After a hiatus that was entirely too long, The CW’s iZombie returned to our lives last night with a season three premiere that was unusual for a Rob Thomas series: They eschewed the case-of-the-week (and in this case, the brain of the week) in favor of a “mythology episode” that set up season three. It’s a far more ambitious season than in year’s past, one that will expand the show’s universe into all of Seattle and, I think, dance around the immigration debate in the United States in much the same way that the British zombie series, In the Flesh did. If it’s anything like Veronica Mars season three, viewers might want to anticipate fewer procedural episodes, as well, while the series tackles the season’s chief mystery: Who killed Wally?
After the explosion of Max Rager’s headquarters — which left at least 100 dead — the series had little choice but to expand its scope. Enter Andrea Savage’s Vivian Stoll, the private military contractor who not only covers up the zombie massacre within Max Rager’s HQ, but she also sets up the “us vs. them” storyline for season three. Vivian has big plans. Season three is less about hiding the identities of the zombies from the rest of the world, and more about preparing the zombies for what happens when the rest of the world finds out about them. Vivian fears the worst — that they’ll be targeted, X-Men-like — so she is preparing for the worst. She’s got a zombie militia and the Max Rager formula to strengthen it; an entire facility (Fillmore Graves) complete with a school for zombie children; and an island being built off the coast of Seattle designed as a place for the zombies to self-segregate once they are discovered.
(Sidenote: Andrea Savage is great, and the go-to actress in any situation in which Kathryn Hahn is not available.)
While Liv is on the fence in the “us vs. them” debate, Major — who has been cleared as the Chaos Killer, but who is nevertheless alienated by the rest of society because of the accusations — is a quick convert. He understands the danger his otherness presents once the rest of the world finds out about zombies, and to prepare himself for that eventuality, he joins the military. The secret, after all, is getting out, thanks in part to an Alex Jones-like conspiracy theorist who interviews a surviving security guard who witnesses the massacre at the Max Rager headquarters (there’s also an Alex Jones-like conspiracy theorist in this season of Homeland, and one in the second season of Mr. Robot. It is officially a trope).
One of the zombie children from Fillmore Graves is Wally, a former neighbor and friend of Clive’s. It’s the death of Wally and his parents that will provide the season three mystery: Who are the zombie killers with Max Rager cans secretly removing zombies (and the fingernails) from society? An angry Clive has vowed to find justice, and in Clive, the zombies have a human sympathizer.
In the less pressing B-plot, Ravi is spiraling over Peyton’s obvious affections for Nice-Guy Blaine. While he hasn’t been able to come up with a better cure for the zombie virus, he is trying to counteract the side effects, namely retrograde amnesia. He’s developing an antidote for that, which should not only make the 17 vials of zombie antidote he has more functional, it would also turn Nice-Guy Blaine back into Shitty-Blaine (Ravi’s long-con here is obviously bumping Blaine from the love triangle), assuming that Blaine’s amnesia is actually real. That is still an open question. Don E. is not buying it and thinks that Blaine is putting on an Emmy-worthy performance (but not an Oscar-worthy one). Just to complicate matters even further, Don E. has also unfrozen Blaine’s Dad and hatched a plan with him to open a brain-selling operation to compete with Blaine’s.
It’s a solid opener, but for me, what really put the episode over the top was the musical cues. They were on point all episode long. For instance, the episode’s title, ‘Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother’ refers to the “Carlos Santana” dedication in the episode eulogizing the passing of Singer Rob Thomas, who died in the Max Rager massacre. I never noticed the subtle similarities between Singer Rob Thomas and Blaine until seeing him sing “Smooth.”
Later in the ep, Blaine is seen playing The Supreme’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” on a motherfucking pipe organ, and the lyrics to that obviously play well with his on/off relationship with Peyton.
The Elvis Costello song, “Complicated Shadows,” that capped the episode is the perfect song to describe the direction of the third season (and a seldom used Costello song, having only been used in an episode of The Sopranos and the sequel to Smokin’ Aces). It’s legit one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs, too.
My favorite musical moment of the episode, however, was the inspired ironic use of Human League’s “Human.”
I don’t know if it’s the music department that came up with those tracks, if it was Rob Thomas, or if it was the episode director Dan Etheridge, but that choice was just straight up gold. Props to whoever came up with that.
In either respect, it’s good to have iZombie back, and it will be even better next week when it settles back into its brain-of-the-week routine.