What’s Up, Doc? A Review of Z Nation Season 1, Episode 4 “Full Metal Zombie”

Posted: October 3, 2014 in Reviews, TV, Z Nation
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Z_Nation_promo_poster

Episode: 104
Airdate: October 3, 2014
Directed by: Michael Robison
Showrunner: Karl Schaefer
Written by: Eric Bernt

After two decently average episodes over the last two weeks, Z Nation took a decided step backwards into inanity with tonight’s fourth outing, which somehow manages to be even worse than the pilot episode. “Full Metal Jacket” would, based on my handwritten notes made during my viewing of the show, better be called “Full Stupid Something I Can’t Say in Polite Company”. And sadly, it isn’t even fun stupid. Click through after the break to read my full review.

<<Spoiler Alert: This review will discuss S01E04 of Z Nation, “Full Metal Zombie,” including direct references to plot points and events in the episode.>>

I don’t even really know where to begin, so I might as well start with the opening. We get a very short moment of character exposition, where 10K tells the crew that he killed his own father, giving him mercy when he turned at his father’s own request. This sets the episode up to be a 10K focus, much like we had with Sunshine already; however, although we do get some flashback sequences with 10K and his dad, this takes up a grand total of about four minutes of screentime during the entire episode. Citizen Z gets just as much, in a really weird pseudo-cyberstalking bit, and Doc gets far more, so far as the other secondary characters are concerned. Even the title of the episode is an obvious allusion to 10K’s penchant for sniping the Zs. The fact that there is no carry-through on the overt premise of the episode is only the least of the concerns I had tonight.

The group is driving through Amish country, and take out a couple of Amish Zs. Soon, a VW Bug comes out of a side lane, and begins to follow them. They seem fairly unconcerned, and don’t make any connection when they come across a group of zombies in the middle of the street. In fact, they all get out of the truck to deal with the Zs, and nobody even thinks to watch for what the VW is doing behind them. If Garnett and Warren have military training, this sort of oversight is inexcusable; the fact that they are still alive three years into the zombie apocalypse means that this oversight is just plain bad writing.

They realize that the zombies aren’t moving for a very good reason: their legs are attached by chains to cinder blocks and propane tanks, something they should have noticed immediately. Then the stupid ramps up. Several of the “zombies” are actually living humans, and this is an ambush. The Bug comes up behind them, and everyone draws guns on the group. Then, when the guns are clearly on them already, Warren reaches into her belt and pulls her gun, and brings it up to bear on the ambush’s spokesman. Seriously? So, there are fifteen people holding guns already, and then she pulls her gun, and no one shoots? This is not even remotely believable. 10K, who has leaped out of the truck and climbed a nearby tree – something which, apparently, neither the ambushers on the road nor those in the VW notice – then fires a shot, taking out one of the actual zombies on the road. Why not take out the leader? It would cause real tension, and force the hands of the other players – but that would make far too much sense, and it would mean that the writer and director couldn’t do the next two scenes, which they apparently thought were too cool not to include.

The gang takes their truck, leaving our heroes the VW. When the bad guys drive away, they literally drive straight down the road – which would mean they’re running into all the cinder blocks and propane tanks that were about fifteen feet in front of the truck when the team stopped – another stupid oversight that should have been caught by the director, which jars the viewer out of any sense of continuity. In an attempt to emphasize how bad the VW is, the driver’s door comes off in Warren’s hand – but if it wasn’t attached, why didn’t it fall off when the bad guys arrived? Again, contrived. They drive along at about five miles an hour – again, this is contrived, as the bad guys were obviously and visibly driving it much faster than this, but this is now as fast as it will go.

The first of those two scenes I alluded to has the group coming across the truck thieves once more. Four or five of them have their guns drawn on a family of four – father, mother, a girl and a boy. The dad has a machine gun, but it looks like the thieves have the drop on them. Garnett and co. decide to play hero, jumping out of the VW and ordering the thieves to drop their guns. The leader hesitates, then complies; it’s at this point that Garnett notices another five of the thieves, kneeling on the other side of the truck with their hands behind their heads. He asks what’s going on – “A robbery,” the dad replies, and then proceeds to mow down the thieves, as his children and wife all pull out guns as well. Somehow, with all this lead flying around, no one on the team gets hit, but every single thief is dead. This, while Garnett and the team have their guns pulled. I can understand a desire to avoid shooting children, but why not take out the dad, at least? And the fact none of them gets hit? Sheer ridiculousness. The family, not worrying about the seven people holding weapons nearby (Murphy, as usual, doesn’t carry a weapon), gets into the truck and drives off.

