE CGI SABRE-TOOTHED CAT PROWLING AROUND THE SECRET RESEARCH ISLAND PRECIOUSLY NAMED PANGAEA.

And I hope you’re not expecting to get off this roller coaster just yet, because in addition to a glorious close-up of the man-made sabre-toothed tiger — I MEAN CAT — sh-t is going down in the human-drama department. As you may recall, last week Davies told Abe he knew that meeting Jackson in Africa during their adolescence wasn’t an accident.

Apparently, Abe’s big secret is that he was sent to Jackson’s village by Robert Oz to infect Jackson’s mother with the ghost gene. Abe confesses that when he was young, Robert Oz paid him $200 to pretend to be ill to get into Elizabeth’s clinic, say she had a wasp on her, and stab her with the ghost-gene syringe when he went to swat the wasp away. Robert told him it was just a vaccine of some kind, but Abe figured out it probably wasn’t. After Elizabeth showed him so much kindness in her clinic, he committed his life to protecting her and Jackson.

And now she’s dead. Of course, Abe doesn’t include any of the heartwarming stuff in his explanation to Jackson. He just goes full-on martyr: “I did it — I injected your mother.” The editors somehow manage to find an angle of James Wolk that makes him look unattractive enough to believe he could fully mutate, but he’s remaining kind of calm having learned his best friend in the world effectively turned his mother into a monster, forcing her only son to kill her…that is, until Abe also mentions Jackson’s father is alive. Then, there’s a sudden zoom to Jackson’s eye, his pupil droops to season-1 levels of defiant, and he starts beating the crap out of Abe. But just as he lifts a box over his head for what will surely be the death blow, Dariela gets back to the plane and shoots him.

It’s not the death shot she promised him, but then again, he’s not like Kovaks yet. But he is on the loose. Jackson manages to escape the plane after being shot and take a vehicle…somewhere.

A few loose ends:

  • If you’re keeping track, we’re not searching for a mutating man in Helsinki and a man-made sabre-toothed cat on a secret Chilean island.
  • Most absurd line: “The answer is a big fat no with a snake-hyena-bear-lion on top.”
  • Runner-up: “You can’t outrun a horse.” “I can sure as hell try.”
  • Sooo, did the blood results the doctor “thought [Dariela] would want to see” say she was pregnant? That’s what I assumed until she said, “Maybe I was right — maybe they were targeting me,” and then I was just totally clueless.
  • There was a very weird scene between Max and Jamie where he told her he thought she was in love with his son, but it kind of seemed like she was either going to slap him or make out with him the entire time they were talking, which was a perfect segue into…
  • Mitch and Allison rekindling the romance they lost when his dad straight-up married her and she became his stepmom, to which I say (again): EWWW. 
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