In Z Nation this week; Down the Mississippi, John Hyams writes and directs the episode that sees the return of Sketchy and Skeezy, Doc’s old pals, who outfitted Addy in the first episode with the Z whacker she still carries. Once again, Hyams rocks it with a homage, or two or three, proving that not only can he impress with a touch of gravitas (White Light) but also with sublime black comedy.
Murphy still has a lot of issues with 10K in this Mark Twain/Deliverance riff. The group are still trying to deliver the increasingly irate Murphy to California and after killing Cassandra last week, The Murphy is not pleased with the young man with the gun.
Hyams crams as many homages/riffs as possible in this episode, tinges of Support Your Local Gunfighter, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, even The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, (think Tuco, a rope and Blondie with a rifle).
On top of all the nods and winks to the western genre, Escorpion and the Zeroes reappear. The leader of the cartel arrives later in the episode to preside over a trial carrying a golf club and complaining that he almost broke 80 before being interrupted. Emilio Rivera, as Escorpion is absolutely brilliant, he plays the role perfectly, and somberly, straight and just kills it.
Sketchy and Skeezy (Mark Carr and Doug Dawson respectively) both come across as a combination of Butch and Sundance and the two ne’er-do-wells who lead Pinocchio astray. The two film-flam men may not sing and dance but Sketchy does both when acting as his own council at the town later on.
Apart from Hyams’ many homages, this episode is mostly about Nat Zang’s character 10K. He is separated from the group when the boat they confiscate runs into a zombie jam. After ending up on the wrong side of the Mississippi river he runs into Sketchy who tells him Skeezy is dead, as well as Murphy.
After almost giving Skeezy mercy, the three are approached by a group of locals who believe that Sketchy’s friend is The Murphy and allows him to bite them. The trio then steal the dentistry van that the two men used to kill a couple of travelers at the start of the episode.
*Sidenote*The van reads “DERTISTRY” at the start of “Down the Mississippi” but later, in Burr Town it is spelled correctly “DENTISTRY.” Whether this is an in-joke or just a continuity error is unclear.
10K runs into another pretty young woman, this makes several that have caught the young man’s eye, this Southern flower packs a pistol, however, and almost shoots the sniper before he can explain what he is doing in Burr Town. While his two temporary travel buddies are busy drinking and telling tales, 10K tells the young widow about his friends and Murphy.
While this episode is all about 10K, it also allows Doc (Russell Hodgkinson) to show some levels of compassion, backbone and temper. When Vasquez refuses to contemplate searching for the missing 10K Doc gets ready to take the mercenary on. Only the strong willed Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith) keeps things from escalating.
It should be pointed out that Warren, despite what Vasquez is apparently starting to believe, runs the group. She is the leader and when the mercenary gets too big for his combat boots, Roberta reins him in. The only time that Roberta does back down from any of the group is when Doc insists upon taking a canoe down river to look for 10K.
While at Burr Town, the two deadly dental techs show up and the three amigos are put on trial for stealing the van and the zombies in the back of it. Later on, while Sketchy is “summing up” the locals who allowed Skeezy to bite them also show up to point accusatory fingers at the trio.
Down the Mississippi does a number of things. It allows writer and director John Hyams to cram as many homages as possible into the episode and it reveals the group dynamic of the survivors. At the start of the episode, Murphy (Keith Allan) is angry with 10K for killing Cassandra (Pisay Pao) and can barely keep from attacking the youth.
Later on, when they are waiting on the bridge an almost tearful Doc murmurs his apologies to the “kid” and turns to leave. As he passes Murphy the savior of the world tells Doc he is sorry. Before Doc can get into the car, the young lady who almost shoots 10K earlier arrives to let the group know where he is.
The gang head to Burr Town and save the trio from hanging. (Rivera’s performance is brilliant. From “These fools,” to “you’re guilty blood,” the actor sells it effortlessly.) The result of this episode is that even Vasquez may eventually learn to “watch out for each other” as Doc says. If a furious Murphy can keep connected with his “friends” the mercenary can definitely learn to.
As the trap doors are sprung, shots are fired and the three convicted prisoners escape and the Southern belle gives her husband mercy. At the end of the episode, Sketchy and Skeezy re-enacte the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the little group of survivors move on.
Z Nation does humor very well, not too surprising as the show’s creators do not take the show too seriously. For example, the opening credits for this episode had a nasal chorus of “Give Mercy” over the new Z Nation sign. This tongue-in-cheek delivery sets the viewer up for those sucker punches that the series creator’s love so much.
It also helps add that touch of surprising tenderness, as when Addy tells Doc she needs him. Z Nation airs Fridays on SyFy and is halfway through the second season. Tune in and see what transpires next or just to see if Citizen Z (DJ Qualls) suddenly shows up. Show creators Craig Engler and Karl Schaefer are continuing to deliver, as are the cast and crew.
This series just keeps getting better and better. Do not miss the fun and the pathos.