Z Nation: Corporate Retreat – Simply Sublime (Review)

Z Nation opens with what could be a homage to the Supremacy MMA trailer from a few years back, or a sly nod to Tony Scott’s violence filled moment between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in True Romance, but regardless of which, Corporate Retreat;

Z Nation - Season 2Z Nation opens with what could be a homage to the Supremacy MMA trailer from a few years back, or a sly nod to Tony Scott’s violence filled moment between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper in True Romance, but regardless of which, Corporate Retreat; episode 211 starts off with a dream like nightmarish quality that would have made NBC’s creative team on  Hannibal proud.

In fact, the entire episode could be a sort of twisted take on the Hannibal Lector character with Anthony Michael Hall as the corporate retreat facilitator – Gideon Gould –  who has similar traits to Lector. In other words, he can psychoanalyze people with a scary ease, which he does to the Murphy group when they join the white collar crowd trapped in a hotel.

Although there are more themes going on here than a nod to the verse of Hannibal Lector. There is a sort of Lord of the Rings feel, with the “talking stick” the ostracizing of one of the corporate group which runs parallel to the whole “I’m okay, you’re okay, lets have a meeting and facilitate some change” philosophy. There could even be a touch of Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17; with the zombies as Nazis….

Of course the real punchline is that Hall’s character is so strong willed that he keeps the group captive and nothing really changes because the facilitator system does not allow for change. (The biggest change being that members of the retreat kept voting to leave the hotel and losing.)

The storyline has Murphy being shot and the bullet traveling through his body and “creating” a male version of Cassandra, Addy’s Sapphic side is explored once again as corporate retreat member Dana (Jana Lee Hamblin) puts the moves on Anastasia Baranova‘s character and the bat wielding heroine responds.

Murphy goes into a “comatose” state where his dreams influence the zombie horde surrounding the retreat and by the end of the episode the group leave the hotel and release the trapped members who were under Gideon’s control.

It is interesting to re-watch the violence, and zombie, filled slow motion sequence at the start of the episode. All the group are mixing it up with a large amount of zombies in a forest that appears to be on fire. (With the exception of Murphy.)  Each character has a moment that clarifies who they are in a nutshell.

Addy, after killing a Z, shouts for Warren (her Sapphic side coming to the fore) and Warren, after killing a Z with her machete, is saved by Vasquez. The latter scene speaks volumes about the chemistry between the mercenary and Roberta.

As Vasquez levels his pistol at Warren, her eyes register dismay.  After he fires and kills the Z behind her, Roberta’s expression changes, becomes warm and (as shown in the previous episode) she is clearly becoming attracted to Vasquez.

Doc is surrounded by Z’s and 10K (Nat Zangleaps onto a mound of rocks and starts sniping the creatures down until one is left. The zombie is heading for Doc as the bullet goes through its brain and ricochets off of a medallion on Doc’s chest.

The new trajectory of the bullet  kills another zombie and Doc excitedly holds up four fingers to indicate the amount of kills for his young friend. The ties between these two have strengthened even further as this interaction shows.

After the slo-mo introductory scene, the episode continues the group dynamic theme as Hall’s character, corporate retreat facilitator Gould,  does a spot on analysis of the “Save Murphy” gang.

Doc (Russell Hodgkinson) has some splendid moments with his “mad scientist” type tests; using Murphy’s blood to treat the new “Cassandra.” There are also great moments with the white collar crowd back-biting one another and the general “office” worker discord between the survivors and their “guru” Gideon.

Hall is great as the facilitator who took charge of the corporate retreat group and ultimately became a sort of benevolent dictator.  There are four episodes left in this SyFy series but the good news is that Z Nation will be back next year.

Until the end of season two, viewers need to watch, and re-watch the episodes on offer and enjoy the simply sublime offerings of show creators Craig Engler and Karl Shaefer.  This episode’s opening sequence, courtesy of director Jodi Binstock and writer Micho Rutare, shows why this series just keeps getting better and better.

Forget The Walking Dead, at least till Sunday, and enjoy Z Nation, a great alternative to increasingly faux gravitas…Tune in and see which members of the Murphy gang make it into season three.

Z Nation: RoZwell Doug Jones and Missi Pyle Treat (Review)

Z Nation - Season 2

Z Nation: RoZwell can be seen as a homage to not only Galaxy Quest, where Missi Pyle appeared as Thermian alien Laliari,  but also to The X-Files.  With Doug Jones’ character, Dan Scully, another reference on top of Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith) mentioning the show when they find the sliced and diced zombie,  obviously named after Dana Scully from the FOX  television series and the films, the homage is clear.

Heading back to Galaxy Quest, a character tells Vasquez (Matt Cedeño) that a man from Riverside, Iowa arrived at the “exodus”  thinking he was a starship captain. In the 1999 comedy science fiction film, Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith, who, in the movie,  plays Cmdr. Peter Quincey Taggart; captain of a spaceship, a’la Captain Kirk of Star Trek.

