I’ve said it before several times – I’m a sucker for a zombie apocalypse.  Considering that Z Nation is a SyFy original produced by The Asylum, I had extremely low expectations for it.  But I can also watch Harold Perrineau in almost anything.  So when I hear Augustus Hill is leading a group of survivors cross-country in a mashup of The Last Of Us and The Walking Dead, I’m obligated to check it out.

But, as you can see by the length of this post, there are problems.

If your story starts two years after the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, why have the opening narration say it is has been three years?  Yes, we do eventually jump “one year later” to tell the rest of the story three years after the first infection, but within 15 seconds of the narrator saying “three years after the first infection” we see a caption identifying the date as “May 5th 02 A.Z.”  Why run the risk of confusing your dim-witted audience whilst you’re still in the process of introducing your audience to the world you’ve built?

If these special forces guys really have been dealing with this situation for two years already, don’t you think they would’ve modified their behavior?  If you know you can only drop your enemy with shots to the head, why blindly shoot at them with bursts as you’re running away from them?

“This gate won’t hold” – okay, if that’s the case, shouldn’t mister “hold them as long as you can” start picking the zombies off with single shots to the head to try and slow them down?  This one poor guy is left standing there and he continues to just stand there.  And it’s not because he’s short on ammo – as they show the gate start to fail, they also show him holding at least two extra clips for his assault rifle.

Why exactly does Camp Northern Light need to shut down and bug out?  The way they were acting when they told Cruller to shut down and evac, it seemed like the camp was on the verge of being overrun by zombies.  But that’s not the case – later on we still see it active and we still see Cruller there, so if it is secure enough for one man to run it on his own for a year, why where they so hot to trot to bug out?  And why does the evac plane crash right after takeoff?  Bad writing, as Jonathan Frakes would say.

Now … after an entire year (the aforementioned “one year later” jump), they’ve only made it as far as upstate New York?!?  WTF, is that even in the direction of California?  Actually, this is somewhat due to another potential captioning issue bundled up alongside dim-witted audience geographical knowledge.  I had to jump online and look up the location of the Portsmouth Naval Prison.  Silly me, I figured a naval facility that is THAT important (our last best hope for researching possible zombie plague vaccines) would be in the DC/Arlington/Baltimore area.  Nope, Portsmouth Naval Prison is in Maine, which makes a bit more sense.  And I’m guessing Ellie … er, Murphy … would’ve needed some time to heal up before he could travel, so that makes a bit more sense.  But even so, an entire year and they’ve only made it as far as upstate New York?  That’s what, about 200 miles maybe?

“How’d you find out about this place?”  “An ex-cop and some others taking shelter in a prison 20 clicks up the road.”  NICE!

“Well, if we keep it moving we can get (to the Tappen Zee bridge) and back before nightfall.”  Curiosity overwhelms me again and I’m back on Google Maps.  Up until this point, they don’t say exactly where they are in upstate New York.  But the Portsmouth Naval Prison is in Kittery, Maine.  For the sake of argument, let’s just put them smack dab in the middle of upstate New York.  That puts them vaguely as far away from the Tappen Zee bridge as they are from Kittery.  So it took these two guys one year and the lives of “eight of the best men I’ve ever served with” to get that far, and now two ex-National Guard are proposing to take them an equivalent distance and get back before nightfall.  And Augustus Hill doesn’t even seem surprised?  Bad writing.

I do like them showing an aspect of a barter economy, with the guys offering to trade for weapons and ammo that they’ve produced.  And there’s a nice one-line exposition about the zombies themselves – apparently the fresher they are, the faster they are.

“I was thinking something more silent” – another nice touch.  We have at least one character who has actually learned something in the three years since the zombie apocalypse started.  But it’s a damned shame I have no idea what her name is.

Here’s where my head starts to hurt … the pickup truck has been on the road for a while, long enough for them to check in with Camp Blue Sky by radio.  And they hear that there’s a problem with the camp, because that other group of three people is close enough to the camp to watch it explode.  The two ex-Guards want to go all the way back to the camp to help, but Augustus Hill won’t let them.  So now we’re following the other group of three as they’re running from a zombie horde and all of a sudden <POOF!> the pickup truck is magically there to save them.  WTF?!?  Because it is convenient to the plot.  In other words, bad writing.

“How long you in this cage for?”  “Two days.”  Really?  You don’t look like it.  You don’t act like it either.  Ever spent two days completely exposed to the elements with no water source?  I doubt you can and still come out looking and acting as healthy as she does.  And what’s her name?  As a matter of fact, what’s anybody’s name?

Finally, after we get her inside, Augustus Hill is the only one thinks to offer her water.  And she takes a moment before she grabs it from him and gulps it down.  Nope.  I would expect her to be practically begging for water as soon as she realized she was free of the zombies.

Okay, so now it sounds like we’re in a The Walking Dead situation here, where you don’t need to have been bitten by a zombie in order to become one after you die.  Does that baby look like it’s near death to you?  Nope, thought not.  Then why does it suddenly up and die?  Because it is convenient to the plot.  In other words, bad writing.  But … waitaminute … going back to the opening narration … “three years after the first infection” … implies that you’ve identified the first infection and patient zero and all that … but I’m going to set that point aside because the more I think about it, the more my head is hurting.