The second scene manages to be mind numbingly stupid. For some reason which is never explained, the family stopped up ahead on the highway, and allowed themselves to get eaten by zombies. Seriously – there is absolutely no reason given for this. The truck still has fuel – the next scene shows the team driving it again – and there were no buildings nearby (for supplies), nor other vehicles on the road (for gas, or possibly acting as obstacles). This was simply an opportunity to have some gross-out intestine-eating effects. But hey, maybe the family suddenly grew a conscience and decided to let themselves be eaten for their sins. That, or the producers can’t afford to soup up another vehicle, so they conveniently had to get the truck back into the team’s hands. So the team simply gets into the truck and drives away – ignoring the zombies that somehow, mysteriously, managed to eat this well-armed family that was just recently inside the protection of said truck. I’m still scratching my head.

They manage to contact Citizen Z, who is developing an unhealthy crush on Addy, and he tells them there’s a chopper available on the roof of the Infection Control center in McLean, Virginia. It’s one hundred kilometers away, and despite all of the action of the past five, they get there with no incidents.

The center is run by an insane General and his pill-popping doorman. While talking to the soldier guarding the door, Addy ostentatiously uses her GoPro to film him. Why does she do this? Does she use the film to upload to Citizen Z? Does she post it to a social media site? Who knows? The fact that there is a shot of her doing it says that there should be some meaning, but that would be assuming that the writers and directors of this show are actually trying to put together a cohesive narrative. No such luck. It’s just a throwaway moment, save perhaps for the product placement (I sincerely hope that GoPro is not paying The Asylum any money).

The General agrees to allow Doc to go inside, thinking that he’s an actual doctor. Garnett sees this as an opportunity to approach the general, but I just don’t read this as believable – Doc is not trained, they can already tell that something is awry, and no leader worth his salt is going to allow the team to get separated at this point. But hey, “believable” is not really what this show is going for.

Doc offers the General a diagnosis – there’s a wound on his leg, obviously gangrenous – and the general, not agreeing with this, sends Doc flying down an open air shaft. He gets stuck in a bunch of wires and tubing several floors below (the fact that he survives this fall, and doesn’t have his arms wrenched out of his sockets by the force – again, let’s leave the realism aside for now). There’s another person there – well, a zombie, actually – an actual doctor whom the general threw here before. He was less lucky than Doc, catching his neck on the wires and pipes, and he’s just out of reach of biting Doc. They end up having a “conversation” interspersed throughout the rest of the episode, and Doc even tries to share a joint with him. Oddly, when he throws the roach directly into the zombie doctor’s mouth, the zombie starts to mellow out a little, following Doc’s head movements, staring him in the eye. This is one of the few moments in the entire episode that is played out with a degree of thoughtfulness. Doc goes through a bit of an existential moment: can some piece of the zombie’s brain still recognize who it was as a human? Doc seems to think so, and apologizes as he gives “mercy” to the zombie.

Outside, the team hears Doc’s screams as he falls and tries to avoid the zombie, so they force the guard to take them inside. All of them go into the elevator together, save for 10K. This is, again, a tactical error – there’s no way a sergeant would allow all of his people to be placed inside a single, easily-controlled space, but I really don’t think that the producers of this show have bothered with any of those things other shows use – you know, things like experts who could tell them when they’re doing something stupid. Of course, the General has control of the elevators, and they end up initially on the wrong floor, having to fight a swarm of zombies. They get separated further. Murphy, who is apparently claustrophobic in addition to being zombie-phobic (who isn’t?), runs out on the rest, and Garnett and Warren, the only two people in the team who are actually trained, leave the others, almost getting all of them killed.

Murphy hears Doc, and locates him, running back to tell the others. Meanwhile, Garnett and Murphy unload all of their ammo in poorly aimed shots at a group of zombies. They then lament that they are both out of ammo, but that’s okay – Garnett tells Warren that he thinks that’s the last of them…based on what? On the one room they’ve entered? Inane.

