“Cape Town,” Tuesday night’s episode of iZombie, was full of daring-do and important plot points, yet it was a surprisingly poignant twist on a typically sexist trope that stole the show.
Revved up on wannabe superhero brain, Liv suited up and dashed into a dangerous arms deal in hopes of bringing down plucky but powerful kingpin Mr. Boss. Her recklessness ruined her work relationship with Detective Babineaux, who benched her from investigations. Then she booted Major for being a predictable douche. (I can’t hear you Lilywhite lovers!) And Ravi discovered their quest for a cure has hit another snag. Yet the most impactful part of the episode was about a zombie hooker, but not the kind who titillate and terrify in schlocky horror movies.
We met Natalie (Brooke Lyons) at a swanky bar, where Major was feeling her out for zombie vibes. Sadly for this lovely lady, she gave him chills. So he got to plotting her abduction and cold storage to appease his bosses at Max Rager and his own conscience. Creeping through her brightly lit halls, bedecked with holiday garland, and echoing Christmas carols, this Dudley Do-Wrong prepared to pounce. And just when I thought I couldn’t hate Major more, episode writer Mairzee Almas revealed an unexpected twist: Natalie was prepping to off herself. She’d even courteously laid down a large plastic sheet to make it easier on the eventual clean-up crew.
Remarkably (or par for the course for this excellently outlandish drama), Major’s kidnapping attempt saved Natalie’s life. Pressed on why this gorgeous, charismatic and kind woman with apparent wealth would want to commit suicide, she revealed a heartbreaking backstory that showed just how shitty being on Team Z can be.
Natalie in her own words:
“I was a call girl, the normal human kind. Upscale clientele. Then this mystery man contacts me. We have our date, and the next morning I wake up and guess what sounds tasty to me?…Then this john drops back by, welcomes me to Team Z, and explains that I was a zombie now. And in exchange for the brains I need to survive, I would have to service his zombie clients…Yeah. I literally got screwed into becoming a zombie hooker. Before that, it was all on my terms. I screened like crazy, weeded out the skeezoids, had some generous regulars. Work a little; make a lot. Live my life… Maybe my choices were different from most peoples’, but they were mine. I liked my life.”
Natalie went on to detail how she’d loved to travel the world (Japan, Cambodia, Malta), and would take stunning photographs, which were proudly displayed in her home. But now, she can’t risk being on a plane, and has gone broke because her pimp only pays her in brains. “I have sex for food,” she admits, “Try living with that for a while. These zombie men have me whenever they want me, and I spend the rest of my time hating myself and showering.”
Not only did this powerful monologue reveal a new side to the zombie experience, but also it did so without stigmatizing sex work. Natalie’s speech underlines that her life as a call girl was by her choice, on her terms, and not something she had any shame over. Importantly, Major shows empathy, not pity. He does not encourage the audience to see her as less because of her sex work. He sees her as a person, not a ghoulish piece of ass.
Natalie’s consent was stolen by this unnamed zombie pimp (who is most likely Blaine), reducing her to a life of sexual slavery where she fucks for food. “I’m either being controlled by a pimp or I’m being controlled by a brain,” she laments. Yet on the surface, Natalie didn’t look like she was in distress. Her lovely home, expertly maintained eyebrows, and elegant casual wear all suggested hers was a life without horror, both to Major and to us. Similarly, sex trafficking is a problem so invisible in the U.S. most people don’t even know it is an issue here. That is until a hoagie hawker gets busted.
Finally, iZombie cemented its ep’s progressive message about sexual agency by granting Natalie what she really wanted, the chance to reclaim her body and her consent. But instead of it being with a fatal bullet, it was by her allowing Major to penetrate her with his knock-out needle on her own terms.
It was a moving moment of reclamation, but notably not an ending. For now, Natalie is another zomb bod on ice. But I’ll be waiting for her resurrection, wondering where this unexpected twist on the “zombie hooker” tale will take viewers next.