This is a spoiler-free review of the first two episodes of iZombie Season 5, but contains spoilers for previous seasons. Not caught up? Read our reviews of previous seasons here. Already seen Season 5? Read our spoiler-filled review of the whole season here.
“Stop. They’re already dead.”
If you still feel like Game Of Thrones’ final season dealt with the threat of the undead a little quickly, the final season of another zombie show is just getting started. The CW is generally pretty good when it comes to letting shows play out and, like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend earlier this year, iZombie is all set up to conclude the show.
From Season 5’s opening salvo, a two-parter comprising the episodes Thug Death and Dead Lift, it’s clear that the show is still having trouble balancing the latter seasons’ grimmer and more serious arc with the charming and enjoyable case-of-the-week stories that are its bread and butter. Following the ambitious yet deeply muddled fourth season, it looks like the show might just be spinning too many plates to end in a satisfying way.
Picking up six months later, New Seattle is still on a knife’s edge. We’re told that the human population still outnumbers the zombies 50 to 1, but the ongoing shortage of donor brains threatens to destroy the already uneasy status quo, with Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley) and Blaine DeBeers (David Anders) taking separate approaches to preserve the peace and keep the US government from nuking the quarantined city.
A different kind of shortage affects Liv Moore (Rose McIver), who is challenged to solve a murder case in which the body hasn’t yet been found. All reports indicate that there has been a murder, but without being able to use the victim’s brain, Liv and colleagues Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) and Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin) have to find the culprit the old-fashioned way.
The key thing with recent episodes, and with these opening episodes, is that Liv feels somewhat lost in this show now. While the cast has an enviable ensemble and the development of Buckley’s social-worker-turned-soldier has been particularly impressive, it’s stopped being a show about her struggles with being a zombie. Instead, her main role in the scatterbrained ongoing arc is as a human smuggler, although the idea of importing terminally ill people and turning them into zombies has never been especially well thought out. Even though Episode 1 is largely about setting the table for that struggle, the brilliant Rose McIver feels sidelined.
While Episode 2 is a more case-focused outing (and better for it), her reliable brand of character comedy still feels overlooked in favour of the increasingly ham-fisted allegory that’s overtaken the show. When this angle was first introduced, as zombies had to tangle with right-wing conspiracy theorists who are trying to reveal their existence, it felt like a timely reading of the political temperature in America. Season 5 instantly recaptures an element of that by introducing new antagonist Dolly Durkins (Jennifer Irwin), a prominent entrepreneur and cable news mouthpiece who’s also running a more sinister operation out of her food truck business. But as subsequent episodes have added more to it, they’ve built a representation of a ravenous underclass being driven to attack humans because they don’t have access to resources – or, worse, because it’s just their nature. Using this to tell a story about societal tensions does absolutely no favours to any minority it’s intended to represent.
The problems with this portrayal of life in the walled city are only compounding over time and it’s telling that all of the best bits here are those which reconnect with the characters. That may take the form of Major struggling to handle his takeover of zombie paramilitary outfit Filmore Graves, or Ravi essaying Jason Statham and Ray Winstone while tripping on hardman brains, to consistently hilarious effect. Plus, we get another Dungeons & Dragons session to brighten the mood. There’s enough fun stuff here to make us hopeful that the rest of the season will lighten up and get back in touch with its characters.
Scatterbrained though they may be, the opening episodes of iZombie Season 5 make the show look a bit more like itself than it did by the time of last season’s unusually poor finale. With border control, domestic terrorism, and fake news all on the table, this two-parter is far from a course correction. It’s not always especially well executed, but at least it’s reliably creative.
Season 5 of iZombie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.