Back by the elevator, the team reunites – then they hear a loud thumping. A massive zombie comes around the corner, moving right toward them. Mack, who does still have ammo, tells the others he’s got it. He shoots the zombie several times in the head, but it doesn’t even slow down. Okay, please explain this to me – did he somehow miss the brain? Oh, never mind, here comes Garnett with a hammer! Bang bang bang, he hits the enormous zombie in the head, skull and brains flying – and still, it doesn’t slow down, holding Mack in a choke-hold (although why he doesn’t just eat Mack, I don’t know). The zombie tosses Mack down, and goes for Garnett. Wait, are zombies suddenly able to discern between different threats? Weren’t they all being attracted to a hand cranked music box two weeks ago? But no, this here super, hitting him in the brain won’t kill him, uberzombie, apparently has situational awareness. He grabs Garnett, and Garnett is able to unpin a grenade on the zombie’s belt as he rolls away.

He then literally allows about two complete beats, as Addy goes at the zombie with her spiked baseball bat, before he shouts a warning. Seriously. She’s in grave danger, I counted to two, the grenade’s about to go off, and then he decides maybe he should let the rest of them know? Stupid stupid stupid. Not to mention the whole concept of this new super-zombie. If you’re going to suddenly throw in “boss” zombies a la video games such as Left for Dead, then you need to set this up as a thing. If you haven’t, then it just doesn’t fit in the mythos the showrunner is creating, and looks plain dumb. You just know that Karl Schaefer is sitting somewhere, looking at the rushes, saying “This looks cool!” No, sir, it does not.

Addy directs the zombie away from the group – and down into the airshaft. We see it explode inside, and the flames rush down and right over Doc. They all brush themselves off, and ask Murphy where Doc is – he tells them its the airshaft, and they all look sad. Of course, not one of them – no one – decides to, say, look into the shaft, or say, “Hey Doc – you there?” This would be what any sane and rational human being would do, but the writer wants to set up a big “surprise” at the end of the episode, and this would undermine that particular shaggy dog.

The team turns a corner, and they find the General – wait, was all of this happening on the same floor all along? That doesn’t make any sense, as they seemed to be working on at least three floors at first, and none of them the top floor where the General is. Ah, never mind again, let’s pretend it makes sense for the sake of continuity…

So, they find the General, barking orders into the static of his handheld. He sees them, picks up a bazooka, and tries to take out the team. It clicks on empty, so now he’s suddenly voluble. Garnett, forgetting that the General tried to kill all of them literally three seconds ago, marches Murphy right up in front and tells the General how important he is. Because, you know, there’s no way an obviously crazy man who has already tried to kill all of them several times, would take advantage of that to simply put a bullet in Murphy’s head. Or use him for leverage. Or ask him to put on make-up and a dress. Any of these would make sense in the context of tonight’s episode.

He comes to his senses, and takes them to the roof, offering to fly Murphy to California himself. Only, the chopper is mostly destroyed, though he doesn’t notice. Two Zs come rushing out, and the General tells the others to back off, that he’ll take them himself. He pulls out two pistols from his belt – see, my thought that he might just plug Murphy wasn’t without merit – and unloads on the zombies everywhere but where would actually hurt them. This is so that he can go out in a blaze of terribly cheesy and shoddy special effects, as they take him over the edge of the building. The camera follows him as he falls, the zombies right beside him, as he continues to unload his guns at them (each gun appears to be carrying at least twenty bullets – quite the clips!). The green-screening is the worst I’ve ever seen. The falling effect in Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo is far superior, and that was done before green screen existed. Fifty-six years ago. Seriously. They didn’t even get Bill Moseley (the actor playing the General) to wave his arms or legs like he was actually falling. He just lies there firing his guns, while the camera “follows” him to the ground. Which remains fuzzy and unfocused. Even as it grows closer.

At the end, we get the payoff for the stupidity of the team not actually bothering to check if Doc was dead or alive. They’re at the truck, looking sad, having told 10K that Doc died. Doc appears, but look at him – he’s covered in gore, and stumbling, so he must be a zombie, right? Don’t bother at least saying, you know, something like, “Doc?” as anyone anywhere would have done – no, can’t do that, because the best way to check if Doc is alive is obviously to shoot him. Which is what the militarily trained Warren tries – and fails – to do, from all of fifteen feet away. “Hey, you trying to kill me?” the very-much alive Doc shouts.

As they drive away, Doc tells 10K that his father “knows you did the right thing. You kept your promise.” We then get a brief flashback of 10K’s dad turning, and him giving his father mercy. This would be a sensible way to end the episode if had actually been about 10K at all. Instead, the episode was book-ended with brief moments of angst-ridden flashbacks, and then 10K was basically forgotten about for the entire episode. There was nothing thematic that tied to his story in the main story tonight. He was nothing more than a title allusion, an intro, an outro, and a footnote. The rest of the episode was completely unrelated to him at all, and he didn’t even take part in the main action.

