Season 4 of Z Nation that ended on Friday night with a strong two-episode or a two-part finale, depending upon how you slice it, as it were, was a reset for the zombie apocalypse series after the previous season. The Reset was also a key plot point in the narrative this year.
The Syfy channel schedule makers presumably determined that it was better to run the remaining two episodes of the season back to back rather than air the finale on the Friday night of Christmas weekend.
Warning: Spoilers follow
With approximately one-fourth of the budget and about one-eighth of the viewership, the quirky, campy Z Nation, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time on Syfy and is filmed in the Spokane, Washington, area, tends to be more fun to watch than The Walking Dead, with its dour characters and continual moralizing. In addition to a higher action level, the survivors on Z Nation are actually on a mission, which drives the storyline forward in the series created by Karl Schaefer and Craig Engler.
As it unfolded in the first two seasons, the original premise of Z Nation, with its Mad Max road-trip vibe, revolved around a group of thrown-together survivors attempting to transport Murphy (Keith Allan), an opportunistic ex-con slacker and zombie bite survivor, to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control lab in California so researchers there could develop a vaccine for the zombie virus from his blood, thereby saving the world, or what’s left of it.
With Murphy in tow, the core group, as it currently exists, is led by National Guard lieutenant Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith), assisted by burnt-out hippie Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), “10K” (a sharpshooter whose goal is 10,000 zombie kills, played by Nat Zang), and new series regular Sarge (a Marine portrayed by Gracie Gilliam). In what amounts to a cameo appearance, Anastasia Baranova’s Addy, a member of the main cast, went off on her own at the beginning of Season 4 and never returned.
The group has received an ongoing assist, when they have access to functioning radio gear, from Citizen Z (DJ Qualls) and Kaya “in the Sky-a” (Romona Young) from their NSA Northern Lights listening post. Recurring characters Sun Mei (Sydney Viengluang) and Red (Natalie Jongjaroenlarp) mysteriously vanished along with the rest of the population of a village earlier in the season, and their status constitutes a loose end.
As regular viewers know, in addition to the zombies (Zs), the Z Nation heroes encounter bandits and assorted outlaws, bounty hunters, con men and women, drug cartel killers, non-zombie cannibals, and crazed, ultra-violent humans called “enders,” plus a new addition: “Mad Zs” who are almost impossible to put down.
In an interview published by WritingMind, fan favorite Hodgkinson outlined what sets Z Nation apart from other forms of entertainment in the same general genre.
“First of all, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we’re just trying to put the fun back in the apocalypse. I think fans embrace the low-budget, cheesy aspect of our show, it’s kind of charming in that way. We also don’t have too many cast members, so it’s easy to connect with the characters. Our team has a clear-cut mission, we’re not just trying to stay alive. We also introduce many new and interesting types of zombies that you won’t see on other shows.”
At the conclusion of Season 2, the group turned over Murphy to what they thought was the U.S. military, but was instead an operation run by a group of fat-cats based in a cushy survivor enclave known as Zona. Murphy escaped from their submarine and the series continued (who knows if that ending was tacked on to the original script after Z Nation was renewed for another season).
In Season 3, Murphy morphed into a cult leader of sorts trying to create his own new world of “blend” disciples, i.e., zombie-human hybrids created by biting uninfected humans, but that narrative seemed to abandon the uniqueness of the show. The ensemble cast was also separated in quite a few episodes, which detracted from the flow.
Season 3 ended with most of the characters hurtling off a cliff as a Zona aircraft arrived, and how they survived wasn’t fully explained as Season 4 premiered with Warren and a somehow-cured Murphy in Zona (from where they quickly escaped and got back on the road).
With a two-year time jump while Warren was in a Zona coma, Season 4 focused on the group’s quest to find the source of Warren’s intense hallucinations and visions about a black rainbow.
Black Rainbow turned out to be a code name for a doomsday weapon that the Zona people planned to deliver to the world.
Specifically, the flesh-eating bacteria that Zona wanted to deploy with Warren’s help was described as “the Reset,” and was meant to wipe out all remaining zombies and humans other than those connected to Zona. When we last saw Zona in Episode 2, the vaccinated residents were transitioning into violent, cannibalistic non-zombies because the serum had problems, so it’s unclear whether Zona is still intact and who might be left there to take over after Black Rainbow.
The penultimate episode (“Mt. Weather”) depicted the survivors penetrating an underground bunker containing the remnants of the U.S. government to stop the Black Rainbow launch and prompting a lot of corny, but humorous one-liners about politics from Murphy and Doc. The gripping, more serious finale culminated in the launching of a weaponized drone, with Warren as an involuntary passenger, which released a swarm of mini-drones creating the black rainbow, leaving the other four unsure if they were witnessing the end of the world.
Season 1 wrapped up with a nuclear holocaust, from which the resilient survivors somehow bounced back, and yes, the Syfy network has announced that Z Nation – which is produced by the same studio responsible for the cheesy Sharknado franchise — will return for Season 5.
The A.V. Club provided this summary of the Z Nation Season 4 finale.
“‘Black Rainbow‘ was a pulse-raising, non-stop action machine, the hour whipping by almost before you realized it was done, so committed was the show to delivering a fraught conclusion to the doomsday device storyline…All other issues were set aside in the name of providing a clear endpoint to the Black Rainbow, and when it came to a fun explanation for Warren’s visions, this delivered.”
Some random observations about the finale.
If he really wanted to neutralize Warren, why didn’t the creepy bad guy with the horn-rimmed glasses, aka the Man with the Plan, shoot her in the leg rather than directly at the Rt. 66 sign that she conveniently used as a shield? And why were they fighting in the first place if they were on the same side?
While it was an interesting plot twist, why did Dr. Teller and the Founder essentially reveal to Warren that she was the reset rather than continue to let her think that her mission was to stop the so-called fourth-strike weapon?
Will the contents of the switched canister or canisters actually be more benign since no one knows what’s in them?
Given that one bite is a death, or undeath, sentence, why would anyone go sleeveless in the zombie apocalypse?
Did Sarge behave inappropriately by locking lips with 10K when she thought they were about to die?
What happened to the Zona-affiliated bounty hunter known as The Man (Joseph Gatt) — not to be confused with the Man with the Plan — who was a major adversary in Season 3 and was last seen a year ago going over the cliff?
“With yet another whopper of a cliffhanger, the lives of all our characters and, in fact, the world are left hanging in the balance,” Syfy Wire concluded about the Season 4 finale of Z Nation.