By Robert Jonathan
The surprise decision by the Syfy network to cancel Z Nation after five seasons may not have been the result of the wokey, self-righteous narrative, but that certainly didn’t help matters. Never a ratings powerhouse before it went woke, the action-packed zombie apocalypse opus was one of the few forms of appointment viewing, at least for its devoted fans, in the current fragmented television universe. Averaging about 1.4 million viewers per episode in Season 1, ratings were down considerably in 2018 that culminated in season finale/series finale on December 28.
Although there were some brilliant sequences along the way, the difficulty in Season 5 is that the contradictory, social justice storyline made no sense and even the mostly predictable finale was difficult to get through. What’s worse, the penultimate episode was almost unwatchable torture porn.
Get Woke, Get Cancelled
There’s a saying that when media companies — ESPN or The Weekly Standard as examples — go PC or far left, they wind up forfeiting a vast amount of their market share (i.e., get woke, go broke). That may or may not have occurred with Z Nation.
“As for why Syfy is moving forward from Z Nation, the reasoning is often complicated. Yet, we do know that the fifth season is down around 20% in live viewers and in the 18-49 demographic versus season 4. It had done a nice job over the years keeping viewers in a difficult Friday time slot, but some of that ratings luck has seemingly run out. (Of course, the majority of Z Nation viewers at this point are probably watching via some other means, whether it be streaming or on their DVR.)”
“I give you mercy” is Z Nation’s signature catchphrase when one of the principals puts an about-to-turn-into-a-zombie bite victim out of his or her misery. Mercy or mercying are verbs in the context of the show.
As this blog has previously explained, the quirky and campy series which some have described as a horror comedy is a far more entertaining zombie apocalypse production than The Walking Dead, especially given the latter’s mostly somber characters with their repetitive, tedious moralizing, and lethargic, often silly storyline.
Unfortunately, Z Nation became way too serious this season, which detracted substantially from the entertainment value.
— Z Nation (@znation) December 30, 2018
In its first two seasons, which were among the best, the show featured many inventive, stand-alone episodes as it followed the trials and tribulations of a group of survivors as they attempted to bring reluctant savior Murphy (or “the Murphy”), the world’s only zombie bite survivor, to a presumed CDC lab where researchers could develop a vaccine from his blood.
The mission was known as Operation Bitemark.
Among other purposely cheesy sequences, who could forget the giant, zombie cheese wheel or a zombified George R.R. Martin signing books via muscle memory, among many other memorable, cool, and bizarre sequences.
National Guard Lt. Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith) was the leader of the heroes, but superb performances by Keith Allan as Murphy and Russell Hodgkinson as Doc, and their hilarious one-liners, provided the show’s cornerstone.
Yes I discovered FX. Z Nation Mercy! #znation #znationsyfy
Posted by Keith Allan on Thursday, December 27, 2018
It’s obvious that the showrunners couldn’t sustain the cross-country journey concept for multiple seasons, and a different direction, as it were, was needed. The more serious tend began in Season 3, but Season 5 was something else again, though.
Season 5 Was a Downer
Season 5 consumed itself with the devious machinations of beta-male-villain Estes and henchwoman Pandora against the Talkers. The season-long storyline is apparently a political parable about discrimination against marginalized groups or some such nonsense.
Talkers were those zombies transformed by exposure to Black Rain (see Season 4). They thereby gained the ability to function alongside humans peacefully — as long as they have access to the calming influence of brain-matter- and lithium-containing biscuits.
Obviously, Talkers should be treated humanely and fairly, unlike what Estes for whatever reason (which was explained, sort of, at the end) had in mind for them.
Bad Blood Between Humans and Non-Humans
“United We Live, Divided We Turn” is a very powerful slogan for the so-called pro-democracy forces that advocated equal voting rights for Humans and Talkers in Newmerica.
It was reassuring that even in the zombie apocalypse, despite a voter suppression trope, you have to show photo ID and dip your finger in ink at the ballot box. Newmerica had the good sense to prohibit ballot harvesting and other fraudulent practices.
Leaving aside the voting scenario completely, wasn’t it reasonable for ordinary humans to be concerned about the Talkers from a physical safety standpoint at least until a zombie-virus vaccine was fully developed for wide distribution?
There was no logical reason to oppose voting rights for all.
If the rule of law is to prevail, however, as democracy leader Georgia St. Clair (who was called George, the reason for which you can draw your own conclusions) declared in the final episode, why not reasonably accommodate the Talkers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, again until an antidote becomes available to them and everyone can be assured of a peaceful environment?
So that’s the contradiction inherent in Season 5, with ordinary concerned citizen humans– not the vicious gunmen working for Estes — seemingly behaving unreasonably at least as the show depicted it.
Domestic Apocalypse Tranquility?
Recall that Season 5 over and over portrayed the extreme danger, that emerged during a biscuit shortage. After all, insuring domestic tranquility is one of the fundamental bases of the U.S. Constitution.
As alluded to above, yet through George and her allies in the regular cast of characters, the show seemingly kept pushing some sort of social justice warrior (literally in this case) narrative that ignored the potential instability.
Against that SJW backdrop, wasn’t it also rather paternalistic or culturally inappropriate for the Talkers to be led around by humans?
From a progressive angle, the good guys argued that “safety first is a vote for endless war.” Endless war, again, paradoxically seemed to also be the likely outcome when the Talkers in the compounds got hungry and reverted to their cannibalistic ways, putting the entire community at risk.
If this blog entry misinterprets the underlying Z Nation Season 5 premise, please leave a comment below to correct the record.
Parenthetically, shouldn’t George and Warren have shown some equal compassion for Estes’ Altura soldiers rather than wiping them out in an ambush?
As an aside, maybe someone could also explain why going sleeveless in a zombie apocalypse is ever a good idea when one bite is an immediate death or undeath sentence.
Credit to the showrunners, the final episode did include a creative swerve involving Warren that no one could see coming.
A Disappointing Season
Two commenters at TVLine.com summed up Season 5 of the now-cancelled Z Nation quite well:
“I really struggled with this season, to the point that I actually gave up. It lost its humor and quirkiness and replaced it with dour and seriousness. The whole point of the show was its ability to not take itself too seriously and be a humorous counterpoint to The Walking Dead.”
“[A]gree, since the first season it’s never been as funny and this season so serious it had me struggling to stay with it. I have and will but am not surprised it’s over.”
In the finale (that incidentally was only billed as a season finale), Estes and Pandora also committed the cardinal sin of villainy by revealing their plans to their captors before said plans are implemented.
They didn’t get the memo from Valentine in the first Kingsman movie who provided these words of wisdom to the captured Harry Hart immediately before he took care of business:
“Do you know what this is like? It’s like those old movies we both love. Now I’m gonna tell you my whole plan, and then I’m gonna come up with some absurd and convoluted way to kill you, and you’ll find an equally convoluted way to escape…Well, this ain’t that kind of movie.”
Netflix and Kill?
Netflix already struck a deal for an eight-episode Z Nation prequel called Black Summer, with a different cast. Since the cancellation news broke, Z Nation fans have taken to social media to push for the streaming platform to pick up the parent series for a sixth season. Seasons 1-4 of Z Nation currently stream on Netflix.
If the Z Nation-Netflix agreement happens, someone needs to freshen up the coffee in the writers’ room. Instead of tiresome social issues, focus on entertaining the audience with gore, guts, and the guffaws.
As old-time movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn once perceptively quipped, in entertainment-industry advice that still rings true today, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”