Tonight’s creepy award does not go to a zombie. Nope, it goes to Citizen Z who, in his loneliness, is developing an unhealthy crush on Addy, which is played off as “cute” by the show. It does not, however, hit that cute note, as he uses his NSA computers to hack her social media profile, and then create a fake chat betwixt the two of them, moving from one keyboard to another to try to stimulate actual conversation. He plays a song and dedicates it to her at the end – they’re tuned into radio NSA in the truck – and she shakes her head at Mack, looking moderately abashed and explaining she’s only talked to him a couple of times. See? Cute, right? Mack is acting a little jealous, Addy is flattered, and Citizen Z is cyber-stalking from the North Pole.

This is a bit longer than my other reviews of Z Nation have been so far – but that’s because I couldn’t believe the sheer amount of stupidity on display throughout the episode. It begins in the first minute, and literally does not let up through the full forty-two minutes. I cannot recommend to anyone that they watch this show. If you have it recorded, do yourself a favor, and delete the recording – you’d be better off recording a marathon of something educational like Toddlers and Tiaras with the space saved.

There were no memorable lines tonight, although there was one bit of interesting information – we found out that Doc has a kid out there somewhere, although based on the fact that he fathered him when he was nineteen, he wouldn’t be a kid anymore. Instead of looking at lines, then, let’s move straight to issues.

Problems – there are too many to count, but here’s a few:

  • The team consistently shows a complete lack of any military training. Hard to believe when two are National Guards.
  • As 10K snipes a few zombies while waiting for everyone else, a couple of them do a very dramatic “Oh, I’m shot” arms in the air reaction, despite being, you know, dead.
  • Literally everything to do with how everyone handled Doc tonight, from allowing him to go in alone, to not checking to see if he was actually dead, to not asking him if he was alive when he came back. Dumb.
  • They were going gun crazy again, everyone running out of ammo.
  • And speaking of ammo, there are boxes and boxes of it in the center – but we don’t see them taking any with them.
  • The entire opening sequence of musical-truck.
  • The family who take the truck the second time deciding to get out and get eaten – for no apparent reason.
  • Everything about this episode. It was just terrible.

Positives:

  • Cassandra only had a half dozen lines tonight.
  • Doc getting the Z stoned – a momentary humorous respite from the other kinds of stupid on display.

Being that this is only a ten episode series, and I’m four in, I feel that I’ll continue reviewing through to the end of the run. But to be honest, I can’t see any reason to put any more of your time into Z Nation – let me do it for you, and if something is worth watching at some point, I’ll let you know.

Steve’s Grade: F
This was probably the least entertaining and most frustrating hour of television I’ve watched since the time I tried to recapture my youth by watching old episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. This show should be avoided – don’t bother wasting your time.

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Comments
  1. El_Potamus says:

    All I can say is the preview of next week promises the worst themed anything in the history of the zombie apocalypse” TORNADO…ZNADO…Nuff Said” Oh Lord…give me mercy…

  2. Angela says:

    I really wish the people who write bad reviews about Z Nation realize that hey, it’s on ScFy. And a Znado, no matter how corny it may seem, is just as badass as SHARKNADO!!!!!!!! This show should not be compared to The Walking Dead. It’s ScyFy so there for in all accounts it should be as cheezy as it can get and still entertaining. Instead of being filled with drama it’s filled with corny comedy from a group of people surviving a zombie apocalypse and just brushing it off their shoulder in a no care way. If you want drama stay away from ScyFy shows unless you’re actually into the cheesiness.

    • Hi Angela,

      First of all, thank you for your comment. I of course realize that Z Nation is on SyFy (I have to tune it in every week, after all!), but the station a show appears on should not have any bearing on how a review is approached. I am aware that they don’t have the budget of an AMC or an HBO, and no, I don’t expect The Walking Dead levels of special effects. But to not compare it to TWD, when The Asylum and SyFy are so clearly setting it up to, at the very least, ride on the AMC show’s coattails? That would be disingenuous of me as a reviewer.