Just thought of something else – if we assume all this happened two days ago … and our baby has been sitting in a carseat for two whole days … and our beloved main characters KNOW that … why aren’t they offering the kid water?  Why aren’t they digging through the car looking for formula for the kid?  No wonder he died – they killed him through their own neglect!

“What about the baby … thing?  We can’t leave it like that.”  Yes.  Yes, you can.  Sigh.  Lt. Augustus Hill, up until this point in the episode, your mission (getting Murphy to California) has been your NUMBER ONE PRIORITY and EVERYTHING ELSE has been secondary.  That is how you have behaved up until this point.  Zombies were identified as being 200 yards away.  Zombies got into the building where our Rick Grimes lookalike beat them all with his hammer.  The baby is confined inside the building and is not a direct threat to anyone, especially Murphy.  If hotpants chickadee really did lock herself into that cage two days ago, then any surviving members of the group you were supposed to meet up with would not have gotten all that far away, especially if they were on foot.  So in the process of checking this facility out, they scrounged for food, weapons and vehicles.  Why didn’t anyone look for radio equipment to try to contact any surviving forces?!?  And why for the love of George Romero would you bother going in to whack that baby zombie WHEN IT IS COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT TO THE ORDERS THAT YOU HAVE EMBRACED?  Bad bad bad writing.

Oh great.  He does end up going in there and what happens?  The baby zombie is now playing hide and seek with him.  WHY?!?  ALL of the other zombies we have seen thus far have immediately launched themselves towards living humans as soon as they saw the living humans.  Why does this specific zombie act differently?  Because it is convenient to the plot.  In other words, bad writing.  The creators of the show wanted to pull a Suzie Costello here, pretending he’s part of the cast only to have a “shocking” death right in the first episode.  No.  Not shocking, stoopid.  1) By going in after the baby zombie, he’s acting completely out of character because taking out the baby zombie has nothing to do with his mission.  2) Considering how long he has survived (three years) dealing with zombies, he should know how they behave.  He shouldn’t have to wander through the building, he should only need to stand in the open area and make noises until the zombie baby comes running to him wanting to eat him.  Does that happen?  No.  Bad fucking writing.

“If we wanted to ditch these two, take the truck and run, now would be the time.  Just sayin’.”  NICE!  This older guy has rapidly become my favorite character.  Shame I don’t know his name.

Is the chickadee zombie who jumps Augustus Hill supposed to be the driver of the car?  The one that was already identified as “looks like she took a blow to the skull, brain dead on impact?”  It seems like that’s the only place she could’ve come from given the way that scene played out, and it also seems like she’s wearing the same shirt that the driver was wearing.  If that’s the case, why does that particular zombie wait that long before finally going after someone?  Because it is convenient to the plot.  In other words, bad writing.  And how does she actually get out of the car?  Rewinding that scene, the windshield is intact and the driver & passenger side doors look like they’d be pinned shut due to the way the car is jammed into the side of the building.  And … waitaminute … the headlights are on?!?  If all this mess actually did happen two days ago, I would expect that car’s battery to be dead by now if the headlights were on when it crashed.  Damn, this has given me a headache.

When the others finally come in to see what the commotion is (don’t you think they would’ve heard him yelling and opened the door a minute or two earlier?), why does everyone open fire?  After living in this environment for three years, you would think they would’ve trained themselves to save ammo.  Three shots is all they needed to fire.  Not an entire Rorke’s Drift style volley.

“You know, none of this would’ve happened if you’d just left that damned baby.”  Bravo!  Well said.  I’m starting to like Murphy almost as much as the old guy.  It’s good to have a character that says what I’m thinking.  And at least I know his name.

“How does anyone know anything anymore?”  And on a bad writing cue, Augustus Hill’s radio immediately fires up.  Which again begs the question, why didn’t anyone try contacting anyone on radio equipment?  Or even talk about looking for radio equipment?  Which leads to a follow up question: his radio is charged, or at least somewhat charged – they imply the battery is drained but it could potentially be something else interfering with Cruller’s transmission – but in this day and age, how was he keeping it charged?  Likewise with his li’l GPS thingy.  I doubt military equipment is going to run on commercial batteries.  So how has he been able to keep them charged during his year-long 200 mile trip?

Finally, Cruller sets himself up as “Citizen Z,” broadcasting across everything that he can broadcast across.  I think that’s actually a pretty cool aspect to the show … but why in tarnation did it take him a year before he thought to set that up?  And he’s damned lucky that his facility is easy enough to run that he can do it all on his own.  Again, I have to ask, if it is that maintenance free and that secure, why did the rest of the base feel it necessary to totally bug out in the opening minutes?  Because it was convenient to the plot.  In other words, bad writing.

As you can see, I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings here.  Based on the pilot alone, this show looks like it has a fair amount of potential.  My biggest problem with it is the wasted potential, and this first episode wastes more potential than it shows.  Let’s amp up the quality of the writing a bit, and I’m pleased to see John Hyams is staying on to direct more episodes.

 

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