Liv Brings the Pain in 'iZombie': "Spanking the Zombie"
This is a terrific episode, that in true iZombie fashion, moves the plot while reinforcing the emotional bonds that ultimately make the series special.
iZombieAirtime: Tuesdays, 9pm
Cast: Rose McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Robert Buckley
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 5 - "Spanking the Zombie"
Air date: 2017-05-02
Major: Once I'm new me, keep reminding me what we meant to each other. And give me a new name. One that's less silly.
Liv: Gern Blandston.
Major: There's one silver lining to forgetting everything.
Major: You'll knock me off my feet all over again.
An episode filled with classic iZombie humor, "Spanking the Zombie" also contains some of the most moving moments the series has shown so far. The murder of a dominatrix allows plenty of time for Liv (Rose McIver) to delight in the role, while Major's (Robert Buckley) worsening condition finally leads to Ravi (Rahul Kohli) having to administer the serum by episode’s end.
The murdered dominatrix, Roxanne (Kimberely Shoniker), also known as Sweet Lady Pain, was previously assigned to another detective, but after a few months was transferred to Clive (Malcolm Goodwin). Although she’d long been cremated, her brain was still in use as Ravi’s test brain for his memory serum. While said serum ("Ravi's blue juice") seemingly had no effect in restoring Blaine’s (David Anders) memory, it clearly has some effect on the brain, as Liv's visions are much longer, clearer, and more intense. It's not only a fun side effect for Liv as she frequently stares off into space for much longer periods than normal, but it also calls into question Blaine's claims that it's had no effect on his memory.
Roxanne's murder not only allows Liv to revel in dominatrix brain -- her interactions with Jimmy (Ryan Beil), the police department's sketch artist, are some of the funniest in the episode ("Now be a good little sketch bitch and pick up that pad." "Excuse me?") -- but it also serves as a great reason why there would be so many suspects, and visions, tied to her death. The show smartly doesn't overdo it with over-the-top sexual commentary, but rather walks the line of overt and silly to great results. It doesn't hurt that Johnny Frost (Daran Norris) and Brandt Stone (Ken Marino) also make reappearances in this episode as former clients of Sweet Lady Pain. Liv's flashbacks to the two, their denials, their confessions, and finally their teaming up to help solve the murder works so well because these characters are already established as sleazy, yet ultimately harmless, and always hilarious.
While Clive and Liv continue their murder investigation, Major takes part in his first mission as a Fillmore Graves mercenary. He’s injured in the field, but his team ultimately wins their battle, and Major is confronted with the spoils of this particular war: an ice chest full of enemy brains. It’s a sobering moment for him, and in some ways parallels Angus' (Robert Knepper) pragmatic plan to provide brains for the clientele of The Scratching Post. Although they can't be directly compared (Angus is, after all, a monster), it's important to remember that although Liv and Major and plenty of other zombies aren't inherently bad, their survival still depends on the deaths of others. It can be easy to forget that point when Liv is able to conveniently and easily procure brains at work, but particularly with the introduction of the Fillmore Graves operation, iZombie reminds us of the bigger picture, and the answers aren't always easy or clear-cut.
Vivian's (Andrea Savage) involvement in covering up the existence of zombies is enlisted this episode by directly dealing with Harley Johns (Andrew Caldwell). Johns' connection to the message board spreading zombie theories puts him on Vivian's radar; she invites him to Fillmore Graves under the pretense of giving him money for the loss of his brother, former Max Rager employee and Johns’ source, while secretly outfitting his car with surveillance equipment to keep tabs on him. It’s another plot point to remember in a show filled with many complex and connected stories, but one that’s referenced at just the right times.
Similarly, Don E's (Bryce Hodgson) dissatisfaction with his role at The Scratching Post leads him to enlist an Utopium drug dealer as an employee, and also as an opportunity to relive his glory days as a Lucky U dealer. His discontent will surely play out over the season, but this remains another example of iZombie's skill in balancing various stories without ever becoming hard to keep track of or a narrative mess.
Liv (Rose McIver) schools Jimmy (Ryan Beil)
Apart from the murder, "Spanking the Zombie" focuses most of its time on Major's deteriorating condition and the inevitable use of Ravi's serum. Major's chosen to hold off until the last possible moment because he doesn't want to lose his memory, but this episode marks the end of that waiting. Major and Liv have one of their most affecting scenes together as they come to terms with the likelihood that Major won't remember their relationship after Ravi administers the serum.
Buckley and McIver are wonderful together, and communicate the history, affection, and bond these characters share perfectly. It's a highlight in an already excellent episode and one that's genuinely moving because three seasons in, these characters have built a connection that’s easy to invest in as a viewer. Ravi and Major also get their moment to acknowledge the closeness of their friendship, and it's another satisfying scene that works because we've watched their friendship grow over the seasons.
The episode ends before we get to see Major’s reaction to the serum, yet the stakes are clear this episode and it has set things up beautifully for the next episode. The results of the serum, along with the continuing plot points this season will continue next week, but this episode is the emotional counterpoint to "Zombie Knows Best". While that episode used humor in a clever way to cement the relationships between these characters, "Spanking the Zombie" explicitly connects how meaningful they really are; it's no accident that they’re the two best episodes this season so far. "Spanking the Zombie", in true iZombie fashion, does a great deal story-wise, while ultimately reinforcing the emotional bonds that make the story succeed.