      SyFy does air a lot of cheesy shows, I agree, but there is no de facto rule that says if it’s on SyFy, it must be cheese. And to be honest, Z Nation is not doing a very good job of being cheesy. The Asylum’s previous productions, especially the two Sharknado movies were good, cheesy fun. They had corny writing, over-the-top B-List acting, and blatantly – even proudly – bad special effects. And it worked.

      Instead of going all-out-cheese, with Z Nation they’re trying to tell a serious story. Yes, there are moments of cheesiness (for my money, DJ Qualls does this very well as Citizen Z, as does Russell Hodgkinson as Doc), and they do have some corny lines, mistakes that were made in this episode run far beyond any overt attempts to play things up. They smack simply of bad writing, not humor, and there is most definitely a line between those two.

      I’m glad that you’re able to enjoy Z Nation on its own merits – good for you! It’s always nice to have shows that entertain us. While you’re willing to ignore some of its faults due to where it is run and who is producing it, I don’t have that luxury if I am going to review it to the same standards that I review all the shows I watch. If you have any particular quibbles with the points I make in my review, I’d be more than happy to address them; if it’s more a generic “You should be more generous,” then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

      And I won’t stop reviewing the show, just because I find it to be pretty bad – if I only reviewed shows I loved, it would be a pretty boring job reviewing them! I haven’t posted my review of this past Friday’s episode yet (real life gets in the way sometimes), but I can tell you that it will be getting a higher grade than “Full Metal Zombie” did. That’s one of the benefits to a low grade – there’s really only one direction to go!

      • Angela says:

        I’m watching the latest episode now. I had missed it. Which is perfect since TWD is coming on at 9. Yes, there are something’s I wish they could address in Znation especially the Zombabie. I’m hoping they address it like saying since everyone’s infected maybe with babies the virus eventually takes over because babies are weaker and the virus kills them. And if it is only 12 episodes than maybe they are trying to get so much done they have to do things by cutting corners. Which with TWD they have more time to stretch scenes out. I love the graphic novels btw. Read them and than I got stoked about the tv show. I know I did get that tey got their cannibal scene in before TWD. Oh I hated how Dale died in the show. At least in the comic he had a valiant death. And Andrea was so badass in the comics I kept waiting for her tv character was going to turn into her. I get too something’s they might get from TWD but hey I love zombies. I’ve enjoyed many cheesy zombie flicks. Z Nation just seems they’re doing this in a real fast pace to get it done. ScyFy is a good home for ZNation. 🙂

    • El_Potamus says:

      Where is the corny comedy in the episode? The elevator shaft was moronic…not just for the “saved reefer scene with zombie blowback…but the grenade down the shaft in the face leading to the almost shooting at the end…be offended that someone thought that these scenes would come across as funny rather than flaccid stereotyping…it wasn’t corny it was terrible. And I worship the corny and comedic ground that the sci-fi/apocryphal/apocalyptic is capable of, from Lexx to Red Dwarf to Firefly to Evil Dead (or anything starring Bruce Campbell)…those are campy and funny…this show is not…

      • Angela says:

        Bruce Campbell vs Alien grasshoppers is a good cheezy one. Zombies on a Plane. Awesome. Hahahaha. Just saw the Zomnado and they said well it’s not sharks. Sharknado!!!! And if you like to read and like zombies here are some original ones: The city of the dead. The boat. And xompocalyps. All different takes that should be movies.

      • There’s definitely a strong body of awesomely cheesy literature to pull from! I want more Bruce as well – hopefully it isn’t a zomtastrophe…

  3. El_Potamus says:

    I also want to point out the “Syfy” does not always equal corny: Helix was a good show for most of it’s first season last spring, and I believe is also their original production…

  4. Erin says:

    Ash VS. Evil on … HBO? I think … But nevertheless Bruce is back as Ash!!! Heck yea. And I’m late to the ZNation ordeal. I am learning I didn’t miss much. Good article, well written, and great points. Thanks for saving me the need or feeling of obligation to finish the episode. I haven’t even watched the previous episodes. I guess I have a need to finish things and reading this gives me an alternative route.

    • Thanks, Erin! I actually gave up on the series after a few more eps, and haven’t started watching the second season. There is definitely a market for this particular brand of cheese, but I prefer mine more in the Ash vein. Ash vs. Evil Dead looks like it could be a lot of fun based on the trailer. It’s being done by Starz network, and will premiere on Halloween. Unfortunately, it’s on a pay channel in Canada (Super Channel), so I’ll have to decide if it’s in the budget when the time comes!

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