Everyone’s favorite crime-fighting zombie show made its final bow last week after five glorious seasons of murder, mayhem, and tasty brains. Alas, despite an otherwise solid (and occasionally inspired) fifth season, ‘s finale proved to be an over-rushed, dissatisfying conclusion to one of my favorite shows on television.
(Spoilers for all five seasons of below, but no spoilers for the series finale.
The show is based on the comic book series created by Chris Roberson (writer) and Michael Allred (artist) for DC Comics. In the comics, the central zombie is a gravedigger named Gwen in Eugene, Oregon, who can maintain the appearance of normalcy so long as she consumes brains once a month. Her gravedigger profession comes in handy in that respect. There’s one big side effect, however: she inherits some of the memories and personality traits of whatever dead person’s brain she consumed.
That basic premise is preserved in the TV adaptation, except the main zombie is Liv Moore (Rose McIver), a medical intern in Seattle, Washington, who takes a job as a morgue assistant after she has turned into a zombie following a boat party gone horribly wrong. But show runners Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright paired that premise with a standard police procedural, expertly mixing together horror, humor, and crime-solving into a winning combination. has justly earned critical raves—the first three seasons hold 100% approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and season four has a 92% rating—even if that praise was rarely reflected in viewership numbers.
Liv eats the brains of murder victims to access their memories—their personality traits are a bonus, and the source of much hilarity, thanks to McIver’s versatility and comedic gifts. Each episode also typically features a new recipe to make the brains more palatable as a meal. (There are unofficial cookbooks for the dishes featured in season one and season two, and an accompanying Twitter feed.) Then she passes the relevant information on to Seattle PD homicide detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who thinks she’s a psychic (at least in early seasons).
Meanwhile, Liv’s boss at the morgue, Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), is the only person who knows her secret and is surprisingly understanding of her predicament. He used to work for the CDC but was fired despite his repeated warnings to superiors that this kind of outbreak was bound to happen. He sets himself the task of finding a cure for the zombie virus—ultimately tracking the source to a combination of an energy drink called “Max Rager” with a tainted batch of a hipster drug called “utopium.” And Liv learns she’s not the only zombie in Seattle: there’s also Blaine (David Anders), a charming former drug dealer (of utopium, of course) who is the one who scratched Liv on the boat, turning her. Old habits die hard, so Blaine sets up a lucrative business turning Seattle’s wealthy inhabitants into zombies and then charging them exorbitant prices for brains to survive.
The first two seasons mostly stuck with the procedural comedy/drama format, with a broader narrative arc focusing on Ravi’s hunt for the cure and the Max Rager connection to the zombie outbreak. The company’s amoral CEO, Vaughan du Clark (Steven Weber), is developing an advanced formula of the drink in hopes of snagging a lucrative contract with private military contractor Fillmore Graves (get it?). But Fillmore Graves turns out to be staffed by zombies, and they execute a behind-the-scenes coup to make Seattle a safe haven for their kind. By the end of season three, the zombie virus had spread to some 10,000 Seattle residents, thanks to a deliberately tainted vaccine. Instead of protecting humans from the zombie virus, it infected them.
Season four is when the series really started to move beyond its police procedural roots, for both better and worse, as humans and zombies struggled to coexist within a walled-in city—the US government essentially puts Seattle under quarantine. On the one hand, we lost some of the tight focus on relationships between a reasonably sized group of central characters that made earlier seasons so emotionally resonant. The cast expanded, and so did the subplots (romantic and otherwise), adding a lot of complicating and confusing elements that didn’t always work.
Battle for Seattle
On the other hand, the show’s exploration of the variability and unpredictability of human behavior in the face of an epidemic is laudably ambitious, and pretty darned believable. There is prejudice and distrust/fear of the Other on both sides; bad actors trying to make a profit off the outbreak; ineffectual and/or corrupt political leaders; desperate humans trying to get out of Seattle lest they become infected; equally desperate humans trying to sneak into Seattle because they have terminal illnesses and actually to become zombies; and even a crazy zombie religious cult. Plus there’s our central group of well-intentioned would-be heroes, caught in the middle of all these ethically challenging complications and trying to make the best moral decisions they can under impossible circumstances.
There is a welcome return to the classic case-of-the-week format in the fifth and final season, giving the writers a chance to have plenty of fun with inventive brain recipes and Liv’s many personality shifts. Liv on murdered ballroom dancer brain is especially delightful, as she strong-arms Ravi—who can’t dance—into going undercover with her for a dance competition. This yields a clever -meets- montage as Liv and Clive try to teach Ravi some moves.
Those witty elements help bring a bit of light to an otherwise gloomy scenario. Liv is solving crimes with Clive and also running an underground operation to smuggle dying humans into Seattle to turn them into zombies. Ravi is on the verge of a zombie cure—but not all zombies want to be cured at this point. Is it possible to maintain a small population of zombies, without risking a global pandemic? Liv’s roommate and BFF, Peyton (Aly Michalka), is acting mayor of Seattle, since no one else wants the job. Blaine’s brain smuggling operation is now essential to zombie survival, because the US government has cut off all support from Seattle. Without them, Seattle’s zombies will deteriorate into “full-on Romero” mode, dooming the rest of the human inhabitants. That makes Blaine effectively untouchable, despite his many ongoing criminal schemes.
It’s like the writers tried to pack an entire season of plot twists into one 42-minute episode.
There are human extremists committing terrorist attacks on zombies, and zombie extremists plotting to unleash the zombie virus on the rest of the world. Liv’s former fiance and on-again, off-again romantic interest, Major (Robert Buckley), has taken over Fillmore Graves and is trying for a less militant, more diplomatic approach to human/zombie relations. This alienates some of his own men, who are hungry for revenge after seeing so many comrades fall, and itching for an internal coup. Seattle is, in short, a powder keg of simmering tensions and occasional violent outbursts. A cheery YouTube comedy show with an uplifting message about zombie and human neighbors learning to get along—called —probably isn’t sufficient to defuse the situation. A zombie vs. human war might be inevitable.
I thought ‘s fifth season was remarkably strong overall, which is why it’s so very disappointing that the show completely whiffed the big series finale. It’s like the writers tried to pack an entire season’s worth of plot twists into one 42-minute episode, mechanically checking off various plot threads to be “resolved” one by one. I mean, a major character is killed, zombified, and cured in the space of maybe 15 minutes, and then we just move on to the next plot point on the list. What was even the point of that? There’s no time to process any of the twists, and hence no real sense of cathartic resolution.
The final sequence flashes forward ten years to a virtual talk show host discussing the “Battle for Seattle” with his virtual guests—which is how we ultimately learn about the fates of our favorite characters. I hate to say this about a show I love so much, but that’s just lazy writing—from a super-talented team of writers who were otherwise crushing it all season long. It’s mystifying. I know Rob Thomas was stretched thin, between the final season of and the new season of . It seems like he just checked out on the former entirely at the end, and that’s a shame. deserved better.