The plot of “GQ” is that actor Nesmith goes with his TV crew into outer space and becomes a real starship captain versus just acting like one, in one scene where the Thermians, that Nesmith calls “termites or dalmatians” feed Allen’s character a steak, and he says it tastes like “corn-fed Iowa beef” the implication being that Nesmith, the actor,  is from that state.

This episode of Z Nation, even with its obvious references to the Chris Carter cult favorite, does lean more toward a Galaxy Quest/Star Trek homage. While Doug Jones may not have been in any episodes of Star Trek, or any of the films, the actor had played aliens numerous times, the most recent being Cochise in TNT’s Falling Skies.

The FX in Rozwell are clunky and sporadic with the  use of CG, something  most likely done on purpose, to copy the old and cheap special effects back on the 1960s Star Trek and the film that pays a brilliant homage to the Trek verse and its fans, Galaxy Quest.  At the start of the episode, Bernadette, played by Missi Pyle , is running from a zombie.

This action plays against the New Mexico desert on a dark road at night. Set  to the Jason Gallagher song Powerless, which is presumably on the eight-track tape, labeled “SuperMix,”  that Murphy’s group are listening to. Pyle’s character is saved by a bright light the cuts the chasing zombie into serval pieces. The shot of the “Z” being chopped up shows it now has two heads, which it did not before the bright light starts slicing and after, when the sectioned zombie is given mercy by 10K, the second head is gone.

Later in the show, when Bernadette takes the group down into the bowels of the secret Air Force base, a corrugated metal shield slams down over a window as the room turns into a giant elevator. As the room heads down, the metal shield vanishes and reappears several times.

Z Nation - Season 2

Of course, this is Z Nation and at least one other homage, or nod and wink is given to another “alien film franchise” PredatorThe helmet worn by Scully in the show does not look like the ones worn by the predators in the films, but is released (opened) in a similar fashion. A hissing of air and the front is pulled off, like a mask, revealing the occupants visage after removal.

All that is missing is someone telling Jones’ character that he is an  “ugly mother****er.” Still, the faceplate does resemble a predator helmet.  Missi Pyle, as Bernadette is spacey and off kilter. All smiles and softly focussed gazes while she speaks about the aliens who talk to her through the light. (Is this yet another homage moment? ABC’s The Whispers featured an alien who spoke to kids through the light…)

As Roberta and her crew head towards RoZwell and provisions in their VW Thing and it’s swinging ’70s eight-track tape, the group come across the mutilated zombie and 10K gives it mercy.  Apart from the retro sounding music on the tape, the episode’s score is a combination of oriental and metal drum rhythms.

In the scene where Warren (Kellita Smith) calls out “Never mind aliens. Puppies and kittens, people.” This is a clear reference to season one’s pilot episode and this seems to signal a return to a more business like Roberta.  There is not so much compassion for Murphy as in last week’s episode and she kills the two zombies her end before Vasquez can bring his gun up.

10K takes care of the two approaching him and the entire set piece takes place against the musical clash of metallic drums.  Later, as the group follow Bernadette down to the secret underground facility, and when they leave, the music feels like a tinny version of Inception‘s foreboding score towards the end of that film.

Homages aside, there are great moments, that may or may not be nods and winks to other science fiction films/shows.  Addy (Anastasia Baranova) standing in front of a holographic computer screen, a’la Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, playing with the folders and moving them is a stand out moment. As is the jokey exchange between Addy and Warren:

Addy: “It’s a Unix system. I know this.”

Warren: “Really?”

Addy: “No. I went to art school.”

Warren: “Okay, well can you use it to contact Citizen Z?”

A nice gag and the first time the series has mentioned Citizen Z in ages.  Over and above the Citizen Z reference, Murphy (Keith Allan) has a great little bit where he asks about how odd it is that aliens “mostly speak in English…mostly.” As usual with Murphy, it is all in the phrasing and pronunciation.

Memorable moments:

Roberta Warren taking the “Men in Black” type weapon (Yet another homage?) and blasting the UFO out of the night sky. 

Doug Jones dying as the “not alien” pilot of the spaceship who wants to take Bernadette back to ZONA. 

Honorable mentions:

Dan Scully telling Murphy and the gang that Pluto is not a planet at all but a hollowed out spaceship.

Doc (Russell Hodgkinson)  warning Murphy to be careful: “Murphy, don’t do it! Don’t go! They’re gonna probe you for sure! And not in a good way!”

The second season of Z Nation continues to “up its game,” RoZwell carries on with the show’s creators’ homages. Karl Schaefer and Craig Engler also keep up the tongue-in-cheek delivery that makes this series so much fun to watch.  Murphy’s assertion that there are no aliens throughout is great stuff, especially with his grudging acceptance of zombies.

 

Z Nation - Season 2
Addy with a “Are we there yet look”.

Z Nation has been given the green light for a third season, proof that the show is gaining in popularity and understanding. This alternative version of the zombie apocalypse is addictive viewing as well as great  fun and should not be missed. The Asylum have out done themselves with this one. Tune in and catch The Murphy and his gang…

 

Z Nation: Down the Mississippi – The Return of Sketchy & Skeezy

Z Nation - Season 2

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.

Z Nation - Season 2

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 Quallssuddenly 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.