When in doubt, ALWAYS follow the Puppy Chow map.
In a drastic break from the usual, Z Nation Season 4 Episode 5 sent us down the rabbit hole, to a hellish hour of weird sounds, Z ambushes and dirty jobs for the crew to complete.
It starts out innocently enough, with Warren in front, and everyone else playing follow the leader east. They come across an abandoned semi, and that's when it gets weird: REALLY weird.
What follows is a master class in building and sustaining tension from Director J.D. McKee.
Working with a truly bizarre setup from writer Craig Engler, McKee takes us on an intensely claustrophobic journey, putting the audience in the same cramped, scary situations as our heroes.
Just what the episode means in the overall context of the show is, like the title, unknown.
At this point all we can do is take it for what it is: a bizarre, visceral thrill ride which plays out like a mashup of the Saw and Cube movies.
Warren: What's going on? What is this place?
Stranger: You don't know? How long have you been here?
Warren: I just got here.
Stranger: Great-fresh meat. Just my luck.
Warren: How long you been here?
Stranger: You lose track of time here-a month maybe?
Warren: I was with five others. Something happened-that sound. And then I passed out.
Stranger: You can't fight the sound. Just do what they want.
Warren: What who wants?
Stranger: No one knows. Just kill anything that moves, and stay out of my way.
Warren: Don't worry.
The screeching sound that knocks everyone out is used many times throughout, causing a reset after every task is completed.
It must incapacitate the victims for a really long time. because the amount of time and effort it would take to gather up the bodies and place them back in their wooden boxes after each task must be extensive.
The bulk of the episode consists of extreme closeups of the actors, ramping up the fear and confusion they are experiencing.
In a throwback to the visual style of '70s movies, McKee uses lots of split screens and quad boxes for cast interactions.
This is a very creative choice, and it gives the actors lots of opportunities to do the closeup acting that makes films often more compelling than standard TV fare.
All of the actors do a great job, but Kellita Smith particularly excels in her scenes, because she is very adept at doing so much with her eyes and facial expressions to convey emotion.
There are numerous strangers introduced, but they function mainly as red shirts or vehicles for exposition.
Warren: What is the Black Rainbow?
Stranger 2: I don't know what you're talking about. Are you insane? Zona doesn't have anything to do with this. You know how many dead Zona soldiers I've seen down here? This ain't Zona.
Warren: If you lie to me.
Stranger 2: It's the truth. This is bigger than Zona -- this is bigger than the apocalypse.
Of all the tasks, the only truly memorable one was 10K and Doc trying to stop a nerve gas leak.
The extreme closeups and POV shots of 10K and Doc in the gas mask were very claustrophobic and effective.
The sound design was top notch as well, with the sharp, fearful breathing of the actors inside the boxes adding to the tension.
One thing in particular did bother me plot wise. When Lucy was out with the Z, why didn't she see the captors? Also, why didn't she ask the Zs about the Unknowns and what their end game was? I sure would have.
Despite the heavy tone, there was a little comic relief to break the tension. The dog food map scene was very funny. I imagine after 8 years of a zombie apocalypse, any food, even Puppy Chow, would be pretty sweet.
A couple of the past plot threads were also advanced a little.
We know Lucy has a psychic connection to the Zs and Warren, but to this point it was unclear if Warren had any Z tendencies other than her white hair. Then came this exchange:
Warren: Yes, sweetheart.
Lucy: Do you feel them?
Warren: Yes, but not like you.
Warren, it appears, can sense Zs, but probably can't communicate or influence them like Lucy can.
The other thread continues the creepy Murphy self cannibalization development.
Warren dealt with her PTSD panic attack effectively, after being talked down by Sarge.
Murphy's coping mechanism? Why, eating his own flesh, of course.
Careful. Pulling a thread from a sweater.Murphy
Is he reverting back to his Z state? All bets are off at this point.
The huge plot mover going forward was, of course, Murphy getting bitten while saving Lucy during the escape from the compound.
This does two things: first, it brings into sharp focus the fractured relationship between the two. I surmised earlier that something big would have to happen to bring Lucy around and finally forgive Murphy for his past misdeeds.
This appears to be that thing. And number two: when last we saw Addy, she was missing an eye, and had a bite mark on her arm while she was on the road with Lucy.
My theory is Addy was near death after losing her eye, and Lucy saved her with a bite, much like Murphy did with 10K previously.
So I can foresee Lucy needing to put the bite on old Dad to save his life. Let the drama commence!
From the exposition of the red shirt earlier, it seems the setup in the compound is driven by something "bigger than Zona." Warren added fuel to the fire with this comment:
I just know something bad is coming, and I'm supposed to stop it. I can't tell you why, I just feel it.Warren
Is it possible that Zona are the good guys? Have they made Warren into some sort of avenging human weapon, to stop whatever the Unknowns have planned for the planet? This is getting GOOD.
- Still no Citizen Z update. I'm beginning to get a little worried.
- Speaking of missing, no new info on the disappeared members of the crew: Sun, Red, and 5K.
- And the big chill is still in full effect between Murphy and 10K, as evidenced by this back and forth:
10K: Doc's fine. Just some nerve gas or something. I'm fine too, thanks for asking.
Murphy: I wasn't.
10K: Yeah, I noticed.
For all you dog lovers out there, 10K delivers the "Line of the Night"
Mmmm! Puppy Chow is my stuff, man!10K
I really dug the frenzied, claustrophobic tone of the episode. Not much of the overall plot was advanced, but the Murphy drama at the end promises to propel the story rapidly forward.
That's my take: tell me yours. Any theories about who the Unknowns are, and what their endgame is? Will Murphy survive? Have you ever tasted dog food, and if so, did you like it? Let me know in to comments section: WOOF!
And, as always, you can watch Z Nation online anytime, right here on TV Fanatic!